Toronto cab driver Rashid Khan has declared the Toronto International Film Festival a flop. And this, without seeing even a single festival film. "Mazaa nahin aya," he said. "No fun, brother. There was no glamour this year."
He was, of course, talking about the actors.
I said, "Brad Pitt was there. Madonna was there, and there were also many young Hollywood actresses."
"That is not enough," he said, giving me a 'are you stupid or what' kind of look. "Where was Katrina Kaif or Kareena Kapoor?"
He said the previous years when Rani Mukerji, Priyanka Chopra and Kajol walked the red carpet, he took off hours from his routine to stand by the curb-side and watch the event. "I even went to see two or three films because Hindustani actors were there at the special show. My bosses were not happy. I was losing money but to see Shah Rukh or Aamir or Priyanka, it is nothing."
The owner of a Somali restaurant, Ali Hussain, said he too was disappointed that no big stars from Bollywood were going to be in Toronto this year.
"I would have closed my business for couple of hours to see them," said Hussain who single-handedly runs a 15-seat restaurant about one-and-a-half miles from the main festival venue. "In Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria or even the whole of Africa, we like Indian heroes because when they lose their sweethearts they cry and sing. Hollywood actors are afraid to do it. That is why I like Shah Rukh and Salman more than Brad Pitt. When they fight with their girls, they are very, very sad and we cry watching them."
Brad Pitt was in town to promote his latest Moneyball which was one of the more popular movies at the festival.
Most of the estimated 6,000 cab drivers in Toronto are of Pakistani, Indian, Iranian, Ethiopian and Somali origin and Hindi films are very popular with them.
When an Ethiopian or Iranian cab driver asks me if I have seen any celebrity at the film festival, he is not thinking of big Hollywood names. "I saw Hathi Mere Sathi when I was a boy more than 35 years ago," says an Ethiopian cab driver. "I think I have seen the film at least ten times and I think it is the best film I have ever seen."
When I told an elderly Indian cab driver that Shahid Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor were coming to the premiere of Mausam (which was cancelled later), he said, "I have heard of Shahid. I think I have seen him in a film with Kareena Kapoor, but who is this Sonam?"
An Iranian cab driver who watches two or three Hindi films a month on video had heard Akshay Kumar was going to be in town to promote his first English language production. "But he comes to Toronto many times," he said. "Will Salman Khan be coming? I heard he is all right after his surgery in America."
When a Pakistani cabbie also asked about Bollywood stars at the festival, I said Freida Pinto is here to promote Trishna.
"Is she Hindustani?" he said. "What kind of a name is that? I like names like Saira Banu, Nutan, Meena Kumari and Nargis."