Amit Khanna, former film lyricist turned head of a film production company, had apparently coined the term ‘Bollywood’ in the 1970s as the Hindi film industry was based out of erstwhile Bombay. A report states that the film industry in India will touch Rs 23,800 crore ($3.7 billion) by 2020. At present, the film industry grosses a total revenue of Rs 13,800 crore ($2.1 billion) and has grown at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of over 10% in the last couple of years. Bollywood has around 43% share of this revenue.
Ever since the first film was screened by the Lumiere Brothers – Louis and Auguste at the Watson’s Hotel at Esplanade Mansion in today’s Kala Ghoda on July 7, 1896, the magic lanterns that showed moving images had won over the people of the city. So, when Dadasaheb Phalke made Raja Harishchandra 17 years later in 1913, it was shown at the Coronation Cinematograph and Variety Hall at Sandhurst Road, Girgaum projected as “A powerfully instructive subject from the Indian mythology, the first film of Indian manufacture!”
The silent movies were the ones that came out first. When makers learned to incorporate audio along with the moving images Indian filmmakers learnt it too. The first Indian talkie was Alam Ara – made with a mixture of Hindustani and Urdu. The film was based on a Parsi play by Joseph David and was shot mostly at night to escape sound disturbance by Ardeshir Irani who also handled the sound. In the early days, men played women’s roles as films were not considered a decent profession for women. Irani produced India’s first indigenously produced colour film Kisan Kanya, which was helmed by director Moti Gidwani.
Filmmaker Shyam Benegal made an observation about Alam Ara, “It was not just a talkie…It had a number of songs and that actually set the template for the kind of films that were made later,” was his refrain. But Phalke had already tried another experiment. A man called Anna Salunkhe, who played the role of Taramati in Raja Harischandra, went on to play a double role in Lanka Dahan as he played both Ram and Sita – the first double role on the Indian screen.
When we talk about the number of songs included by filmmakers like Sooraj Barjatya and Sanjay Leela Bhansali in their films, we should remind the audience of the film Indrasabha made in 1932 – it had an astounding 71 songs. Kismet, starring Ashok Kumar, turned out to be the biggest hit in the Hindi film industry in those days, throwing up the next star after KL Saigal – Ashok Kumar. The film had a song, ‘Door hato ae duniyawaalon, Hindustan hamara hai…’ with a reference to Japan and the Censor Board passed the film in pre-Independent India.
Post-Independence, films were about the rich and the poor and the caste system and the subjugations. Films like Do Bigha Zameen by Bimal Roy, Mother India by Mehboob Khan told sordid tales in the Fifties. Villains were the moneylenders and the zamindars apart from the rich. Satyajit Ray is recognised as one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century. His Apu Trilogy (1955–1959) won major prizes at all the major international film festivals and firmly established the Parallel Cinema movement.
The Sixties were about romance and songs and dance and threw up a man called Rajesh Khanna as India’s first film superstar. When he sang ‘Chupke se dil dede nai to shor mach jaega…’ all the women in the audience swooned. Villains now were the bad parents who did not allow love to succeed. The Seventies saw the dakus and then the smugglers as the antagonists. Film stories started shifting to Mumbai city by the end of this decade and the smugglers, along with the land sharks, became the bigger villains as the Eighties approached and reigned. The year 1975 saw the Emergency and films and filmmakers being muffled as they tried to protest against the Emergency through their films. Kissa Kursi Ka and Aandhi were banned initially.
The Eighties saw a mix of romance, action and music as the audience turned into a multi-headed monster wanting a bit of everything.
By the mid-Nineties gritty, violent films had taken over from romance. It led to writer Salim and Javed coming out with their version of the Angry Young Man, making Amitabh Bachchan who essayed such roles in Zanjeer and Deewar into the second and longest standing superstar of Bollywood.
The Nineties saw the arrival of the third superstar Shah Rukh Khan – sometimes seething with anger like in Darr, Baazigar and Anjaam and sometimes the ultimate lover like in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), Dil to Pagal Hai and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. DDLJ also has the honour of the longest running Bollywood film in a single theatre.
Now is the era of mainstream Bollywood film and alternate cinema going hand in hand – where there is an audience for Anaarkali of Aarah as is there for Dabangg. Of late the line between commercial cinema and parallel cinema has been thinning and giving way to a cinema that wins critical acclaim as well as brings in revenues. Big stars like Akshay Kumar and Amir Khan too are working in the direction of telling stories that are grounded in reality but are huge commercial successes too. A younger brigade of actors is making their mark now – would they be able to take over from the three Khans is to seen!
As for the trends, computer graphics and VFX caught the fancy of filmmakers with Angaar in 1995 and the trend flourished. Recent films from Ra.One to the Baahubali series are great examples of the same. The 2000s have seen Indians prospering overseas and more Bollywood movies being seen abroad. An increase in global exposure has also witnessed great improvement in production values, cinematography and innovative story lines as well as technical advances in areas such as special effects and animation.
Bollywood has seen stars from KL Saigal to Ashok Kumar, from Dilip Kumar to Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna to Amitabh Bachchan being superstars and Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan to Akshay Kumar today. The young brigade comprising of Shahid Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh et all are still making their mark.
Among the women, Rekha was the first female superstar who could draw in the audiences on her own followed by Sridevi, Kareena Kapoor, Vidya Balan and Madhuri Dixit later. In the earlier era too stars like Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Waheeda Rehman and Nutan gained as much accolades as the male stars. Kangana Ranaut, Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhatt today could be considered top draw.
There is another brigade of actors who have made their mark in art/parallel cinema. Among them: Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Farooq Shaikh in yesteryears and Naseeruddin Shah, Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Swara Bhasker, Richa Chaddha today.
Kismet was India’s first super-hit film. Mother India is considered a landmark film as it made it to the top five list of films which were nominated for the Oscar for the Best Foreign Film. Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan later went on to be the other two. Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay made in 1975 lost out on all but one award at the Filmfare Awards, but went on to be the biggest hit of Indian cinema. Hum Aapke Hain Koun, referred to as a wedding video, went on to break many box office records. Gadar: Ek Prem Katha made on the Indo-Pak Partition was the biggest hit across all single screens in India – a record unbeaten so far keeping in mind the inflation since then. Dangal, meanwhile has been the biggest grosser in actual figures so far in India. Sanju now seems to be heading in the direction of toppling it from the top spot.
To name a few films that stole the audience’s heart from across India are Amar Akbar Anthony, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, 3 Idiots, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Baazigar, Munna Bhai MBBS, Dhoom, Dabangg, Golmaal, Tanu Weds Manu, Bajrangi Bhaijan, Raazi, and such.
A number of global production houses are present in India today, and a new kind of professionalism is emerging in the world of cinema. As for the future, the filmmakers will continue to experiment with all manner of stories as thanks to the digital world of Amazon, Netflix and other OTT operators, we now the liberty of watching cinema on any device in any part of the world, on demand.