Cinema of India

From Academic Kids

India is a major regional center for cinema. The Indian film industry is the largest in the world (1200 movies released in the year 2002). The industry is supported mainly by a vast film-going Indian public, though Indian films have been gaining increasing popularity in the rest of the world — notably in countries with large numbers of expatriate Indians.


Regional film industries

India is a large country where many languages are spoken. Each of the larger languages supports its own film industry: Urdu/Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada. The Hindi/Urdu film industry, based in Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is called Bollywood (a melding of Hollywood and Bombay). Similar neologisms have been coined for the Tamil film industry (Kollywood, from the Kodambakkam district of Chennai) and the Telugu film industry (Tollywood). Tollygunge is a metonym for the Bengali film industry, long centered in the Tollygunge district of Kolkata. The Bengali language industry is notable as having nurtured the director Satyajit Ray, an internationally renowned filmmaker and a winner of many awards, among them the Bharat Ratna (India's highest civilian award), the Legion d'honneur (France), and the Lifetime achievement Academy Award.

The Bollywood industry is the largest in terms of films produced and box office receipts, just as Urdu/Hindi speakers outnumber speakers of other Indian languages (at least within India). Many workers in other regional industries, once established, will move to Bollywood for greater exposure or opportunity. For example, A.R. Rahman, Bollywood's star music director, started his career in Kollywood. Similarly, films that succeed in one language are often remade in others. Major Hindi/Urdu films like Padosan and Roja, for example, were originally Bengali and Tamil, respectively.

Genre conventions of commercial films

Commercial films, in whatever regional center they are made, tend to be:

  • Long — three hours, with an intermission.
  • Musical — action is periodically interrupted by song-and-dance routines. Good movies use the routines to move the story forward; mediocre movies have them only because the audience demands them. Songs are sung by professional play-back singers and lip-synched by dancing actors and actresses.
  • Melodramatic, sentimental, of mixed genre — they mix romance, comedy, action, suspense, etc.
  • Sometimes Indian-styled remakes of popular Hollywood movies, thus continuing a long film-making tradition (global in scope) of imitations and creative remixes.

Indian art cinema

In addition to commercial cinema, there is also high-minded Indian art cinema, known to film critics as "New Indian Cinema" or sometimes "the Indian New Wave" (see the Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema). Most people in India simply call such films "art films" as opposed to mainstream commercial cinema. From the 1960s through the 1980s, the art film was usually government-supported cinema. Aspiring directors could get federal or state government grants to produce non-commercial films on Indian themes. Many of these directors were graduates of the government film school (FTII or Film and Television Institute of India). Their films were showcased at government film festivals and on the government-run TV station, Doordarshan. These films also had limited runs in art house theatres in India and overseas.

The art directors owed much more to foreign influences, such as Italian Neo-Realism or French Nouvelle Vague, than they did to the genre conventions of commercial Indian cinema. The best known New Cinema directors were Bengali: Bimal Roy, Ritwik Ghatak, and Satyajit Ray. The best known films of this genre are the Apu Trilogy (Bengali) by Satyajit Ray and Do Bigha Zameen (Hindi) by Bimal Roy.

Satyajit Ray was the most successful of the "art" directors. Many Indians knew his name and took pride in his numerous foreign awards. Prestige, however, did not translate to large-scale commercial success. His films played primarily to art-house audiences (students and intelligentsia) in the larger Indian cities, or to film buffs on the international art-house circuit.

However, many cinematographers, technicians and actors started in art cinema and moved to commercial cinema. The actor Naseeruddin Shah is one notable example. He has never achieved matinee idol status, but he has turned out a solid body of work as a supporting actor and a star in independent films such as Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding.

In South India, art cinema was patronized relatively better in the province of Kerala. Malayalam movie makers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan and MT Vasudevan Nair saw some success. In other markets of south India, like Tamil and Telugu, where star images and populist cinema rules the box office, Balachander, Bharathiraja, Balu Mahendra, Bapu, Dr.K.Vishwanath and Mani Ratnam had number of box-office hits by balancing elements of both art and populist cinema.

Independent films may be the future of art cinema in India, which has to a great extent lost its government patronage. The Indian film market will likely consist of big-budget mass-market films with big stars, and independent films made on a shoestring by aspiring auteurs -- much like today's Western film market.

Indian cinema meets Hollywood

On the one hand, Indian cinema is becoming increasingly westernized. This trend is strongest in Bollywood, which is importing Western actors (such as Rachel Shelley in Lagaan), racing to meet Western production standards, filming overseas, and incorporating more and more English in movie dialogues. Bollywood is also making hit films (like Dilwalia Dulhania Le Jayenge and Khabi Khushi Khabi Gham) that deal with the overseas Indian experience,

On the other hand, Western cinema is increasily interested in India. As Western audiences for Indian cinema grow, Western producers are anxious to take their cut of the profits and the audience. They are funding maverick Indian film-makers like Gurinder Chadha (Bride and Prejudice) and Mira Nair (Vanity Fair). Both Chadha and Nair made their names in Western indie films; they've been tapped to "interpret" the Indian cinematic tradition for Westerners.

Indian cinema is also influencing the English and American musical; A.R. Rahman, India's star filmi composer, was recruited for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Bombay Dreams, and a musical version of Hum Aapke Hain Koun played in London's West End.

National film award

Indian films bring export income and foreign prestige to India. In turn, the Indian government gives the Dadasaheb Phalke Award annually as a recognition to lifetime contribution to Indian cinema. The award is in memory of Dadasaheb Phalke, considered the father of Indian cinema.

See also

External links

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