Bollywood, the Hindi-language sector of the Indian moviemaking industry that began in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the 1930s developed slowly but surely into an enormous cinema empire that is now classified as a film genre. The word Bollywood (play on Hollywood with the B coming from Bombay) immediately brings up images of brightly colored productions featuring elaborately choreographed song and dance numbers, catchy music, often with 100 or more dancers, and a boy-meets-girl story with a happy ending.
“Films are dreams” is the way Bollywood convey the message of being an art form in itself. If you compare with the classic way of making a film where plots, scenery, directors and actors are important, Bollywood tends to use star actors and actresses as the driving force behind the films. It all started in 1936, when Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani, were considered as the first major star pair that made the Indian public develop an insatiable appetite for news about their screen heroes. Not much different from Hollywood where the star system engulfed and devoured actors and public all together, turning the whole situation in a “factory of dreams”! From 108 films made in 1927 to 328 in 1931, it was not before 1947 that we can say, from an historical point of view, that it was during this time that the modern Indian film was born.
The historical and mythological stories of the past were now being replaced by social-reformist films, which turned an often critical eye on such ancient social practices as the dowry system, polygamy, and prostitution. The 1950s saw filmmakers such as Bimal Roy and Satyajit Ray focusing on the lives of the lower classes, who until then were mostly ignored as subjects. From dreams films turn into realism before evolving into a caricature of itself in the 90s. In the world of Bollywood film stars, Muslims marry Hindus, Hindus marry Christians, and people from different societal classes can succeed and collaborate.
At the turn of the 21st century, the Indian film industry—of which Bollywood remained the largest component—was producing as many as 1,000 feature films annually in all India’s major languages and in a variety of cities, and international audiences began to develop among South Asians in the UK and in the USA. Standard features of Bollywood films are expertly choreographed fight scenes, spectacular song-and-dance routines, emotion-charge melodrama with emphatic music, and larger-than-life heroes in a lengthy (usually three hours) structured story mixing all other genres than just being Bollywood: mythological, devotional, reincarnation, lost and found, angry young man, mistaken identity, action, gangster, drama, comedy, romantic comedy, women liberation, etc. New Indian independent cinema delves deeper in the modern society’s problems such as sexual violence and child abuse, or discrimination. ‘Bollywood is a cinema of vibrant contradictions, which works when it seems it shouldn’t.’ Gurinda Chadha (British Film Director of Indian origin: Bhaji on the beach, Bend it like Beckham).
Posters and snapshots from Lagaan and Devdas