Indian films are unquestionably the most –seen movies in the world. Not just talking about the billion- strong audiences in India itself, where 12 million people are said to go to the cinema every day, but of large audiences well beyond the Indian subcontinent and the Diaspora, in such unlikely places as Russia, China, the Middle East, the Far East Egypt, Turkey and Africa. People from very different cultural and social worlds have a great love for Indian popular cinema, and many have been Hindi Films fans for over fifty years.
Indian cinema is world – famous for the staggering amount of films it produces: the number is constantly on the increase, and recent sources estimate that a total output of some 800 films a year are made in different cities including Madrass , Bangalore , Calcutta and Hyderabad . Of this astonishing number, those films made in Bombay, in a seamless blend of Hindi and Urdu, have the widest distribution within India and Internationally. The two sister languages are spoken in six northern states and understood by over 500 million people on the Indian sub – continent alone – reason enough for Hindi and Urdu to be chosen above the fourteen official Indian languages to become the languages of Indian Popular cinema when sound came to the Indian Silver screen in 1931 .
Silent Era – The cinematographe (from where we have the name cinema) invented by the Lumiere brothers functioned better the Kinetoscope of Edison and Dickson. The Lumiere brothers who invented the cinematographe started projection of short (very short, one to two minutes long) films for the Parsian public on November 28, 1895. Cinema was shown for the first time in India by the Lumiere brothers on July 17, 1896 at the Watson Hotel in Mumbai. This was just six months after their first show in Paris.
Indian cinema thus has more than a hundred years of history, like the European or American film industry. That first show was just a show of a series of visuals, moving scenes and nothing more, but it inaugurated a long line of movies made by talented Indians. Today India has the distinction of being the country that produces the highest number of feature films every year.
As mentioned above, the earliest show of moving pictures in India was done in 1896. But for the next fifteen years, there was no indigenous production of movies. N.G.Chitre and R .G. Torney of Bombay were the first to make a film based on a story. It was PUNDALIK, a film based on the life of a Holy man in Maharashtra, it came out in 1912.
The next movie in India was Dhandiraj Govindraj Phalke’s RAJA HARISCHANDRA released on May 3, 1913. D. G. Phalke is acclaimed as the father of the Indian cinema because he laid the foundation for the future of the Indian film industry and because he trained several young film makers in his studio in Nasik. The Phalke award perpetuates the memory of this pioneering film maker and it goes to the person who enriches Indian cinema through remarkable contributions to it. Phalke will always be remembered for his contributions to the development of the film industry. Phalke established his studio in 1913 after his return from England with plenty of enthusiasm and dedication, besides a stock of raw film and a perforator for making holes on the edges of film stripes. He believed that ‘Indians must see Indian movies on the Indian Silver screen.’
After his RAJA HARISCHANDRA, Phalke started other projects, but he could not complete them because of lack of funds .Other silent movies started coming out from Calcutta studios: for example, ‘SATYAVAADI HARISCHANDRA ‘(1917) and ‘KEECHAKAVADHAM’ (1919). But Phalke’s Nasik studio was the first regular studio where he could also train many promising young people as film technicians. It was still the era of silent movies all over the world. During the Silent Era (1896 – 1930) over a thousand films were made in India; however, only ten of them survive, now restored and preserved in the Pune archives. Meanwhile, American and European films continued to grow in popularity, though a major source of worry for the imperial Government was that they would ‘corrupt’ Indian minds. In 1917, the European Association warned the Government against a film called ‘The Surpentine Dance’, which was certainly calculated to bring the white men and women into low esteem in the Indian mind.
Age of sound – The films of the Silent Era did not ‘talk’ but they were never watched in ‘silence’. Dialogue was presented through inter – titles, which were often in English, and or three Indian languages. Almost every film had a background score, which ran through the length of film. The score was ‘live’, and helped to dramatise the narrative. Sometimes there was only a piano accompaniment, but there were several films where a violin, a harmonium, tablas and other musical instruments could be added. The first sound movie or talkie, viz, Al Jolson’s ‘Jazz Singer’ in the U.S. ended the silent era in October, 1927.
Silent movies continued in India for another decade although the first Indian talkie came out on March 14, 1931. It was ‘Alam Ara’ (The Light of the world), made by Ardeshir Irani, admitted that the idea of making an Indian talkie came from Universal pictures production of ‘Show Boat’,which was a 40% talkie . But what kind of Indian film could maintain this strong link with audiences when sound came to the Indian screen in 1931? Over 150 million people at that time understood Hindustani (a mix of Hindi and Urdu, also known as the language of the Bazaar) and as the first talkie was to be made in Bombay, Hindustani was chosen over the fourteen official Indian languages to be the lingua Franca of popular cinema. Once the language question had been resolved, films looked to the Urdu Parsee Theatre for subject matter. Based on Joseph David’s Urdu Parsee play, Alam Ara is a costume drama telling the story of the rivalry of two queens and involving many characters, plots and subplots. This film songs immediately proved a smash, particularly the one sung by actor / singer W.M.Khan in the role of a fakir, ‘De de Khuda ke naam par pyare’( Give alms in the name of Allah). Thereafter, songs and dances were established as an integral part of Indian Popular cinema .This genre evolved out of the Urdu Parsee Theatre, a narrative form that had already skilfully dramatized Victorian plays and Persian Love Legends. The courtly love stories of the Urdu Parsee Theatre are probably the reason behind Indian cinema’s dependence on romantic themes and the way they link love, obstacles and tragedy. Another popular genre of this period was the historical film, based on stories of real characters or legendary hero’s .The importance of the historical film lay in its patriotic undertones. The grandeur of Pre – Raj India, the splendid costumes, the etiquette of the nobility and high drama were a direct invitation for national self – esteem and the will to be independent.
Of course, India did not need to be independent to produce films: thousands of miles of celluloid had run through the projector gate before the British finally packed their bags in 1947. Despite having first blossomed under a political power so alien to its own conventions, Indian cinema’s thematic and aesthetic development seems to have remained largely free of direct concern with colonial rule. Individual film director’s were deeply concerned by the independence movement led by the congress party and demonstrated their allegiance to the concept of a free India in films such as ‘Sikandra’ ( 1941 ) and ‘Shaheed’ ( 1948 ) . In the 1940s and 1950s, a small number of patriotic films and a handful of songs with a clear message of Indian nationalism were produced – the most famous is ‘Door Hato O Duniya Valo, Hindustan Hamara Hai’ (‘Go away, you invaders! India is ours’) in the 1943 film Kismet – but by and large the patriotic film isn’t a genre that is hugely popular today. Indian films have never been overtly political, unlike Africa or Algerian cinema, the classics of which are clear indictments of French colonial rule.
When talkies came an unexpected criticism from art lovers was that sound destroyed the aesthetic quality of the movies. Moreover, the universal language of the cinema was adversely affected, they said. People speaking different languages could watch the silent movie and derive meanings from the acting and expression, and the visual effectiveness of the whole movie. Cinema is a visual medium, they argued, and it has its own language. An Englishman must be able to appreciate a Hindi or Tamil movie as much as a Hindi or Tamil – speaking Indian should be able to enjoy an English movie even if the movies are silent ones. But can we imagine how a silent movie would appeal to us now? We have become so used to sound movies. And in India, we cannot easily appreciate a movie without songs and dancing! The silent movies are now in the archives and they are taken out for research or for satisfying someone’s historical curiosity.
Though colour movies started to come out of American studios from 1935 onwards, it took more decades for color to come to Indian screens.