In 1980s Algeria, a time where economic instability and boredom flooded many households, television was a welcome reprieve from the recession and government-controlled patriotism. Every Friday afternoon, as the prayers came to an end, Algeria’s single television channel would play “Janitou” — a Bollywood film also known as Aa Gale Lag Jaa in Hindi. Algerian filmmaker Amine Hattou was inspired to create a documentary about this film and how it inspired a generation of youth and gave them something to look forward to in a time where Algeria seemed rather bleak.
An AFAC grantee, Amine was able to fund and produce his film, which provides a dynamic and personal look at life in Algeria — now and then. The film, entitled Searching for Janitou, chronicles the childhood of those growing up in the 1980s with the high-pitched fuzzy backdrop of the kitschy, romantized Bollywood film. Though the story seems fundamentally simple, it allowed Amine to examine the questions: What is a hero? What is the meaning of love?
Amine states, “For as long as I can remember, the image of the ‘heroic’ in Algerian society is related to war. An Algerian Hero is, by definition, a Freedom Fighter. A ‘man’ is someone who will sacrifice his life for his country. The legacy of our fight for independence from the French means that all our heroes are war heroes – aka, Moudjahidoun. The question that keeps returning to me is this: can’t a lover be a hero too?” And indeed, the film goes about asking that very question to a variety of Algerians whom, like Amine, grew up glued to the television every time Janitou came on.
“Tracing the memory of this film among the people of my generation has become an indirect way to raise important questions about our relationships with each other as human beings. An Indian love story suddenly offers a new kind of heroism. Remembering this film in this context is a way to explore the theme of love, relationships and sexuality within the conservative society of Algeria.”