There Once Was a Man From Tajik

Whaaaaat! Watch and be amazed.

Who is this Tajik Jimmy from Russia?

The rise of Mr. Allaberiyev, widely known as Tajik Jimmy, a migrant worker in a provincial Russian stockroom who delivers astonishing renditions of Bollywood musical numbers, is one more testament to the strange power of the Internet. A little more than a year after one of his performances was filmed by a co-worker with a cellphone and posted online, Mr. Allaberiyev cannot walk through a crowd in the Russian capital without being stopped by fans.nyt

I once had an older Vietnamese colleague sing me a Bollywood song, a remnant from her childhood of being raised in Vietnam before she escaped. I was stunned that Bollywood had reached so far in such a restrictive country. Seems like Bollywood to Russia took a similar path.

For an impoverished boy growing up on a Tajik collective farm, there was no greater pleasure than Bollywood films, which were approved by the Communist Party as a politically safe diversion. Mr. Allaberiyev’s family understood that he had a gift; by the age of 7 or 8, he could commit songs to memory and repeat them with eerie accuracy, after watching a movie twice.



When the Soviet collapse cast Tajikistan into poverty and civil war, he joined the great river of young men who left home in search of work…HE sang as he watched 1,700 sheep and fed cows for a wealthy Uzbek trader…nyt

Now, how to bring Tajik Jimmy to the Boston meetup….

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About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates and blogs at Follow her at

22 thoughts on “There Once Was a Man From Tajik

  1. i have read that bollywood films are popular from the middle east to southeast asia, and into the former “second world.” for the reasons noted above; the politics are banal and/or trivial, and the sexualization is minimal (since i don’t watch these films i have no idea if the aforementioned characterizations are correct or not, just repeating what was written as an explanation).

  2. “Mr. Allaberiyev cannot walk through a crowd in the Russian capital without being stopped ” — Most Tajik migrants in Moscow have the exact same problem. Of course, usually it’s the militsiya stopping them to check their documents and fish for bribes, or skinheads stopping them to tell them to go back home …

  3. my colleague who emigrated from Ukraine in 1996 is fluent in hindi cinema dialogues. Both he and his wife (also ukraininan) have seen way more hindi movies than i ever have. their fav movie – sholay :)

    USSR screened lots of indian movies and if you had a chance to watch a russian movie vs a bollywood movie it was an easy pick.

    escapism is important when one’s everyday life is painful

  4. i have read that bollywood films are popular from the middle east to southeast asia, and into the former “second world.” for the reasons noted above; the politics are banal and/or trivial, and the sexualization is minimal (since i don’t watch these films i have no idea if the aforementioned characterizations are correct or not, just repeating what was written as an explanation).

    T1000, Sir.

    Indian movies are very popular in Middle East, Eastern Europe, France (movies from Satyajit Ray, Smita Patil, etc. for experimentation and different content), and massively ingrained in former USSR rebublics since inception of Indian cinema. Sholay is an all time favorite in Iran. Rajnikant has a cult-like following in Japan.

    Raj Kapoor movies, who lead the way in these countries are neither banal in politics, and had always pushed the envelope of sexuality in his cinemas. Maybe, it is the overly emotional content of these movies that touch a chord there in these countries (it also really helps that the communist government apparatus let them through with no blocks in past), but not the reason/ non-reason you pulled out of thin air. As pointed out earlier, Raj Kapoor movies had a very strong socialist message in his movies. China is seeing a massive resurgence in Indian cinema.

    It would really help if you saw some of these movies, rather than paraphrasing through a minute or two of googling.

  5. While the guy has talent, and I hope he really can get a few bucks out of his gigs as a novelty act, I don’t know if he can break it big into the world music genre they are trying to fit him in. His voice doesn’t seem anything special. If that was some Indian slum guy at the train station from South India singing a Hindi song he didn’t understand we wouldnt really care much about that clip.

    Having said that, it is always a kick to see a person of one culture imitating something so well from another culture. I hope he doesn’t get cheated by people trying to cash in on his 15 min.

  6. That is an awesome clip although I’m not too surprised. My friend’s parents who grew up in Ukraine and Georgia were big Raj Kapoor fans and this was back in middle school during the 80s. We also met an Armenian cab driver in Vegas who was happy to see Indians because he had been obsessed with Mithun Chakraborty’s Disco Dancer. Much of these pre-90′s references must have come from the Indian-Russian Cold War alliance, and India’s former socialist values. We also met a young Peruvian girl in Cusco who asked us if we personally knew Shah Rukh Khan, and if we could introduce her. How Bollywood reached South America (prior to Dhoom 2 and other movies filmed there) we had no idea.

  7. Tajik people have influenced India/Pakistan extensively in the past. Most Farsi loanwords into Urdu came via the Tajiks and not the Persians. The Tajiks speak a dialect of Farsi called Daari, and it’s very mutually intelligible with Persian Farsi, but their scripts are different, and Daari has a lot more pre-Islamic influences. Moreover, the Farsi/Daari speakers of Afghanistan are Tajik (the Tajiks of Afghanistan refer to themselves as Tajik, or Farsi).

    This guy impresses me, but he’s a one-trick-pony. I appreciate his enthusiasm for our culture.

    Oh yes, there is a LOT of racism towards brownies/tannies/khakis in Moscow!

    Finally, I’ve seen a Tajik film in the past at the Museum of Fine Arts called “Angel on the Right.” It was actually quite funny and advanced.

  8. This guy impresses me, but he’s a one-trick-pony. I appreciate his enthusiasm for our culture.

    Not. He is a talent waiting to be picked up by an enterprising film maker from India. Fast before, one of those scatological experts find him.

    Raj Kapoor’s movies are intensely political, thanks to that other genius he worked with – the master of letters – Khwaja Ahmed Abbas. Awara, Shree 420, Jagte Raho/Ek Din Ratri (the Bangla version in which Raj Kapoor recited his own lines in Bangla), Mera Naam Joker, Bobby – were some of the highlights of their collaboration. Of course the entire corpus of mainstream cinema in India can be read as one gigantic interrogation of the Indian state, and its failure to do its duty towards its citizens. But that is for another day. My Romanian friends tell me that in those grim days of Communism Hindi movies – or Drama as they called it – were the only thing they looked forward to. My friend’s mother of course knows all the popular Raj Kapoor songs in Romanian and Russian. As does my fishmonger who fled from Prague in 1968. Not to forget Vikram Seth’s account of singing Main Awara Hoon in China before a few 1000 people only to have them drowning his voice in chorus. How I wish Andrew Lloyd Weber had chosen an Indian movie to create a play out of rather than a cut and paste piece of kitsch like BD.

    It is interesting to see how a third generation of Indian movie stars continue to find fans around the world. Raj Kapoor, then Mithun, Rajinikanth, and now Shah Rukh Khan in South America. Of course there is Amitabh Bacchan the world’s most widely known and admired actor, or the world’s superstar.

  9. indian cinema is more watched than hollywood, It is the biggest cinema industry of the world and the most dubbed. It’s been huge everywhere except the western hemisphere for decades, and only now with the diaspora has the west caught up to the love of bollywood people. Regardless of if you like the films or not you have to agree that they are pure escapism which is why they are so popular.

  10. Indian movies are widely seen in Africa, not so much because africans like Indian culture, as it is more to do with financial reasons. Indian movies are cheaper than english movies.

  11. Indian movies are cheaper than english movies.

    Not really. Not in these days of torrents, file sharing etc., The growing popularity of Indian cinema worldwide wrt to Hollywood (which still makes more money by orders of magnitude) is because people have begun to see through the latter as well. Without any malice to anyone, Hollywood too is very soon just another formula. Especially after I came here to the US 9 years ago, Hollywood changed for me, I now recognize the wooden acting, the typecasting, the cliche, the steretyping, bad accents and all that. C’mon you have to make money – nothing wrong with that – and still fulfill your creative aspirations. That is as old as art itself. It’s not cynicism but being realistic!

  12. Indian movies are massive in Indonesia as well. Last time I was there, the video clip of “Bole Chudiyan” (from “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham”) was on TV virtually every hour. My cousin kept singing it, but not knowing Hindi, changed the title words to “Mobil Curi ya” which basically means “my car has been stolen”. Since a lot of people in my extended family knew my girlfriend was Indian, I was asked on numerous occasions, “She must be a good dancer, right?”

    Oh and I once saw a documentary on the West African country of Burkina Faso, and apparently Indian cinema is big there also.

  13. @jyotsana 7:26,

    Yes, it is be cheaper today to download off of torrents; but it was a non-existent in 1990′s when Indian movies dominated almost all african countries

  14. Pedro, But then in those days, you had the ubiquitous camera print and v.lax anti-piracy operations. Until some of the biggest movie pirates became audio/video cassett makers and then finally movie producers. No names please, or I will get sued! Among the first illegal movie shows must be the special screening of Raj Kapoor’s Sangam the Hindujas organized for Empress Farah of Iran.

  15. @ jyotsana, your torrenting comment is only true for people who have computer, who are a distinct minority of individuals worldwide. I would venture that the ratio of people who have access to movie theaters to people who have computers is gigantic. As such, torrenting would not come into it, but getting cinema reels would.

  16. Why should you be stunned that Bollywood films have such reach in ‘restrictive’ countries? Before Bollywood became ‘Bollywood’, before films were being made for NRIs and the diaspora living in the Western world, old Hind films were seen from across South-East Asia to Africa, the Middle East and even in the Caribbean. Communist countries could identify with Raj Kapoor’s take on the poor, honest Indian man and the socialist theme and even later Mithun Chakraborty’s films did well. Ask any Russians to sing ‘Awara Hoon’ from Raj Kapoor’s Awara and they will. Sholay has screened in China and so have other old Hindi films. Seems like you need an education in ‘Bollywood’. Perhaps you know that Mother India was nominated for an Academy Award in 1958? Maybe not. Jaagte Raho, produced by RK Films (Raj Kapoor) won the Crystal Globe at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 1957. (That was in the former Czechoslovakia, a communist country.) These are precursors of ‘Bollwood’. You tell a good story and anyone will watch it. Nothing is as off putting as a bunch of songs put together with fake characters for the sake of a ‘Bollywood’ film. Anyway, my two bits. I suggest you actually do some good research before you write. Tchuss. ps I reckon more people across the globe will watch Kaminey and end up singing/humming ‘Dhan Te Naan’ simply because it is a good film. Not ‘Bollywood’.

  17. it’s worth pointing out that ‘tajik’ jimmy is ethnically uzbek — i suppose this reflects the current russian tendency to group all those central asian ‘others’ into some mental category for easy harassment and beatings. charming indeed..

  18. I fail to see how this is newsworthy. What does he do differently that a million and one Indians don’t do everyday?

    Cheap Eastern European Knock-off