Bollywood in Britain

History of Bollywood in Britain

How long have people in Britain been watching Indian films?

Bollywood films have been shown in Britain since at least the 1950s. Many South Asian men migrated to cities like Bradford to work in the textiles mills. They needed some entertainment on their day off so a number of Asian entrepreneurs began to hire cinemas to show Bollywood films on Sunday afternoons. Demand was so high that some even bought cinemas and established Indian film societies.


Men that worked in mills and foundries would travel from as far away as Newcastle and Sheffield to Bradford in order to catch an Indian film on their day off. This is because Bradford was in the enviable position of having not one but several cinemas that showed exclusively Indian films. This is why there’s a famous scene in East is East, which involves George Khan and his family driving from Salford to Bradford just to watch an Indian film at the cinema. The film Sholay made in 1975, might have been one of the films watched in Britain around this period.

There was no professional circuit of distributors then. Cinema owners contacted Indian businessmen in London or Birmingham who had connections with film companies in India, in order to obtain a print. Many of Bollywood’s legendary actors, such as Dilip Kumar, Dharmendre, Sunil Dutt and Vijayanthimala came when their film was screened for the first time in Britain, which was often in Bradford. This would be billed as a personal appearance. The distributor would call the star on stage to say a few words at the start of the film, and then they signed autographs.


The poster prints on this page as well as song clips in related video links below highlight some of the classic films that were screened in Britain from the 1950s to the 1970s.


How popular are Bollywood films in Britain today?

Nowadays, Britain is one of the main overseas markets for Bollywood films. There are multiplexes nationwide with dedicated screens for Bollywood movies, while English subtitles are making the films more accessible to mainstream audiences. Many Indian films are now simultaneously released in India and Britain.


Indian films now feature regularly among the UK top twenty releases. When Kabhi Khushie Kabhie Gham (also known as K3G) was released in 2001, it entered the UK box office chart at number 3. This position was only a couple of places below Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

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