The term Bollywood is used about the Hindi cinemas; these films used Hindi-language as the primary mode of communication and produced in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Bollywood is just part of the broader Indian film industry (called Indywood) though it remains the most popular compared to other productions from the country (Anantharaman, 2008). In essence, Bollywood is the face of the Indian film industry to the world as it leads nearly in all aspect of production, from quantity to quality, it accounts for around 43 percent of all the annual film production in India (Ganti, 2013). Indian film industry releases the highest number of films to the market each that means Bollywood is among the leading cinema producers globally as it constitutes the highest portion of the Indywood. Bollywood is to India what Hollywood is to America.
Globally, the film industry has undergone tremendous improvement both regarding quality and quantity. Similarly, Bollywood has changed to check compete worldwide with other film industries from other countries such as the United States of America and the European countries. Whereas the production from these countries, especially the United States (Hollywood), is still enjoying a larger market share, Bollywood is adopting new approaches such as incorporating English to make them appealing to the global audience. Traditionally, the films had Hindi-language as the primary mode of communication which has limited outreach (Anantharaman, 2008). This paper looks into the history of Bollywood and its evolution to become what it is today by analyzing the changes regarding production, language and themes among other areas.
The history of Indian film can be traced to as early as 1913 when Raja Harishchandra was first produced by Dadasaheb Phalke (Anantharaman, 2008). The film, also referred to as the silent feature film, was the first production in Indian history. Two decades later (the mid-1930s) the Indian film industry had witnessed a tremendous growth releasing over 200 movies to the market every year (Anantharaman, 2008).
After the 1913 silent film, another milestone in the Indian film industry came in 1931 when Ardeshir Iran made the first sound production (Basu, 2010). The movie, Alam Ara was the turning point in the industry as brought new aspects to Bollywood. Unlike its predecessor, the cinema was a success commercially hence bringing a new concept to the film industry. Its break market breakthrough is attributed to the fact that the viewers could not only follow the actions but also listened to the actors. Additionally, the music that accompanied the actions broke the boredom associated with the silent films. The Ardeshir Iran’s breakthrough forever changed the film production in India and neighbouring countries as the successive movies incorporated sounds and musicals (Basu, 2010).
Even though the beginning of the 1930s indicated brought a lot of promise, the end of 1930s all the way to 1940s became one of the most significant challenges to the industry. The 1930s and 1940s came with the Great Depression and World War II and the Partition violence that buffeted Indian. Indian divorced the Islamic section of her population to create Pakistan as an independent country. However, the violence would go on as the two nation’s struggled fight over Kashmir. These events created several opportunities for the film producers to develop their themes around these social issues, but most writers and produced remained unabashedly escapist with few using them to form the themes for their films (Punathambekar, 2013). Secondly, the Great Depression brought economic hardship that also affected the industry just like other sectors of the economy.
Interestingly, the partitioning of India into Pakistan and the Republic of India gave rise to Bollywood and Lollywood. Bollywood was the successor of the Bombay (now Mumbai) film industry whereas Lollywood (Pakistan film industry) succeeded Lahore (Punathambekar, 2013). Before the independence of Pakistan, Lahore film industry was produced in Hindi-Urdu or Hindustani, the dominant language in the then northern and central India. However, in the 1940s Lahore suffered several setbacks as most of her actors and musicians crossed to Bombay (Bollywood) (Punathambekar, 2013). Actors such as K. L Saigal, Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand and musicians Mohammed Rafi, Noorjahan and Shamshad Begum all crossed to Bombay dealing a big blow to the Lahore film industry (Punathambekar, 2013). Additionally, actors from Bengali film industry were also moving into Bombay making it one the biggest industry in India. Even long after the split, the Bombay film industry was still dominated by the actors from Bengali and Lahore giving it a cutting edge over other competitors from the same region (Punathambekar, 2013).
In 1937, Ardeshir Iran made another vital breakthrough when he produced Kisan Kanya, a first colored film in Indian history (Anantharaman, 2008). However, unlike Alam Ara, the coloured film did not become an instant hit until the 1950s. At this time sounds and musical had become a significant part of the film production and was critical in reinforcing the theme of in the movies, especially romance (Anantharaman, 2008). Nonetheless, he made another colored film the following year (1938).
The Indian’s independence in the late 1940s ushered in the period film historians describe as the ‘golden age’ in industry. This period, from the late 1940s to 1960, saw some of the most popular and critical films produced. As noted earlier, it is during this period that coloured film became popular, even though it had been used nearly two decades earlier. The films such as Pyaasa (1957) produced by Guru Dutt, Awaara (1951) and Shree 420 (1955), both produced by Raj Kapoor became very popular and perhaps putting the Indian’s film industry on the global map (Punathambekar, 2013). One thing that made these films is that their themes were centred on the social challenges faced by the Indians, which was also similar to what other people in developing countries underwent (Punathambekar, 2013). Notably, the films focused on the issues related to the working-class Indians in urban centres. For example, in Awaara the city is depicted as a place with very sharp contradictions as they are nightmares to some and a dream to others. Similarly, Pyaasa looks into how unrealistic the city life is to the dwellers (Punathambekar, 2013). The motive behind these two movies was perhaps to discourage the rural-urban migration as people hoped for a better life in the cities.
The ‘Mother India’ produced by Mehboob Khan in 1957 became the first film to get a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (Punathambekar, 2013). Even though it lost by one vote, the film played a critical role in defining the conventions in the Indian films that had existed for nearly four decades. Besides, it created a new genre, dacoit films, in the industry opening a new chapter in the film production. Gunga Jumna produced by Dilip Kumar later defined the new genre making it precise and understandable to the masses (Anantharaman, 2008). Gunga Jumna was a crime a crime drama film involving two brothers on the opposing side of the law. The theme of crime and lawlessness later became among the films produced in the 1970s and after that. Other Indian films produced during the ‘golden age ‘ that defined the Bollywood include Madhumati produced by Bimal Roy with the theme on the reincarnation of the western culture (1958), K. Asif ‘s Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Vijay Bhatt and Kamal Amrohi (Punathambekar, 2013).
Some of the successful actors during the ‘golden age’ include Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Guru Dutt and Pradeep Kumar (Malik, Trimzi, & Galluci, 2011). Similarly, the industry also had successful actresses like Nargis Suraiya, Sumitra Devi, Meena Kumari and Mala Sinha among others. These actors and actress played a significant role in influencing the future actors who either copied or viewed them as their role models (Punathambekar, 2013). It is worth noting that some of these actors like Dilip and Guru also doubled up as film producers.
Besides the success of the Indian films commercially, the 1950s introduced a new phenomenon called the Parallel Movement in the industry. The parallel movement emphasized the social realism, where the themes were to focus on the real social challenges in the society (Ganti, 2013). Initially, the movement was only popular in Bengali cinema but gained traction in Bombay as producers and writers focus more on the social ills. Some of the films associated with the parallel movement include Dharti Ke Lal produced in 1946 by Khwaja Abbas (Punathambekar, 2013). The film used the 1943 Bengali famine as the basis of its plot and setting (Punathambekar, 2013). Others included Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zamin (1953) and Neecha Nagar also by Khwaja Abbas in 1946 (Anantharaman, 2008).
The success of Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zamin introduced a new wave into the industry, referred to as neorealism, as producers started using the real-life experiences as the fundamental themes. Parallel movement is still common even today not only in Bollywood but also other film industries such as Hollywood. Notable filmmakers that contributed to the movement included Mani Kaul, Shyam Benegal, Ketan Mehta and Kumar Shahani among others (Anantharaman, 2008).
The most significant breakthrough for the Indian films in the international scene came when Neecha Nagar was voted Cannes Films Festival. After that, a significant number of the Bollywood films got nomination often in the festival, especially for Palm d’Or, with some winning the ultimate price (Punathambekar, 2013). Even actor and producers like Guru Dutt would later receive accolades in their roles in the films during the ‘golden age.’ In fact, Guru Dutt would later (in the 1980s) be regarded among the actors and filmmakers in Asia among others like Satyajit Ray, a filmmaker from Indian Bengali (Punathambekar, 2013). Guru was ranked number 73 in a 2002 poll the greatest film directors of all time. Additionally, his movie Pyaasa featured among the top 100 best films in the Time Magazine. Other Hindu films that featured in the Time Magazine’s 100 include Awaara by Raj Kapoor, Mother India by Mehboob Khan and Baiju Bawra by Vijay Bhatt (Punathambekar, 2013). From this list, there is no doubt the ‘golden age ‘ was the greatest moment and perhaps the turning point in Bollywood.
The end of the ‘golden age’ era ushered in a new change in the production from the late sixties to early seventies. During this period, romance became the dominant themes in most films. Additionally, musical romance became apparent in nearly all the films creating some elements of monotony in the sector. Unlike the previous decades (in the 1940s and 1950s) the social realism was gradually becoming inconspicuous as romantic fiction gain popularity. Some of the successful actors associated with this period include Sanjeev Kumar, Shammi Kapoor and the actresses like Asha Parekh, Sharmila Tagore and Saira Banu (Punathambekar, 2013).
At the beginning of the 1970s, just after the end of the ‘golden age’ Bollywood hit stagnation regarding themes in the films (Punathambekar, 2013). Most films in this period had a musical romance as the primary theme creating monotony. However, the duo of Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar re-energized the wailing industry with their creativity. They introduced a thematic paradigm shift by focusing on social issues such as violence in Bombay and underworld crimes (Malik, Trimzi, & Galluci, 2011). The films such as Zanjeer produced in 1973 and Deewaar in 1975 had thematic concerns on Bombay’s underworld crime.
Moreover, these two writers captured the Indian’s socio-economic and socio-political challenges in the country at that particular moment. The films raised issues dealing with corruption, unemployment, poverty in the cities, insecurity and rebellion against the establishment were depicted in their themes. Notably, these themes were as a result of the contemporary interpretation of the two movies done during the ‘golden age, ‘ the Mother India by Mehboob Khan and Gunga Jumna by Dilip Kumar. Apparently, these themes still dominate most of the Bollywood films today despite the diversification the industry had undergone.
The impact of Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar became immense in the mid-seventies shifting the thematic concerns in most of the films from the musical romance violent films and some cases fictional films about gangsters. This new trend in films was popularized by the writings of Javed and Khan and unique acting style of Amitabh Bachchan (Punathambekar, 2013). It is worth noting that most of their writings were inspired by the parallel movement in the late forties and early fifties as the movies focused on social realism. For instance, the film Deewaar borrows a lot from the themes and setting of Gunga Jumna. The plot of Gunga Jumna revolves around a policeman forced to pursue his brother who operates against the law by running a ganging terrorizing the city residents. The Gunga Jumna story was based on the real-life story of Haji Mastan, a smuggler. Besides Bachchan other popular actors during this period included Feroz Khan, Jackie Shroff and Sanjay Dutt among others. The actresses in the era Shabana Azmi, Zeenat Aman, Jaya Bachchan, Smita Patil and Jaya Prada among others (Punathambekar, 2013).
The term Bollywood was coined in the 1970s, and it acted as a game changer, especially on the commercial front. It is this period that the Bollywood films became commercially viable as new genres like masala emerged. Masala was a combination of drama, action, comedy, romance and musical started by Nassir Hussain. In 1973, Nassir and the duo of Salim-Javed produced one of the Bollywood blockbusters, Yaadon Ki Baarat (Punathambekar, 2013). Apart from Yaadon Ki Baarat, Salim-Javed wrote several films like Sholay in the seventies and eighties (Punathambekar, 2013). One unique thing about these productions in the 1970s and 1980s is that they had a high quality compared to the previous ones.
Just after the blossoming 1970s, the Bollywood hit another stagnation in the eighties. Unlike the previous one, this stagnation was due to several factors within and outside the film industry. The piracy of the films hit the producers so hard and made it very difficult to continue producing quality movies like in the seventies. Piracy led to the decline in revenue which had a ripple effect in the film industry. As a result, the quality of the production went down derailing the progress made in the previous decade. Other factors that contributed to the declining quality included the increasing violence that pushed out the middle class from the theatres.
Despite the challenges at the beginning of eighties, the turning point came in 1988 with the production of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak produced by Nassir Hussain. This film blended the veteran actors and youthful ones thus opening the stage for the today’s Bollywood. Among the youthful characters in the movie is Aamir Khan who later became one of the greatest actors on the 90s (Punathambekar, 2013). All aspects of production in this film, from prompts, the sounds themes and actors copied the great works in the seventies but with a touch of youthfulness and modernity. As a result, people came back to the theatres thus restoring the industry back to its feet.
After recovery in the late eighties, the beginning of 1990s created the ‘New Bollywood,’ the current Indian film industry. The films shifted away from the social realism to the family thematic and musical romance. A new generation of actors and actresses also emerged with the resurgence of the industry. Actors such as Aamir Khan, Ajay Devgan, Akshay Kumar and Sunny Deol among others gained popularity (Punathambekar, 2013). The new resurgence led to success in nearly all aspects of the production of comedy, action and romance.
The history of Bollywood from the first film in 1913 to date indicates and industry that has undergone a lot of transformations to become what it is today. Bollywood went through stages such as the Great Depression in the early forties; thematic stagnation in seventies and early eighties. However, the industry sustained the pressure making one of the most resilient film industries. The transition of actors from one generation to another also meant the sector was always progressive as the characters fitted the prevailing situation.
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