Though some deplore the name, arguing that it makes the industry look like a poor cousin to Hollywood, it seems likely to persist and now has its own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.Bollywood is commonly referred to as Hindi cinema, even though “Hindustani”, understood as the colloquial base common to both Hindi and Urdu, might be more accurate. There has been a growing presence of Indian English or Hinglish in dialogue and songs as well. It is not uncommon to see films that feature dialogue with English words and phrases, even whole sentences. There is a growing number of films made entirely in English.
History of Bollywood
Raja Harishchandra (1913) was the first silent feature film made in India. It was made by Dadasaheb Phalke. By the 1930s, the industry was producing over 200 films per annum. The first Indian sound film, Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara (1931), was a super hit. There was clearly a huge market for talkies and musicals; Bollywood and all the regional film industries quickly switched to sound filming.
The 1930s and 1940s were tumultuous times: India was buffeted by the Great Depression, World War II, the Indian independence movement, and the violence of the Partition. Most Bollywood films were unabashedly escapist, but there were also a number of filmmakers who tackled tough social issues, or used the struggle for Indian independence as a backdrop for their plots.
In the late 1950s, Bollywood released its first color films; however, the majority of films continued to be black-and-white until the mid-1960s. At this time, lavish romantic musicals and melodramas were the staple fare at the cinema. Successful actors included Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor and actresses like Nargis, Meena Kumari, Nutan and Madhubala. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, romance movies and action films starred actors like Rajesh Khanna and Dharmendra. In the mid-1970s, romantic confections made way for gritty, violent films about gangsters and bandits. Amitabh Bachchan, the star known for his “angry young man” roles, rode the crest of this trend with actors like Mithun Chakraborty and Anil Kapoor, which lasted into the early 1990s. Actresses from this era included Parveen Babi, Zeenat Aman, Hema Malini, Jaya Bhaduri (now Bachchan) and Rekha.
In the mid-1990s, the pendulum swung back towards family-centric romantic musicals with the success of such films as Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) making stars out of a new generation of actors (such as Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan) and actresses (such as Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit and Kajol). In that point of time, action and comedy films were also successful, with actors like Govinda and Akshay Kumar and actresses such as Raveena Tandon and Karisma Kapoor appearing in films of this genre. Furthermore, this decade marked the entry of new performers in art and independent films, some of which succeeded commercially. These films featured actors like Nana Patekar, Manisha Koirala, Tabu and Urmila Matondkar, whose performances were usually acclaimed by critics.
The 2000s saw a growth in Bollywood’s popularity in the world. This led the nation’s filmmaking to new heights in terms of quality, cinematography and innovative story lines as well as technical advances such as special effects, animation etc. Some of the largest production houses, among them Yash Raj Films of Yash Chopra and Dharma Productions of Yash / Karan Johar were the producers of new modern films. The opening up of the overseas market, more Bollywood releases abroad and the explosion of multiplexes in big cities, led to wider box office successes in India and abroad, including Devdas, Koi… Mil Gaya, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Veer-Zaara and Dhoom 2, delivering a new generation of popular actors (Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan) and actresses (Aishwarya Rai, Preity Zinta and Rani Mukerji), and keeping the popularity of actors of the previous decade. Few of the current popular actresses are Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor & Vidya Balan.
The Indian film industry has preferred films that appeal to all segments of the audience and has resisted making films that target narrow audiences. It was believed that aiming for a broad spectrum would maximise box office receipts. However, filmmakers may be moving towards accepting some box-office segmentation, between films that appeal to rural Indians, and films that appeal to urban and overseas audiences.
Bollywood films are mostly musicals, and are expected to contain catchy music in the form of song-and-dance numbers woven into the script. A film’s success often depends on the quality of such musical numbers. Indeed, a film’s music is often released before the movie itself and helps increase the audience.
Indian audiences expect full value for their money, with a good entertainer generally referred to as paisa vasool, (literally, “money’s worth”). Songs and dances, love triangles, comedy and dare-devil thrills are all mixed up in a three-hour-long extravaganza with an intermission. Such movies are called masala films, after the Hindi word for a spice mixture. Like masalas, these movies are a mixture of many things such as action, comedy, romance etc. Most films have heroes who are able to fight off villains all by themselves.
Melodrama and romance are common ingredients to Bollywood films.
Bollywood plots have tended to be melodramatic. They frequently employ formulaic ingredients such as star-crossed lovers and angry parents, love triangles, family ties, sacrifice, corrupt politicians, kidnappers, conniving villains, courtesans with hearts of gold, long-lost relatives and siblings separated by fate, dramatic reversals of fortune, and convenient coincidences.
There have always been Indian films with more artistic aims and more sophisticated stories, both inside and outside the Bollywood tradition. They often lost out at the box office to movies with more mass appeal. Bollywood conventions are changing, however. A large Indian diaspora in English speaking countries, and increased Western influence at home, have nudged Bollywood films closer to Hollywood models. Film kisses are no longer taboo. Plots now tend to feature Westernised urbanites dating and dancing in clubs rather than arranged marriages.
Film critic Lata Khubchandani writes, “..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.” (btw, I have worked for Lata Khubchandani typing a lot of her articles in 1991-92 – QMS)
Cast & Crew
Bollywood employs people from all parts of India. It attracts thousands of aspiring actors and actresses, all hoping for a break in the industry. Models and beauty contestants, television actors, theatre actors and even common people come to Mumbai with the hope and dream of becoming a star. Just as in Hollywood, very few succeed. Since many Bollywood films are shot abroad, many foreign extras are employed too.
Stardom in the entertainment industry is very fickle, and Bollywood is no exception. The popularity of the stars can rise and fall rapidly. Directors compete to hire the most popular stars of the day, who are believed to guarantee the success of a movie (though this belief is not always supported by box-office results). Hence many stars make the most of their fame, once they become popular, by making several movies simultaneously.
Only a very few non-Indian actors are able to make a mark in Bollywood, though many have tried from time to time. There have been some exceptions, one recent example is the hit film Rang de Basanti, where the lead actress is Alice Patten, an Englishwoman. Kisna, Lagaan, and The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey also featured foreign actors.
Bollywood can be very clannish, and the relatives of film-industry insiders have an edge in getting coveted roles in films and/or being part of a film’s crew. However, industry connections are no guarantee of a long career: competition is fierce and if film industry scions do not succeed at the box office, their careers will falter. Some of the biggest stars, such as Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, and Shahrukh Khan have succeeded despite total lack of show business connections.
Sound in Bollywood films is rarely recorded on location (otherwise known as sync sound). Therefore, the sound is usually created (or recreated) entirely in the studio, with the actors reciting their lines as their images appear on-screen in the studio in the process known as “looping in the sound” or ADR—with the foley and sound effects added later. This creates several problems, since the sound in these films usually occurs a frame or two earlier or later than the mouth movements or gestures. The actors have to act twice—once on-location, once in the studio—and the emotional level on set is often very difficult to recreate. Commercial Indian films—not just the Hindi-language variety—are known for their lack of ambient sound, so there is a strange silence underlying everything instead of the proper sound to create some sort of depth.
The ubiquity of ADR in Bollywood cinema became prevalent in the early 1960s with the arrival of the Arriflex 3 camera, which required a blimp (cover) in order to shield the sound of the camera, for which it was notorious, from on-location filming. Commercial Indian filmmakers, known for their speed, never bothered to blimp the camera, and its excessive noise required that everything had to be recreated in the studio. Eventually, this became the standard for Indian films.
The trend was bucked in 2001, after a 30-year hiatus of synchronized sound, with the film Lagaan, in which producer-star Aamir Khan insisted that the sound be done on location. This opened up a heated debate on the use and economic feasibility of on-location sound, and several Bollywood films have employed on-location sound since then.
Bollywood Songs & Dance
Bollywood film music is called filmi music (from Hindi, meaning “of films”). Songs from Bollywood movies are generally pre-recorded by professional playback singers, with the actors then lip synching the words to the song on-screen, often while dancing. While most actors, especially today, are excellent dancers, few are also singers. One notable exception was Kishore Kumar, who starred in several major films in the 1950s while also having a stellar career as a playback singer. K. L. Saigal, Suraiyya, and Noor Jehan were also known as both singers and actors. Some actors in the last thirty years have sung one or more songs themselves.
Playback singers are prominently featured in the opening credits and have their own fans who will go to an otherwise lackluster movie just to hear their favourites. Going by the quality as well as the quantity of the songs they rendered, most notable singers of Bollywood are Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum and Alka Yagnik among female playback singers; and K. L. Saigal, Talat Mahmood, Mukesh, Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar, Mahendra Kapoor, Kishore Kumar, Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan and Sonu Nigam among male playback singers.
Mohammed Rafi is considered the finest of the singers that have lent their voice to Bollywood songs, followed by Lata Mangeshkar, who, through the course of a career spanning over six decades, has recorded thousands of songs for Indian movies. The composers of film music, known as music directors, are also well-known. Their songs can make or break a film and usually do. Remixing of film songs with modern beats and rhythms is a common occurrence today, and producers may even release remixed versions of some of their films’ songs along with the films’ regular soundtrack albums.
Bollywood dances usually follow songsThe dancing in Bollywood films, especially older ones, is primarily modelled on Indian dance: classical dance styles, dances of historic northern Indian courtesans (tawaif), or folk dances. In modern films, Indian dance elements often blend with Western dance styles (as seen on MTV or in Broadway musicals), though it is not unusual to see Western pop and pure classical dance numbers side by side in the same film. The hero or heroine will often perform with a troupe of supporting dancers. Many song-and-dance routines in Indian films feature unrealistically instantaneous shifts of location and/or changes of costume between verses of a song. If the hero and heroine dance and sing a pas-de-deux (a dance and ballet term, meaning “dance of two”), it is often staged in beautiful natural surroundings or architecturally grand settings. This staging is referred to as a “picturisation”.
Songs typically comment on the action taking place in the movie, in several ways. Sometimes, a song is worked into the plot, so that a character has a reason to sing; other times, a song is an externalisation of a character’s thoughts, or presages an event that has not occurred yet in the plot of the movie. In this case, the event is almost always two characters falling in love.
Bollywood films have always used what are now called “item numbers”. A physically attractive scantily clad / bold / hot / sexy / semi nude female character (called the “item girl”), often completely unrelated to the main cast and plot of the film, performs a catchy song and dance number in the film. In older films, the “item number” may be performed by a courtesan (tawaif) dancing for a rich client or as part of a cabaret show. The dancer Helen was famous for her cabaret numbers. In modern films, item numbers may be inserted as discotheque sequences, dancing at celebrations, or as stage shows.
For the last few decades Bollywood producers have been releasing the film’s soundtrack, as tapes or CDs, before the main movie release, hoping that the music will pull audiences into the cinema later. Often the soundtrack is more popular than the movie. In the last few years some producers have also been releasing music videos, usually featuring a song from the film. However, some promotional videos feature a song which is not included in the movie.
Dialogues & Lyrics in Bollywood movies
The film script or lines of dialogue (called “dialogues” in Indian English) and the song lyrics are often written by different people. Dialogues are usually written in an unadorned Hindi or Hindustani that would be understood by the largest possible audience. Some movies, however, have used regional dialects to evoke a village setting, or old-fashioned courtly Urdu in Mughal era historical films. Contemporary mainstream movies also make great use of English. In fact, many movie scripts are first written in English, and then translated into Hindi. Characters may shift from one language to the other to express a certain atmosphere (for example, English in a business setting and Hindi in an informal one).
Cinematic language, whether in dialogues or lyrics, is often melodramatic and invokes God, family, mother, duty, and self-sacrifice liberally.
Music directors often prefer working with certain lyricists, to the point that the lyricist and composer are seen as a team. This phenomenon is not unlike the pairings of American composers and songwriters that created old-time Broadway musicals (e.g., Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, or Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe). Song lyrics are usually about love. Bollywood song lyrics, especially in the old movies, frequently use Arabo-Persic Urdu vocabulary. Another source for love lyrics is the long Hindu tradition of poetry about the mythological amours of Krishna, Radha, and the gopis. Many lyrics compare the singer to a devotee and the object of his or her passion to Krishna or Radha.
Finance for Bollywood films
Bollywood films are multi-million dollar productions, with the most expensive productions costing up to 100 crores. Sets, costumes, special effects, and cinematography were less than world-class up until the mid-to-late 1990s, although with some notable exceptions. As Western films and television gain wider distribution in India itself, there is increasing pressure for Bollywood films to attain the same production levels. In particular, in areas such as action and special effects. Recent Bollywood films have employed international technicians to improve in these areas, such as Krrish (2006) which has action choreographed by Hong Kong based Tony Ching. The increasing accessibility to professional action and special effects, coupled with rising film budgets, has seen an explosion in the action and sci-fi genres.
Sequences shot overseas have proved a real box office draw, so Mumbai film crews are increasingly filming in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, continental Europe and elsewhere. Nowadays, Indian producers are winning more and more funding for big-budget films shot within India as well, such as Lagaan, Devdas and other recent films.
Funding for Bollywood films often comes from private distributors and a few large studios. Indian banks and financial institutions were forbidden from lending money to movie studios. However, this ban has now been lifted.
A major problem facing Bollywood is widespread copyright infringement of its films. Often, bootleg DVD copies of movies are available before the prints are officially released in cinemas. Manufacturing of bootleg DVD, VCD, and VHS copies of the latest movie titles is a well established ‘small scale industry’ in parts of South Asia and South East Asia. Besides catering to the homegrown market, demand for these copies is large amongst some sections of the Indian diaspora, too. (In fact, bootleg copies are the only way people in Pakistan can watch Bollywood movies, since the Government of Pakistan has banned their sale, distribution and telecast). Films are frequently broadcast without compensation by countless small cable TV companies in India and other parts of South Asia. Small convenience stores run by members of the Indian diaspora in the U.S. and the UK regularly stock tapes and DVDs of dubious provenance, while consumer copying adds to the problem. The availability of illegal copies of movies on the Internet also contributes to the piracy problem.
Satellite TV, television and imported foreign films are making huge inroads into the domestic Indian entertainment market. In the past, most Bollywood films could make money; now fewer tend to do so. However, most Bollywood producers make money, recouping their investments from many sources of revenue, including selling ancillary rights. There are also increasing returns from theatres in Western countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, where Bollywood is slowly getting noticed. As more Indians migrate to these countries, they form a growing market for upscale Indian films.
Awards in Bollywood
The Filmfare Awards ceremony is one of the most prominent film events given for Hindi films in India. The Indian screen magazine Filmfare started the first Filmfare Awards in 1954, and awards were given to the best films of 1953. The ceremony was referred to as the Clare Awards after the magazine’s editor. Modelled after the poll-based merit format of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, individuals may submit their votes in separate categories. A dual voting system was developed in 1956. Like the Oscars, the Filmfare awards are frequently accused of bias towards commercial success rather than artistic merit.
As the Filmfare, the National Film Awards were introduced in 1954. Since 1973, the Indian government has sponsored the National Film Awards, awarded by the government run Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF). The DFF screens not only Bollywood films, but films from all the other regional movie industries and independent/art films. These awards are handed out at an annual ceremony presided over by the President of India. Under this system, in contrast to the National Film Awards, which are decided by a panel appointed by Indian Government, the Filmfare Awards are voted for by both the public and a committee of experts.
Additional ceremonies held within India are:
Star Screen Awards
Award Ceremonies held overseas are:
Bollywood Movie Awards – Long Island, New York, United States
Global Indian Film Awards – (different country each year)
IIFA Awards – (different country each year)
Zee Cine Awards- (different country each year)
Most of these award ceremonies are lavishly staged spectacles, featuring singing, dancing, and lots of stars and starlets.
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