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Indian Film Industry (Bollywood)

Updated on January 18, 2012
Madhuri Dixit
Madhuri Dixit

The first feature-length Indian film, Raja Harishchandra, was produced in 1913. Since that time the Indian film industry has produced motion pictures in increasing numbers for an increasingly devoted audience, until in the 1960's the annual output of feature films in India exceeded that of the United States and was second only to that of Japan in the entire world. Since then the number has grown to be second only to Hollywood.

The devotion of the average Indian to the movies is partly attributable to his lack of other forms of diversion. The legitimate theater, concerts of music and dance, and the cabaret are apt to be beyond his reach for both financial and geographical reasons, whereas the film, On both these counts, is easily accessible. This easy accessibility, coupled with the fact that what the theater, concert hall, and cabaret offer is all contained in films, has made the movies the most widely accepted form of entertainment in the nation.

India produces over 800 feature films per year plus a large number of short subjects and documentaries. Film making one of the top five industries in the country in terms of capital investment.

Nearly 6,000 motion picture theaters cater to 5 million people daily. Nevertheless, considering India's population of approximately 500 million people, the number of movie theaters is still woefully inadequate. And the population of India's half million villages is still largely unexposed to the influence of films.

The Hindi Film

Curiously, much of the Hindi film industry is concentrated in Bombay, whose inhabitants speak no Hindi. Thus, far removed from its own north Indian milieu, the Hindi film has become unburdened of its traditions and its authenticity of locale and character. It is not uncommon, for instance, for a Hindi film to lump together Bharata ndtya (a classical south Indian dance) and Bhangra (a north Indian folk dance) or to set a classical raga to a popular Western melody. Anachronistic and slick, the Hindi film is aimed at mass consumption. Since the Indian filmgoers besiege the box office to attend, it is no wonder the film makers claim they are catering to the taste that obtains, however unrealistic and inartistic their efforts may prove to be.

A typical example of the commercially successful Hindi film is Sangam (The Confluence), produced in 1964 by Raj Kapoor. Sangam recounts the familiar tale of two friends in love with the same girl, one of them abandoning her in favor of the other. But the story is mainly a pretext to lead the audience up the Eiffel Tower in Paris, along the graceful canals of Venice, and over the snowy mountains of Switzerland, since a new feature of the Hindi film is the inclusion of exotic foreign locales. Replete also with song and dance numbers, the film was costly to produce, yet its gross earnings appear to have justified the investment.

The Bengali Art Film

In contrast to these expensively mounted films made for the mass market are the austere masterpieces of Satyajit Ray and a few others. Humanism, which once characterized the work of such European directors as Renoir, Glair, De Sica, and Fellini, is the keynote of Ray's films. It permeates all his work, from his first firm, Father Panchali (1955) to Charulata (1964). Charulata, based on a story by Rabindranath Tagore, is set in the 19th century. The film shows the educated elite, soaked in the liberalism of the West but emotionally still tied to feudalistic habits and conventions—a contradiction still evident in upper-class Indian society.

Another Bengali film maker whose work compels attention is Ritwick Ghatak. Unlike Ray, Ghatak is socially concerned and "committed." His films are more dynamic than introspective, more protesting than contemplative. His film Subarenrekha (The Golden Line), produced in 1965, concerns a refugee family that flees from East Bengal to West Bengal after partition and, even though materially well off in new surroundings, reaches a spiritual dead end.

Other Indian film makers who have made brave bids to release the indigenous cinema from tedium and theatricality are Mrinal Sen (Akash Kusum, 1965), Barin Saha (Tero Nadir Parey, 1962), Tapan Sinha (Atithi, 1965), and Utpal Dutt (Ghoom Bhangar Gaan, 1965). Significantly, all are from Bengal. The audience response to their films is still lukewarm. But now as never before, thanks largely to a growing film society movement in India, a more discriminating audience is being born, which may change the tenor of film making throughout the nation.


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