The History of Borat

Borat Sagdiyev is a fictional character played by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Borat first appeared in sketches on the British TV series F2F.  Initially, Borat claimed to be from Albania.  This rough draft of the character began to take shape on Da Ali G Show. Borat was given a back-story, and instead of being from Albania, he was now from Kazakhstan.  It seems, through various in-character interviews, that the character Borat was never intended to be entirely consistent, and that incongruities in Borat’s personal details are quickly revealed when examined closely.

Da Ali G Show first ran in the UK in 2000. The show was popular enough to spawn an American spin-off broadcast on HBO. On the show, Sacha Baron Cohen plays three crazy journalists — the main character Ali G, a Kazakhstani named Borat Sagdiyev, and an Austrian homosexual named Brüno — who carry out ridiculous interviews with unsuspecting people.  The character Borat is introduced as someone Ali came across on obscure satellite TV “whilst waiting for the 10 minute free preview on the Fantasy Channel”.  The popularity of the character led to the release of the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

The film follows Borat as he leaves his homeland of Kazakhstan with his producer Azamat Bagatov, and his pet chicken, Buh-Kaw for the “Greatest Country in the World,” the “US and A” to make a documentary film for the fictitious Kazakh Ministry of Information.  The film pretty much follows the same format as the show and has Borat interviewing unsuspecting Americans, pushing the boundaries of their manners with his inept grasp of American customs and ideals. The interviews are held loosely together by the flimsy side story of Borat travelling across the country from New York to California to find Pamela Anderson and make her his bride.

Borat debuted at number one on its opening weekend with a total gross of $26.4 million, despite having been shown on only 837 screens. Borat holds the record of the highest opening day gross for a film released in fewer than 1,000 cinemas.  This came as some surprise to 20th Century Fox, which had scaled back its American release from about 2,000 to 800 cinemas after marketing-survey data showed unexpectedly poor levels of audience awareness of Da Ali G Show and its characters.

Though Borat was well received by critics, many calling it the best film of the year, many of the film’s participants didn’t see it that way. Although all potential participants were required to sign long release forms agreeing not to take legal action for any defamation of character or fraud carried out during the film’s production, many tried to sue anyway feeling they had been duped.

Initially the government of Kazakhstan was none too pleased with the portrayal of Kazakhstan and feared the character was poorly affecting its international image. After reviewing the film though Kazakhstan was in on the joke, realizing that it was not in fact an anti-Kazakh, anti-Romanian or anti-Semitic film but rather more anti-American, showcasing Americans as uneducated and unaware of the world outside itself.  Amazon UK has reported significant numbers of orders of the Borat DVD from Kazakhstan.

Ultimately the popularity of Borat has lead to the character’s demise. Though 20th Century Fox is open to the idea of another Borat film, Sacha Baron Cohen has stated that Borat is now too famous to trick people.