Bollywood: From Escapism to Escapades [Part 1]

Posted on June 24, 2010

Soumya Venugopal:

Bollywood – The name is a portmanteau of Bombay (Now Mumbai of course!) and Hollywood. There is too much of brouhaha about the term Bollywood being “inspired” from the word Hollywood. But what most of the people don’t know is that the Indian Film Industry was born in the year 1899 with a production of a short film which was 11 years before Hollywood came into existence. The first Hollywood movie was a biography melodrama in 1910. The term Bollywood has its origins in 1970’s when India overtook the United States of America as the world’s largest film producer. Today India produces over a 1000 films a year compared to a mere 500 produced by the Hollywood. The credit for coining the term Bollywood goes to famous lyricist, movie maker and scholar of the 70’s Amit Khanna and journalist Beninda Collaco. With a global audience of over 3 billion, Indian Film Industry overtook the Hollywood in 2004.

Raja Harishchandra (1913) by Dadasaheb Phalke was the first silent feature film made in India and by 1930 over 200 films were produced in India! Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara was the first Indian sound film which turned out to be a commercial success. During the 1930’s and 40’s the Indian Film Industry faced tumultuous times. India was buffeted by the Great Depression. The Indian Independence Struggle, World War II and the violence of partition. Most of the films were unabashed escapists but there were numerous social issues like the child marriage, widow re-marriage and dowry which were tackled by the filmmakers. The Indian Independence struggle served as a backdrop for many of their movies. The period between the late 40’s to 60’s was the golden age of Indian cinema. This was the time which was marked by all time classics like Pyaasa (1957), Kagaz Ke Phool (1959), Awaara (1951) and Shree 420 (1955). Pyaasa was a story which critiqued the unreality of city life and Aawara was the story where one got to see city life both as a nightmare and as a dream.

Now what makes a movie “click” or strike a chord with its audience. Avid filmgoers often speak about seeking rare movie surprises and expect movies to have cunning plot twists, a shocking surprise, a revelation about a particular character or some other unknown or unsuspected narrative element. It has always been a question why some movies despite of having fantastic actors, fabulous locales, great music and great publicity (which is a recent development, thanks to the marketing gurus) fail at the box-office. It is the plot or in film language as they call “The Screenplay”. A Screenplay is basically the script of the film which includes the camera directions and the descriptions of a scene. It is also sometimes referred to as “Scenario”. A well written screenplay makes all the difference. A screenplay has the potential to skyrocket the profits of a studio or send it into ruins and bankruptcy. Sometime the actor’s or the director’s career suffers and sometimes not.

Films that cost more to make than they make in revenue (both domestic and worldwide) are considered as box office catastrophes or bombs. Die-hard movie lovers often ponder how films such as Billu Barber or Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag ( the less said, the better) turn out to be monumental flops. It’s rather fascinating to see how a certain star director and star actor’s films fail. Most of the A-list directors like Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Saanwariya), Yash Chopra (Lamhe), Mani Ratnam (Yuva) and actors like Dilip Kumar (Sagina, wherein he was paired with much younger Saira Banu, of course they ended up marrying each other), Rajesh Khanna (Aashirwad), Amitabh Bachchan (Mrityudaata, na na na na na re!), Shahrukh Khan (Billu, Duplicate), all of them have suffered at least one major flop. All flopped movies have one common thing – an extremely weak screenplay. Of course there are some movies which flop due other reasons.

In the past it was just the writers, the directors and the actors who were the intelligent lot, but today things have changed. The audience is now 10 times smarter and intelligent than the filmmakers. The audience demands movies which are real and at the same time entertaining. Yes, the star cast of movie takes the audience to the movie theatres but after that it’s the story, the screenplay and the performances that make the audience sit in the theatre for 3 hours. The script/screenplay is the star of any good film and no Khans, no Bachchans and no Kapoors can save it.

image: A scene from Raja Harishchandra (1913) at,_Raja_Harishchandra_%281913%29.jpg

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