Indian Cinema through the Russian Eye
Picture this. You are in Russia and a Russian comes up to you and asks “Are you from India?” You’ve merely uttered your reply “Yes” and the Russian suddenly breaks into a dance routine of a famous Bollywood movie, passionately singing along the lyrics. Or perhaps you are in a bus or a train and as soon as it is established that you are from India, the Russians start throwing Bollywood movie names at you or humming Hindi songs to you while you sit there perplexed trying to decode the names of the Hindi movies spoken in their thick Russian accents.
Yes this happens. Don’t be too surprised when many more Indians share similar stories with you. Russia’s love for Bollywood movies dates back to the 1950s when the Soviet populace discovered the larger-than-life world of Indian cinema. For the Russians Indian movies were like fairy tales, reflecting experiences which were untouched by any ideology. The viewers developed almost an instant affinity towards the situations depicted in Indian cinema. Raj Kapoor- The Indian Charlie Chaplin, as he was called, ruled the hearts of millions in Russia after the release of Awaara (1951) and Mera Naam Joker (1972). In 1954 when a festival of Indian films took place, nearly a million people saw the Indian movies in the first four days of the festival. It is said that during Raj Kapoor’s and Nargis’s visit to Russia after the release of Awaara, fans mobbed them, shouted songs at them without understanding a single word of Hindi, and literally picked up the car (with Raj Kapoor in it) and carried it off.
Next in line was the unforgettable Indian saga of the twin sisters, Seeta aur Geeta (1972). After its release children in Moscow were seen trying to imitate the circus tricks of the protagonist of the film, Hema Malini, and also trying to reenact her character’s bold and daring speech and behavior. Such admiration and love for Indian films did not come to a standstill but only increased with the release of Mithun Chakravorty’s Disco Dancer ( 1982). This movie forced the young moviegoers of the USSR to see Indian cinema in a different light. Disco Dancer earned around sixty million Roubles at a time when movie tickets cost 20-50 kopecks.
However after the disintegration of the country, Hollywood and western movies took over the market. But the striking and colorful performances of Indian dancers and musicians of Bollywood continues to bedazzle them. Today’s young Russian moviegoers along with their renewed interest in serious art movies, have not yet left behind the entertainment by the song, dance, glitz and glamour of Bollywood. Fortunately, with the Indian cinema becoming more diverse and experimental now they can have it all.