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Hundred Years of Indian Cinema

A brief announcement in the Times of India about the wordless short films being shown in Mumbai's Watson's Hotel on July 7th in 1896 heralded the motion pictures age in India. People come to the cinema to relax, enjoy and vicariously experience whatever they missed in their real life. This trend has been accentuated in the last 5 decades.

Such has been the all pervasive impact that the industry has not looked back since. Reflecting the people's yearned lifestyle and sociology, the Indian film industry has logged a mind-boggling 27,000 plus feature films and thousands of documented short films in 52 different languages. This has made it the largest and most fascinating film producing country in the world-a phenomenon that the world is waking up to.After the Lumiere Brothers cinematrograph unveiled soundless short films at Mumbai, Hiralal Sen and H S Bhatavdekar started making films in Calcutta and Bombay respectively. Like Lumiere, the Bhatavdekar brothers made India's first actuality films in 1899. Though there were efforts at filming stage plays earlier, the Father of Indian Cinema Dhundiraj Govind Phalke (Dadasaheb Phalke) made India's first feature film Raja Harischandra in 1913.

By 1920 there was a regular industry bringing out films starting with 27 per year and reaching 207 films in 1931. Today India makes about 800 feature films every year. Indian cinema has come a long way from the shaky flickering images and grating noises and sounds to a very sophisticated technology for creation and projection of image and sound track. The film industry has grown multidimensional. It has a unique blend of commerce, art, craft, star glamour, social communication, literary adjuncts, artistic expression, performing arts, folk forms. Above all it has a wide-ranging and abiding appeal to the heart, the mind and the conscience. Regional culture and craving to a film in one's own language caused the mushrooming of the regional film industries beginning, with Bangla, Tamil and Telgu followed by Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Assamese, and several other dialects.

Alam Ara (14th March 1931) was the genesis of the talkie feature films. Made by Ardeshir Irani, the film's popular Hindustani dialogues and seven songs made it a big hit. This had the effect of making the other filmmakers raise the number of songs in their films till it reached a whooping 71 in Indrasabha.

Film songs became a PanIndian phenomenon and, even today, it is almost unimaginable that there can be a film without songs. There have been exceptions-Mumma, Ittefaq and Kanoon-but as exceptions they really proved the rule.

Sound brought immense possibilities and gave exposure and fame to a lot of people like actors, writers and businessmen. Film companies proliferated, of which New Theaters (Calcutta), Prabhat (Pune, now Film and Television Institute of India) and Bombay Talkies were the most significant. B.N.Sircar founded new Theaters in 1931. Vidyapathi(1937) and Devdas(1935) were some of its landmark productions. V.Shantaram set up Prabhat Film Company in Kolhapur along with four partners in 1929. The early films ere in Marathi. The company later moved to Pune. Duniya na mane (1937) and Admi(1939) were exceptional films from the company. Himansu Rai and his wife Devika Rani founded Bombay Talkies in 1934. Achhut Kanya (1936) emerged from its stables. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 sifted the spotlight to the actors who were not only heavily paid but also as a result started their own companies. Raj Kapoor (RK Films) was one example. The studio system however was not wiped off and Mehboob Khan (Mehboob Productions), Kidar Sharma and Bimal Roy proudly held aloft the banner.

It is the post independence period that saw the golden era of Indian cinema. Awara, made By Raj Kapoor set the agenda for popular cinema and was a hit within India as well as overseas. After Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand set up Navketan in 1949 with his brother Chetan Anand. The third hero of immense repute of the time was Dilip Kumar.

Films with various themes were now being made. The theme of lost brothers was being repeated (as many as 50 films). Side by side went on the tear-jerking melodrama, mostly in the films of the genre of Meri Behan, Choti Behan and the like. The humble position of the Indian bride was highlighted in pictures like Gumasta (1951) and the decoity aspect in films like Ganga Jammuna, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai and Mujhe Jeena Do. In recent years this has produced a vertable harvest of crude dacoit films, spurred on by the spectacular success of Sholay.

Starting from Nitin Das's Chandidas, the inter-caste issue, especially in relation to the lower, depressed untouchable castes, has found reasonably good expression. Shantaram's Dharmatma, Chandulal Shah's Achhoot, Bombay Talkies Achoot Kanya, Bimal Roy's Sujata, Vasant Joglekar's Prarthna and Abbas Char Dil Char Rahein. The rural urban contrast has provided another theme for numerous films, generally favoring the village over the town.

Mehboob's Aurat (1940) brutally exposed some of the rampant evils of rural society which turned peasants into dacoits. In 1957 he remade it as Mother India with all the colour and grandeur that he could command; it was nominated for the Oscar. His earlier film Roti had shown the transformation of a tramp into a heartless capitalist just as Hrishikesh mukherjee's Namak Haraam showed the unusual story of two male friends, the poor one first helping the rich one in suppressing the workers and then converting to their side an dying.

The reform films too had their day, especially Raj Kapoor's Jagte Raho which concerned a naïve Yokel's unintended unmasking of the respectable but anti-social people living in a large colony. The same director's Awaara won accolades for him too, especially in the communist countries where it was seen as an acceptable way of protesting against a system

These did create some sort of an offbeat cinema but all these attempts are pushed into the background when we come to the advent of Satyajit Ray as India's most uncompromising,s teadfast and internationally-honoured film makers. His body of work from the Apu trilogy to Shatranj Ke Khiladi gave it a universal stature at a level higher than had been scale until now. Though not in the same class but realistic nevertheless is Govind Nilhani's Ardh Satya where the violence and dehumanization of the police force is explained in understandable terms.

The advent of Mahesh Bhatt's Saraansh marks another milestone in hindi cinema's attempts to break out of its escapist mould to give realistic cinema to the public which entertains at the same time. While Bhatt's creativity soon crumbled before the demands of commercialism, some sparks of his genius remained which made him delve into the hitherto forbidden world of the hermaphrodite in Tamanna, produced by his actress daughter.

At around the time when off beat cinema was breaking the shackles that commercial cinema had tied around it, was born the long lasting trend of the angry young person pitted against the establishment as represented by Amitabh Bachchan, the superstar of the Indian Film Industry. Amitabh Bachchan was virtually a one-man industry.

During the 80's filmmakers lost their moorings, as they were lost in violent and mediocre films. Amitabh Bachhan the Angry Young Man of the 70's had been totally exhausted and filmmakers did not know where to make a fresh start. Moreover the onslaught of Video and Television lost the industry its audience. There were exceptions, but few. Tired of violence the audience lapped up films from the David Dhawan camp, which were humorous entertainers. They were however still very much full of pelvic thrusts and bawdy songs. But slowly and surely film makers like Mani Rathnam and Ramgopal Verma were making different genre of cinema.

It is remarkable that the industry managed to come back with a force few people could have expected. The 90s saw the Indian Cinema come to a full circle with Rajshree Production's Hum Aapke Hain Kaun turning out to be the biggest grosser ever. Released simultaneously at over 270 theatres all over the country, it is said to have grossed over Rs.600 million, a sum which few could have imagined possible when the industry faced the crisis cause by the video and cable.

Then came on the mushy romances from the Aditya Chopra and Yash Johar camp, which brought back audiences to the theatres and took Indian cinema to the now vast Indian Diaspora. Overseas collections were sometimes more than the Indian collections. Lagaan went on to be nominated for the Oscars for best foreign film. In recent times, there has been widespread recognition of Indian artists and directors at film festivals in different parts of the world. India has been a regular participant in film festivals all over the world. Many Indian actors have won international acclaim; some have served on the jury of film festivals abroad.

The industry now stands at the threshold of unprecedented opportunity and challenges. The doors to the world have opened up but care needs to be taken and maturity to be shown.

The current heartthrobs of the Nation include young faces as well as some mature ones. The list of actresses range from the young and fresh face of Kareena Kapoor, the perky Preity Zinta, the perfect beauty Aishwarya Rai, the talent of the industry Kajol, the incomparable Madhuri Dixit, Miss powerful performance Tabu, the innocent faced Amisha Patel, Miss dazzling smile Rani Mukherjee, sizzling Urmila Matgaonkar, the Miss Universe Sushmita Sen and Lara Dutta and the hottest babe of the industry Bipasha Basu.

The actors include the mature and grand Amitabh Bachhan, the strong man Sunny Deol and his brother Bobby Deol, the ever-charming Shahrukh Khan, shirtless Salman Khan and John Abraham, the angry young man of this generation Ajay Devgun, the subtle Akhshaye khanna and the bold Akhshay Kumar, the chocolate-smooth faced Vivek Oberoi, the silent volcano waiting to erupt Abhishek Bachchan, the funny Saif Ali Khan, the cool Fardeen Khan, the talented hunk Hritik Roshan and the toast of the industry Amir Khan.

Indian Cinema