The Rise of Bollywood

indian film history

A Brief Time Line of Trends in Indian Cinema

The term “Bollywood” came in to use during the 1970s. The phrase was a play on Hollywood, replacing the H with a B to show the connection to Bombay, the film hub of India. Although Indian films were made as early as 1913, the 1970s was the first time films were formally acknowledged as an industry.

After the first silent film Raja Harishchandra (1913), the next landmark moment was the release of the first talkie Alam Alra in 1931. Alam Alra is a love story between a gypsy and a prince. The plot was markedly different from earlier films that were only focused on Indian legends and mythology. Due to the positive feedback for this film, production companies started investing in sound movies with interesting scripts. During WWII, the British Government placed restrictions on the types of film that were presented to the public. This era gave rise to non-fiction films, although audiences remained loyal to the few entertainment films that were being produced.

Post independence, the film industry underwent a drastic transformation. In Bengal makers like Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy and Ritwik Ghattak were focused on analyzing and critiquing social institutions in India. The topic of their works was the lives of the lower classes, a subject that was previously disregarded. Meanwhile in Bombay, movie icons like Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar acted in films capturing the trials and tribulations of the urban working-class. Films like Kaagaz ke Phool, Pyaasa, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Aan, Andaz, Barsat and Awaraa were some of the most popular films of this era. Epic films like Mother India (1957) and Mughal-E-Azam (1960) highlight the grand vision and phenomenal artistic abilities of the directors of the time. Due to the emergence of these diverse streams of thought and the constant experimentation with story lines, the 1940s-1960s is called the Golden Age of Hindi Cinema.

The late 1960s and early 1970s gave rise to the ‘masala’ film. These types of films had certain common elements that appealed to everyone, irrespective of their age or social class. The masala movies had high quotients of drama, romance, action and song sequences to provide 360-degree entertainment. As a result, the concept of a character hero emerged. Actors and actresses were frequently cast in roles that emphasized their on-screen persona. For example Amitabh Bachchan portrayed the ‘angry young man’ in his early films while Jeetandra was cast in movies featuring a lot of intense dance scenes due to his reputation as the ‘jumping jack of Bollywood’. Similarly Zeenat Aman mostly played a femme fatale on screen while Rekha became a favourite for women-centric films.

During the 1980s and 1990s film plots and characters became more complex and evolved. Romance and family-friendly films became popular themes for directors. This era witnessed the growth of stars like Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan. These heroes were versatile, and not typecast like their predecessors. The audience began to appreciate an actor who had the ability to play a variety of roles instead of promoting only one persona. With the advent of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the context of Indian cinema shifted to analyzing the lifestyles of Indians abroad. In an attempt to westernize Indian cinema, filmmakers portrayed the thinking and perspective of Indians living in foreign countries. The popularity of films like Pardes (1997), Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) and Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003) demonstrate the audience’s receptivity to this theme.

At every stage, Indian cinema has sought to transform itself and execute new ideas for its ever-increasing viewership. The current trend in the film industry is the production of the independent or indie film. To learn more about how the indie is revolutionizing the film industry, stay tuned to our blog.



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