Indian cinema celebrated its 100 years on 21 April 2012. In a country where more than a thousand films are being produced in a year in myriad regional languages, Indian celluloid industry has till now managed to hold its unique identity in the world of cinema. The cinema of India has had a profound effect on cinema across the world since the early 20th century. It consists of films produced across India which includes the cinematic cultures of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Haryana and Maharashtra. Indian films came to be followed throughout Southern Asia, the Greater Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the former Soviet Union.
Expatriates in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States continue to give rise to international audiences for Indian films of various languages.
In the 20th century, Indian cinema, along with Hollywood and the Chinese film industry, became a global enterprise. Enhanced technology paved the way for upgrading from established cinematic norms of delivering products, altering the manner in which content reached the target audience, as per regional taste. Films by Indian directors like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Shaji N. Karun, Girish Kasaravalli, Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mani Ratnam, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, etc., have been screened in various international film festivals. Bollywood movies having Hindi as their language which is widely spoken and understood naturally dominate the Indian film industry. From candyfloss romances with luxurious song-dance sequences, gritty underworld flicks, sleek action movies to melodramatic potboilers, the Indian film industry consists of a wide variety of ‘assortments’ catering to varied tastes and cultures.
The Annual National Awards make it crystal clear about how ignorant we are or little we know about Indian cinema. Nowadays our vision is restricted to Bollywood’s sensational celluloid and some regional films. Not many of us were aware about the existence of a language called Byari. The best feature film award for 2011 was also given to Byari, along with the Marathi film ‘Deool’.
As we raise a toast to a cinema that is 100 years old, it is a moment of great national pride and glory for all Indians.
Unlike other western film industries, the Indian film industries have not been too heavily influenced by the Hollywood film industry and continue to retain its local flavour, essence, emotions and dialect. Indian films get to do their share of globe-trotting at prestigious world film festivals Indian stars walk the red carpet in Cannes and other film festivals along with their global counterpart and our films find their reviews in top international film journals and newspapers.
A hundred years ago Dada Saheb Phalke made a movie about a king who never lied. Phalke’s inspiration came from an English film ‘The Life and Passion of Christ’ and he too wanted to translate the lives of Indian Gods to the screen. His first production ‘Raja Harishchandra’ was screened at Coronation Cinema in Mumbai on 3 May 1913 marking the beginning of Indian cinema. Regarded as the father of the Indian cinema, Phalke went on to make several silent films but became the first casualty when the silent era passed. ‘Alam Ara’ debuted at Majestic Cinema in Mumbai on 14 March 1931, a love story between a gypsy and a prince, starring Zubeida, Master Vettal and Prithvi Raj Kapoor. It was so popular that police had to be called in to control the crowd. Ironically the first talkie now lies silent as its print perished in a fire in the National Film Archives in 2003.
The intellectual appeal and the moral values that reflected the movies of yesteryears directed by eminent visionaries such as Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Raj Kapoor, etc., has somehow been transcended into popular culture today. The values that have been widespread today and are seen in celluloid industries are quite different from those of the past golden years. If you take the example of a movie which was released in 1945 called ‘Kismet’, it exuded patriotic passion in a subtle way in its popular songs and scripts. Comparatively, if you look at the films that are being released today about the histrionics and imbecilic portrayal of the modern day life in the form of violence, gang war, adultery and dark side of human nature, there are no similarities that can be found whatsoever. It is not true at all that whatever is happening in today’s celluloid industry is bad, but there is always one lingering question at the back of every curious and informative mind: how much of the issues and difficulties of the common man does today’s celluloid industry represent through the silver screen? What impact does it have on our society and how has our society been portrayed as a popular culture through a neo-liberal and post-modernist vision? It is true that a movie like ‘Taare Zameen Par’ had been produced and directed in recent times but what percentage of the society does it represent or how much of our social insecurities does it bring to the limelight? In a country where movies like ‘Paather Panchali’ and ‘Do Bigha Zameen’ had been made and critically acclaimed internationally, it is surely the decadence of taste and the societal and moral values which are reflected on the silver screen nowadays. It is expected that India, recognised for many years as the cultural cradle between countries, can hold its integrity and once more show the world in the very near future through the representation of its movies that enriched ideas which reflect moral and societal values still matter.