The Beginnings of Bollywood

So you’ve probably heard of Hollywood, right? Of course, who hasn’t? But what about Bollywood? When asked this question, many Americans reply with a blank stare. Yes, there are other film industries in the world besides good ol’ Hollywood. Bollywood is the informal term for the Hindi-language film industry situated in Mumbai, India. The term “Bollywood” comes from the play on words from “Hollywood” and the city of “Bombay,” which is the film capital in India. This city’s name was later changed to Mumbai but the term “Bollywood” remained as the signifier for the ever-expanding Hindi film industry which is regarded as one of the largest centers for film production in the world.

            Bollywood goes back almost as far as Hollywood with the first silent film made in 1913 called “Raja Harishchandra.” By the 1930s Bollywood was producing as many as 200 films every year. The first Indian sound film “Alam Ara” was made in 1931 and was directed by Ardeshir Irani. It was a huge success with the public and boosted the careers of many actors. During the 1930s and ‘40s India was affected by the Great Depression, WWII, and the Indian Independence Movement from Britain. These historical events influenced early age Indian cinema with themes of escapism and heroism. India gained independence from the British Raj in 1947 and after this historical moment in history is when Indian cinema fully developed.

The period from the early 1950s to the 1960s is regarded by film historians as the “Golden Age” of Indian cinema. Some of the most critically acclaimed Hindi films were made during this period such as “Awaara” (1951) and “Mother India” (1957), which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The uprising of “film stars” also came into existence during this period with prominent actors and actresses such as Nargis, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Mala Sinha, Dilip Kumar, and Madhubala.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Indian film cinema became more modernized, and film themes revolved heavily around romance and action. Stars such as Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra, Sharmila Tagore, and Asha Parekh pranced around in scenic locations that almost always accompanied musical numbers. The late 1970s brought on more gritty and violent films that were based on the Indian Mafia that was rampant during this time. Films such as “Sholay” (1975) portrayed these themes and were instant successes with the public due to the heroism displayed by the male actors in an effort to save the “damsel in distress” from the goons.

Beginning in the late 1980s, films did a 180 from violent themes and were yet again heavily based on family-centric romantic musicals. Films such as “Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak” (1988) and “Maine Pyar Kiya” (1989) produced tremendous revenue and appealed to wide audiences. However, this theme became the most prominent throughout the 1990’s with box office hits like “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun” (1994), “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (1995), and “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” (1998). By this point, many other genres and themes such as comedy and action were also becoming quite popular as well. These films sparked a new generation of actors such as Aamir Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Kajol, Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla and Sridevi of which some are still starring in films today.

Bollywood saw its popularity rise from the turn of the 21st century, as a rush of films such as “Lagaan” (2001), “Devdas” (2002) and “Rang De Basanti” (2006) earned recognition from the Academy and BAFTA, respectively. Bollywood films were now becoming more advanced in special effects and innovative story lines, delving out of the “typical” romantic musical themes that had usurped the industry in previous decades. This led to popularity amongst international audiences leading to the opening of overseas markets which allowed Indian films to garner more box office revenue. Yet again, a new generation of actors were introduced such as the international stunner Aishwarya Rai and the Bollywood “heart throb” Hrithik Roshan.

So there you have it, a shortened version of the history of Bollywood. This is nowhere near the complete version. More films are being produced and directed as we speak and there are many options out there for you to dive in and get yourself acquainted with Bollywood. you can find Bollywood films playing at the Starplex in Federal Way, but you have to watch for show times. Or you can find many through a web search. You can also check out the UW library system in which hundreds of Bollywood movies can be found. I have a piece of advice, if you are a non-Hindi speaking individual: activate subtitles.

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