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Self-Styled Real-Life Borat Wants A Share

Turkey's Internet celebrity, Mahir Cagri, left and Kazakhstani TV talking head Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen)
AP
A Turkish Internet celebrity is so convinced he was the inspiration for Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat" character, he's traveling to London seeking an apology and a way to get paid from the film's surprise success.

Mahir Cagri 44, became a cyber celebrity after posting a personal Web site in 1999, featuring unintentionally amusing photos of himself playing ping pong or the accordion and sunbathing in a skimpy bathing suit. Fans were captivated by his broken English and hilarious invitation to women: "Who is want to come TURKEY I can invitate ... She can stay my home."

"The world knows he is copying Mahir," Cagri told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his hometown of Izmir on Monday, minutes before he was to board a plane for Istanbul to appear on a talk show.

"I am not saying this — the world is. I have received so many e-mails from people in the United States who tell me he is imitating me," he said.

Cagri, a freelance journalist, was scheduled to fly to London on Tuesday for meetings with his manager and lawyer there to discuss his options and hold interviews with British newspapers. He hopes to receive an "acknowledgment or an apology" from Baron Cohen.

"The bombshell is going to fall," he said of his London trip. "(Baron Cohen) is making money by using me."

The title character in the movie "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" was first developed for "Da Ali G Show" on HBO. The 20th Century Fox movie took in $26.5 million in the U.S. its opening weekend, more than any other film.

On the commentary track to the DVD of "Da Ali G Show," Baron Cohen says Borat was influenced by someone he met in southern Russia.

"I can't remember his name — he was a doctor" Baron Cohen said. "The moment I met him, I was totally crying. He was a hysterically funny guy, albeit totally unintentionally."

The character Borat has caused outrage among Kazakhs over the way their nation is being jokingly portrayed.

Cagri set up his Web site in the hope of making foreign friends and welcoming guests from abroad to his home. The Turk quickly became a celebrity, much to his surprise. Relishing his fame, Cagri has traveled to Europe and the United States to meet fans on sponsored trips.

"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" packed theaters this past weekend to debut as the top movie with $26.5 million.

The distributor elected to put it in only 800 theaters, and became the best debut ever for a movie opening in 800-900 theater, pushing "Fahrenheit 9/11" from the top spot.

The limited distribution was "the best marketing decision anybody is going to make this year," said CBS News Early Show contributor Jess Cagle.

"If they had gone out to 2,225 screens, it would have been a little more and just OK. With 800 screens, you have people fighting to get in and pictures on the news and it becomes that kind of thing you have to see," the People magazine editor said.

Cagle found a line around the block at the small New York theater in which he saw the film, a theater that normally has light attendance.

"I think it was a movie that had a lot of hype — too much hype but it lived up to the hype," Cagle said.

All that means if Cagri gets a share, it could be some serious money.