Indian Cinema Series
This spring, I met with Vikas Swarup, the charming Indian author and diplomat whose book Q&A hit movie Slumdog Millionaire was based on. The huge success of that film had many heads turning in India’s direction this year, but for me it was meeting Swarup that spurred a greater fascination for the country of 1.2 billion. Something in the way he spoke of his home country made it seem colourful, dynamic and intriguing, yet also accessible. So today I’m pleased to be starting our short series on Indian cinema, with a brief overview of Bollywood.
A combination of the words ‘Hollywood’ and Mumbai’s old moniker: ‘Bombay,’ Bollywood has become an internationally recognized term over the past few decades. It’s important to note here that Bollywood is often mistakenly used synonymously with Indian cinema. Indian cinema as a whole encompasses a much larger area that extends way past the Mumbai-based Bollywood, including Bengali cinema, Tamil cinema, Punjabi cinema and more. This Indian film industry is nearing its 100th anniversary since the release of the country’s first silent movie in 1913 (this is comparable to Hollywood, which released its first movie in 1906 and saw its first studio go up in 1909).
Bollywood was producing a notable number of films by the mid-1930s but it was after India’s independence from Britain in the late 1940s that what is known as the ‘Golden Age’ started for Hindi movies. This period saw an emergence of colour film, critically acclaimed hits (including a presence at the Academy Awards) and a new cinematic movement in realism called Parallel Cinema. But Bollywood became better known internationally in the 1970s when it started both producing more films annually and drawing in larger audiences than Hollywood.
Another recent trend, foreign-shot scenes, has also proven popular with audiences, and Bollywood has since been answering the call by shooting in locations around the globe.
Most Bollywood films are musicals and rely on catchy music for success and this genre has had a major impact on North American cinema over the past decade. The 2001 hit movie Moulin Rouge, starring Australian actress Nicole Kidman, was actually inspired by a Bollywood film the director saw while in India. Since then, there has been a stream of Hollywood musical-based films including Chicago, The Phantom of the Opera, Dreamgirls and Mamma Mia!