As Australia prepares for a visit from one of Bollywood’s biggest actors Shahrukh Khan, Greek-Australian Peter Yiannoudes is looking back at another era of Bollywood cinema in Australia when he imported films from Greece for Australia’s Greek community and then expanded to include Indian films.
Bollywood features played in packed houses of mainly Greek migrants in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He’s now setting up a museum in Melbourne with some of his favorite movie posters and other items from his more than 50 years in the film industry.
According to him, “Mother India was the biggest success we ever had outside of the Greek film Golfo. It was 1964 when we released the film in the National Theater on Bridge Street in Richmond. It was a small theater about 1,000 seats. The theater was pre-booked, nearly two weeks earlier. So on that particular day nearly 5,000 people came to see the film. So we called the police to send the people away and allow inside the cinema only the people who had the pre-booked tickets. The Sun-Herald wrote that never before had that happened at a cinema like that.” This tale of social injustice and rural hardship resonated with Greeks overseas and in Australia at the time, as did many Indian films.
Peter Yiannoudes, who migrated to Australia in the 1950’s from Cyprus, says his love of the cinema was forged from necessity. He took a job at a local movie house and is now running more than 40 cinemas around the country. His cinemas mainly catered to Australia’s large community of Greek migrants. After a meeting with an Indian superstar, Yiannoudes decided to introduce Indian films to Australia.
Dramatic themes of social adversity, poverty, migration, meddling families, and of course everyone’s favorite, love – were prominent themes in the films of both cultures. Add to this a backdrop of highly choreographed singing and dancing – and the allure of Bollywood became a perfect fit for Greeks looking for some escapism after the country’s civil war. And while the cross-cultural influence mainly went one way from India to Greece – there was one Greek actress who did manage to break into the Indian market – bleached blonde Aliki Vougiouklaki.
The Bollywood cinema has been popular in many other countries outside India – mainly in the Middle East, Greece, North Africa and Russia.