This article breaks new ground by reframing the context in which the governments of India and the Soviet Union arrived at an understanding that determined the course of cinematic exchange between the two countries during the cold war. It suggests that official Indian attitudes to the export of commercial films to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were not formulated on the basis of carefully calibrated political considerations, but rather on an ad hoc footing, and in response to a combination of unwelcome Soviet pressure and commercial concerns voiced by Indian film-makers. To fully understand the origins of Indian cinema’s emergence as a prominent feature of cultural life behind the Iron Curtain, it is necessary to travel back to the early 1950s, when an unlikely alliance was forged between K.A. Abbas, a flamboyant and politically well-connected Indian film-maker, and N.P. Koulebiakin, a dour commu- nist apparatchik in charge of the Indian arm of Sovexportfilm, the Soviet agency responsible for the import and export of feature films. Specifically, this article recovers the hitherto elided role played by Indian film-makers, such as Abbas, and lesser known Indian films, such as Rahi, in establishing the political ground rules that governed bi-lateral Indo–Soviet cinematic interchange.