Hindi cinema, often known as Bollywood and formerly as Bombay cinema, is the Indian Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay).
The term is a portmanteau of “Bombay” and “Hollywood”.
The industry is related to Cinema of South India and other Indian film industries, making up Indian Cinema – the world’s largest by number of feature films produced.
In 2017, Indian cinema produced 1,986 feature films, with Bollywood as its largest filmmaker, producing 64 Hindi films the same year.
- Bollywood represents 43% of Indian net box-office revenue;
- Tamil and Telugu cinema represent 36%; and
- The remaining regional cinema constituted 21% in 2014.
Bollywood is one of the largest centres of film production in the world. In 2001 ticket sales, Indian cinema (including Bollywood) reportedly sold an estimated 3.6 billion tickets worldwide, compared to Hollywood’s 2.6 billion tickets sold. Bollywood films tend to use vernacular Hindustani, mutually intelligible by people who self-identify as speaking either Hindi or Urdu, and modern Bollywood movies increasingly incorporate elements of Hinglish.
The most popular commercial genre in Bollywood since the 1970’s has been the masala film, which freely mixes different genres including action, comedy, romance, drama and melodrama along with musical numbers. Masala films generally fall under the musical film genre, of which Indian cinema has been the largest producer since the 1960’s when it exceeded the American film industry’s total musical output after musical films declined in the West; the first Indian musical talkie was Alam Ara (1931), several years after the first Hollywood musical talkie The Jazz Singer (1927).
Alongside commercial masala films, a distinctive genre of art films known as parallel cinema has also existed, presenting realistic content and avoidance of musical numbers.
In more recent years, the distinction between commercial masala and parallel cinema has been gradually blurring, with an increasing number of mainstream films adopting the conventions which were once strictly associated with parallel cinema.
“Bollywood” is a portmanteau derived from Bombay (the former name for Mumbai) and Hollywood, California, the centre of the American film industry. Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood is not a physical place; its name is criticised by some film journalists and critics, who believe it implies that the industry is a poor cousin of Hollywood.
According to OxfordDictionaries.com, the word “Bollywood” originated during the 1970’s, when Indian cinema overtook Hollywood in film production. A number of journalists have been credited by newspapers with coining the word. According to a 2004 article in The Hindu, journalist Bevinda Collaco coined the word; a Telegraph article the following year report that Amit Khanna was its creator.
According to Madhava Prasad, author of Surviving Bollywood, the term “Bollywood” was preceded by “Tollywood”, which then referred to the cinema of West Bengal. The Bengali film industry, based in Tollygunge, Calcutta, was referred to as “Tollywood” in a 1932 American Cinematographer article.
History of Bollywood
Early History (1890’s to 1940’s)
In 1897, a film presentation by Professor Stevenson featured a stage show at Calcutta’s Star Theatre. With Stevenson’s encouragement and camera, Hiralal Sen, an Indian photographer, made a film of scenes from that show, The Flower of Persia (1898). The Wrestlers (1899) by H.S. Bhatavdekar showed a wrestling match at the Hanging Gardens in Bombay.
Dadasaheb Phalke’s silent Raja Harishchandra (1913) is the first feature film made in India. By the 1930’s, the industry was producing over 200 films per year. The first Indian sound film, Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara (1931), was commercially successful. With a great demand for talkies and musicals, Bollywood and the other regional film industries quickly switched to sound films.
The 1930’s and 1940’s were tumultuous times; India was buffeted by the Great Depression, World War II, the Indian independence movement, and the violence of the Partition. Although most Bollywood films were unabashedly escapist, a number of filmmakers tackled tough social issues or used the struggle for Indian independence as a backdrop for their films. Irani made the first Hindi colour film, Kisan Kanya, in 1937. The following year, he made a colour version of Mother India. However, colour did not become a popular feature until the late 1950’s. At this time, lavish romantic musicals and melodramas were cinematic staples.
Before the 1947 partition of India, which divided the country into the Republic of India and Pakistan, the Bombay film industry (now called Bollywood) was closely linked to the Lahore film industry (now the Lollywood industry of Pakistani cinema); both produced films in Hindustani, the lingua franca of northern and central India. Another centre of Hindustani film production was the Bengali film industry in Calcutta, Bengal Presidency (now Kolkata, West Bengal), which produced Hindustani films and local Bengali language films.
Many actors, filmmakers and musicians from the Lahore industry migrated to the Bombay industry during the 1940’s, including actors K.L. Saigal, Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand; playback singers Mohammed Rafi, Noorjahan, and Shamshad Begum. Around the same time, filmmakers and actors from the Calcutta film industry began migrating to Bombay; as a result, Bombay became the center of Hindustani film production in the Republic of India after partition. During this time period, actors such as Shantaram, Paidi Jairaj, and Motilal have made their mark.
Golden Age (Late 1940’s to 1960’s)
The period from the late 1940’s to the early 1960’s, after India’s independence, is regarded by film historians as the Golden Age of Hindi cinema. Some of the most critically acclaimed Hindi films of all time were produced during this time. Examples include Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), directed by Guru Dutt and written by Abrar Alvi; Awaara (1951) and Shree 420 (1955), directed by Raj Kapoor and written by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, and Aan (1952), directed by Mehboob Khan and starring Dilip Kumar. The films explored social themes, primarily dealing with working-class life in India (particularly urban life) in the first two examples. Awaara presented the city as both nightmare and dream, and Pyaasa critiqued the unreality of urban life.
Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957), a remake of his earlier Aurat (1940), was the first Indian film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film; it lost by a single vote. Mother India defined conventional Hindi cinema for decades. It spawned a genre of dacoit films, in turn defined by Gunga Jumna (1961). Written and produced by Dilip Kumar, Gunga Jumna was a dacoit crime drama about two brothers on opposite sides of the law (a theme which became common in Indian films during the 1970s). Some of the best-known epic films of Hindi cinema were also produced at this time, such as K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam (1960). Other acclaimed mainstream Hindi filmmakers during this period included Kamal Amrohi and Vijay Bhatt.
The three most popular male Indian actors of the 1950’s and 1960’s were Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Dev Anand, each with a unique acting style. Kapoor adopted Charlie Chaplin’s tramp; Anand modelled himself on suave Hollywood stars like Gregory Peck and Cary Grant, and Kumar pioneered a form of method acting which predated Hollywood method actors such as Marlon Brando. Kumar, who was described as “the ultimate method actor” by Satyajit Ray, inspired future generations of Indian actors. Much like Brando’s influence on Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, Kumar had a similar influence on Amitabh Bachchan, Naseeruddin Shah, Shah Rukh Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Veteran actresses such as Suraiya, Nargis, Sumitra Devi, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Waheeda Rehman, Nutan, Sadhana, Mala Sinha and Vyjayanthimala have had their share of influence on Hindi cinema.
While commercial Hindi cinema was thriving, the 1950’s also saw the emergence of a parallel cinema movement. Although the movement (emphasising social realism) was led by Bengali cinema, it also began gaining prominence in Hindi cinema. Early examples of parallel cinema include Dharti Ke Lal (1946), directed by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and based on the Bengal famine of 1943, Neecha Nagar (1946) directed by Chetan Anand and written by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, and Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zamin (1953). Their critical acclaim and the latter’s commercial success paved the way for Indian neorealism and the Indian New Wave (synonymous with parallel cinema). Internationally acclaimed Hindi filmmakers involved in the movement included Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani, Ketan Mehta, Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal, and Vijaya Mehta.
After the social-realist film Neecha Nagar received the Palme d’Or at the inaugural 1946 Cannes Film Festival, Hindi films were frequently in competition for Cannes’ top prize during the 1950’s and early 1960’s and some won major prizes at the festival. Guru Dutt, overlooked during his lifetime, received belated international recognition during the 1980’s. Film critics polled by the British magazine Sight & Sound included several of Dutt’s films in a 2002 list of greatest films, and Time’s All-Time 100 Movies lists Pyaasa as one of the greatest films of all time.
During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the industry was dominated by musical romance films with romantic-hero leads.
Classic Bollywood (1970’s to 1980’s)
By 1970, Hindi cinema was thematically stagnant and dominated by musical romance films. The arrival of screenwriting duo Salim-Javed (Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar) was a paradigm shift, revitalising the industry. They began the genre of gritty, violent, Bombay underworld crime films early in the decade with films such as Zanjeer (1973) and Deewaar (1975) Salim-Javed reinterpreted the rural themes of Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957) and Dilip Kumar’s Gunga Jumna (1961) in a contemporary urban context, reflecting the socio-economic and socio-political climate of 1970s India and channeling mass discontent, disillusionment and the unprecedented growth of slums with anti-establishment themes and those involving urban poverty, corruption and crime. Their “angry young man”, personified by Amitabh Bachchan, reinterpreted Dilip Kumar’s performance in Gunga Jumna in a contemporary urban context and anguished urban poor.
By the mid-1970’s, romantic confections had given way to gritty, violent crime films and action films about gangsters (the Bombay underworld) and bandits (dacoits). Salim-Javed’s writing and Amitabh Bachchan’s acting popularised the trend with films such as Zanjeer and (particularly) Deewaar, a crime film inspired by Gunga Jumna which pitted “a policeman against his brother, a gang leader based on real-life smuggler Haji Mastan” (Bachchan); according to Danny Boyle, Deewaar was “absolutely key to Indian cinema”. In addition to Bachchan, several other actors followed by riding the crest of the trend (which lasted into the early 1990’s). Actresses from the era include Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan, Raakhee, Shabana Azmi, Zeenat Aman, Parveen Babi, Rekha, Dimple Kapadia, Smita Patil, Jaya Prada and Padmini Kolhapure.
The name “Bollywood” was coined during the 1970’s, when the conventions of commercial Bollywood films were defined. Key to this was the masala film, which combines a number of genres (action, comedy, romance, drama, melodrama, and musical). The masala film was pioneered early in the decade by filmmaker Nasir Hussain, and the Salim-Javed screenwriting duo, pioneering the Bollywood-blockbuster format. Yaadon Ki Baarat (1973), directed by Hussain and written by Salim-Javed, has been identified as the first masala film and the first quintessentially Bollywood film. Salim-Javed wrote more successful masala films during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Masala films made Amitabh Bachchan the biggest Bollywood star of the period. A landmark of the genre was Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), directed by Manmohan Desai and written by Kader Khan, and Desai continued successfully exploiting the genre.
Both genres (masala and violent-crime films) are represented by the blockbuster Sholay (1975), written by Salim-Javed and starring Amitabh Bachchan. It combined the dacoit film conventions of Mother India and Gunga Jumna with spaghetti Westerns, spawning the Dacoit Western (also known as the curry Western) which was popular during the 1970’s.
Some Hindi filmmakers, such as Shyam Benegal, Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani, Ketan Mehta, Govind Nihalani and Vijaya Mehta, continued to produce realistic parallel cinema throughout the 1970’s. Although the art film bent of the Film Finance Corporation was criticised during a 1976 Committee on Public Undertakings investigation which accused the corporation of not doing enough to encourage commercial cinema, the decade saw the rise of commercial cinema with films such as Sholay (1975) which consolidated Amitabh Bachchan’s position as a star. The devotional classic Jai Santoshi Ma was also released that year.
By 1983, the Bombay film industry was generating an estimated annual revenue of ₹700 crore (₹ 7 billion, $693.14 million), equivalent to $1.78 billion (₹11,696 crore, ₹ 111.33 billion) when adjusted for inflation. By 1986, India’s annual film output had increased from 741 films produced annually to 833 films annually, making India the world’s largest film producer. The most internationally acclaimed Hindi film of the 1980s was Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! (1988), which won the Camera d’Or at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
New Bollywood (1990s’ to Present)
Hindi cinema experienced another period of stagnation during the late 1980’s with a box-office decline due to increasing violence, a decline in musical quality, and a rise in video piracy. One of the turning points came with such films as Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), presenting a blend of youthfulness, family entertainment, emotional intelligence and strong melodies, all of which lured audiences back to the big screen. It brought back the template for Bollywood musical romance films which went on to define 1990’s Hindi cinema.
Known since the 1990’s as “New Bollywood”, contemporary Bollywood is linked to economic liberalisation in India during the early 1990’s. Early in the decade, the pendulum swung back toward family-centered romantic musicals. Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) was followed by blockbusters such as Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Raja Hindustani (1996), Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), introducing a new generation of popular actors, including the three Khans: Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, and Salman Khan, who have starred in most of the top ten highest-grossing Bollywood films. The Khans and have had successful careers since the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and have dominated the Indian box office for three decades. Shah Rukh Khan was the most successful Indian actor for most of the 1990’s and 2000’s, and Aamir Khan has been the most successful Indian actor since the mid 2000’s. Action and comedy films, starring such actors as Akshay Kumar and Govinda.
The decade marked the entrance of new performers in art and independent films, some of which were commercially successful. The most influential example was Satya (1998), directed by Ram Gopal Varma and written by Anurag Kashyap. Its critical and commercial success led to the emergence of a genre known as Mumbai noir: urban films reflecting the city’s social problems. This led to a resurgence of parallel cinema by the end of the decade. The films featured actors whose performances were often praised by critics.
The 2000’s saw increased Bollywood recognition worldwide due to growing (and prospering) NRI and Desi communities overseas. The growth of the Indian economy and a demand for quality entertainment in this era led the country’s film industry to new heights in production values, cinematography and screenwriting as well as technical advances in areas such as special effects and animation. Some of the largest production houses, among them Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions were the producers of new modern films. Some popular films of the decade were Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai (2000), Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001), Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001), Lagaan (2001), Koi… Mil Gaya (2003), Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), Veer-Zaara (2004), Rang De Basanti (2006), Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006), Dhoom 2 (2006), Krrish (2006), and Jab We Met (2007), among others, showing the rise of new movie stars.
During the 2010’s, the industry saw established stars such as making big-budget masala films like Dabangg (2010), Singham (2011), Ek Tha Tiger (2012), Son of Sardaar (2012), Rowdy Rathore (2012), Chennai Express (2013), Kick (2014) and Happy New Year (2014) with much-younger actresses. Although the films were often not praised by critics, they were commercially successful. Some of the films starring Aamir Khan have been credited with redefining and modernising the masala film with a distinct brand of socially conscious cinema.
Most stars from the 2000’s continued successful careers into the next decade, and the 2010’s saw a new generation of popular actors in different films. Among new conventions, female-centred films such as The Dirty Picture (2011), Kahaani (2012), and Queen (2014), Parched (2015), Pink (2016) started gaining wide financial success.
Influences On and Of Bollywood
Influences on Bollywood
Moti Gokulsing and Wimal Dissanayake identify six major influences which have shaped Indian popular cinema:
- The branching structures of ancient Indian epics, like the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Indian popular films often have plots which branch off into sub-plots.
- Ancient Sanskrit drama, with its stylised nature and emphasis on spectacle in which music, dance and gesture combine “to create a vibrant artistic unit with dance and mime being central to the dramatic experience.”
- Matthew Jones of De Montfort University also identifies the Sanskrit concept of rasa, or “the emotions felt by the audience as a result of the actor’s presentation”, as crucial to Bollywood films.
- Traditional folk theatre, which became popular around the 10th century with the decline of Sanskrit theatre.
- Its regional traditions include the Jatra of Bengal, the Ramlila of Uttar Pradesh, and the Terukkuttu of Tamil Nadu.
- Parsi theatre, which “blended realism and fantasy, music and dance, narrative and spectacle, earthy dialogue and ingenuity of stage presentation, integrating them into a dramatic discourse of melodrama.
- The Parsi plays contained crude humour, melodious songs and music, sensationalism and dazzling stagecraft.”
- Hollywood, where musicals were popular from the 1920’s to the 1950’s.
- Western musical television (particularly MTV), which has had an increasing influence since the 1990’s.
- Its pace, camera angles, dance sequences and music may be seen in 2000’s Indian films.
- An early example of this approach was Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995).
Sharmistha Gooptu identifies Indo-Persian-Islamic culture as a major influence. During the early 20th century, Urdu was the lingua franca of popular cultural performance across northern India and established in popular performance art traditions such as nautch dancing, Urdu poetry, and Parsi theatre. Urdu and related Hindi dialects were the most widely understood across northern India, and Hindustani became the standard language of early Indian talkies. Films based on “Persianate adventure-romances” led to a popular genre of “Arabian Nights cinema”.
Scholars Chaudhuri Diptakirti and Rachel Dwyer and screenwriter Javed Akhtar identify Urdu literature as a major influence on Hindi cinema. Most of the screenwriters and scriptwriters of classic Hindi cinema came from Urdu literary backgrounds, from Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and Akhtar ul Iman to Salim-Javed and Rahi Masoom Raza; a handful came from other Indian literary traditions, such as Bengali and Hindi literature. Most of Hindi cinema’s classic scriptwriters wrote primarily in Urdu, including Salim-Javed, Gulzar, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Inder Raj Anand, Rahi Masoom Raza and Wajahat Mirza. Urdu poetry and the ghazal tradition strongly influenced filmi (Bollywood lyrics). Javed Akhtar was also greatly influenced by Urdu novels by Pakistani author Ibn-e-Safi, such as the Jasoosi Dunya and Imran series of detective novels; they inspired, for example, famous Bollywood characters such as Gabbar Singh in Sholay (1975) and Mogambo in Mr. India (1987).
Todd Stadtman identifies several foreign influences on 1970’s commercial Bollywood masala films, including New Hollywood, Italian exploitation films, and Hong Kong martial arts cinema. After the success of Bruce Lee films (such as Enter the Dragon) in India, Deewaar (1975) and other Bollywood films incorporated fight scenes inspired by 1970’s martial arts films from Hong Kong cinema until the 1990’s. Bollywood action scenes emulated Hong Kong rather than Hollywood, emphasising acrobatics and stunts and combining kung fu (as perceived by Indians) with Indian martial arts such as pehlwani.
Influence of Bollywood on India
Perhaps Bollywood’s greatest influence has been on India’s national identity, where (with the rest of Indian cinema) it has become part of the “Indian story”. In India, Bollywood is often associated with India’s national identity. According to economist and Bollywood biographer Meghnad Desai, “Cinema actually has been the most vibrant medium for telling India its own story, the story of its struggle for independence, its constant struggle to achieve national integration and to emerge as a global presence”.
Scholar Brigitte Schulze has written that Indian films, most notably Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957), played a key role in shaping the Republic of India’s national identity in the early years after independence from the British Raj; the film conveyed a sense of Indian nationalism to urban and rural citizens alike. Bollywood has long influenced Indian society and culture as the biggest entertainment industry; many of the country’s musical, dancing, wedding and fashion trends are Bollywood-inspired. Bollywood fashion trendsetters have included Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam (1960) and Madhuri Dixit in Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994).
Bollywood has also had a socio-political impact on Indian society, reflecting Indian politics. In classic 1970’s Bollywood films, Bombay underworld crime films written by Salim-Javed and starring Amitabh Bachchan such as Zanjeer (1973) and Deewaar (1975) reflected the socio-economic and socio-political realities of contemporary India. They channeled growing popular discontent and disillusionment and state failure to ensure welfare and well-being at a time of inflation, shortages, loss of confidence in public institutions, increasing crime and the unprecedented growth of slums. Salim-Javed and Bachchan’s films dealt with urban poverty, corruption and organised crime; they were perceived by audiences as anti-establishment, often with an “angry young man” protagonist presented as a vigilante or anti-hero whose suppressed rage voiced the anguish of the urban poor.
Influence of Bollywood Overseas
Bollywood has been a significant form of soft power for India, increasing its influence and changing overseas perceptions of India. In Germany, Indian stereotypes included bullock carts, beggars, sacred cows, corrupt politicians, and catastrophes before Bollywood and the IT industry transformed global perceptions of India. According to author Roopa Swaminathan, “Bollywood cinema is one of the strongest global cultural ambassadors of a new India.” Its role in expanding India’s global influence is comparable to Hollywood’s similar role with American influence.
During the 2000’s, Bollywood began influencing musical films in the Western world and was instrumental role in reviving the American musical film. Baz Luhrmann said that his musical film, Moulin Rouge! (2001), was inspired by Bollywood musicals; the film incorporated a Bollywood-style dance scene with a song from the film China Gate. The critical and financial success of Moulin Rouge! began a renaissance of Western musical films such as Chicago, Rent, and Dreamgirls.
Indian film composer A.R. Rahman wrote the music for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams, and a musical version of Hum Aapke Hain Koun was staged in London’s West End. The Bollywood sports film Lagaan (2001) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and two other Bollywood films (2002’s Devdas and 2006’s Rang De Basanti) were nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language.
Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008), which won four Golden Globes and eight Academy Awards, was inspired by Bollywood films and is considered an “homage to Hindi commercial cinema”. It was also inspired by Mumbai-underworld crime films, such as Deewaar (1975), Satya (1998), Company (2002) and Black Friday (2007). Deewaar had a Hong Kong remake, The Brothers (1979), which inspired John Woo’s internationally acclaimed breakthrough A Better Tomorrow (1986); the latter was a template for Hong Kong action cinema’s heroic bloodshed genre. “Angry young man” 1970’s epics such as Deewaar and Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) also resemble the heroic-bloodshed genre of 1980’s Hong Kong action cinema.
The influence of filmi may be seen in popular music worldwide. Technopop pioneers Haruomi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto of the Yellow Magic Orchestra produced a 1978 electronic album, Cochin Moon, based on an experimental fusion of electronic music and Bollywood-inspired Indian music. Truth Hurts’ 2002 song “Addictive”, produced by DJ Quik and Dr. Dre, was lifted from Lata Mangeshkar’s “Thoda Resham Lagta Hai” in Jyoti (1981). The Black Eyed Peas’ Grammy Award winning 2005 song “Don’t Phunk with My Heart” was inspired by two 1970’s Bollywood songs: “Ye Mera Dil Yaar Ka Diwana” from Don (1978) and “Ae Nujawan Hai Sub” from Apradh (1972). Both songs were composed by Kalyanji Anandji, sung by Asha Bhosle, and featured the dancer Helen.
The Kronos Quartet re-recorded several R.D. Burman compositions sung by Asha Bhosle for their 2005 album, You’ve Stolen My Heart: Songs from R.D. Burman’s Bollywood, which was nominated for Best Contemporary World Music Album at the 2006 Grammy Awards. Filmi music composed by A.R. Rahman (who received two Academy Awards for the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack) has frequently been sampled by other musicians, including the Singaporean artist Kelly Poon, the French rap group La Caution and the American artist Ciara. Many Asian Underground artists, particularly those among the overseas Indian diaspora, have also been inspired by Bollywood music.
Bollywood films are primarily musicals, and are expected to have catchy song-and-dance numbers woven into the script. A film’s success often depends on the quality of such musical numbers. A film’s music and song and dance portions are usually produced first and these are often released before the film itself, increasing its audience.
Indian audiences expect value for money, and a good film is generally referred to as paisa vasool, (literally “money’s worth”). Songs, dances, love triangles, comedy and dare-devil thrills are combined in a three-hour show (with an intermission). These are called masala films, after the Hindi word for a spice mixture. Like masalas, they are a mixture of action, comedy and romance; most have heroes who can fight off villains single-handedly. Bollywood plots have tended to be melodramatic, frequently using formulaic ingredients such as star-crossed lovers, angry parents, love triangles, family ties, sacrifice, political corruption, kidnapping, villains, kind-hearted courtesans, long-lost relatives and siblings, reversals of fortune and serendipity.
Parallel cinema films, in and outside Bollywood, tended to be less popular at the box office. A large Indian diaspora in English-speaking countries and increased Western influence in India have nudged Bollywood films closer to Hollywood.
According to film critic Lata Khubchandani, “Our earliest films … had liberal doses of sex and kissing scenes in them. Strangely, it was after Independence the censor board came into being and so did all the strictures.” Although Bollywood plots feature Westernised urbanites dating and dancing in clubs rather than pre-arranged marriages, traditional Indian culture continues to exist outside the industry and is an element of resistance by some to Western influences. Bollywood plays a major role, however, in Indian fashion. Studies have indicated that some people, unaware that changing fashion in Bollywood films is often influenced by globalisation, consider the clothes worn by Bollywood actors as authentically Indian.
Casts and Crews
Bollywood employs people from throughout India. It attracts thousands of aspiring actors and actresses hoping for a break in the industry. Models and beauty contestants, television actors, stage actors and ordinary people come to Mumbai with the hope of becoming a star. As in Hollywood, very few succeed. Since many Bollywood films are shot abroad, many foreign extras are employed.
Very few non-Indian actors are able to make a mark in Bollywood, although many have tried. There have been exceptions, however, and the hit film Rang De Basanti starred the English Alice Patten. Kisna, Lagaan, and The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey also featured foreign actors, and Australian-born actress Emma Brown Garett has starred in a few Indian films. Bollywood can be insular, and relatives of film-industry figures have an edge in obtaining coveted roles in films or being part of a film crew. However, industry connections are no guarantee of a long career: competition is fierce, and film-industry scions will falter if they do not succeed at the box office. Stars such as Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Anil Kapoor, Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai and Shah Rukh Khan lacked show-business connections.
Dialogues and Lyrics
Film scripts (known as dialogues in Indian English) and their song lyrics are often written by different people. Scripts are usually written in an unadorned Hindustani, which would be understood by the largest possible audience. Bollywood films tend to use a colloquial register of Hindustani, mutually intelligible by Hindi and Urdu speakers. Most of the classic scriptwriters of what is known as Hindi cinema, including Salim-Javed, Gulzar, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Inder Raj Anand, Rahi Masoom Raza and Wajahat Mirza, primarily wrote in Urdu. Salim-Javed wrote in Urdu script, which was then transcribed by an assistant into Devanagari script so Hindi readers could read the Urdu dialogues. During the 1970’s, the Urdu writers and screenwriters Krishan Chander and Ismat Chughtai said that “more than seventy-five per cent of films are made in Urdu” but were categorised as Hindi films by the government. Urdu poetry has strongly influenced Bollywood songs, whose lyrics also draw from the ghazal tradition (filmi-ghazal). According to Javed Akhtar in 1996, Urdu diction dominates Bollywood film dialogue and lyrics, with about 90% of them written in Urdu script, including his own works as well as those of Majrooh Sultanpuri and Anand Bakshi.
Some films have used regional dialects to evoke a village setting, or archaic Urdu in medieval historical films. In her book, The Cinematic ImagiNation, Jyotika Virdi wrote about the presence of Urdu in Hindi films: “Urdu is often used in film titles, screenplay, lyrics, the language of love, war, and martyrdom.” Virdi notes that although Urdu was widely used in classic Hindi cinema decades after partition because it was widely taught in pre-partition India, its use has declined in modern Hindi cinema: “The extent of Urdu used in commercial Hindi cinema has not been stable … the decline of Urdu is mirrored in Hindi films … It is true that many Urdu words have survived and have become part of Hindi cinema’s popular vocabulary. But that is as far as it goes … For the most part, popular Hindi cinema has forsaken the florid Urdu that was part of its extravagance and retained a ‘residual’ Urdu”. However, Urdu continues to be used in Bollywood films for dialogues and (particularly) songs.
Contemporary mainstream films also use English; according to the article “Bollywood Audiences Editorial”, “English has begun to challenge the ideological work done by Urdu.” Some film scripts are first written in Latin script. Characters may shift from one language to the other to evoke a particular atmosphere (for example, English in a business setting and Hindi in an informal one). The blend of Hindi, Urdu and English sometimes heard in modern Bollywood films, known as Hinglish, has become increasingly common.
Cinematic language (in dialogues or lyrics) is often melodramatic, invoking God, family, mother, duty, and self-sacrifice. Song lyrics are often about love. Bollywood song lyrics (especially in older films) frequently use the poetic vocabulary of court Urdu, with a number of Persian loanwords. Another source for love lyrics in films such as Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje and Lagaan is the long Hindu tradition of poetry about the loves of Krishna, Radha, and the gopis.
Music directors often prefer working with certain lyricists, and the lyricist and composer may be seen as a team. This phenomenon has been compared to the pairs of American composers and songwriters who created classic Broadway musicals.
Sound in early Bollywood films was usually not recorded on location (sync sound). It was usually created (or re-created) in the studio, with the actors speaking their lines in the studio and sound effects added later; this created synchronisation problems. Commercial Indian films are known for their lack of ambient sound, and the Arriflex 3 camera necessitated dubbing. Lagaan (2001) was filmed with sync sound, and several Bollywood films have recorded on-location sound since then.
Female Makeup Artists
In 1955, the Bollywood Cine Costume Make-Up Artist & Hair Dressers’ Association (CCMAA) ruled that female makeup artists were barred from membership. The Supreme Court of India ruled in 2014 that the ban violated Indian constitutional guarantees under Article 14 (right to equality), 19(1)(g) (freedom to work) and Article 21 (right to liberty).
According to the court, the ban had no “rationale nexus” to the cause sought to be achieved and was “unacceptable, impermissible and inconsistent” with the constitutional rights guaranteed to India’s citizens. The court also found illegal the rule which mandated that for any artist to work in the industry, they must have lived for five years in the state where they intend to work. In 2015, it was announced that Charu Khurana was the first woman registered by the Cine Costume Make-Up Artist & Hair Dressers’ Association.
Song and Dance
Bollywood film music is called filmi (from the Hindi “of films”). Bollywood songs were introduced with Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara (1931) song, “De De Khuda Ke Naam pay pyaare”. Bollywood songs are generally pre-recorded by professional playback singers, with the actors then lip syncing the words to the song on-screen (often while dancing). Although most actors are good dancers, few are also singers; a notable exception was Kishore Kumar, who starred in several major films during the 1950’s while having a rewarding career as a playback singer. K.L. Saigal, Suraiyya, and Noor Jehan were known as singers and actors, and some actors in the last thirty years have sung one or more songs themselves.
Songs can make and break a film, determining whether it will be a flop or a hit: “Few films without successful musical tracks, and even fewer without any songs and dances, succeed”. Globalisation has changed Bollywood music, with lyrics an increasing mix of Hindi and English. Global trends such as salsa, pop and hip hop have influenced the music heard in Bollywood films.
Playback singers are featured in the opening credits, and have fans who will see an otherwise-lackluster film to hear their favourites. Notable Bollywood singers are Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Sadhana Sargam , Alka Yagnik and Shreya Goshal (female), and K.L. Saigal, Talat Mahmood, Mukesh, Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar, Kishore Kumar, Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan and Sonu Nigam (male). Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi have been considered the finest singers of Bollywood songs, followed by Lata Mangeshkar (who has recorded thousands of songs for Indian films in her six-decade career). Composers of film music, known as music directors, are also well-known. Remixing of film songs with modern rhythms is common, and producers may release remixed versions of some of their films’ songs with the films’ soundtrack albums.
Dancing in Bollywood films, especially older films, is modeled on Indian dance: classical dance, dances of north-Indian courtesans (tawaif) or folk dances. In modern films, Indian dance blends with Western dance styles as seen on MTV or in Broadway musicals; Western pop and classical-dance numbers are commonly seen side-by-side in the same film. The hero (or heroine) often performs with a troupe of supporting dancers. Many song-and-dance routines in Indian films contain unrealistically-quick shifts of location or changes of costume between verses of a song. If the hero and heroine dance and sing a duet, it is often staged in natural surroundings or architecturally-grand settings.
Songs typically comment on the action taking place in the film. A song may be worked into the plot, so a character has a reason to sing. It may externalise a character’s thoughts, or presage an event in the film (such as two characters falling in love). The songs are often referred to as a “dream sequence”, with things happening which would not normally happen in the real world. Song and dance scenes were often filmed in Kashmir but, due to political unrest in Kashmir since the end of the 1980’s, they have been shot in western Europe (particularly Switzerland and Austria).
Contemporary Bollywood dancers include Madhuri Dixit, Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Sridevi, Meenakshi Seshadri, Malaika Arora Khan, Shahid Kapoor, Katrina Kaif and Tiger Shroff. Older dancers include Helen (known for her cabaret numbers), Madhubala, Vyjanthimala, Padmini, Hema Malini, Mumtaz, Cuckoo Moray, Parveen Babi, Waheeda Rahman, Meena Kumari, and Shammi Kapoor.
Bollywood producers have been releasing a film’s soundtrack (as tapes or CDs) before the film’s release, hoping that the music will attract audiences; a soundtrack is often more popular than its film. Some producers also release music videos, usually (but not always) with a song from the film.
Bollywood films are multi-million dollar productions, with the most expensive productions costing up to ₹ 1 billion (about US$20 million). The science-fiction film Ra.One was made on a budget of ₹ 1.35 billion (about $27 million), making it the most expensive Bollywood film of all time. Sets, costumes, special effects and cinematography were less than world-class, with some notable exceptions, until the mid-to-late 1990s. As Western films and television are more widely distributed in India, there is increased pressure for Bollywood films to reach the same production levels (particularly in action and special effects). Recent Bollywood films, like Krrish (2006), have employed international technicians such as Hong Kong-based action choreographer Tony Ching. The increasing accessibility of professional action and special effects, coupled with rising film budgets, have seen an increase in action and science fiction films.
Since overseas scenes are attractive at the box office, Mumbai film crews are filming in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, the US, Europe and elsewhere. Indian producers have also obtained funding for big-budget films shot in India, such as Lagaan and Devdas.
Funding for Bollywood films often comes from private distributors and a few large studios. Although Indian banks and financial institutions had been forbidden from lending to film studios, the ban has been lifted. Finances are not regulated; some funding comes from illegitimate sources such as the Mumbai underworld, which is known to influence several prominent film personalities. Mumbai organised-crime hitmen shot Rakesh Roshan, a film director and father of star Hrithik Roshan, in January 2000. In 2001, the Central Bureau of Investigation seized all prints of Chori Chori Chupke Chupke after the film was found to be funded by members of the Mumbai underworld.
Another problem facing Bollywood is widespread copyright infringement of its films. Often, bootleg DVD copies of movies are available before they are released in cinemas. Manufacturing of bootleg DVD, VCD, and VHS copies of the latest movie titles is an established small-scale industry in parts of south and southeast Asia. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) estimates that the Bollywood industry loses $100 million annually from unlicensed home videos and DVDs. In addition to the homegrown market, demand for these copies is large amongst portions of the Indian diaspora. Bootleg copies are the only way people in Pakistan can watch Bollywood movies, since the Pakistani government has banned their sale, distribution and telecast. Films are frequently broadcast without compensation by small cable-TV companies in India and other parts of South Asia. Small convenience stores, run by members of the Indian diaspora in the US and the UK, regularly stock tapes and DVDs of dubious provenance; consumer copying adds to the problem. The availability of illegal copies of movies on the Internet also contributes to industry losses.
Satellite TV, television and imported foreign films are making inroads into the domestic Indian entertainment market. In the past, most Bollywood films could make money; now, fewer do. Most Bollywood producers make money, however, recouping their investments from many sources of revenue (including the sale of ancillary rights). There are increasing returns from theatres in Western countries like the UK, Canada, and the US, where Bollywood is slowly being noticed. As more Indians migrate to these countries, they form a growing market for upscale Indian films. In 2002, Bollywood sold 3.6 billion tickets and had a total revenue (including theatre tickets, DVDs and television) of $1.3 billion; Hollywood films sold 2.6 billion tickets, and had a total revenue of $51 billion.
A number of Indian artists hand-painted movie billboards and posters. M.F. Husain painted film posters early in his career; human labour was found to be cheaper than printing and distributing publicity material. Most of the large, ubiquitous billboards in India’s major cities are now created with computer-printed vinyl. Old hand-painted posters, once considered ephemera, are collectible folk art.
Releasing film music, or music videos, before a film’s release may be considered a form of advertising. A popular tune is believed to help attract audiences. Bollywood publicists use the Internet as a venue for advertising. Most bigger-budget films have a websites on which audiences can view trailers, stills and information on the story, cast, and crew. Bollywood is also used to advertise other products. Product placement, used in Hollywood, is also common in Bollywood.
Bollywood’s increasing use of international settings such as Switzerland, London, Paris, New York, Mexico, Brazil and Singapore does not necessarily represent the people and cultures of those locales. Contrary to these spaces and geographies being filmed as they are, they are actually Indianised by adding Bollywood actors and Hindi speaking extras to them. While immersing in Bollywood films, viewers get to see their local experiences duplicated in different locations around the world.
According to Shakuntala Rao, “Media representation can depict India’s shifting relation with the world economy, but must retain its ‘Indianness’ in moments of dynamic hybridity”; “Indianness” (cultural identity) poses a problem with Bollywood’s popularity among varied diaspora audiences, but gives its domestic audience a sense of uniqueness from other immigrant groups.
The Filmfare Awards are some of the most prominent awards given to Hindi films in India. The Indian screen magazine Filmfare began the awards in 1954 (recognising the best films of 1953), and they were originally known as the Clare Awards after the magazine’s editor. Modeled on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ poll-based merit format, individuals may vote in separate categories. A dual voting system was developed in 1956.
The National Film Awards were also introduced in 1954. The Indian government has sponsored the awards, given by its Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF), since 1973. The DFF screens Bollywood films, films from the other regional movie industries, and independent/art films. The awards are made at an annual ceremony presided over by the president of India. Unlike the Filmfare Awards, which are chosen by the public and a committee of experts, the National Film Awards are decided by a government panel.
Other awards ceremonies for Hindi films in India are the Screen Awards (begun in 1995) and the Stardust Awards, which began in 2003. The International Indian Film Academy Awards (begun in 2000) and the Zee Cine Awards, begun in 1998, are held abroad in a different country each year.
In addition to their popularity among the Indian diaspora from Nigeria and Senegal to Egypt and Russia, generations of non-Indians have grown up with Bollywood. Indian cinema’s early contacts with other regions made inroads into the Soviet Union, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and China. Bollywood entered the consciousness of Western audiences and producers during the late 20th century, and Western actors now seek roles in Bollywood films.
Pressured by rushed production schedules and small budgets, some Bollywood writers and musicians have been known to plagiarise. Ideas, plot lines, tunes or riffs have been copied from other Indian film industries or foreign films (including Hollywood and other Asian films) without acknowledging the source.
Before the 1990’s, plagiarism occurred with impunity. Copyright enforcement was lax in India, and few actors or directors saw an official contract. The Hindi film industry was not widely known to non-Indian audiences (except in the Soviet states), who would be unaware that their material had been copied. Audiences may not have been aware of plagiarism, since many in India were unfamiliar with foreign films and music. Although copyright enforcement in India is still somewhat lenient, Bollywood and other film industries are more aware of each other and Indian audiences are more familiar with foreign films and music. Organisations such as the India EU Film Initiative seek to foster a community between filmmakers and industry professionals in India and the European Union.
A commonly-reported justification for plagiarism in Bollywood is that cautious producers want to remake popular Hollywood films in an Indian context. Although screenwriters generally produce original scripts, many are rejected due to uncertainty about whether a film will be successful. Poorly-paid screenwriters have also been criticised for a lack of creativity. Some filmmakers see plagiarism in Bollywood as an integral part of globalisation, with which Western (particularly American) culture is embedding itself into Indian culture. Vikram Bhatt, director of Raaz (a remake of What Lies Beneath) and Kasoor (a remake of Jagged Edge), has spoken about the influence of American culture and Bollywood’s desire to produce box-office hits based along the same lines: “Financially, I would be more secure knowing that a particular piece of work has already done well at the box office. Copying is endemic everywhere in India. Our TV shows are adaptations of American programmes. We want their films, their cars, their planes, their Diet Cokes and also their attitude. The American way of life is creeping into our culture.” According to Mahesh Bhatt, “If you hide the source, you’re a genius. There’s no such thing as originality in the creative sphere”.
Although very few cases of film-copyright violations have been taken to court because of a slow legal process, the makers of Partner (2007) and Zinda (2005) were targeted by the owners and distributors of the original films: Hitch and Oldboy. The American studio 20th Century Fox brought Mumbai-based B.R. Films to court over the latter’s forthcoming Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai, which Fox alleged was an illegal remake of My Cousin Vinny. B.R. Films eventually settled out of court for about $200,000, paving the way for its film’s release. Some studios comply with copyright law; in 2008, Orion Pictures secured the rights to remake Hollywood’s Wedding Crashers.
The Pakistani Qawwali musician Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan had a big impact on Bollywood music, inspiring numerous Indian musicians working in Bollywood, especially during the 1990’s. However, there were many instances of Indian music directors plagiarising Khan’s music to produce hit filmi songs. Several popular examples include Viju Shah’s hit song “Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast” in Mohra (1994) being plagiarised from Khan’s popular Qawwali song “Dam Mast Qalandar”, “Mera Piya Ghar Aya” used in Yaarana (1995), and “Sanoo Ek Pal Chain Na Aaye” in Judaai (1997). Despite the significant number of hit Bollywood songs plagiarised from his music, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was reportedly tolerant towards the plagiarism. One of the Bollywood music directors who frequently plagiarised him, Anu Malik, claimed that he loved Khan’s music and was actually showing admiration by using his tunes. However, Khan was reportedly aggrieved when Malik turned his spiritual “Allah Hoo, Allah Hoo” into “I Love You, I Love You” in Auzaar (1997). Khan said “he has taken my devotional song Allahu and converted it into I love you. He should at least respect my religious songs.”
Bollywood soundtracks also plagiarised Guinean singer Mory Kanté, particularly his 1987 album Akwaba Beach. His song, “Tama”, inspired two Bollywood songs: Bappi Lahiri’s “Tamma Tamma” in Thanedaar (1990) and “Jumma Chumma” in Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s soundtrack for Hum (1991). The latter also featured “Ek Doosre Se”, which copied Kanté’s “Inch Allah”. His song “Yé ké yé ké” was used as background music in the 1990 Bollywood film Agneepath, inspired the Bollywood song “Tamma Tamma” in Thanedaar.