History of Indian Cinema
Dance and drama have over the years, achieved an “elitist” aura. The poor man’s entertainment, because of its accessibility and relative inexpensiveness, became the cinema — the feature film. Significantly India produces the maximum number of movies in the world.
As long back as 1899, Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatwadekar made short films like the “Man and Monkey” and “The Wrestlers”. The first fully indigenous silent feature film was Raja Harishchandra made by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke (Dadasaheb Phalke) in 1913. The film was entirely indigenous, whereas Pundalik, made by N.G. Chitre and R.G. Torney in 1912 was half British in its make. Hence, Dadasaheb Phalke is rightly called as the “father of Indian Cinema”.
The silent film era was soon overtaken by the talkie era when in 1931 Ardeshir Irani produced Alam Ara under the banner of Imperial Film Company. In the same year the first talkies were released in Telugu and Tamil with the films Bhakta Prahlad and Kalidas.
Indian cinema has progressed through distinct phases. In the thirties and forties the films were made with firm social purpose. V. Shantaram’s Duniya na Mane, P.C. Barua’s Devadas, Debaki Bose’s Vidyapathi, Franz Osten’s Achut Kanya, Mehboob’s Aurat. In 1937 Ardeshir Irani attempted a colour picture for the first time—Kisan Kanya, but the World War delayed the advent of colour film. Sohrab Modi set a new standard in 1949 with the historical Pukar. Vijay Bhatt pioneered mythological with his Bharat Milap and Ram Rajya The forties also saw the S.S. Vasan extravaganza, Chandra Lekha.
In the fifties Hindi Cinema felt the impact of neo-realism with films like Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen, Mehboob’s Ann and Mother India, K.A. Abbas’s Rahi, Raj Kapoor’s Awaara and Jagte Raho, V. Shantaram’s Do Ankhen Barah Haath, Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa. There were Innumerable noteworthy films in this period—Naya Daur, Kaagaz ke Phool, Sujata, to name just a few.
With the coming of colour, also came glamour, big budget enterprise and vast productions. A striking production of the sixties was K. Asifs Mughal-e-Azam. The sixties were a period of big hits—Raj Kapoor’s Sangam, B.R Chopra’s Waqt, Dev Anand’s Guide, Ramanand Sagar’s Arzoo, Guru Dutt’s Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam, etc. And in the seventies the trend of multi-star blockbusters continued with an increasing trend for “action” and “revenge” as theme.
A reaction to the rather escapist fare of the popular cinema came from a section of film makers in the sixties itself. Variously called “parallel cinema”, “art films”, “new wave cinema”, this type of film was mainly made on a small budget, and concentrated on the stark reality of the Indian scene. Perhaps, the inspiration was Satyajit Ray who put India on the map of world cinema with his Pather Panchali (1955) and the rest of the Apu trilogy-Aparjito (1956) and Apursansar (1959). Mrinal Sen is another director whose name is linked to the new kind of film. His Bhuvan Shome though qualifying as ‘new wave’ or ‘art film’ did not lack popular appeal, as its commercial success showed. He had produced other good films like Ek Din Pratidin, Mrigaya, Akaler Sandhane. Shyam Benegal made his mark on the ‘art film’ scene with his Ankur (1974), Manthan and Nishant. These films dealt with the exploitation and oppression of the rural populace by the rich and landed classes. Any talk of ‘New Indian Cinema’ cannot ignore Ritwick Ghatak, whose films depict the trauma of change—Meghe Dhaka Tara, Komal Gandhar, Subarnarekha.
Regional cinema has produced some striking films. In Bengal Tapan Sinha’s Kabuliwala, Tarun Majumdar’s Ganadevata, Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Dooratwa are notable contributions to the Indian cinema scene. Malayalam directors have shown extraordinary talent—witness Ramu Kariat’s Chemmeen (1965); Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Swayamwaram (1972), Kodtyettam, Elippathayam and Mukhamukham; G. Aravindan’s Utharayanam and Thamp; Vasudevan Nair’s Nirmalyam; Shaji Karun’s Piravi. In Kannada there was Pattabhi Rama Reddy (Samskara), B.V. Karanth (Chomana Dudi), Girish Karnad (Kaadu), Girish Kasaravalli (Ghatashradha).
In Hindi noted films in the ‘new cinema’ came from Basu Chatterjee (Sara Akash), Rajinder Singh Bedi (Dastak), Mani Kaul (Uski Roti, Duvidha), Awtar Kaul (27 Down), Kumar Sahani (Maya Darpan), Basu Bhattacharya (Anubhow), M.S. Sathyu (Garam Hawa). By the end of the seventies there were avant garde directors who, while they made films of high artistic quality, got large viewership as well. Some of these were Govind Nihalani (Ardh Satya, Aakrosh), Saeed Mirza (Mohan Joshi Hazir ho, Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hai), Sai Paranjpe (Sparsh), Musaffar Ali (Gaman), Ketan Mehta (Holi), Biplab Roy Chowdhary (Shodh).
Good cinema has not disappeared. Even the early nineties produced notable films—Nihalani’s Drishti, Sethumadhavan’s Marupakkam, Mani Ratnam’s Anjali, Tapan Sinha’s Ek Doctor ki Maut, Aravindan’s last film Vasthuhara, Satyajit Ray’s last film Agantuk.
Women directors have made a mark in the last decade or so. Besides Sai Paranjpe, there are Aparna Sen (36, Chowringhee Lane, Paroma), Vijaya Mehta (Pestonjee), and Meera Nair (Salaam Bombay).
Apart from entertaining films of the light comedy variety,some ‘anti-hero’ movies suddenly became popular with Khalnayak and Darr. Film production has also had to face considerable competition from television, with the advent of satellite and cable television. Theaters are undoubtedly affected. Furthermore the film-makers are also facing loss due to video-piracy.
A hundred years of cinema were completed in 1994. Where will Indian cinema go from here? Have the big-budget glamour shows died out? Will there be more of the realistic, down-to-earth, low-budget films that combine artistic merit and entertainment? Or will cinema become a mere hand-maiden to the increasingly popular ‘small screen”?