It was the Al-Janadriyah cultural festival in Riyadh in 2018 and a young Saudi boy was an excited audience member. That year the festival saw a large outpour of different nationalities exhibit their culture, arts and music and the Indian presence was significant. He had learnt that several Bollywood songs would be played and performed onstage at the festival. His family was there too.
Ahmed had a love for Bollywood from a young age. He consumed a whole lot of Hindi cinema though VHS cassettes since KSA didn’t have cinema theatres back then. The love for Hindi cinema was followed by a natural liking for their songs. “You might not know how to speak the language well but you can certainly sing songs in it,” he says. A young Ahmed from Al Khobar started singing along and as he started working, started singing at his office parties.
At the Al Janadriyah festivals Ahmed spotted a close friend who was on stage managing the event. He used to work for the Indian embassy and Ahmed tried to draw his attention in the crowd standing next to the stage. “Finally I picked up a small stone and hurled it at him and he looked annoyed as to who had hit him. When he saw me, he broke into a smile. I told him at that time, I wanted to be on stage and sing a Hindi song.” The friend introduced him to the music team and after a sound check, Ahmed was on stage singing to an audience of 3,000 people.
Though Ahmed used to sing songs at office parties, this was his first major public performance. “I sang Aankhon Mein Teri from Om Shanti Om, followed by Chaand Sifarish, from Fanaa and the crowd cheered and supported me. I couldn’t believe myself but since I was enjoying myself, I could see they were enjoying themselves too,” says Ahmed.
After the public performance, Ahmed was swarmed by the press and event companies to work with him. "Hindi and Urdu are languages spoken by my colleagues and staff of the company and so, I perfected the language thanks to them,” he says.
Ask him what his favourite films are and he says, “My first film was Amitabh Bachchan’s Don and I watched it several times with my brother, another film buff. Both my parents loved these films since they would air on Bahrain TV and we lived in Khobar,” he says. Every Friday at 8.30pm, Hindi films were aired with Arabic subtitles. “ We all got familiar with names such as Dharmendra, Mithun Chakraborty, Amitabh Bachchan and of course, Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan,” he says, stating that Boney Kapoor’s Mr India was his favourite film as a child.
Like a whole lot of Arabs of his generation, Ahmed has visited Mumbai and visited homes of film stars as a child. “I have met Salman Khan, his parents, and Arbaaz Khan. I even went to the Boogie Woogie show with Govinda and met Sanjay Dutt.”
After the Al Janadriyah show, the embassy kept him in mind and invited him for an upcoming event. The only condition was, he had to sing in Tamil.” I learnt three lines in two months and went on stage to sing with KS Chitra madam onstage. The Saudi guy singing a Tamil song from a Malayalam movie became viral,” he laughs.
Soon Ahmed was called to Dubai for a show with Sithara and Akbar, the rising stars from Kerala and these events took over his life. “I took part in the Riyadh season and one month back in another event with 5,000 people.” His wife, though, likes the songs of actor Sridevi. "She loves Jeetendra-Sridevi songs like Tathaiya Tathaiya ho and sings Main Teri Chandni, to me,” he adds.
Ahmed has a good following on Instagram and all his fans prefer he sings in Hindi not Arabic. “But I want to blend both, since lots of Arabic songs are remade in Hindi," he says.
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