The iconic Indian film industry, which has been enchanting and enthralling Indians and the world, is today over 110 years old. The cinema of India constitutes films made all around the country, including Maharashtra, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh are all states in India. Bengali films became popular in the United States, throughout South Asia, and the Middle East
The history of Indian cinema spans over a couple of centuries starting from the end of the 19th century. For the very first time in history, it was in 1896 that the first public viewing of a movie took place. The movie belonged to the Lumiere brothers. However, the actual history of Indian cinema began in 1899. The first Indian film was shot in Calcutta by Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar (better known as Savey Dada).
Dada was so influenced by the projection of Lumiere brother’s movie that he ordered a camera from London. He shot two movies with his imported equipment named ‘The Wrestlers’ and ‘Man and Monkey’.
‘The Wrestlers’ is a film about professional wrestlers. It was a rudimentary recording of a wrestling fight that was broadcast in 1899 and is regarded as the Indian Film Industry’s first motion picture. It was recorded at Bombay’s Hanging Gardens.
Savey Dada is known as the “Father of Indian factual films”. His movies were recordings of reality that are better known as documentaries today. He went on to make many short, silent, black-and-white movies.
Local Scenes (1901), Sir Wrangler (1901), and Delhi Darbar (1901) were historically significant since they depicted prominent figures such as R. P. Paranjpe arriving in India by ship and the proceedings of the Delhi Durbar (Delhi Royal Court, 1903). He also captured Lord Curzon at King Edward VII’s coronation in Calcutta in 1903. As a result, he is India’s first documentary filmmaker and his films as the country’s first newsreels.
This was just the beginning…
Magic of Movies is just beginning
Savey Dada’s movies marked the beginning of both movies and documentaries in the history of cinema. You can feel those goosebumps rising too right?
Moving forward, it was in the early 20th century when many other filmmakers started popping up on the new movie scene. Reminds me of tik tok’ers popping up everywhere today but this is was obviously bigger. You agree, right?
F.B. Thanawala opened Grand Kinetoscope newsreels in Calcutta in 1900, which was the first commercially produced movie. In 1902, Janshedji Framjee Madan began exhibiting movies in tents and eventually went on to construct India’s first permanent cinema, the Elphinstone Picture Palace, which is today known as Chaplin. Have you been to the Chaplin? It has that historical aura. Yeah, I just drooled, you would too, trust me.
Emerging Business, Rising Talent
Along with the increasing number of theatres and new equipment, we also saw many new businesses and rising talents in this era. Some of them change the course of Indian Cinema.
In the early 1920s, a slew of new production businesses popped up. The ‘20s were dominated by films based on mythical and historical events and episodes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana, but Indian viewers also enjoyed Hollywood pictures, particularly action flicks.
Indian cinema also took a right turn with the movie ‘Pundalik’. Pundalik is a film about a Maharashtrian saint. It was the first melodramatic full-length film shot by R.G. Torney and N.G. Chitre in conjunction with the British. On May 18, 1912, the Coronation cinema in Bombay released this film. Dundiraj Govinda Phalke, popularly known as Dada Saheb Phalke, directed the first indigenous full-length feature film. Raja Harishchandra was the title of the film, which premiered at the Coronation Theatre in Bombay on May 3, 1914.
Lanka Dahan, another blockbuster directed by Phalke, released in 1917, became India’s first box office success. As a result of Phalke’s immense contribution to Indian film, he is known as Dada Saheb.
Dada Saheb Phalke made such a significant impact on Indian cinema that the Dada Saheb Phalke lifetime achievement awards were established in his honor in 1969.
Beginning of the Talkies
Talkies sound so cool, right? It reminds us of walkie-talkies. Totally not relevant here but hey, some things are good out of the norm. The recorded language that played in rhythm with the graphics on the screen gave talkies their name. The Silent Film Era (1894-1929) saw a lot of movies that had no sound but good visuals. The majority of these films used intertitle text to clarify essential plot aspects, with live pianists, organists, and orchestras providing score and sound in the theatre. As technology progressed, a recorded language made its way onto film, giving birth to “talking movies.”
In 1931, Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara, the first talkies screening happened in Bombay. It was India’s first sound film. With the premiere of Alam Ara, a new era in Indian cinema began. Alam Ara’s original music director was Phiroz Shah. ‘De de khuda ke naam par’ was the first song recorded for Alam Ara in 1931. W.M. Khan performed the song. ‘Melody’ is the first talkie shown in India
Following it, other production companies arose, resulting in a rise in the number of films released. In comparison to 1927, the number of movies produced increased from 108 to 328 in 1931. Huge movie theatres came into existence at this time, and the number of moviegoers increased dramatically. Many notable film personalities developed during the 1930s and 1940s, including Debaki Bose, Chetan Anand, S.S. Vasan, Nitin Bose, and others.
Birth of the Regional Cinema
Along with the rise of Hindi cinema, the country saw a steady rise and J.F. Madan created the first Bengali feature film, ‘Nal Damyanti,’ in 1917, using Italian performers in the key roles. Jyotish Sarkar took the pictures.
in 1919, the first silent South Indian feature film, titled ‘Keechaka Vadham’. R. Nataraja Mudaliar of Madras (Chennai) directed the film. Mandakini, Dadasaheb Phalke’s daughter, was the first female child celebrity, playing Krishna in Phalke’s ‘Kaliya Mardan’ in 1919.
‘Jamai Shashthi,’ produced by Madan Theatres, was the first-ever talkie film in Bengali. The first movie viewing for Jamai Shashthi opened in 1931. The first Tamil talkie, ‘Kalidas,’ directed by H.M was a masterpiece. Reddy and released in Madras on October 31, 1931. We find that Regional films had a wide language base. Languages like Bengali and South Indian, including Assamese, Oriya, Punjabi, Marathi, and others were a part of it.
In 1932, V. Shantaram directed his debut Marathi film, ‘Ayodhecha Raja.’ There was also a two-part version of this film. Prabhat Film Company produced the first Indian talkie in 1932, titled ‘Ayodhya ka Raja’ in Hindi and ‘Ayodhecha Raja’ in Marathi.
The Golden Age
Post India’s independence, film historians consider the late 1940s to the 1960s to be the “Golden Age” of Hindi cinema. During this time, some of the most critically praised Hindi films of all time came to existence. The Guru Dutt films Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), as well as the Raj Kapoor films Awaara (1951) and Shree 420 (1955), are examples. These films mostly dealt with social topics about India’s working-class urban life; Awaara depicted city life as both a nightmare and a dream.
The new scripts, a change from a western perspective to the Indian stories made this age the Golden Age. The types of movies produced connected with the audience on a deeper level. While commercial Hindi cinema flourished, the 1950s saw the birth of a new Parallel Cinema movement.
Bengali cinema was at the forefront of the trend, but it was also beginning to find traction in Hindi cinema. Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar (1946) and Bimal Roy’s Two Acres of Land (1947) are two early Hindi films in this movement. The critical praise they received, as well as the commercial success of the latter, opened the way for Indian neorealism and the Indian New Wave.
Hindi films were frequently in competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, with some of them winning significant prizes at the festival, ever since the social realist film Neecha Nagar won the Grand Prize at the very first Cannes Film Festival. Guru Dutt received international fame considerably later in the 1980s, despite facing disregard throughout his lifetime. Along with the more well-known Indian Bengali director Satyajit Ray, Dutt is one of the finest Asian filmmakers of all time.
In the 1970s, director Manmohan Desai launched the Bollywood masala film era or the masala cinema fad. His purpose was to entertain people in such a way that they forgot about their problems, and his films reflected this. He created a formula that still governs the Bollywood industry, with a hotchpotch of action, romance, hilarity, and musical numbers. However, the Indian film business is now paying more attention to the concept, narrative, and character development.
Actors like Rajesh Khanna and Dharmendra, as well as actresses like Sharmila Tagore, Mumtaz, Leena Chandavarkar, and Helen, appeared in romance and action films in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Gritty, violent pictures about gangsters and outlaws replaced romantic confections in the mid-1970s. Actors like Mithun Chakraborty and Anil Kapoor rode the crest of this trend, which lasted until the early 1990s, with Amitabh Bachchan, the star famed for his “Angry young man” portrayals. Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan, and Rekha were among the coveted actresses of the time.
Ramesh Sippy’s revolutionary film Sholay not only received international acclaim but also established Amitabh Bachchan as a “Superstar.”
In the 1980s, a number of female directors, including Meera Nair, Aparna Sen, and others, demonstrated their keen acting abilities. How can we forget Rekha’s outstanding and magnificent performance in the 1981 film Umrao Jaan?
The late 1990’s: Contemporary Bollywood
Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Aamir Khan, Juhi Chawla, Chiranjeevi, and a slew of other performers emerged in the 1990s. The Indian Film Industry further elevated and upgraded as this new variety of actors used novel ways to enhance their performances. The Indian film industry had a banner year in 2008, with A.R. Rahman winning two Academy Awards for best music for Slumdog Millionaire.
Indian cinema is now bigger outside India. International audiences are increasingly appreciating it. The overseas market makes a significant contribution to Bollywood box office receipts. In 2013, the National Stock Exchange of India listed around 30 film production firms. Tax incentives have aided the growth of multiplexes in India.
Whether it’s a regional or Bollywood film, Indian cinema has become a part of our daily lives. It plays a significant part in our culture. Though amusement is the most important aspect of Indian film, it also bears a great deal of responsibility because it affects the minds of the viewers.
Not only the stories but also the Bollywood music has left its mark across the globe. Bollywood film’s Disco Dancer song “I am a Disco Dancer” (1982), influenced Devo’s 1988 hit song Disco Dancer.
Oof! You see the trajectory of growth for Bollywood is quite fun and interesting. A complete industry, from scratch set up in a span of a century which changed the course of so many lives and India as we know it. Hope you like this blog! Like, share, comment, if you do!