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Mirch Masala: Bollywood Cinema from 1950s onwards Professor Nilufer E. Bharucha University of Mumbai The Beginnings… Cinema came to India almost as soon as it had been pioneered in the USA and in Europe The first films were shown in India on 7 July 1896 at Hotel Watson in Bombay.

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Mirch Masala: Bollywood Cinema from 1950s onwards

Professor Nilufer E. Bharucha

University of Mumbai


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The Beginnings…

  • Cinema came to India almost as soon as it had been pioneered in the USA and in Europe

  • The first films were shown in India on 7 July 1896 at Hotel Watson in Bombay.

  • They were Arrive d’un Train a la Gare de la Ciotat and La Sortie de l’Usine – just six months after their world premiere in Paris.

  • The first films made in India were short newsreels which started in 1897, such as The Races in Poona, A Train Entering the Station in Bombay.


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  • Soon films were made on extracts from popular plays and on traditional dances and music.

  • By the first decade of the Twentieth Century, feature films from the West were being shown in India.

  • Almost 1,313 silent films were produced in India in 22 years from 1912-1934, on religious, social, political and historical subjects.


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  • The first feature film made by an Indian was Raja Harishchandra in 1913 by Dadasaheb Phalke.

  • This film told the story of Harischandra, an ancient king of the mythical city of Ayodhya, who was supposedly born of the Sun and was an extremely truthful man.

  • This film introduced the genre of mythological films in India which enjoyed a very long popularity.

  • This genre looped over the colonial present to a pre-colonial Indian past.


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  • This film also introduced the various ‘codes’ which Indian cinema has followed ever since.

  • These being –

    the battle between good and evil

    the ultimate victory of good over evil

  • The very Indianness of this film also paved the way for an Indian rather than westernised Indian cinema.


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The run-up to the first Talkie:

  • In the 1920s and 30s, Indian cinema spread from Kohlapur – Phadke’s HQ – to the metros, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras

  • The studio systems were introduced and dominated the film-making scene till the 1950s

  • Also born in those decades was the ‘Star System.

  • Thus right from these early years Hollywood influenced Indian cinema.


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The Introduction of Realism

  • The 1920s saw the introduction of realism in Indian cinema

  • Baburao Painter’s Savkari Pash (An Indian Shylock) 1925 was a film that condemned wicked moneylenders exploiting the poor rural and also the urban people.

  • Such social films appealed more to the sophisticated section of the Indian audience which was not particularly attracted to mythologicals.


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The Western Collaborations…

  • Early 1930s saw several global collaborations between UFA Berlin, a British company and Frantz Osten

  • Most successful between Frantz Osten, a German director and Himanshu Rai, the Indian film maker

  • Fed the western market for Indian exotica

  • Prem Sanyas (Light of the Orient) 1925 ran for ten months in London

  • Shiraz, 1928, a Mughal romance

  • Parpancha Pash (A Throw of the Dice), 1929, had the first kiss of Indian cinema. Story about a good and bad king who stake their kingdoms on a game of dice.

  • Films full of dance, duels, spectacle


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The Arrival of Sound…

  • Alam Ara first Indian Talkie 1931, four years after first American talkie

  • A historical which starred Zubeida, Vithal and Prithiviraj Kapoor

  • Shirin and Farhad a lavish musical also 1931

  • Indrasabha, 1932 had 70 songs

  • Anarkali 1935, the legendary love story of the Mughal Prince Salim and the dancing girl Anarkali

  • Kisan Kanya (Peasant Girl) 1937 first colour film, dealt with peasant revolt


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Formulas for Success

  • Music became the defining code for films all over India

  • Repeat value as a result of the songs

  • Reinforcement of Moral values – good versus evil

  • Spectacle dances, duels

  • Lost and Found

  • Conflict between rich and poor

  • Love and Romance

  • High Tragedy and Emotionalism

  • Sex and Glamour


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Postcolonial Cinemas1950s The Golden Age

1950s saw different kinds of cinemas

Neo-Realistic : Bimal Roy

Socialist : Raj Kapoor

Nehruvian : Mehboob Khan

Modernist : Guru Dutt


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Bimal Roy : The Neo Realist

  • Do Bheega Zameen 1953. Richly textured black and white cinematic language. Iconic scenes- the rickshaw race

  • Devdas 1955. High Tragedy and Emotionalism. Rise of the cult of the tragic hero Dilip Kumar

  • Sujata 1959. Social Reform. Banishing Untouchability. Nutan as actor par excellence

  • Bandini 1963. Woman Centred. Critiqued Exploitation of women. Nutan again


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Raj Kapoor: From Socialism to Glamour

  • Awaara 1951

  • Shri 420 1955

  • Jagte Raho 1956

  • Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hain 1960

  • Sangam 1964

  • Mera Naam Joker 1970

  • Bobby 1973

  • Satyam Shivam Sundaram 1978

  • Ram Teri Ganga Maili Ho Gayi 1985


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Celebrating India…

  • Raj Kapoor’s early films celebrated newly independent India

  • Mera Joota Hain Japani… song

  • Created the persona of the tramp – the subaltern

  • Romanced the lady – Nargis

  • The trope of the lady as object of romance and desire


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Mehboob Khan: Nehruvian Dream

  • Mother India 1957. Iconic film on Nehruvian India

  • Showcased the Nehruvian Dream

    Agriculturally self-sufficient

    Industrially progressive

    Economically successful

    and Literate India

  • Wrote the nation across the body of the woman

  • Re-worked the Nation as Goddess symbol

  • Bharat Mata – Mother India


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Guru Dutt: Modernist Disillusionments

  • Critiqued the failure of the Nehruvian Dream

  • Used Modernist tropes of the nation as a wasteland

  • Cult following in cinematic circles

  • Pyaasa 1957

  • Kagaz ke Phool 1959

  • Chaudhvin ka Chaand 1960

  • Saahib Bibi aur Ghulam 1962

  • Created a muse in the actress Waheeda Rehman

  • Committed suicide in 1964, aged 39


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The Duttian Techniques and Tropes…

  • Guru Dutt specialised in the aesthetics of failure. Failure a major trope

  • Used self-reflexion as a narrative technique

  • Innovated camera and sound techniques

  • Used lighting as a language

  • Used silence as a sound


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The Big Heroes of the 1950s and 60s…

  • Dilip Kumar the tragic hero. Historical Star. Devdas, Andaz, Mughal-E-Azam

  • Dev Anand the light romantic hero. Stylised actor. Also later film maker. Guide, Hare Rama Hare Krishna

  • Raj Kapoor the comic romantic hero apart from being a film maker. Sapnon ka Saudagar, Around the World in Eight Dollars, Teesri Kasam.

  • Rajendra Kumar. The Jubilee Star. Romantic Hero.

  • Manoj Kumar the patriotic hero. Purab aur Paschim, Upkaar.

  • Sunil Dutt. Hero and film maker

  • Dharmendra. The Macho Hero.

  • Ashok Kumar. Senior Actor. Acted from 1940s-1980s


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The 1950s and 60s Big Heroines…

  • Meena Kumari. The Tragedienne.

  • Nutan. The Realistic Actress.

  • Vijayantimala. The Dancing Star

  • Waheeda Rehman. The Excellent Actress.

  • Nargis. The Major Star

  • Suraiya. The Singing Star

  • Madhubala. The Ethereal Beauty

  • Asha Parekh. The Tom Boy

  • Sadhana. The Sophisticated Lady


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1960s : Colour Glamour Escapism

  • Technicolour, romance, glamorous locations

  • New stars, new music directors, new locations

  • Shammi Kapoor and the cult of the big, brash young man

  • Joy Mukherjee. The romantic hero

  • Glamorous, westernised heroines; Sharmila Tagore, Babita, Saira Banu

  • Musicals set in Kashmir, Simla, Kulu

  • Junglee (1961), Love in Simla (1960), Kashmir ki Kali (1964)

  • Foreign locations – Paris, London, Geneva, New York

    in Evening in Paris (1967), Sangam (1964), Around the World in Eight Dollars (1967)

  • Wafted the audience into an escapist universe away from the poverty, shortages and hardships of the India of the 1960s.


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The 1970s: New Directors New Films New Stars

  • Shakti Samanta. The Musical Melodramas. Aradhna (1970), Amar Prem (1971)

  • Created the new superstar Rajesh Khanna

  • Hrishikesh Mukherjee. The Small Film Big Hits. Anand (1970), Guddi (1971), Mili (1975), Abhimaan (1973)

  • Ushered in the girl-next-door, Jaya Bahaduri

  • Ramesh Sippy. The Big Films. Sholay (1972), Seeta aur Geeta (1972), Shakti (1982).

  • New stars Hema Malini, the Dream Girl, Amitabh Bachchan, the Angry Young Man, Rishi Kapoor, the Romantic Hero

  • A mix of middle class realistic cinema and major masala films


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Hema Malini: Female Superstar

  • First major female superstar

  • Earned the same amount or more than her male stars

  • Called the Dream Girl

  • First film Sapnon ka Saudagar (


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The Rajesh Khanna Phenomenon


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  • Rajesh Khanna the romantic rage of the 1970s

  • Hairstyle, clothes, watches, shoes copied and worn by fans

  • Girls and women ‘married’ his photographs

  • Commanded a huge price

  • First real superstar of Hindi Cinema

  • Became stylised in his acting

  • Best films Anand, Aradhna, Roti, Bawarchi, Amar Prem

  • Replaced by Amitabh Bachchan


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Amitabh Bachchan:The Mega Star

  • Started small with Saat Hindustani (1969)

  • Catapulted to fame with Zanjeer (1973)

  • Competed with Rajesh Khanna in Anand and Namak Haram

  • Came into his own with Mega hits Deewar and Sholay in 1975

  • 1977-82 major hits Amar Akbar Anthony, Muqaddar ka Sikander, Trishul, Don, Mr. Natwarlal, Coolie

  • Come-back in the 1990s with Shehshah, Agneepath, Khudah Gawah

  • Return to Stardom in 21st Century – Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham, Sarkar, Baghbaan, Cheeni Kum, Last Lear

  • Married to Jaya Bahaduri; Son Abhishekh; daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai

  • Linked to Rekha


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Hema Malini: Female Superstar

  • First major female superstar

  • Earned the same amount or more than her male stars

  • Called the Dream Girl

  • First film Sapnon ka Saudagar (1968)

  • Major hits Seeta aur Geeta, Sholay, Charas, Jugnu, Lal Patthar

  • Directed Dil Aashna Hain (1992)

  • Come-back with Baghban (2003)

  • Bharat Natyam Dancer

  • Member of Parliament

  • Married to Dharmendra – two daughters


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The 1980s-90s: GenNext

  • New Film-makers:

    Govind Nihalani, Ardh Satya, Aakrosh, Tamas, Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa

    Shyam Benegal, Kalyug, Mandi, Trikal

    The Making of the Mahatma, Sardari Begum

    Ketan Mehta, Maya Memsaab, Mirch Masala

    Muzaffar Ali, Gaman, Umrao Jaan

    Mahesh Bhatt, Arth, Saaransh, Daddy, Dil Hain Ke Maanta Nahin

    Prakash Jha, Damul, Mrityudand

    Shekhar Kapoor, Masoom, Mr. India


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  • New Actors

    Shabana Azmi

    Smita Patil

    Naseeruddin Shah

    Om Puri

    Sanjay Dutt

    Madhuri Dixit

    Anil Kapoor

    Sridevi

    Amir Khan

    Salman Khan

    Sharukh Khan


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The Women Film makers…

  • Vijaya Mehta, Rao Saheb, Pestonjee

  • Sai Paranjape, Sparsh, Chashme Badoor,

    Katha, Saaz

  • Kalpana Lajmi, Ek Pal, Rudaali

  • A Feminist reading rather than a Feminist methodology possible

  • Woman centred films


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Diasporic Indian Film makers…

  • Distance, Nostalgia, Time warp, Periscopic point of view

  • Meera Nair, Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair

  • Deepa Mehta, Earth, Fire, Water

  • Gurinder Chadha, Bhaaji on the Beach, Bend it Like Beckham, Bride and Prejudice


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Cross-Over Films

  • For NRI and Wider Global Markets

  • Formula remains, melodrama toned down for non-Indian tastes

  • Family values, glamour, love, conflict, emotionalism

  • Finding wider audiences

  • Hindi films had audiences in the Arab World, Central Asia, Soviet Union, Eastern Europe

  • New audiences in Western Europe and the USA


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  • Aditya Chopra, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Mohabbatein, Dil to Pagal Hain

  • Karan Johar, Kuch Kuch Hota Hain, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham

  • Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Black, Devdaas

  • Aamir Khan, Lagaan, Rang De Basanti, Taare Zameen Par

  • Shahrukh Khan, Hum Hain Na, Om Shanti Om

  • Rakesh Roshan, Kaho na Pyaar Hain, Koi Mil Gaya, Krrish

  • Shekhar Kapoor, Elizabeth, The Four Feathers, Elizabeth, the Golden Age


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The Actors of the 21st Century…

  • Global faces, glamour quotient

  • Aishwarya Rai. Miss World. Diasporic Films. Mainstream Hollywood. Provoked; Pink Panther; Bride and Predjudice; Mistress of Spices

  • Rani Mukherjee, Black, Veer Zaara, The Rising

  • Preity Zinta, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehana, Last Lear

  • Saif Ali Khan, Parineeta, Omkaara

  • Hritik Roshan, Koi Mil Gaya, Krrish


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In Conclusion…

  • The journey from 1897, to 1913, to 1931 to the 21st Century has been momentous

  • Bollywood from a Wannabe-Hollywood has begun to find its own space in the realms of World Cinema

  • Diasporic film makers, Crossover film makers making dents in not just the NRI but also global markets

  • However, the major time-tested formulae remain intact, songs, spectacle, romance, glamour, fights, emotions and family values


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