MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Last week, the hit movie “Borat” was nominated for two Golden Globe awards, one for best picture and one for best actor for British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. He plays the title character, a bumbling TV journalist from Kazakhstan, who travels across the U.S.
(Soundbite of movie, “Borat”)
SACHA BARON COHEN (As Borat): Yes, you may. I am (unintelligible) Borat. I like you. I like sex. It's nice.
BLOCK: Audiences had been drawn to Borat's mangled English, lack of political correctness and his unflattering wardrobe. But some observers have noted that Baron-Cohen fictitious character reminds them of another man with a weak grasp of English who was unexpectedly propelled to celebrity on the Internet several years ago.
NPR's Ivan Watson has his story.
IVAN WATSON: The man who calls himself the real Borat does not live in Kazakhstan but in Turkey in the coastal city of Izmir.
Mr. MAHIR CAGRI: I doubt. I don't, I don't - I don't - it's not very nice. It's a - people with a nice, frankly, and people -
WATSON: His name is Mahir Cagri, a 44-year-old bachelor who lived most of his life in relative obscurity as a journalist for a local weekly newspaper until 1999. When he posted a Web site that said welcome to my home page. I kiss you, followed by a string of exclamation points.
The site showed goofy but earnest photos of Mahir, a tall, mustachioed man with a big smile and an unusually large nose, playing ping pong, performing on the accordion, sunbathing in a red Speedo, and announcing to the world I like sex.
Millions of Web users discovered the page and overnight, the man who offered to invitate people to Turkey became one of the Internet's first celebrities.
(Soundbite of talk show)
Unidentified Man: Since he put up his Web site designed to meet women (unintelligible) has become one of the most popular men in the universe, please welcome, one of Turkish delight, Mahir.
WATSON: Since 1999, Mahir has toured the world, appearing on talk shows and even recording this song, “Give Me A Call.”
(Soundbite of song, “Give Me A Call”)
Mr. CAGRI: (Singing) My name is Mahir.
WATSON: Along the way, Mahir has had a lot of time to ponder his unexpected fame.
Mr. CAGRI: I am blessed. Why? I am blessed. People love me.
WATSON: Sitting in an Izmir café, Mahir explained that people like his simple message of love.
Mr. CAGRI: I stopped (unintelligible) I kiss you. People love this. People needs to smile. People need to peace. People need to love.
WATSON: Mahir says this message appeals to everyone, regardless of religion, nationality, or gender.
Mr. CAGRI: You can be homosexual, lesbian, or Satanist, or - unimportant. Every human need good electric, positive electric, positive energy. They can get it from me.
WATSON: But there is one man that this self-proclaimed ambassador of love is not willing to kiss.
Mr. CAGRI: This is disgusting. Not comedy.
WATSON: Mahir accuses Sacha Baron Cohen, the star of the hit movie, “Borat,” of copying him.
Mr. CAGRI: The real Borat my (unintelligible). Borat imitates (unintelligible)
WATSON: You think Borat stole your red Speedo?
Mr. CAGRI: And red Speedo, of course. Borat character never used before, red Speedo, before than me. And never use I kiss you often. If you stand watching his movie, he use often I kiss you.
WATSON: In the movie, Borat does, in fact, spend a lot of time trying to kiss people.
(Soundbite of movie, “Borat”)
SACHA BARON COHEN (Actor): (As Borat) Hello. My name is Borat. Are you new in town? I just say a kiss, say hello!
WATSON: Mahir says he is considering taking legal actions against Borat. But it may be an uphill battle. Because years before Mahir hit the Internet, Baron Cohen was already on British TV playing versions of the Borat character, which he has said were inspired by a Russian doctor he once met.
Meanwhile, the success of the Borat movie has given Mahir a burst of free publicity. He says he wants to make his own movie now, publish an autobiography and record a new single. All that, in addition to continuing his search for the perfect wife who, Mahir says, must have certain characteristics.
Mr. CAGRI: White and blond and thin, thin, no fat. Good characters.
WATSON: Before saying goodbye, the man Turks call Internet Mahir had a few final words for his guests.
Mr. CAGRI: Continue dancing.
WATSON: Yeah. Absolutely.
Mr. CAGRI: Every time.
WATSON: Thank you so, so much.
Mr. CAGRI: And tell your listeners, I kiss you, Mahir.
WATSON: Thank you, Mahir. Ivan Watson, NPR News, Izmir, Turkey.
BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.