P.K.Nair, one of the India’s leading film historians, believes that D.G.Phalke chose mythology for the cinema not only because it was an easy means of communicating to the largest number of people, but also because Phalke saw mythological stories as a way of evoking patriotic feelings in the Indian Nation at a time when the country was a British colony. By showing Lord Krishna overcoming the demon snake Kamsa in his 1919 film KALIYA MARDAN, Phalke showed that it was possible to fight the powerful and to challenge the imperialism that had plundered the whole Nation in the same way the demon snake had poisoned the sacred river.
Social Film- Aside from the mythological, the 1920s saw the birth of other film genres, such as the social film (examples include OUR HINDUSTAN 1928, and ORPHAN DAUGHTER), the historical film celebrating Rajput history and grandeur, the stunt film based on the Hollywood model, and Muslim subjects inspired by Persian love legends including Laila Majnu and stories set in the splendour of Mughal Courts. The Persian love stories depended on family conflicts, court intrigue, poetic dialogue, and songs of love and lament and these were better served by cinema after the birth of sound. The Films with Muslim subjects were later developed into the ‘ Muslim Social’, of which the author Shahrukh Hussain commented, ‘Predictably, Muslim socials were about Indian Muslims and were the forum for the portrayal of many social institutions of the exotic upper and lower classes of this community, (The Cambridge Encyclopedia of India, 1989 , Cambridge University Press) .
Stunt Film or Action Movie – Another popular genre starting in the silent era was the stunt film and the adventure action film. The filmmakers who were largely responsible for popularizing the stunt film were J.B.H Wadia and his brother Homi Wadia, of Wadia Movietone. They became the kings of this genre, starting with the railroad thriller TOOFAN MAIL (1932), which featured several fight sequences staged on the roof of a moving train. The Wadia’s loved Hollywood and were directly inspired by American serials, western and slapstick comedies. Their most famous star was the queen of the forties action movie, Fearless Nadia.
The stunt film and the adventure action film did not appeal to everyone: the educated classes saw them as populist, vulgar and a corrupting influence. This division in film styles is why distributors and producers continue to see films as being of two main categories: ‘films for the classes and films for the masses.’ The assumption was that the upper classes, who were more educated, expected something substantial from cinema, whereas the poor looked to cinema as pure entertainment.
Music in Silent Era Films – Indian silent films weren’t really silent – as in Hollywood; live musician provided a soundtrack. The English language films shown in India’s big cities had a violinist and pianist providing the music. This two-member orchestra was usually musician from Goa – a Portuguese colony at that time – who had studied music and could sight – read. The harmonium and tabla were the main instruments played with Indian silent films. In his article ‘ Sound in a silent era,’ celebrated music scholar Bhaskar Chandavarkar notes that ‘ The harmonium and tabla players were not only the first music directors but also dialogue writers and dubbers, as they were expected to stamp their feet, shout and trigger excitement during the action scenes, crying ‘ Maro’ (Hit Him), ‘Chup, Saale’ (‘shut up, you bastard’) or ‘ khamosh’ ( ‘ silence’) while the villain got what was coming to him . (Cinema Vision, vol.1, January 1980).
Though this genre continued to have a healthy life in south India, in Indian cinema the mythological had virtually disappeared by the 1950s. Later, at the height of 1970s action and vendetta films, Vijay Sharma’s low budget movie ‘JAI SANTOSHI MAA’ broke all box – office records by becoming one of the biggest hits of 1975 ( along with blockbusters such as SHOLAY and DEEWAR). This film made Santoshi Maa, a little – known Goddess, into a hugely popular icon and many people throughout India kept a fast, or vrat , in Her name. The film’s popularity was so extraordinary that it later became the subject of academic study by the Indian and International scholars: the anthropologist Veena Das analysed the film in her essay ‘ The Mythological film and its framework of meaning’ ( 1980), while American scholar Stanley Kurtz examined its influence and impact in ‘ All the Mothers Are One’ ( published by Columbia university press in 1992 ) .