Through the pages of History: Bollywood (Part-1)

“Aaj mere paas buildingey hai, property hai, bank balance hai, bungla hai, gaadi hai … tumhare pass kya hai?” “Mere paas Maa hai!”

“Bade-bade deshon mein aaisi choti-choti baatein hoti rehti hai Senorita!”

And the most recent one:

“Religion waale column mei hum Bold aur Capital mei Indian likhte hain!”

That is what defines the unique and unmatched identity of Bollywood. Drama, Comedy, Tragedy, Romance, Colors, Music and Dance; all rolled into a single movie. We have moved from the black and white silent films to 3D, but our cinema continues to retain its basic essence – to thrill. Even as internet downloads and television continue to cannibalize the theatrical revenues of Indian films, the lure of the 35 mm is something else altogether. It may be the Romantic arm gesture of Shahrukh or Up-down Belt movements of Salman or Aamir with his serious expressions; it is the Bollywood which drives us crazy! From the era of Dilip Kumar, Madhubala and RD burman to Ranbir Kapoor, Vidya Balan and Arijit Singh, Bollywood has travelled a long distance. And this blog is dedicated to Journey of the Hindi Film Cinema; how the Industry started, how the movies have evolved and how is it growing as an Industry.

Yeh Naam:

The name “Bollywood” is a formed by fusing in Bombay and Hollywood, the center of the American film industry. However, unlike Hollywood, Bollywood does not exist as a physical place.

Cinema ka Shri Ganesh:

The first films India watched were not made in Bollywood but cinema had indeed arrived on India’s shores. The year was 1896, and thanks to the country’s colonial rulers, it was the French Lumiere Brothers who introduced the art of cinema to the sub-continent.

But it was a portrait photographer called Harischandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar who made Indian ‘motion picture’ history. His short ‘reality’ film screened in 1899 was called The Wrestlers and was a simple recording of a local wrestling match.

Based on a mythological character, the film Raja Harishchandra released on 3 May 1913. Directed by Dadasaheb Phalke (who later went on to be known as the Father of Indian Cinema), it is known as the first silent, full-length feature film made in India. By the 1930s, the industry was producing over 200 films per annum. The first Indian sound film, Alam Ara, screened in Bombay in 1931 was a major commercial success. Finally, India’s actors had found a voice. They could talk, they could shout, they could even cry, and they could do one more thing – sing for their audiences! It was a gift that remains the signature of the quintessential Hindi film to date. In 1937, Ardeshir Irani, director of Alam Ara, made the first colour film in Hindi, Kisan Kanya.

Encouraged by the start of Hindi film Industry, film industries of South: Tamil (Kalidass) and Telugu (Bhakta Prahlad); and Bengali (Jumai Shasthi) also started.

The 1930s and 1940s were turbulent times: India was fighting the Great Depression, World War II, the movement for Independence and the pain & violence of the Partition. Most Bollywood filmmakers focused on highlighting tough social issues, religion, rural background or used the struggle for Indian independence as a backdrop for their plots. Films not only did provide entertainment, but also became a medium to educate the masses.

Swarna Yug:

After India’s Independence, it was the Golden Age – the period from early 1950s and 1960s – that produced some of India’s most critically acclaimed films and memorable actors of all time. Among those in Bollywood’s hall of fame are

  1. Guru Dutt: Pyaasa (1957), Kaagaz ke Phool (1959)
  2. Raj Kapoor: Awaara (1951), Shree 420 (1955)
  3. Dilip Kumar: Aan (1952)
  4. Mehboob Khan: Mother India (1957)
  5. Asif: Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
  6. Bimal Roy: Madhumati (1958)

Successful actors at the time included Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt; while successful actresses included Nargis, Vyjayanthimala, Meena Kumari, Nutan, Madhubala, Waheeda Rehman and Mala Sinha. Some of the classics of this era are Pather Panchali, Do Bheega Zameen, Mayabazar and Chemmeen.

The film, Mughal-e-Azam, kickstarted a trail of romantic movies all over India. While Indian commercial cinema enjoyed popularity among movie-goers, Indian art cinema did not go unnoticed. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Ritwik Ghatak, Aravindan, Satyajit Ray, Shaji Karun, Shyam Benegal and several other art film directors were making movies that took India to international fame and glory.

Nav Yug:

The masala film – the quintessential Bollywood entertainer – burst onto the scene only in the late 1960s. And audiences were enthralled by the histrionics of actors such as Rajesh Khanna, Sanjeev Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Sharmila Tagore, Mumtaz, Waheeda Rehman, Asha Parekh and Tanuja.

The 70s completely changed the way films were made, especially in Hindi film industry. Changing social norms and changing economies influenced movies and the companies that made them. The narrative style changed. The story structure changed. Characters changed. Content changed. The genre promised instant attraction and had great entertainment value. Actors like the “angry young man” Amitabh Bachchan, Mithun Chakraborty, Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor and Anil Kapoor basked in glory of their successes. The film Bobby (1973) started a new era of teenage love, starring Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia. The year 1975 was the key to Bollywood’s future, with films like; Ramesh Sippy’s iconic Sholay, Vijay Sharma’s Jai Santoshi Ma and Yash Chopra’s Deewar; which went on to claim international fame. Actresses from this era became the heart throb of the nation, like Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha, who wooed audiences with her stunning performance in Umrao Jaan (1981).

Aadhunik Yug:

The late 1980s to late 1990s, brought a new generation of actors. The theme concentrated on family-centric romantic musicals with actors

  1. Aamir Khan: Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Dil
  2. Salman Khan: Maine Pyar Kiya, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun
  3. Shahrukh Khan: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
  4. Govinda: 1 series (Aunty No.1, Coolie No.1, Hero No.1)
  5. Akshay Kumar: Khiladi series (Khiladi, International Khiladi, Mr. and Mrs. Khiladi)

These films ushered in a mixed genre of romantic films, thrillers, action movies and comedy films. Gradually, the face of Indian cinema was changing once again. Technology now gave us Dolby digital sound effects, advanced special effects, choreography and international appeal. This brought investments from the corporate sector along with finer scripts and performances.

The focus was shifted to aesthetic appeal by brought the Khan triology of Aamir, Salman and Shahrukh, accompanied by Madhuri, Sridevi and Juhi Chawla; Comedy of Govinda and Action of Akshay Kumar, accompanied by Raveena Tandon and Karisma Kapoor. Furthermore, the last decade of the century marked the entry of new performers in art house and independent films, some of which succeeded commercially, the most influential example being Satya (1998) by Ram Gopal Varma and Anurag Kashyap. These films often featured actors like Nana Patekar, Manoj Bajpai, Manisha Koirala, Tabu and Urmila Matondkar, whose performances were usually critically acclaimed.

Naveentam Yug:

Indian cinema finally found global mass appeal at the turn of the 21st century. As the world became a global village, the industry reached out further to international audiences. This led the nation’s filmmaking to new heights in terms of production values, cinematography and innovative story lines as well as technical advances in areas such as special effects and animation. Some of the largest production houses, among them Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions were the producers of new modern films.

Apart from regular screenings at major international film festivals, the overseas market contributes a sizeable chunk to Bollywood’s box office collections. Investments made by major global studios such as 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros was confirmation that Bollywood had etched itself on the global psyche. The movie Ra.One, made at an immense budget of Rs. 135 crores (roughly USD 27 million), is the most expensive movie ever produced in Bollywood.

Prominent Indian corporate firms such as Zee, UTV and Adlabs also jumped onto the Bollywood bandwagon, to both produce and distribute films. This coupled with the multiplex boom across India made fame and fortune soar to new heights.

In recent years, Hindi cinema has undergone a massive change due to the emergence of new age filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap, Rajkumar Hirani, Dibakar Banerjee and Vishal Bhardwaj. Such was the excitement in the industry that by 2003, as many as 30 film production companies had been listed on the National Stock Exchange.

The yesteryear actors consolidated their position with films like Kal Ho Naa Ho, Veer-Zaara, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Hum Tum, Salaam Namaste, Baghban, Lagaan, Rang de Basanti and Namaste London.

However, the mid-2000s also saw the rise of actresses like Rani Mukherjee, Preity Zinta, Aishwarya Rai, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and popular actors like

  1. Hrithik Roshan (Kaho Na Pyaar Hai, Koi Mil Gya, Dhoom 2, Krish)
  2. Shahid Kapoor (Jab We Met, Vivah, Kaminey)
  3. Abhishek Bachchan (Yuva, Bunty aur Babli, Guru)

While most stars from the 2000s continued their successful careers into the next decade, the 2010s also saw the rise of a new generation of actors like Ranbir Kapoor, Imran Khan, Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, Siddharth Malhotra; as well as actresses like Vidya Balan, Katrina Kaif, Sonakshi Sinha, Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma, Parineeti Chopra, Alia Bhatt.

 

Awards:

  1. Filmfare Awards, started in 1954.
  2. The National Film Awards, started in 1954, awarded by the President of India.
  3. Screen Awards, started in 1995
  4. Stardust Awards, started in 2003
  5. International Indian Film Academy Awards-IIFA (overseas), since 2000
  6. Zee Cine Awards (overseas), since 1998

Conclusion:

Bollywood has become part and parcel of the ‘Indian story’. Cinema actually has been the most vibrant medium for telling India its own story, the story of its struggle for independence, its constant struggle to achieve national integration and to emerge as a global presence. Here’s hoping that Indian movies continue to entertain us the way they’ve been doing since 10 decades.

PART-2 of this article will contain Evolution of Cinema from 2000s. How the blockbuster-action-comedy era of 90s was succeeded by small budget movies like Khosla ka Ghosla, Bheja Fry, Dasvidaniya, DevD, Udaan etc. These movies exemplify intelligent cinema and a relief from the ‘hulla gulla’ that bollywood churns in the name of blockbusters.
I have mostly stated facts in Part-1, thus will put my opinions in Part-2. I will explain in detail the parallel art cinema; how it transformed from Shyam Benegal to Anurag Kashyap. I missed out on contribution of theater artists like Nawazzuddin Siddiqui, Vinay Pathak, Irrfan Khan and other names. In the next part where I’m explaining the challenges that Bollywood faces on a global platform, I’ll mention the non-commercial Cinema too.