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Amid the biting cold and rain, nearly 50,000 people come together at Marrakech's famous Place Jemâa El Fna for a glimpse of their favourite star. When Shah Rukh Khan appears, the applause is deafening. Even Rishi Kapoor is greeted with a song from Bobby, his first film as a leading man. It leaves the veteran actor humbled. A local taxi driver serenades Indian visitors with a song from Dil Toh Pagal Hai, Bholi si soorat. He messes up the lyrics but gets the tune and 'Aaye haaye' right.
An icon of French cinema, Catherine Deneuve presents a special tribute to Indian cinema and honours Amitabh Bachchan at the 12th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival. A glittering ceremony to mark Indian cinema's centenary year, it has as guests the largest-ever delegation of Hindi cinema — Hrithik Roshan, Sridevi, Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Abhay Deol and Ashutosh Gowariker among others.
Moroccans have always loved our films — the Hindi film industry started taking cognizance of their affection when Aamir Khan screened Lagaan in Marrakech in 2002. The following year, Bachchan made his maiden visit to receive the Royal Medal of Honour at the hands of King Mohammed. This year, Khan receives the honour by Prince Moulay Rachid.
"I discovered that Moroccans are serious fans of Hindi cinema. The relationship started in late '60s and '70s when some distributors settled in Marrakech and started screening Hindi films. Somehow we were unaware of the impact our films have," says Bachchan. He terms the Marrakech reception as a "noble, unique and laudable gesture" that felicitates another country and has dedicated an entire event to Hindi cinema.
The festival unabashedly celebrates Bollywood — with song and dance, larger-than-life sheen, and escapism — ingredients that film festivals prefer to stay away from.
What's the secret of Bollywood's appeal that manages to cross over? Khan believes "it is our stories, which are about relationships and love, and are understood by everyone".