Bollywood in Myanmar (Burma), Land of Golden Pagodas

Burma may not yet be a haven for filmmakers because its controlled by military generals, and getting the requisite permissions could be an issue, but the country shares a strong film connection with India. Although no major Bollywood film has been shot in Myanmar, Myanmarese are big fans of Bollywood films.

What’s Myanmar Famous For?

Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is the capital city of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Its surrounded by India, China, Loas, and Thailand. Its a must-see location for travelers who like Buddha and beaches, though not necessarily in that order. The country is home to thousands of Buddhist temples, has a bustling precious stone markets, and has pristine white beaches along the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.

Watch: Myanmar Vacation Travel Video Guide

Myanmarese Love Bollywood

Energy-rich and resource-rich Myanmar also got its independence in the year 1947 (same as India). Its home to a strong Indian diaspora settled mostly in Yangon and Mandalay.

An elderly person says that the craze for the Hindi flicks dates back to the popular song “Mere piya gaye Rangoon” from 1949 movie “Patanga”.

Watch: ‘Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon’ song, sung by Shamshad Begum, C. Ramchandra from the film Patanga.

Today, Hindi soaps and films are quite popular here as well. Bollywood stars of yesteryears like Shashi Kapoor and Mithun Chakraborty, and the current heartthrobs, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, rule the hearts of Myanmarese too. Right from the common man to top corporate honchos, Hindi films are a hit in this country dominated by Buddhists.

Youngsters, though not literate in Hindi, are crazy about Hindi film love songs and they all can hum the popular songs.

Myanmar’s capital, Yangon, has six cinema halls that regularly screen popular Hindi movies. Most of the Hindi films with Burmese dubbing are released here simultaneously.

Strict censorship doesn’t allow Burmese filmmakers to show social and politically driven stories, forcing movie buffs to watch Bollywood and Hollywood films through pirated copies, usually imorted from China.

Did you know?
Veteran Actress / Dancer Helen was from Burma. Helen was famous for her cabaret and has danced on some of the most popular foot-tapping music of Bollywood (most of which were composed by the legendary RD Burman) in the 60s and 70s. Helen is the second wife of Salim Khan (father of Bollywood superstar Salman Khan)

Watch: Helen in ‘Yeh Mera Dil Yaar Ka Deewana’ song from the movie Don.

Films Shot in Burma

Vishal Bharadwaj’s upcoming film ‘Rangoon’, starring Shahid Kapoor & Kangana Ranaut will not be filmed in Burma(the crew is currently filming in Arunachal Pradesh in India.)

Sylvester Stallone’s hugely successful franchise Rambo (Rambo IV, 2008) was filmed extensively in Burma (in the movie, Rambo rescues missionaries kidnapped by men from the brutal Burmese military regime). In the past, a Telugu film ‘Rangoon Rowdy’ (1979 film) starring Krishnam Raju, Jaya Prada, Mohan Babu was filmed in Rangoon.

Watch: Rambo 4, Big hit with everyday Burmese and Karen freedom fighters

Film Industry in Burma

Around 50 Burmese films are made on an average every year. However, most of them are made for entertainment purpose. Because Burma is controlled by military generals, censorship is a big issue for local filmmakers. Censorship is strict and social and political stories are usually not allowed. That’s why most of the films made there are love stories and humour, which are pure entertainment, and not based on reality.

Burmese filmmaker The Maw Naing who directed “The Monk” (studied at the Yangon Film School and later studied directing at FAMU in Prague, Czech Republic) says that, like most countries, Hollywood & Bollywood movies are popular in Burma as well. Naing’s own film “The Monk” has not been shown in Burma yet.

In Burma, if a filmmaker shoots a film with 35mm film camera, he/she gets the chance to show the film in theatres. Otherwise, if a film is shot using digital camera, then you can only release your film on DVDs.

Burma has a huge Indian community, but even otherwise, the locals love to watch Bollywood films, especially those of Shah Rukh Khan. There are very few people who like to see locally produced Burmese films because of their smaller budgets. Support from the local government is practically non-existent.

Naing loves watching documentaries from India, and is a fan of Satyajit Ray’s way of filmmaking (especially “The Apu” trilogy). In general, Naing loves Indian independent cinema. He says that audiences in Myanmar equate Indian cinema with Bollywood, which he thinks is not correct. “We would like to see more independent cinema from India. People in Burma think Indian films are only about Bollywood. They like Bollywood films,” said Maw Naing.

Burmese Beauty Kool Nahi Hot Hai

When Bollywood fans saw hot babe Laila Khan in the small-budget movie “Kool Nahi Hot Hai Hum”, they were not sure from where she hailed. Many felt she was probably from Sikkim (‘Danny’ Denzongpa hails from Sikkim) or some neighboring area . Some other thought she was from Mongolia or some other place in Central Asia (the land of Changiz Khan) because of her surname.

However, the round faced girl is a native of Yangon in Myanmar and her real name is not Laila Khan; her real name is ‘Sandar Win’.

And even more interesting is the way she got her break in the hindi film industry.

After completing the MBA program in Malaysia for three years, Sandar Win joined an advertisement company in Dubai that used to make several ad films, most of which were directed by Bollywood directors. Bollywood directors (and producers) frequented this ad firm and that is where Sandar caught their attention. Few of them encouraged the Burmese girl to try her luck in Bollywood as she had the looks.

Encouraged by their pep talks, Sandar Win came to Mumbai, but was nervous initially because attractive girls from around the world were in Mumbai to try their luck. However, she stayed on.

Finally, after several exhausting screen tests, and learning Bollywood style dance, she was selected for a role in “Kool Nahi Hot Hai Hum.” Since then, she has worked in more films, and a few more are lined up in her kitty.

But why did ‘Sandar Win’ become ‘Lalia Khan’?
“Well, they wanted to label me on the lines of Bollywood nymph Helen,” said Sandar Win.

And since I was coming from Dubai, where Laila is a common name, they chose Laila as my first name and suffixed it with Khan (surname of the top Bollywood actors) and that is how ‘Sandar Win’ become ‘Lalia Khan’. I had no issues with my screen name,” says Sandar.

Watch: Aaja Ve Mahi featuring Laila N Khan

Well, definitely this is another interesting journey (more of luck by chance) of Sandar Win from Rangoon to Dubai via Dubai. But the good thing is that Laila Khan gave it a try, and the Burmese managed to get a break in Bollywood.