Yiddish in India
A planned Bollywood Hitler movie
Books and memorabilia on the German leader’s life have found a steady market in some sections of Indian society where he is idolised and admired, mostly by the young. The numbers are small but seem to be growing. It’s hard to narrow down what makes the dictator popular, but some young Indians say they are attracted by his “discipline and patriotism”. Most of them are, however, quick to add that they do not approve of his racial prejudices and the Holocaust in which millions of Jews were killed.
But the truth is that books, T-shirts, bags and key-rings with his photo or name on sell in India. And his autobiography, Mein Kampf, sells the most. Jaico, the largest publisher and distributor of Mein Kampf in India, has sold more than a 100,000 copies in the last 10 years. Crossword, an India-wide chain of book stores, has sold more than 25,000 copies since 2000 and marketing head Sivaram Balakrishnan says: “It’s been a consistent bestseller for us.” And demand seems to be growing. Jaico’s chief editor RH Sharma says: “There has been a steady rise of 10% to 15% in the book’s sale.” Until two years ago, a typical Mumbai (Bombay) bookstore sold 40-50 copies of Mein Kampf a year. Now the figure is more like several hundred copies annually. The more well-heeled the area, the higher the sales. For example, the Crossword outlet in Mumbai’s affluent Bandra district sells, on average, three copies a day.
The book has several editions and is available in vernacular Indian languages too. Mannyes Booksellers in the western city of Pune keeps at least four editions. There are at least seven publishers now competing with Jaico. Nearly all the booksellers and publishers contacted in India say it is mainly young people who read Mein Kampf. It’s not just the autobiography – books on the Nazi leader, T-shirts, bags, bandanas and key-rings are also in demand. A shop in Pune, called Teens, says it sells nearly 100 T-shirts a month with Hitler’s image on them. Prayag Thakkar, a 19-year-old student in Gujarat state, is one of them: “I have idolised Hitler ever since I have had a sense of history.
I admire his leadership qualities and his discipline.” The Holocaust was bad, he says, but that is not his concern. “He mesmerised the whole nation with his leadership and iron discipline. India needs his discipline.” Dimple Kumari, a research associate in Pune, has not read Mein Kampf but she would wear the Hitler T-shirt out of admiration for him. She calls him “a legend” and tries to put her admiration for him in perspective: “The killing of Jews was not good, but everybody has a positive and negative side.” Shilpi Guha says she started reading the book but could not finish it and she wouldn’t like to dwell on the dictator’s negative side.
In the past, a couple of right-wing Hindu leaders have also expressed their admiration for Hitler. But young Indians’ fascination for him has been explained succinctly by academic Govind Kulkarni: “The youth look for a hero, a patriot, and Hitler was a committed patriot. He is seen as someone who can solve problems. The young people here are faced with a lot of problems.”
The Indian actor Anupam Kher has pulled out of a planned movie-project called Dear Friend Hitler. It is a planned Bollywood film that has caused protests by Jewish groups and revived the question why a universally hated dictator as Hitler has so many fans in India.
The actor Anupam Kher, 55, who was supposed to play Hitler in the film, decided to opt out after the Jewish community objected to any glorification of one of history worst mass murderers. “When I signed the film, I did not expect that it will make so many people unhappy. Sometimes human emotions are much more important than cinema.” Kher said in a statement.
Mumbai’s Jews have welcomed Kher’s decision and renewed calls for a ban on the sale of Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf on Mumbai’s streets and bookshops — one instance of the steady market the German dictator enjoys in India. It’s not just the film that has caught the world’s eye. A BBC report has noted how the business around Hitler is “emerging as a small-scale industry in India”, withMein Kampf a perennial best-seller and books, T-shirts, bags, bandannas and key-rings with his photo or name doing brisk business. Most of Hitler’s Indian fans are among the youth, whose yearning for a “strong leader” to solve the country’s problems apparently leads them to admire the German’s “patriotism” and ability to enforce discipline.
The film’s director, Rakesh Ranjan Kumar, however, claimed his movie did not glorify Hitler but merely portrayed his personality and his relationship with long-term mistress Eva Braun, to be played by the Indian actress and former Miss India, Neha Dhupia. He claimed the film drew its title from two letters written by Mahatma Gandhi to Hitler urging him to prevent World War II. The letters began with the salutation “my dear friend”.
Neha Dhupia – playing Eva Braun.
Neha Dhupia seems to be excited about her new role and has already started researching for her character. A source close to Neha informs Mumbai Mirror, “Neha has already started researching for the character. She is watching tons of historic footage and movies on Eva Braun. Neha learnt many interesting facts while researching this, like how Eva was considered a symbol of ‘womanhood’.” “She had a lot of rumours surrounding her, about her sex life with Hitler, her fetish for fur coats, wine and expensive jewellery. She was an absolute attention seeker,” continues the source.
The Mahatma’s great-grandson Tushar Gandhi, however said: “This does not mean that Ghandi considered the Nazi dictator a personal friend. In all his letters, he would use this salutation. Gandhiji wrote this letter when he was incarcerated, but the British confiscated it and it never reached Hitler. It is reproduced in the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. It is a small letter.”
Tushar Gandhi added that Kumar’s attempt to make a film on Hitler, as well as the title he has chosen, smacked of a “publicity gimmick” to attract global media attention.