From Russia, with love

India’s longtime association with Russian films went into hibernation in the 1990s. Now there are signs of a revival

This year not only marks the 70th year of Independence for India, but also for diplomatic relations with Russia (known as the Soviet Union before 1991). And with such fraternal ties comes sharing of culture and cinema too; this time, a Russian film has been released in the country for the first time since the 1990s.

The Crew, directed by Nikolai Lebedev, that hit Indian screens on Friday (January 20) is the result of a bilateral pact signed between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in October 2016 (cultural ties was one among the many agreements).

The movie, a disaster-action film that has been shot in IMAX-3D, first hit the screens in Russia and China, and has reportedly collected more than $25 million at the box office so far.

It has long been known that Bollywood films such as Raj Kapoor’s Awaara have had a huge following in the Soviet Union. Director K. Hariharan, who formerly headed the L. V. Prasad Film & TV Academy in Chennai and taught a course on World Cinema at the Asian College of Journalism, explained why such films resonated with the Russians. “There are two reasons. They fell in line with the Soviet Union’s policy of showing films that tackled social issues, the plight of the poor and downtrodden. And they also loved the song-and-dance sequences.”

But what about their films that came to our shores? The first such co-production between India and the Soviet Union came in 1957, with Journey Beyond Three Seas (Pardesi in Hindi) — based on the travel journals of Afanasy Nikitin, the first Russian explorer to visit the Indian subcontinent during the 15th century. Jointly directed by K.A. Abbas (Saat Hindustani, Mera Naam Joker) and Vasili Pronin, the film starred Oleg Strizhenov as Nikitin and featured Nargis Dutt, Prithviraj Kapoor, Balraj Sahni and Padmini in supporting roles.

Pardesi was a proper production that had a minimal set-up,” Hariharan said. “And films like these were produced mostly as a token of Indo-Soviet partnership.”

Hariharan recollected the days when full-fledged Soviet productions, like War and Peace, and films from the Eastern Bloc would make their way into Indian screens, especially at Elphinstone Theatre and Kalaivanar Arangam. Tickets cost about Rs. 2 or Rs. 3, and the film would run for the weekend. “In the late 60s, these were the only foreign films that could be bought (by distributors) in rupees instead of dollars,” he said.

Maria Lemesheva, editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of The Hollywood Reporter and adviser to the Russian Union of Cinematographers, organised a Russian film festival in Mumbai last year. In an interview to RIA Novosti, Lemesheva had spoken about bringing back Russian films to India “from scratch” and collaborating with Indian film personalities.

The report also mentioned films like Icebreaker, set to release later in India and a movie titled Best Friends — the first Russian-Indian film in 25 years.

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Printable version | Jul 16, 2020 8:27:51 PM |

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