Jimmy, Jimmy... Russia’s legendary Disco Dancer

Nineteen-year-old Yuri, standing outside the Luzhniki Stadium in his red volunteer shirt, knows Jimmy. “Everyone knows him where I come from,” he says.
Mithun Chakraborty
Mithun Chakraborty

MOSCOW: Nineteen-year-old Yuri, standing outside the Luzhniki Stadium in his red volunteer shirt, knows Jimmy. “Everyone knows him where I come from,” he says. “Me and my brother are big fans. Let me show you which of his songs is my favourite,” he says before taking out his mobile.

Thirty-four-year-old Robert, sitting under the towering statue of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky at the Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow also knows Jimmy. “We've grown up hearing those songs. My grandmother and uncle are big fans, he says, before breaking into an impromptu rendition of Jimmy's biggest hit in Russia. “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. Aaja, aaja, aaja.”

No, Jimmy is not an American rock star or someone from the Britpop wave which started gaining popularity around the same time as the Soviet Union's breakup. Jimmy is from the 80s — 1984 — to be exact and he is Indian! Bollywood fans from the 80s and 90s know him as Mithun Chakraborty. To Russians, he is Jimmy, the character that Chakraborty played in the 1982 movie Disco Dancer.

An anecdote from the late 80s reveals exactly how big Disco Dancer was in Russia. When then-USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited India, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi introduced Amitabh Bachchan as the 'biggest superstar in India'. Gorbachev apparently replied: “But my daughter only knows Mithun Chakraborty.”

Other Bollywood movies — Rishi Kapoor's Bobby and Barood and Raj Kapoor's Awaara — were widely watched in the Soviet Union, but none of them were quite the rage like Disco Dancer. After its release in Soviet theatres in 1984, Disco Dancer grossed a mind-boggling $76 million in the country. Adjusted for inflation, that adds up to almost $180 million. For perspective, that is $100 million more than what this year's biggest Bollywood hit Padmaavat grossed worldwide. It remains, by quite some distance, the highest grossing foreign film in the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union is long gone and few of the younger Bollywood fans in India would know Mithun Chakraborty. But, despite thirty-four years passing since Disco Dancer's release in the Soviet Union, its influence thrives — Yuri and his teenage brother are proof of that. An Indian wandering around Moscow would have a number of strangers shaking his hands muttering 'India, Jimmy'. Near the Kitay-Gorod metro station, there is even a karaoke bar that gets its name from Chakraborty's character in the movie — Jimmy Poy.

Besides the Mayakovsky statue, Robert talks of how his uncle, Gorokh Bostandzhian, is so in love with the movie that he performs the songs at every function that has a karaoke machine. He takes out his phone — Gorokh has even uploaded a video of him singing that song on YouTube. It is not an isolated incident — stay on YouTube for a bit and you'll find plenty of videos from Russia's Got Talent where contestants sing Jimmy's songs (a few from Belarus and Ukraine as well).

And it's not just Moscow and its suburbs where Jimmy rules. Leonid, from Siberia, reveals that he has a channel on his home television where Indian movies play all the time. He can't quite pronounce the name of his favourite actor but he knows the songs off the back of his hand.

“Jimmy Jimmy, Jimmy. Aaja, aaja, aaja.”

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The New Indian Express