Everyone loves glamour, but in Pakistan, the desire for some relief from the veils drawn down by the ultra-conservative is especially strong. No wonder, then, that Bollywood has so many fans. It draws attention to something specific, something that signifies happiness, joy and celebration. Lollywood—the Lahore-based Pakistani film fraternity—may have had glamour at some point in the past but what they make today in the name of a film is not what the Pakistanis want.

Bollywood is the closest we can get to glamour—the language, culture and traditions are similar. So is the taste of what is classified as glamour by people in this region. Moreover, you don’t have to leave home to enjoy it. The cablewalhas put up the latest movies of the month from time to time and though the print is usually average, it’s absolutely free.

The life of a Bollywood fan in Pakistan is both similar and different to that of his counterpart in India. Different because there is a whole section of society that opposes Bollywood imports or anything that shows it’s been taken from India; yet if you live in Pakistan, it’s impossible to escape Bollywood’s influence.

In 1965, after the Indo-Pakistan war, Bollywood films were banned. As there was no VCR or VCD or DVD, not to speak of the Internet, people only knew whatever the newspapers printed once a month on Bollywood. Rauf, a grandmother now, recalls reading a newspaper article on Indian films again and again for one whole month till the next one was published.

The introduction of the Video Cassette Recorder in the 1970s pushed an already ailing Lollywood to the brink. Films from Hollywood and Bollywood were easily accessible but only a few households had the new invention. So, after years, Bollywood made its way into Pakistani society. In the 1980s, VCR prices came closer to what the middle-class could afford to rent for a day or two. A new release was Rs 20 a day. A comparatively old movie cost Rs 15. Shakil, now a father of four, recalls those long ago nights when he waited till everyone went to sleep before the TV was turned on, with the room dark to give the impression that there was no one.

In the 1980s, Madhuri Dixit and Anil Kapoor were the reigning deities. Any movie with them was worth watching. Other than that, video shop owners would give updates about any recent movie which drew big crowds in India.

Riaz Shahid, who now owns a book store, used to run a video store in the same shop till a decade ago. “It was not difficult for me to get new Bollywood films on VHS and later on CD. All I had to do was to go to Rainbow Centre once a week and get a few cassettes of each.”

Rainbow Centre is the hub of video piracy. It’s located in Saddar, one of the busiest suburbs of Karachi. It has 450–500 shops; all packed tightly together. They are lightning quick professionals; pirated copies of any movie are available within 20 hours of its release. From computer software to Indian and American films and TV serials and soap operas—all are available at negotiable prices.

The pirates have been in operation for several decades. People say that the business is backed by a few influential personages, whose identity may come as a surprise. For that reason there’s no opposition. In the past 10 years, video shops in several major cities have been burnt down, or the owners shot dead in broad daylight by members of some right-wing party or other. But no one dares to step into Rainbow Centre. There have been a few raids by government officials to crack down on the making and distribution of porn movies, but after a few weeks, everything is back to normal. According to an Indian newspaper, “buying pirated CDs and DVDs in Karachi is as easy as buying an apple.”

The themes of films often find echoes in Pakistan, too. Both states lie below the poverty line, and face more or less the same challenges. For instance, Taare Zameen Par, highlights the plight of children with special needs; it struck a chord here.
Youth in Pakistan are no different from crazy fans of the Khans, the Kapoors or Hrithik Roshan elsewhere. Now that the films are screened here, if one of their favourite actors is performing, watching the movie in cinema is a must.

Asad Mudeer, an ardent Shahrukh Khan fan says, “Main ne Shahrukh ki har movie at least 10 dafa to dekhi hi hai cinema main. Aur jab bhi koi movie TV pe aati hai to main woh bhi dekhta hoon.” (I have watched all films of Shahrukh at least 10 times in the theatre. I watch the re-runs on TV too.)

Erum Ali, student of Archaeology at the University of Karachi is a big Salman Khan fan and has around 18 posters of him in her room. She likes Salman for his acting, his humble nature and his killer physique. The dialogue she keeps repeating even to her professors is: “Aik baar jo main ne commitment karli to phir main apne app ki bhi nahin sunta.

For fans in Pakistan, the year 2000 was a watershed. That was when Cable TV came to Pakistan. Since then, movies, even old ones, have been watched far more frequently than before.

Mahum Zaidi, 23, says she has never been to the cinema and does not have a computer since her father is strictly against Indian movies or drama. But when he’s not at home, Mahum watches Bollywood films that the cablewala has put up on his private channel. She likes Shahrukh Khan. Her favourite scene is from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai when Shahrukh (Rahul) comes to Kajol (Anjali’s) wedding with Aman (Salman Khan) and confesses his love in sign language.

Maira Khan, final year student of International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University, looks for two things: the plot and the cast. If the story is different, it is worth watching.

“For instance, Pyar Ka Punchnama had no famous name yet it was very entertaining, did well at the box office and won hearts of millions of youngsters, the dialogues created history and songs became anthem among the youth. Similarly, Band Baja Baraat did not have any superstar, but the two newcomers did an excellent job.”

As for the hits, the list is a long one. Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum was a maha maha blockbuster though it was watched on VCD but virtually every Pakistani household has a copy of that movie. Every Karan Johar movie is a hit here, especially if the cast has a few big names. My Name is Khan, screened immediately after the ban was lifted, was released on February 13, 2010. It was the highest earning film ever to screen in Pakistan, according to cinema owners.

The film resonated with Pakistani audiences because it is the story of an autistic Muslim man’s struggle against prejudice in the United States after 9/11. The applause line in Pakistan was when Shahrukh Khan says, “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist!”

The reason Pakistanis are crazy about Bollywood is that they can understand the language. And certain things stick in the mind. For instance, Shahrukh Khan and Kajol’s last scene in DDLJ, where Kajol runs to catch the train and Shahrukh gives his hand to pull her up, is even today copied in various television dramas and in other films.

Bollywood has a hardcore constituency in the daily wage workers. Khursheed, a housemaid, says, “I enjoy Indian movies because they have suspense and end on a happy note. I love the songs and sometimes try to copy the easier dance steps.”

Mazdoor Abdul Ali watches only Bollywood movies when he goes home. Ali believes that at the end of a stressful day, an Indian masala movie is the right way to ease off. Though he can’t date a girl in style because he doesn’t t earn that much, he thoroughly enjoys the romance in Indian films because he can relate to the story.

India may never have invaded Pakistan but there’s no doubt Bollywood has virtually conquered the Pakistani market. In Karachi, for instance, it’s nearly impossible to find a Pakistani who does not anticipate a good and glamorous Bollywood movie, or has not picked a favourite Khan among Shahrukh, Aamir and Salman. The copies of Bollywood wardrobes are immensely popular. Shopkeepers brag aloud that they have copies of Madhuri’s sari or Ashwarya’s dress, etc. Men follow Bollywood hair styles after any hit movie. In 2003, it was Salman Khan’s Tere Naam. More recently, it was Aamir Khan’s Ghajini.

In sum then, the life of a Bollywood fan in Pakistan is like that of any Indian Bollywood fan. They mouth the dialogues, copy the wardrobes and the hair styles. For some people, their life revolves around Bollywood but for most it is simply family recreation.