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Morocco's 100 years of Bollywood

For once, the storytellers, snake charmers and food stalls were gone from Marrakech's main square and in their place pulsed a crowd of thousands of people waiting to see a legend of Indian cinema who has attained superstar status here in Morocco.

"Shahrukh Khan! Shakrukh Khan!" the young men and women chanted in the chill night air, waiting for the 47-year-old Indian screen legend to make a brief appearance as part of the Marrakech International Film Festival's tribute to 100 years of Indian cinema.

Bollywood, the Bombay-based Hindi film industry, may still be struggling to make its mark on American and European audiences, but its trademark hours-long epics filled with the riotous spectacle and glamorous stars have enchanted audiences in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Indian actors and directors attending the Marrakech festival, which began Nov. 30 and ends Saturday, expressed surprise over their rapturous welcome in Morocco, even as they talked of one day spreading that same appeal into Hollywood by altering the tried and true formulas of Indian film.

"Marrakech is quite surprisingly into Bollywood. It's amazing," said director Prakash Jha, known for films tackling serious social issues with the Bollywood tactic of big stars and musical numbers. "We just attended one of my films, "Chakravyuh," and I was surprised at the number of people there who knew us and were into Indian cinema."

Moroccans have enjoyed Bollywood for decades, first in inexpensive theatres showing Arabic-subtitled Hindi films in low-income neighbourhoods, then via pirated DVDs available in bazaars.

On Friday night, there was no doubt about the devotion among the seething crowd in Marrakech's Djemaa el-Fna square with tough looking young men yelling "I love you" as Khan lip-synched and danced to some of the hit tunes from his 75 movies before plunging down to the crowd to shake people's hands.

In 2011, he was the guest of honour at the Marrakech film festival, which this year celebrated 100 years of Indian cinema, according to festival director Melita Toscan du Plantier.

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