Long before Bollywood musicals became cool in the West, they were huge in the Middle East. Iraqi viewers in particular were nuts about Shammi Kapoor, the lovable rogue with the ants-in-his-pants dancing style. When I was TIME's Baghdad bureau chief, the best way to break the ice with people was to ask about "Shaami Kaboor," as the locals pronounced it. They'd grow misty-eyed and nostalgic; they'd recall their favorite scenes of his and shout "Yahoo!" his signature line from Junglee.
In the summer of 2003, I was reporting from a village stronghold of Saddam Hussein loyalists. When a local colonel discovered that I worked for a U.S. magazine, he picked up his AK-47 and pointed it at my forehead.
"You American?" he shouted.
"I'm from India," I said, truthfully.
"No, you're American," he said again. "You will die."
Panicked, I blurted out, "I'm Indian ... like Shaami Kaboor."
"Shaami Kaboor? You know Shaami Kaboor?" the colonel asked.
"Of course," I said. "All Indians know him. He's a big star."
The colonel lowered his AK-47. He stepped back.
"I like Shaami Kaboor," he said. "I saw all his movies when I was young. What was it he used to shout?"
"Yahoo," I said.
The danger had passed. "You are lucky you're Indian," he said. "Otherwise you would be dead. You should thank God."
In my mind, there was no doubt about whom I should thank.
Ghosh is TIME's deputy international editor
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