Indian cinema turned 100 on April 21, 2012. In a country where over 1,000 films are made every year, in several languages, when we celebrate a century of filmmaking excellence, how do we define Indian cinema?
Bollywood movies, naturally comprise the majority of Indian film industry, while regional films make up the rest (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Bengali, Gujarati, Bhojpuri etc). From Teflon coated candyfloss romances peppered with lavish song-dance sequences shot in exotic locales, gritty underworld flicks, coming of age pangs of 20-somethings, kick butt action capers to social melodramas and tickle you pink stories – the Indian movies have just about touched every genre of entertainment.
From mindoggling blockbusters to multiplex movies tailor-made for English speaking Indians, to typical ‘NRI’ films with enough emotional content to tug at the heartstrings of homesick Indian diaspora, the platter is huge and diverse.
The annual National Awards, in fact, makes it amply clear how little we know of Indian cinema beyond Bollywood and some regional language films. Not many of us were even aware that a language called Byari existed! The best feature film award for 2011 was also given to Byari(alongwith the Marathi film Deool), a film based on the dialect spoken by the people in it.
As we gear up to raise a toast to a cinema that’s 100 years old, it’s a moment of great national pride and glory for all Indians. Unlike other western film industries, the Indian film industries have not been too heavily influenced by the Hollywood film industry and continue to retain its local flavour, essence, emotions and dialect. Indian films get to do their share of globetrotting at prestigious world film festivals, Indian stars walk the red carpet in Cannes and other festivals along with their global counterparts, our films find their reviews by top international film journals and newspapers.
Granted, many Indian filmmakers continue to hope for Uncle Oscar‘s mini replica to adorn their trophy collection, but the endorsement isn’t all important anymore. India has its own distinct multi-lingual, multi-hued crop of films, some of them entertaining, some made for aesthetic pleasure, but all of them for your eyes only, for people like us.
Pather Panchali(1955) directed by Satyajit Ray was among the earliest Indian films to have received global recognition (it got 11 international awards). Indian cinema has an identity that is very unique and unmatched. 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.
Of course it would be nice if regional films were given the much needed leg-up and importance they deserve. Not many Indians are aware of the immense talent that lies in regional film industries. It takes the occasional Kahaani, to show India the versatility of character actors Parambrata Chattopadhaya and Saswata Chatterjee (the man who made Bob Biswas, the most iconic baddie in just a 10 minute role!), or a 160 crore (rough estimate) film ( Endhiran: The Robot) made by Shankar to prove how technologically advanced Indian cinema really is.
Perhaps we’d be better equipped to define Indian cinema if we get to see good films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bhojpuri, Marathi, Bengali, Assamese (and may be even Byari), with subtitled versions in multiplexes, or on national television. A century later, surely, this is the least we can ask for, if Indian cinema needs to leapfrog into the next century with bigger and better strides, ahead of its western and Oriental counterparts.
History of Indian Cinema
History of Indian cinema made its journey from the silent era through the golden age. India witnessed the arrival of cinema in the year 1896.
History of Indian cinema dated back to the year 1896. The Lumiere Brothers first demonstrated the art of cinema to the sub continent. Bombay was the first Indian city that screened Cinematography, six short films by the Lumiere Brothers. The success of these films led to the screening of more foreign films, for instance, Vitagraph by James B. Stewart and Moto-Photoscope by Ted Hughes. In other words introduction of cinema in India took place with the aid of the colonisers.) The Indian film industry is the oldest and the largest in the world with over 1200 movies released annually
A kaleidoscopic view of history of India includes the pioneering efforts of Save Dada (Harischandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar). He made two short films as early as in 1897. The first short films in India were directed by Hiralal Sen, starting with Flower of Persia (1898). In 1900 the entire Indian entertainment sector underwent huge changes and the emergence of Dadasaheb Phalke took Indian cinema to new heights. Thus the path breaking film of the Silent era, Raja Harishchandra, was released in 1913. During this time and the era of the talkies the main sources for Indian films were the mythological texts. The rapid growth of the Indian cinema led to the end of the silent era and ushered in the era of the talkies. The latter introduced the Indian cinema in a completely new way to the audiences. Now one could hear the actors and actresses talk, laugh, sing and cry. Initially films were primarily made in Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and Telugu and these films proved to be phenomenal successes.
1930s and 1940s witnessed the rise of film personalities, such as, Debaki Bose, Chetan Anand, S.S. Vasan, Nitin Bose and others. Their contributions helped the Indian cinema to grow further. By this time apart from Bombay (Mumbai), the film industry shaped up well in down south too. The Tamil, Telugu and Kannada film industries were making indigenous films as well. By late 1940s films in India were made in various languages but the religious influence was predominant. With struggle for independence the entire scenario altered. Indian cinema now saw films based on the then contemporary social issues. Movies no longer were limited to the periphery of entertainment; they were now potent instruments to educate the masses as well.
The golden period in the history of Indian cinema is attributed to the 1950s. Guru Dutt, Mehboob Khan, Raj Kapoor, Balraj Sahani, Nargis, Bimal Roy, Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Dilip Kumar graced the screens. In south India esteemed actors like Rajkumar, Gemini Ganesan, NT Rama Rao and several other actors and actresses entertained the audiences. Besides them numerous singers, composers, scriptwriters, cameramen and other technicians lend a helping hand in making some of the most outstanding films that carved their own niches in the history of Indian cinema.
In Bombay while the magic of Guru Dutts and Bimal Roys were preponderant Indian cinema moved one step further with the release of K. Asif`s Mughal-e-Azam in 1960. A trail of romantic movies followed all over India. While the Indian commercial cinema enjoyed popularity amidst the movie goers, Indian art cinema did not go unnoticed. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Ritwik Ghatak, Aravindan, Satyajit Ray, Shaji Karun and several other art film directors were making movies that took India to international fame and glory. By 1970s Indian cinema enjoyed the histrionics of superstars like Rajesh Khanna, Sanjeev Kumar, Waheeda Rehman, Asha Parekh, Tanuja and others. This was truly the red letter year for Hindi cinema as Ramesh Sippy`s Sholay proved to be an iconoclast and gave to Indian cinema its new superstar— Amitabh Bachchan. Hardly did anyone know then that the Bachchan era was here to stay for long enough.
At one hand Hindi cinema was growing in leaps and bounds and on the other the regional films were making their presence felt too. A number of well established Hindi film stars who became a part of the star system in India actually began their career with the Indian regional films. 1980s saw the rise of several woman directors, such as, Aparna Sen, Prema Karnath, Meera Nair and others. It was also the year when Rekha wooed the audiences with her stunning performance in Umrao Jaan. The regional films like Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Bengali and others produced a number of romantic films. Renowned film personalities like Balachander, I.V. Sasi, Balu Mahendra, Mani Ratnam, Ram Gopal Varma and others made their marks.
With romantic films at the helm the Indian cinema ushered into 1990s. A mixed genre was witnessed during this time. Romantic, thriller, actions and comic movies were made. Gradually the face of Indian cinema was undergoing changes one again. The audiences, too, were getting weary of similar storylines. Hence the contemporary Indian cinema, keeping pace with time and technology, witnessed dolby digital sound effects, advanced special effects, choreography, international appeal, further investments from corporate sectors alongwith finer scripts and performances. The aesthetic appeal of cinema became important for the filmmakers.
Stars like Shahrukh Khan, Rajnikanth, Madhuri Dixit, Aamir Khan, Chiranjeevi, Juhi Chawla, Hrithik Roshan, and others explored all possible techniques to enrich Indian cinema with their performances. Even in contemporary India cinema a troupe of new faces came. The post generation of the existing stars are making Indian cinema rich in its true sense using their youthful vivacity and talent.
Films, such as, Gandhi, Terrorist, Amu, Phir Milenge, Diksha, Tare Zamin Par, Pipli live are intended to educate the mass. Films such as Sarkar, Rajneeti, Page 3 and Fashion reflect the political and social scenarios of contemporary society. As years fly away Indian cinema betters itself with more number of films making it to the golden pages of its history.
Patriotic Indian Cinema
As Independence Day approaches, it becomes important for us to take a look at all the depiction of the freedom struggle in Indian cinema so far. These movies have been inspirational and have made people really proud to be Indians. Here is our pick when it comes to the best cinemas dealing with freedom struggle and independence in India:
1.Gandhi: This is not really an Indian movie, but it does deal with something that forms the essence of the Indian identity- Mahatma Gandhi. This is an epic biography of the Father of the Nation, directed by Sir Richard Attenborough, with Ben Kingsley donning the role of Gandhi.
2.Legend of Bhagat Singh: Legend of Bhagat Singh is a movie starring Ajay Devgn, where he plays the role of one of the most popular freedom fighters in the country. The story, especially “Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna” makes the hair stand on one’s neck. An inspiring tale told in a wonderful way.
3.Rang De Basanti: This movie looks at the freedom struggle, led by Bhagat Singh in a different way. Aamir Khan and his friends play characters that are modern day characterizations of the freedom fighters of that time- including Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh. In fact, this movie is a wonderful depiction of the things that we still need to get our freedom from- more than 60 years after becoming free from the British.
4.Sardar: This is an epic movie depicting the life and the struggle of the man commonly referred to as the Iron Man of India, Sardar Vallabhai Patel. Paresh Rawal plays the role of Sardar Patel in this movie, directed by Ketan Mehta. It still remains one of the most impressive commentaries on the freedom struggle and the aftermath of independence in India.
5.Kranti: Kranti is a movie that is based in 19th century India, under the British Rule. It spans a 50 year period- between 1825- 1875. The movie tells the story of two men who wage the war against the oppressive British rule- Bharat and Sanga, played by Manoj Kumar and Dilip Kumar
6.Karma: Karma is the story of a jailer and the brutal twist of fate that leaves his family dead. It deals with the jailer turning into a Dada, who has sworn to get revenge against those who killed his family. The movie deals with a lot of subtle concepts of independence and freedom. It stars Dilip Kumar, Anupam Kher, Naseeruddin Shah etc.
7.Mangal Pandey: The Rising: Another movie directed by Ketan Mehta, the movie talks about the story of Mangal Pandey, the man who sparked the rising or the Sepoy Mutinee of 1857, the mutinee that went on to be called the First War of Independence. Aamir Khan plays the role of Mangal Pandey in the movie.
8.Lagaan: This is a movie that went on to be India’s nomination for the Oscar’s that year. The movie is about a rag- tag cricket team made of Indian villagers, who go against the British team in a match of cricket- the match that would determine the existence of British authority over that village. This movie stars Aamir Khan and Gracy Singh.
9.Border: This is probably one of the most famous films made in Bollywood. It deals with the Indo- Pakistan war of 1971. It is based on a real life story of a small Punjabi regiment that defended their station against a whole tank regiment sent by the Pakistani Army. This was a critically acclaimed movie starring Sunny Deol, Sunil Shetty, Akshaye Khanna, Tabu etc.