Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Celluloid Centennial

The Indian film industry is now a centurion. This anniversary of the sparkling Indian silver screen coincides with the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic from Southampton port in the UK to New York in the USA. While the vessel sank into the cold Atlantic waters, the Indian film Industry has moved on strength to strength to finally make a profound footprint in the world of Cinema. 

Dadasaheb Phalke, the doyen of Indian cinema first forayed into this domain of art by bringing out the silent film Raja Harishchandra in 1913. For twenty odd years the silent movies ruled over people's hearts before the advent of talkies. 

1931 saw Indian Cinema's first talkie - Alam Ara being released. There was no looking back. Drawing inspiration to a large extent from Hollywood musicals, Indian cinema produced musical after musical based on mythology, history and social drama. Tamil and Telugu film makers hopped on to the wagon producing movies in vernacular languages screened in cinema houses flocked in great numbers by afficianados. 

It wasn't late before the craze for Cinema spread across the nation like a pandemic. Pre Independence cinema saw the illustrious Kapoor clan grace the industry with their Greco - Roman features and superior form of acting. It also witnessed Indian greats Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar taking toddler steps. Indian Cinema has always been centered around the male protagonist as a result of which lead male actors became household names and were immortalised on the silver space. 

Post Independence Indian Cinema enjoyed the adulation and attention of major production houses run by successful business families. Movies on the independence struggle and subsequent ouster of colonial forces were being produced in large numbers to capitalise on the patriotic wave running high in the country. 

In India, movies played a very vital role of bringing people of all caste and creed under one roof to together enjoy 3 hours of drama unfold on the 70 mm screen (purists may forgive for me using the 70 mm nomenclature this early). 

A scene from Shri 420
Noted filmmakers of the times made socially relevant movies that talked about issues considered very bold and mature for those times. Movies on romance before marriage, social plagues such as poverty, red tapism, corruption were the story writers' favorite topics. The Kapoor clan which can be considered as modern Indian film industry's founding family that took its name beyond frontiers is credited with creating an entirely new genre of film making. Musicals based on Socio - economic situations with heady doses of melodrama and emotions mixed to target the Indian families. Raj Kapoor's 1955 block buster Shri 420 is a film portraying the vicious nature of con men in the garb of gentlemen squeezing dry the poor. 

The movie made forays into the international movie scene and Raj Kapoor became synonymous with Indian cinema and was as popular as Panditji himself in the erstwhile USSR. 
Satyajit Ray

The late 40s also saw the rise of the mercurial Dev Anand who produced and starred in the Guru Dutt directed urban crime thriller Baazi in 1951 which led to a spate of similar plotted films being done in the following few years. This can easily be called as Indian Cinema's golden era as it saw the rise and rise of behemoths in the domains of music, direction, play back singing and acting. It was a time of experimentation and exploration of virgin areas which were earlier considered taboo even for discussion on public forums in the adolescent Indian society. S D Burman, Madan Mohan, Md. Rafi, Guru Dutt, the Bengali brother duo of Ashok and Kishore kumar took Indian cinema to dizzying heights with Original plots, compositions and exemplary acting prowess. It also saw India's most illustrious creative czar, Bengali film maker Dr. Satyajit Ray who burst into the national & international scene like a supernova with his awesome first part of a legendary & critically acclaimed trilogy. 1955 witnessed him unleashing his creative genius in the form of Pather Panchali which apparently took him 3 long years to complete. 

The movie marked the arrival of India's undisputed greatest film maker on the international scene as this movie had an unprecedentedly long screening in the United States. Apu is the trilogy's protagonist and movies portray his journey from adolescence to maturity ending with his marriage and married life. 

He received an honorary Oscar in 1992 for lifetime achievement just a few days before his death at his rented home in Kolkata. He was also the distinguished recipient of India's highest civilian honour - The Bharat Ratna. 

1957 saw India's official entry to the oscars - Mother India, a tearjerker & a nationalism heavy movie. The movie created box office records previously unheard of. The 60s decade witnessed another wave of patriotic movies ruling the roost with Manoj Kumar's Upkaar & Purab Aur Paschim which were both runaway hits. 

The 60s heralded movies with pure romance. Rajesh Khanna was the industry's first 'phenomenon' and 'superstar' with megahits such as Dushman & Aaradhana. People enjoyed the on screen antiques of yet another Kapoor clan member Shammi Kapoor with his scintillating performances and awe inspiring pelvic thrusts in hit movies Junglee, Prince, Singapore, Brahmachari et all

The 70s announced with great fanfare the explosive arrival of Indian cinema's greatest star and BBC's millennium superstar -  Amitabh Bacchan. His Zanjeer scorched the silver screen and carved a niche in the genre of action movies with his passionate portrayal of the angry young man. Indian cinema, now being called 'Bollywood' taking a leaf out of its rich & distant cousin Hollywood, took a departure of sorts from Rom - Coms and took a leap of faith in the action genre. He went on to make several action & melodrama packed block busters which fetched him superstardom and he was crowned the emperor of Indian film industry without a worthy adversary in sight. The Koh-i- noor of his crown is ostensibly the 1975 block buster, Sholay. 

The 80s welcomed star kids and new stars on the block with open arms. Film making was a lucrative industry and people from all walks of life were hooked on to the industry's each and every move. The 80s infused freshness in the hardened action oriented industry and brought back the much missed pure romance. Youth phenomenons Aamir Khan & Juhi Chawla were introduced in the romantic saga Quayamat Se Quayamat Tak. 

This was a decade that ushered in new faces on the marquee who gave the established actors a run for their money. Music in this decade also chronicled arrival of new talents and so did film direction. Mukesh Bhatt & Subhash Ghai discovered new ground by producing path breaking movies such as Sadak, Saudagar, Khalnayak etc in the late 80s. 

The 90s saw a decline in the standard of film making and was also mired in controversies of involvement with the mafia and developing liaisons with the criminal underworld. Allegations of rampant plagiarism in the form of blatantly making movies which were copy cats of popular Hollywood hits were rife and critics had a field day panning the pale plots and lack of originality. The clandestine affair of Bollywood with the underworld came to the fore with the ghastly day light murder of music czar Gulshan Kumar in Mumbai by alleged henchmen of a notorious underworld don. 

The silver lining around the cloud was unarguably the larger than life fairy tale family - first movies brought out by Rajshri productions scion Suraj Bartajya. The movies were all goody goody and families were back in the theaters in great numbers to watch his rich North Indian family dramas unfold. Maine Pyaar Kiya and  Hum Aapke Hai Kaun made Salmaan Khan an instant star and movies of this genre were being churned out for some time till the interest faded. 

In my praise for mainstream cinema, one may have felt I have completely neglected parallel cinema or the movies of the 'arty' kind which were specifically designed to suit the palates of the uber intellectual who found it creatively satisfying to discuss about the inherent messages one derives by watching such movies. No doubt Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal and Amol Palekar did create some works which were artistic masterpieces, some of them also tasted commercial success. It offered acting greats such as Om puri, Shabana Aazmi, Smita Patil to the Indian Industry who later on were easily welcomed to the mainstream 'commercial' cinema and became stars in their own right. I appreciate good cinema and I do not go into the nuances of classifying them into commercial and art. One needs to enjoy cinema without the tag of stereotyping attached to it. 

The late 90s at the turn of the millennium saw a deluge of movies being made by hundreds of filmmakers and the Indian film industry was officially declared as the largest in the world in terms of the number of movies made every year. However it also saw some great works of creativity that were also successful commercially and it broke the strangle hold of families over the industry. New comers without Godfathers were accepted wholeheartedly by the film viewing public and affiliations shifted. The Khan trinity was at the helm of things in the industry and became the most bankable artistes. Movies garnered international attention and foreign locales which were just part of a song or two became desired destinations of movie makers where entire movies were shot. Actors became demi gods and were and still being paid astronomical sums of money. The period from the late 90s till date saw large corporate houses venture out into the movie production business with UTV, Reliance, Sahara and even Hollywood production houses taking keen interest in making Indian movies when Sony, 20th Century Fox, WB, Disney and Universal produced Indian movies with Indian cast and crew.

There was a shift in paradigm and a new modern way of making cinema spawned an entirely new domain. Filmmakers adapted popular novels into their screen plays and often gave the original authors due credit. Well made movies with sizeable investments from large production houses started giving Hollywood sci fi(s) and action / adventure flicks a run for their money in India. The story was advertised as the main 'star' of the movie and films with excellent plots ran into packed houses having lesser known artistes. The era of Silver and Golden Jubilees were long over and producers focused on mega opening weeks / weekends through a blitzkrieg of pre-release promotional activities involving innovative methods that also flirted with the idea of creating controversies for want of publicity. As they say in showbiz - any publicity is good publicity. 

Movie stars are raking in 10 - 12 times higher remuneration than a middle aged CEO from an ivy league management college. Some of the members of this 'fraternity' are the highest individual tax payers in India which is living proof of the Indian film industry's success saga. 

Actors have turned producers / directors and even distributors. Movie telecast rights on the idiot box are sold at exorbitantly high rates to channels much before the first movie poster is even printed. Some producers are lucky to sell their movie telecast rights much before they have even completed their post production. Film makers are shifting from the stale formula of boy - meet - girl and investing heavily in superhero mega flicks and even sci fi boy - meets - alien plot lines. 

Today's film maker is an entrepreneur who has the guts and gumption to create cinema to satisfy his cravings for the materialization of his dreams. He is brave enough to ignore the likes and dislikes of the public at large and smart enough to capture on celluloid film moments that will be evidence for his imminent glory. The multiplex culture has bombarded Indian cities, both small and big and film makers now have the chance to experiment with their creativity with the confidence of finding an audience for their product of labor and love. 

Indian Cinema has witnessed a coming of age moment and it is a great day for Indians to be part of such a magnificent era. A hundred glorious years are behind us and we look forward to a thousand more. 

- "Picture Abhi Baaki Hai Mere Dost" 

- Om, the character played by Bollywood Superstar Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om

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