Dadasaheb Phalke’s ‘Raja Harishchandra’ revolutionised an art form which would become a huge influence in almost everyone’s life. Films form public opinion and evoke different emotions. The way of expression in films is very unique. A book has a way of its own and every art form is unique. But a film can exactly deliver the desired message because it is visual and there are a lot of human elements involved.
The evolution of Indian cinema is divided into different phases. The silent era was the first one. Silent films were produced during the 1890s-1920s. The wrestlers (1899) by H.S bhatavdekar is considered the first Indian film ever by an Indian. It was a film documentary. It was about a wrestling match which was held at the hanging gardens in Bombay. Due to the enthusiasm from a lot of different filmmakers, the Indian film industry rose rapidly. Tickets were affordable to the normal audience. Filmmakers started to incorporate daily Indian social life to make the film more interesting and relatable to the audience.
Alam ara highlights the talkies era. Alam ara was released in 1931. It was the first Indian film which had sound. Joymoti by Jyoti Prasad Agrawala was released in 1935. Jyoti Prasad also went to Berlin to learn more about films. The popular culture of music in films began during this era. Studios started to emerge in main cities like Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. Kisna Kanhiya, the first colour film produced in India came out during this era. A film called wrath was banned by the British raj because it depicted Indian freedom fighters as leaders. A film named Sant Tukaram went to the Venice film festival for its depiction of a saint and a poet. A deadly combination indeed. It was judged as one of the three best films of the year. The seeds of Indian masala film were sown during this era. An Indian masala film has everything. Dance, Music, Drama and Action. This type of film brings out huge crowds into theatre today and is one of the spectacles of India in a way. Although, due to the partition a lot of studios moved to Pakistan. Partition became a hot topic to make films.
The golden era is dedicated to the genius of Satyajit ray. In the third part of the Apu trilogy, there’s a scene where apu and his friend are just walking beside a railway track. They are chatting about their lives. The talks of APU’s marriage come up among other things. The scene captures the vibe of Calcutta so nonchalantly. It’s just two friends talking to each other. The flow of the scene feels so natural. Satyajit ray’s films teleport you into the Calcutta of the 60s. Satyajit Ray was the master of social realism. Another film is boot polish directed by Prakash Arora. There’s a scene in the film in which Bhola(brother) is telling belt(sister) not to beg for a living. She’s starving and the only way she can feed herself is by begging. But because it goes against his brother’s philosophical ideology, she chooses to resist the temptation. But the poor girl can’t resist her hunger for long and picks up a coin and right after that her brother slaps her. She says while crying “bhook Lagi hai Bhai”. Now his brother has to choose between his honour and duties. He can choose to not pick up the coin and maintain his moral high ground or he can feed her sister. The scene captures this conflict so perfectly. The camera captures the whole environment of the room. This type of film was made during this era. Films based on social realism. Masala films also became very popular during this time. Art films and commercial films started to co-exist.
The FFC’s art film orientation came under criticism for not pushing enough commercial films. The duo of Salim-Javed revitalised commercial cinema. They always came up with gritty action thrillers like zanjeer and deewar. They are considered the greatest screenwriters of all time. Crime action films became very popular during this era. The peak of masala films. Although, this made the audiences used to a very predictable plot. Anyone would be able to anticipate what will happen next because it became so predictable. All-time blockbusters like Sholay came out in 1975. The term Bollywood was also coined during this era.
In the late 1980s, everyone was tired of watching the same old action thrillers. The footfalls became less and less until disco dancers. Disco dancers introduced the concept of disco in India. Disco dancer was the biggest hit of the year even in Russia. It introduced Bappi Lahiri as a music director. Mithun and Bappi Lahiri have given countless hits together. Then came the era of romance. Yash raj Chopra’s DDLJ sums up the decade of the 90s. Shah rukh khan became a sensation through his charming acting in romantic films like Kuch Kuch Hota hai , Dil to Pagal hai etc. He gained massive popularity worldwide. Sadly though, as the concept of Bollywood evolved. It became more about money rather than the art as in any other industry. The moment anything becomes an industry. It loses its beautiful touch. That’s what happened with Bollywood. Filmmakers in Europe or France can dare to think about anything today and make something about it. The problem with us is that we cannot even afford to think anything outside the box. Our bandwidth as an audience is very low. We only like to watch films of certain kinds.
The regional cinema has also grown immensely and in some ways is doing better than the Hindi film industry. The film chain in India today is very strong. Thank you to the Dadasahebs, Satyajit’s and anands of India.