Why Indians Are Mad About Movies

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A NATIONAL OBSESSION...Superstar Aamir Khan and Katrina Kaif in a still from 'Dhoom 3'
A NATIONAL OBSESSION…Superstar Aamir Khan and Katrina Kaif in a still from ‘Dhoom 3’

Indians can’t live without the movies. It’s as essential to us as eating and breathing. Does any country anywhere in the world produce even a quarter of the films that India does? On hundred years of Hindi cinema, a special tribute to a magnificent national obsession

VANIT SETHI

“Daddy, let’s go to Dhoom 3,” my sons blurted out, almost in unison. My wife nodded her assent, and I agreed by default. Of course, not that I don’t like to go out for a movie outing. And the Dhoom series has been particularly addictive, somewhat like James Bond movies. So, our Christmas Eve has been booked for Aamir, Abhishek, Katrina and Uday. And off we go to the nearest multiplex in a popular mall.

Bollywood! We Indians can’t live without it. It’s as essential to us as eating and breathing. If we don’t go to a multiplex or a movie hall, then we would watch Hindi films on the TV or DVD or the PC.

A regular dose of Hindi films is a must for our survival. And now that our favourite cinema Bollywood has turned a glorious 100 this year, it makes for a good excuse to indulge in some memorable nostalgia – or a walk down the glittering, star-studded gallery of some all-time greats down the ages, right from 1913 onwards when Dadasaheb Phalke came out with Raja Harishchandra – the first Indian movie ever made. And nothing can be more appropriate than the year-end for this passionate indulgence. So, Lights, Camera, Action!

Bold Beginnings to Fiery Forties: Eighteen years after the Lumiere brothers showcased their moving pictures of ordinary everyday events in 1895 in London, Dadasaheb Phalke produced India’s first silent feature film Raja Harishchandra in 1913. Dadasaheb was the pioneer of the Indian film industry and a scholar on India’s languages and culture, who brought together elements from Sanskrit epics to produce his film, in which the female roles were also played by male actors.

Only one print of the film was made and shown in Bombay on 3 May, 1913. It was a commercial success and paved the way for more such films. It was again 18 years later that Bollywood found its voice with Alam Ara (14 March, 1931) – India’s first talkie film – made by Ardeshir Irani. The discovery of sound in cinema revolutionised Bollywood and made music an essential element of Indian cinema. The forties was a tumultuous period in India and the world because of the Second World War and the Quit India Movement. Realism came into Hindi cinema because of the people’s theatre movement with films like Dharti ke Lal and Dr Kotnis ki Amar Kahani (both in 1946). But it was in the 1950s onwards that India, especially Bollywood, entered the golden phase, both in the content of the films and the music in them.

Fabulous Fifties: This is where Bollywood gets the most interesting – often called the Golden 1950s. The wide array of films produced in this decade – from the socially relevant to the pure romance, from tragedies to comedies, this highly musical, black and white decade produced some of the fascinating films in the history of Indian cinema. The parallel cinema movement, led by Bengali film legends in Calcutta – like Ritwik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray – had its impact on Hindi cinema too.

Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955) and the Apu Trilogy (1955-59) began a trend of neo-realism and surrealism in the Bombay studios. Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen (1953) laid the foundation for New Wave cinema. Commercial Hindi cinema too got its classics with Raj Kapoor’s Awaara (1951) and Shree 420 (1955); and Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz ke Phool (1959).

These films expressed social themes mainly dealing with working class urban life in India, primarily in the city of Bombay. Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957) too was produced in the same year as Pyaasa, and so was V Shantaram’s Do Aankhen Barah Haath. Then, there were other interesting films like Bimal Roy’s Madhumati (1958). All in all, it was truly a power-packed decade.

Swinging Sixties: The 1960s was a truly swinging decade in Bollywood, because color came to be used in a big way, though it was first used way back in 1937 (Kisan Kanya). Bollywood went berserk in this decade with stylishly romantic films shot in hill stations like Kashmir, Shimla and Darjeeling, and some abroad in the fashionable cities of London, Paris and Tokyo. With a superstar phenomenon like Rajesh Khanna, a fireball of gyrating energy like Shammi Kapoor, and the wistfully stylish Dev Anand, singing and dancing some of the most catchy numbers in Bollywood, this decade was truly pulsating with youthful zest.

Some of the most memorable films of this decade were Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Junglee (1961), Kabuliwalla (1961), Sangam (1964), Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), Waqt (1965), Guide (1965), Teesri Manzil (1966), Love in Tokyo (1966), Jewel Thief (1967), An Evening in Paris (1967), Padosan (1968), and Aradhana (1969).

Sensational Seventies: This was the decade of the angry young man, epitomised most emphatically by Amitabh Bachchan – the Big B. This was also the decade of Sholay (1975) – a film that no Indian worth his or her salt needs an introduction to. With a multi-star cast and an engaging, entertaining storyline, Sholay went on to earn Rs 15 crore in those days when such figures were unheard of. It also ran for years at single theatre halls across India, and what’s more, it appealed to a wide spectrum of audiences – from the rural pockets to small towns to metropolitan cites.

For students of Indian cinema, Sholay will remain a landmark film – a film that many cinema experts define as a turning point in Bollywood, by classifying it under pre-Sholay and post-Sholay periods. Apart from Sholay, the 1970s produced other blockbusters in the ‘angry young man’ mould like Zanjeer (1973), Deewar (1975), and Trishul (1978); romantic youthful musicals like Bobby (1973), Julie (1975); and Baaton Baaton Mein (1979); endearing love stories like Pakeezah (1972), Kati Patang (1970), Amar Prem (1972), and Kabhi Kabhie (1976); social comedies like Chupke, Chupke (1975), Gol Maal (1979), and Damaad (1978); total family entertainers like Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) and Hum Kisise Kum Nahin (1977) and truly landmark films like Mera Naam Joker (1970), Anand (1971), Namak Haram (1973), and Aandhi (1975). Overall, the 1970s was a truly entertaining decade in Hindi cinema, with a wide range of subjects that appealed to all kinds of people across the country.

Electric Eighties: The 1980s was ushered in with the sound of Nazia Hassan’s chart-breaking number Aap Jaisa Koi from Feroz Khan’s Qurbani (1980), that set the trend for disco numbers in Hindi films. After the highly entertaining 1970s, the 1980s started experimenting with parallel cinema once again, as character actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Farooque Shaikh, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, and Deepti Naval came out with sterling performances in movies like Aakrosh (1980), Arth (1982), Ardh Satya (1983), Bazaar (1982), Masoom (1983), Chasme Buddoor (1981), Katha (1983), and Dard ka Rishta (1982).

Other highly notable films of the decade in different genres – from the romantic to entertaining to highly gritty crime thrillers were Ek Duuje ke Liye (1981), Silsila (1981), Nikaah (1982), Masoom (1983), Ijaazat (1987) Mr India (1987), Yaarana (1981), Tezaab (1988), Parinda (1989), Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989), Chandni (1989), Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1983) – one of the best political satires in Bollywood.

Natty Nineties: The 1990s, to some extent, brought back romance on the screen with films like Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994), DDLJ (1995), Dil to Pagal Hai (1997), Hum Dil De Chuke..(1999), Taal (1999), Akele Hum Akele Tum (1995), Khamoshi (1996), and 1942 A Love Story (1994) – also the decade of long cinema titles. The decade will most notably be known for bringing celebrated South Indian ace director Mani Rathnam to Bollywood. He brought out three topical films to Hindi audiences – Roja (1992), Bombay (1995), and Dil Se  (1998), dealing with the problems of Kashmir, Bombay after the communal riots of 1993, and the North-east of India respectively, while Gulzar brought out the much-acclaimed Maachis (1996), dealing with the Punjab problem.

This decade also made Shah Rukh Khan a superstar after his early films Darr (1993), Baazigar (1993), and Anjaam (1994). Other notable Hindi films of the 1990s were Prahaar (1991), Border (1997), Sarfarosh (1999), and Khalnayak (1993), whose song Choli ke Peechhey created quite a stir.

Naughty Noughties: The new century brought in some risque, naughty sex comedies, but also some dashing love stories, a few experimental films, and some landmark cult films. There were comedies like Awaara Paagal Deewana (2002), Phir Hera Pheri (2000), No Entry (2005), Welcome (2007), De Dana Dan (2009), Garam Masala (2005) and Dhamaal (2007); young romances and love stories like Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai (2000), Veer Zaara (2004), Chalte Chalte (2003), Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani (2009), Love Aaj Kal (2009), New York (2009), Devdas (2002), and Mohabattein (2000); blockbuster films like Gadar (2001), Koi Mil Gaya (2003), Dhoom 2 (2006), Wanted (2009), Ghajini (2008), and Om Shanti Om (2007); some avant garde stuff like Jogger’s Park (2003), Mr & Mrs Iyer (2002); Mumbai Meri Jaan (2008), A Wednesday (2008), Aamir (2008); Gandhi My Father (2007), Swades (2004), and Taare Zameen Par (2007); besides some landmark cult films like Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Lagaan (2001), Rang De Basanti (2006), 3 Idiots (2009), Chak De India (2007), Sarkar (2005), Rocket Singh (2009), and the Munnabhai series (MMBS and Lage Raho).

Trendy Tweens: The first four years of the Tweens decade (2010-2013), shows a very trendy start, foraying into some new areas. We had a retro film like Once Upon a Time in Mumbai (2010); picaresque, buddy adventures like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), and Kai Po Che (2013); an edge-of-the-seat, twist-in-the-tale suspense thriller like Kahaani (2012); a truly unusual musical love triangle like Barfi (2012); an electrifying battle of the legal eagles like Jolly LLB (2013); a unique, endearing comedy like Vicky Donor (2012); a cat-and-mouse con game like Special 26 (2013); a political espionage thriller like Madras Cafe (2013); old-world, South-style masala flicks like Singham (2011) and Chennai Express (2013); and two very different biopics like Dirty Picture (2011) and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013); besides the Oscar aspirant The Lunchbox (2013). This is a promising beginning to the rest of the decade.

Sneak Peek: Now, a peek into the new year, 2014. The year will begin with a 3D version of Bollywood’s all-time great Sholay, a comedy Mr Joe B. Carvalho, and Anurag Kashyap’s psychological thriller Ugly (all slated for release on January 3). Then, there’s Dedh Ishqiya, a sequel to Ishqiya (release on Jan 10); Nagesh Kukunoor’s film Lakshmi, and Miss Lovely by Ashim Ahluwalia (on Jan 17); Imtiaz Ali’s Highway (Feb 21) and Kundan Shah’s P se PM Tak (March 7); David Dhawan’s Main Tera Hero (April 4); 2 States, based on Chetan Bhagat’s book (April 18); Vikram Bhatt’s horror flick Creature 3D (May 30); Sajid Nadiadwala’s action comedy Kick (July 27); Farah Khan’s comedy drama Happy New Year (Oct 24); Detective Byomkesh Bakshi (Dec 12); and the year also closing with Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet (Dec 25).

So, there you have the fascinating world of Bollywood. And this is just one segment of Indian cinema – what we call Hindi films, based out of Bombay (now Mumbai). But we have a rich regional cinema too, from the artistic Bengali cinema to the realistic Malayalam cinema, and the thriving Telugu and Tamil cinema, besides Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Kannada, Assamese, Oriya, and even Bhojpuri cinema. Does any country in the world produce even a quarter of the films that India does? Do they have as many varieties of films in as many languages as we have? Scan the globe, and you’ll end up saying, tapori style: Cinema matlab, bole toh, India!

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