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Meet Amitabh Bachchan’s biggest Israeli fan

The one-time superstar has had many devout admirers around the world. On Amitabh Bachchan’s 74th birthday, we talked to Moses Sapir, who calls himself his biggest fan from Israel.

Photo: Moses Sapir

Sonal Pandya

Moses Sapir, 37, a former Israeli commando, grew up watching Hindi movies. Sapir’s parents emigrated to Israel in the early 1970s from Georgia in the erstwhile Soviet Union.

He recalls, “My love for Indian cinema came from my parents. They were born in Georgia and saw Indian films in their childhood and adolescence. They really loved the films of Raj Kapoor – from Awara, Shree 420, Sangam and Mera Naam Joker – to Dharamji's [Dharmendra's] Phool Aur Patthar and Dilipji’s [Dilip Kumar's] Ganga Jumna and a few more.

"After he came to Israel, my father started watching Amitabh Bachchan films – Anand, Zanjeer, Sholay – and after that my family became the biggest fans of Amitji in Israel. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Indian films were screened in theatres in Israel, especially Amitabh Bachchan's movies. My father was always buying me movies of Amitabhji and I preferred them to toys. I remember moments of myself as a little boy watching with my parents movies like Amar Akbar Anthony, Naseeb, Shaan, Satte Pe Satta, Deewaar, Sholay, Hera Pheri and many more.”

There are many in Israel who have grown up watching Indian cinema. Sapir explains, “There are a lot of Israeli tourists who come to India every year to travel, then they come back to Israel with a love for Hindi cinema. There are Indian Jews who migrated to Israel from India decades ago; they too brought their love of Indian cinema. Many Israelis who are not of Indian origin love Indian cinema because of Amitabh Bachchan. It should be noted that in Israel there are three channels that broadcast only Indian cinema. Amar Akbar Anthony is famous in Israel as is the title song. The admiration that the Israelis have for Amitabhji is very huge and more than the rest of the movie stars in India.”

The little boy who watched his idol, Amitabh Bachchan, on the big screen, could not have imagined meeting him in the flesh, that too in India. In 2005, Sapir was still in the Israeli army when he decided to take a chance and try to meet Bachchan in Mumbai. “I took some days off and took a flight to India some weeks before my marriage. At that time, there were no social media platforms. I had a journalist friend at a newspaper in Mumbai. He and another journalist friend helped me to meet Amitji that time. Because at that time, we didn’t have Amitji’s blog or Twitter. It was just fly to India and try your best.”

Sapir calls his once-in-a-lifetime meeting "the biggest dream in my entire life". "Even now, I think about it, it was 11-12 years ago. Some people have a dream of being rich, having luxury cars and big houses. I had a dream to meet Amitabhji. I remember I did not believe he was standing over me and talking to me. I did not know where to start and what to talk. But Amitabhji was so nice to me, it was just a wonderful thing. He invited me to see the shooting of his film and then to his private van to sit and talk.”

After his initial encounter, the two have become online friends, keeping in touch across the miles.

“I joined Twitter before Amitji joined and after he joined, he saw me there and he reached out. After that I used to tweet him pictures, write to him and I also wrote on his blog many years ago. We are in contact on Twitter and on his blog. I keep sending him his pictures.”

These rare photos that Moses tweets, he has been collecting since childhood. It has been an exhausting and costly affair since Indian magazines and films are not readily available in Israel. But Sapir is persistent and asks anyone flying to India to get back magazines for him. "I swear, I spend all my money to buy all this stuff! Today, I’m saying it in a very modest way, I don’t think anyone, even Amitji himself, has these videos, CDs and DVDs," he says.

Photo: Moses Sapir

As a child, Sapir wasn’t drawn to cartoons. For him, Amitabh Bachchan “was the ultimate hero for a little boy”. He says, “He was strong. He could sing, he danced. I sat and watched his movies and felt like I'm seeing the most amazing man in the world.” Sapir doesn’t just watch Bachchan’s Hindi films. He has become a Hindi cinema fan after watching his films and can now converse in the language.  

Even Sapir’s 10-year-old son Amit is a fan. Amit is, of course, named for Bachchan, and like his father knows all about Hindi films. “I have two children, one son and one daughter. My son is named Amit because of Amitabh Bachchan. Amitji also knows it. When he was born, Amitji’s secretary called me and wished me.”

Photo: Moses Sapir

As the actor turns 74 today, Sapir has nothing but admiration for his hero. “At his age, no one in the history of Indian cinema can act in movies in leading roles like T3en, Wazir, Pink and Shamitabh. Even Ashok Kumar, Rajendra Kumar or Raj Kapoor, they acted in character roles. Not only because I’m a fan, I’ve seen Hollywood films, I see all the films of Al Pacino, Robert De Niro. In my opinion, not because I love Amitji, I don’t think anyone has his level of acting in Hollywood. Shah Rukh Khan is good and Salman Khan is good, but they are not Amitabh Bachchan. They cannot reach his level of acting.”

Sapir keeps up to date on the latest in Hindi films and hopes one day to visit India again soon. His wish for Bachchan’s birthday is simple, “Be happy, be healthy and keep entertaining us for another 100 years.”