Bollywood films entered Soviet Union in the 1950s purely as an alternative to western cinema. And since then Bollywood refuses to leave Russia with its love and popularity growing all across Eastern Europe. So what makes Indian cinema, and Hindi films so loved in U.S.S.R?
We came across an article on The Moscow Times about the Bollywood affair with the Soviet Union. The Indian author starts with talking about Russian girls sharing letters with her. Every one of these letters talk of how much these girls loved Bollywood movies. Their most favorite actors were listed out. It read: Shah Rukh Khan, Mithun Chakraborty, Aamir Khan, Juhi Chawla, Rati Agnihotri, Govinda, Rekha, Sridevi, etc., a veritable who’s who of popular cinema of those days.
The following has been reproduced from the original article about Bollywood in Russia.
She goes on to add that the late 1980s and early 1990s were years when the Soviet states were on their last legs of unity and India was similarly poised for new beginnings, opening its markets to the years of Coke and capitalism that would follow. By then, the grip that Bollywood held over the cultural landscape of the Soviet states had already loosened significantly. The era of sustained cultural diplomacy, via films from India to the U.S.S.R. and via books in English and most Indian languages in the other direction was on a steady wane. The peak was in the 1950s and 60s when Raj Kapoor especially, and Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar to a certain extent, elicited fan frenzy that can only be compared to the madness that followed the Liverpool boys, the Beatles, on the other side of the world.
The write up further states that the virtue of granting escapism to its consumers was what made Bollywood films so popular in the Soviet Union of the 1950s. Raj Kapoor and Nargishad taken the Soviet Union by storm, starting with Awaara in 1954. Alexander Lipkov’s thorough paper, “India’s Bollywood in Russia,” lists Nimai Ghosh’s “Chhinnamul” as the first film that was released in the U.S.S.R. But it was the Chaplinesque roles of Raj Kapoor that struck a chord. Eight hundred prints each of Dev Anand’s “Rahi” and “Awaara” were released in all the languages of the 15 Soviet republics.
Just after India’s independence in 1947 when, after much deliberation, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided to side with the U.S.S.R., Bollywood movies began to be either dubbed for a Soviet audience or subtitled. As pure escapism, a duty commercial movies continue to steadfastly fulfill, these movies ran to full houses for weeks at best, or to fairly full houses, at their worst. Indian films, always Hindi, not those in other languages, were encouraged because they were seen as protection for the Russian film market against Hollywood films. Though Hindi was never officially a “national language” in India, the film industry in that language was the biggest in those years. Not surprisingly, art films, those of Satyajit Ray and others of his ilk, failed miserably at the box offices. These tackled poverty and issues that affected real lives.
It perhaps helped that in the 1950s both India and Russia were in similar situations — the former, newly free, the latter, reeling under losses from WWII. It helped to be able to sit in a dark hall for up to four hours and laugh and cry and escape from the drudgery of life outside. With the collapse of the U.S.S.R., the mighty distribution machinery of American films began to churn louder and louder. The quality of Bollywood was on the decline as well. The extensive cultural influences naturally began to ebb as both economies opened their doors to global vagaries and cultural diplomacy was no longer given its due currency.
Source: The Moscow Times