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After Mohammad Haroon turned 15, he began watching Bollywood movies, walking four kilometres to a theatre near his village in Myanmar.
Little did he know that the Hindi he learnt watching these films would one day help him settle down in a foreign country to which he and his family had to flee to escape brutal persecution by the armed forces.
Haroon, a Rohingya, came to India, the country he had known from its movies, after fleeing to Bangladesh in a small hand-rowed fishing boat. That was after his cousin was raped and their huts were torched.
"I had watched about 100-150 Hindi films back home and I could understand Hindi by the time I came here (India). Speaking Hindi was a problem though," Haroon, now 48, told IANS at a Rohingya settlement in Kanchan Kunj of south Delhi.
More than two dozen Rohingyas IANS interviewed in Delhi, Jammu and Hyderabad said they used to watch Bollywood movies in Myanmar that helped them to learn Hindi and made it easier for them to find jobs and make friends in India.
Rohingyas, mostly Muslims, are an ethnic minority, denied citizenship and have been "facing human rights violations and violence" at the hands of the military in the Buddhist majority Myanmar.
More than 800,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar in the last five years as a result of violence, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and there are around 21,500 Rohingyas in India.
Perched on a plastic chair, Haroon, a father of four, said the love for Bollywood was strong in Myanmar. He named his favourite stars as Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha, Mithun Chakraborty and quickly added Hema Malini to the list.
Harooon's favourite movies include Mithun starrers "Jagir" (1984), "Boxer" (1984) and "Disco Dancer" (1982) and Amitabh and Dharmendra starrer "Ram Balram" (1980).
"I'm forgetting the names, it was a long time ago," Haroon said with a smile, remembering the times when Myanmar theatres had benches instead of seats.
But for Rohingya women watching a movie in a theatre was a strict no-no.
Tasleema, 21, stayed behind a tattered, shabby curtain with her one-year-old son in her arms.
Asked whether she used to watch Hindi movies, Tasleema told her husband Adbul Kalam in her native Rohingya language: "I can almost understand what he is asking, but I can't reply."
"Our women were never allowed to go out that much. My wife and other women never used to watch movies," Kalam said in Hindi. "Now they have started going out a bit after coming here."
At Channi Rama in south Jammu, Saitera Begum, 20, shakes her head when asked whether she used to watch Hindi movies. "Muslim women do not go to watch movies in Burma," she said, according to her relative who translated her words in Hindi.
More than a dozen Rohingya women IANS interviewed said they never used to watch Hindi movies. A majority of them spoke in broken Hindi or did not speak in Hindi at all.
Leaving Myanmar in 2005, he reached India after a couple of months in Bangladesh and worked at a chicken farm in Sonipat, where his Hindi improved further. "After one year, my Hindi was fine," he said.
In Myanmar, since Haroon's time, theatres, taste of movies and stars have changed.
Suhail Khan, 21, sporting a white skull cap, told IANS: "I like Shah Rukh (Khan) for his heart and Aamir Khan for his brain. I have listed all the movies I watched in a small book."
Sitting on a wooden bench, he remembered how he loved coffee, cake, paratha at theatres in Myanmar.
"In Buthidoung (in Myanmar), there are big movie halls now and the ticket charge was 200 kyats when I left Burma in 2012. Now it should be around 500."
Khan also said girls hardly came to theatres. "Girls would be thrown out if they come," he said, adding things were slowly changing.
"In other cities girls had started watching movies by the time we left."
Inputs: IANS
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