Bollywood Celebrates Centenary!
Dadasaheb Phalke -- a man of versatile talent, who had a varied career as a painter, photographer, playwright and magician before he took to film -- was responsible for the production of India's first fully indigenous silent feature film, Raja Harishchandra, adapted from the Mahabharata. The film had titles in Hindi and English, and was released on May 3, 1913 at the Coronation Cinema in Mumbai. This laid the foundation of what, in time, would grow to become the largest film producing industry in the world. Phalke followed with other feature films like Mohini Bhasmasur (1913), Satyavan Savitri (1914) and Lanka Dahan (1917), the last one being India's first big box-office hit. Two new film companies, the Kohinoor Film Co. and Phalke's Hindustan Cinema Films Co. were established in 1918.
By 1920 film-making transformed into a regular industry and the number of films produced increased to 207 in 1931 from a mere 27 when the silent films were started in India. The first Indian love story, Dhiren Ganguly's Bilat Ferat (England Returned) was released in 1921. In the same year Kohinoor studios of Bombay produced Bhakt Vidur, a chapter from Mahabharata. The new decade saw the arrival of many new companies and film-makers. Baburao Painter (Savkari Pash), Suchet Singh (Sakuntala), Chandulal Shah (Guna Sundari), Ardershir Irani and V. Shantaram were the prominent film-makers of the twenties. Some of the noteworthy silent films of the period were Madan's Nala Damayanti (1921), Pati Bhakti (1922) and Noor Jehan (1923); Baburao Painter's Maya Bazaar (1923), Kala Naag (1924) and Cinema Queen (1926); Chandulal Shah's Bhaneli Bhamini (1927); Ardeshir Irani's Anarkali (1928); V.Shantaram's Gopal Krishna (1929); Jagdish Co's Chandramukhi (1929); Seth Manecklal Patel's Hatim Tai (1929); SS Agarwal's Diler Jigar (1931) and Gulaminu Patan (1931).
During the early twentieth century cinema as a medium gained popularity across India's population and its many economic sections. Tickets were made affordable to the common man at a low price and for the financially capable additional comforts meant additional admission ticket price. Audiences thronged to cinema halls as this affordable medium of entertainment was available for as low as an anna (4 paisa) in Bombay. The content of Indian commercial cinema was increasingly tailored to appeal to these masses. Young Indian producers began to incorporate elements of India's social life and culture into cinema. Others brought with them ideas from across the world. This was also the time when global audiences and markets became aware of India's film industry.
March 14, 1931 was a historic day for Indian cinema. Ardeshir Irani of Imperial Movietone released Alam Ara, the first full-length Indian talkie film at the Majestic cinema in Bombay. This film very effectively broke the golden silent era and laid a milestone that marked the steeping into the new talkie era as well as rang the death knell to silent films. The most remarkable thing about the birth of the sound film in India is it came with a bang and quickly displaced silent movies. The first Indian talkie, Alam Ara (1931) was a 124-minute feature produced by the Imperial Film Company in Mumbai and directed by Ardershir Irani. Advertised as an all talking, all singing, all dancing film, Alam Ara was a period fantasy starring Prithviraj Kapoor, Master Vithal and Zubeda. Although Mehboob, who later turned a legendary director, was scheduled to play the lead in Alam Ara, Master Vithal; from Sharda Studios got the part. When Sharda sued Vithal for breach of contract, he was defended by M A Jinnah.
On the day of its release, surging crowds started gathering near the Majestic cinema in Bombay right from early morning. The booking office was literally stormed by jostling mobs to secure tickets and all traffic was jammed on the roads leading to the theatre. For weeks together the tickets were sold out and the mad rush to watch the first talking film continued till more movies came in. The Bombay Chronicle (April 2, 1931) noted that the film has shown that with due restraint and thoughtful direction, the players could by their significant acting and speech evolve dramatic values to which the silent cinema cannot possibly aspire. Inspired by Universal's Melody Of Love, the whole plot is a string to tie together the numerous songs and dances which became a mandatory feature of Hindi cinema. Alam Ara will always be remembered as the film that ushered in the era of sound films in India. The era of the talkies brought about social awareness as they focused on themes like practice of human sacrifices, women's liberation and arranged marriages.
The film took months to make following the hazardous recording conditions, the distressing laboratory processing methods of that time and the secrecy surrounding the project. Says Irani , "There were no sound-proof stages , we preferred to shoot indoors and at night. Since our studio is located near a railway track most of our shooting was done between the hours that the trains ceased operation. We worked with a single system Tamar recording equipment. There were also no booms. Microphones had to be hidden in incredible places to keep out of camera range."
As a film, Alam Ara had few technical and artistic qualities but it was pioneering effort. In a letter to the Times of India (March 23, 1931), a viewer who signed as Filmster wrote about the quality of sound, "Principal interest naturally attaches to the voice production and synchronizations. The latter is syllable perfect; the former is somewhat patchy, due to inexperience of the players in facing the microphone and a consequent tendency to talk too loudly."
Alam Ara's rather predictable story line managed to string together the numerous song and dance numbers. And much to the filmmaker's surprise, the Majestic cinema in Bombay where the film was released was mobbed by surging crowds. Recalls Irani's partner Abdulally Esoofally in the Indian Talkie Silver Jubilee Souvenir, " In those days, the queue system was not known to filmgoers and the booking office was literally stormed by jostling, riotous mobs, hankering to secure somehow, anyhow a ticket to see a talking picture in the language they understood. All traffic was jammed and police aid had to be sought to control the crowds. For weeks together tickets were sold out and black-market vendors had a field day."
The talkie had brought revolutionary changes in the whole set up of the industry and completely over-shadowed the silent movies at a time when they were at a peak. However, it also brought into focus many peculiar problems which needed to be tackled -- there were no dialogue writers or lyricists and songs had to be sung during the filming as pre-recording facilities were not known. Minimum instruments were used, as the instrumentalists had to be camouflaged behind the singer.The arrival of sound in spite of being welcome in several quarters had serious implications for the whole industry and its appendages. The talkies era silenced a whole generation of artists, film-makers and technicians. Many studios unable to switch over to sound closed down; Anglo-Indians who did not speak fluent Hindi or Urdu were the worst hit. Those who could not sing were also hit as there was no playback and direct recording meant artistes had to sing their own songs. "Problems? Of course we had problems--thousands of them--no one knew how to handle the sound equipment. We did not know how to deal with echoes inside the studios. The cameras had no blimps and their noise drowned out the dialogues. We tried all we could to muffle the camera noise. We wrapped the camera in blankets, put insulating shields around it. Nothing seemed to work. We couldn't hear a word the actors spoke inside the studio." When the shoot was moved outdoors, the quality of sound improved "but one cannot shoot an entire film outdoors. Even in a historical, the characters have to go home sometimes." - Krishna Gopal, veteran film technician.
Long takes from a single point became a necessity because of the many unsolved problems of combining photography with sound. Actors had to huddle around a hidden, low-fidelity microphone, often resulting in self-conscious performances. Picturisation of songs too were done in a single shot. Trial and error resulted in mush wastage of raw stock and many films had to be abandoned.
However, there was the other side to it too. The box-office returns were so fabulous that they came to be known as mortgage-lifters, enabling those cinema houses that had shut down during the Depression to reopen. The public respect for the film producers and their cast and crew was beyond their imagination. Whenever and wherever they camped, they were given a princely ovation and a hero's send-off. The Railways gave them travel concessions and the guards delayed trains for the latecomers. Most coffeehouse they visited refused payment for food and drink. The tumultuous welcome by the film fans overshadowed the initial problems and the talking film had come to stay.
Comes Of Age
In the 20th century, Indian cinema, along with the Hollywood and Chinese film industries, became a global enterprise. At the end of 2010 it was reported that in terms of annual film output, India ranks first, followed by Hollywood and China. Enhanced technology paved the way for upgrading from established cinematic norms of delivering product, altering the manner in which content reached the target audience, as per regional tastes. Indian cinema found markets in over 90 countries where films from India are screened.
India is the world's largest producer of films. In 2009, India produced a total of 2961 films on celluloid, that include a staggering figure of 1288 feature films. The provision of 100% foreign direct investment has made the Indian film market attractive for foreign enterprises such as 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures and Warner Bros. Indian enterprises such as Zee, UTV, Adlabs and Sun Network's Sun Pictures also participated in producing and distributing films. Tax incentives to multiplexes have aided the multiplex boom in India. By 2003 as many as 30 film production companies had been listed in the National Stock Exchange of India, making the commercial presence of the medium felt.
The Indian diaspora consists of millions of Indians overseas for which films are made available both through mediums such as DVDs and by screening of films in their country of residence wherever commercially feasible. These earnings, accounting for some 12% of the revenue generated by a mainstream film, contribute substantially to the overall revenue of Indian cinema, the net worth of which was found to be US$1.3 billion in 2000. Music in Indian cinema is another substantial revenue generator, with the music rights alone accounting for 4–5% of the net revenues generated by a film in India.
The term "Bollywood" itself has origins in the 1970s, when India overtook America as the world's largest film producer. The name "Bollywood" is derived from Bombay (the former name for Mumbai) and Hollywood, the center of the American film industry. However, unlike Hollywood, Bollywood does not exist as a physical place. Though some deplore the name, arguing that it makes the industry look like a poor cousin to Hollywood, it has its own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.
The naming scheme for "Bollywood" was inspired by "Tollywood", the name that was used to refer to the cinema of West Bengal. Dating back to 1932, "Tollywood" was the earliest Hollywood-inspired name, referring to the Bengali film industry based in Tollygunge, whose name is reminiscent of "Hollywood" and was the center of the cinema of India at the time. It was this "chance juxtaposition of two pairs of rhyming syllables," Holly and Tolly, that led to the name "Tollywood" being coined. The name "Tollywood" went on to be used as a nickname for the Bengali film industry by the popular Kolkata-based Junior Statesman youth magazine, establishing a precedent for other film industries to use similar-sounding names, eventually leading to the term "Bollywood" being coined.
Bollywood today is by far the fastest growing film industry in the world. Wow, what an amazing success story. Definitely deserves a big applaud and the biggest show ever by the industry when very soon Bollywood celebrates centenary.