Repositioning the Centre: Bepen Bhana's "Frankie Goes to Bollywood"


In the year 2000, as a nine-year-old boy, I was one of some 500 million people to see the blockbuster romance Kaho Naa … Pyaar Hai (‘Say … You Love Me’). The film was remarkable both for occasioning the debut of muscle-bound heartthrob Hrithik Roshan, and for being the first Indian production to use Aotearoa not just as a picturesque stand-in for Kashmir, but as part of the plot. With greedy-eyed shots of the Southern Alps, especially in the song and dance sequence ‘Na Tum Jano Na Hum’, New Zealand supplanted Switzerland as the freshest and most exotic location in Hindi cinema.

In her brilliant essay ‘A Stormy Affair’,[1] Auckland-based researcher Rebecca Kunin describes how Indian filmmakers became aware of Aotearoa as a location, how the country was strategically piggybacked into India on Roshan’s overnight fame, and the resulting increase in tourism – from 4,000 Indian visitors to New Zealand in 1997, to 17,000 in 2002. “Previous associations with New Zealand of prominent cricket players or mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary were replaced, at all levels of society,” Kunin writes, “with a new awareness of the beauty of New Zealand’s natural environment and its status as a fashionable holiday destination.”

It was during this time that my family decided to immigrate to New Zealand. Kaho Naa … Pyaar Hai became a talisman for my four-year-old brother and me. It was our only reference to the kind of life we were going to lead. My brother copied all of Roshan’s NSYNC-style dance moves (played out in the Wellington club scene), while I anticipated living in a manicured city full of alien citizen-extras.

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Bepen Bhana: Frankie Goes to Bollywood was on show at Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, 13 February – 15 May 2016

Balamohan Shingade