100 Years Of Indian Cinema: A Closer Look


Indian cinema is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. India’s first movie Raja Harischandra, a Marathi silent film was released in the 1913 and the movie was the beginning of a never ending journey.

Indian cinema has evolved; from technology to acting, everything has developed. Today Indian cinema boasts of visual-sound effects, film making schools and people ready to invest in movies just like in any other business, all of which were distant dreams a few decades back.

What hasn’t changed however is the wish to tell stories.

India’s first movie was released in 1913, three decades before we gained Independence. Pre-independence cinema was a way to glorify the national movement. Two years after independence, India’s first cult film Andaz was released. The film showcased relationships, friendship between the opposite sexes and one- sided love, which were all alien ideas at that time. The 1950s was the era of great actors like Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Sunil Dutt and Meena Kumari, and some great directors like Guru Dutt.

The history of Indian Cinema cannot be told without the mention of India’s biggest director ever, Guru Dutt. He has been time and again accredited with ushering the golden era of Indian cinema. His work was purely artistic and lyrical in terms of content and enjoyed commercial success. He was loved by the audience despite the fact that his work was based on subjects that were considered taboo at that time. His work includes cult films like Pyaasa (1957), which portrayed a very platonic relationship between a poet and prostitute, and Mr. & Mrs. ’55 (1955) which told the story of a young girl who tried to liberate herself from a normative system but ended up getting caught in a satirical fashion.

Many movies from “popular cinema” never actually become popular; then why is it that such movies are called popular? They are out of mind as soon as they are out of sight. Cinema critics have euphemistically termed such movies, which are primarily intended to entertain and make big bucks, though commercial, as “popular”.

“Popular” cinema, the term used for cinema which is “less” thought provoking but is more leisurely and mellow-dramatic. Popular may be less in intellectual content, but enjoys more commercial success than parallel cinema. It has always been loved by the masses for the escape it offers from the grueling daily life. There have been fewer times when parallel cinema has enjoyed the kind of success and acceptance popular cinema does and gets. Parallel cinema has always been liked by a particular kind of audience, a trend that fortunately seems to be changing now.

“Parallel” cinema, a category of cinema very advantageously crafted for the inclusion of realistic movie; a kind of realism that doesn’t get mass acceptance because of how hard hitting it can be. Parallel cinema has been in existence since the emergence of Indian cinema. It all started when no specific category existed and all kinds of movies were given equal importance. Unapologetically, the audience showed preference to a certain category which had elements of fantasy and mushiness. As a result, a new class of cinema emerged which promised to be real and thought provoking; a cinema that was proud of being “artsy”.

Popular cinema emerged in the ‘60s and ‘70s and since then has been successful. It has always been a matter of debate why movies from this genre cannot have more intriguing content and vice versa. Parallel cinema, on the other hand, is more relatable and makes more sense but seldom gets any fame.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s there was a dearth of movies that made any “sense”, popular cinema is what stole the show. Came the 2000s and it was again the time of art; films like Maqbool, Chandni Bar and Meenaxi were well received and highly appreciated by the audience. India’s movie Lagaan got nominated in the foreign film category in the Oscars. Indian movies were screened at International Movie Festivals and some great movie fests like Goa Film Festival were inaugurated in India.

The reason why parallel cinema is not an equally blessed child might lie in the fact that it is “real”. It shows the reality and truth behind things. Cinema is considered a means to escape from reality and paying money to see that same reality in a more vivid manner doesn’t appeal to many. But, even the mindset of the audience is changing with the evolution of cinema. Film makers thus have the courage to make such movies now, and people are more than willing to see and appreciate these films for their intriguing content.

There are now a number of directors which enjoy popular success with films that are high on “intellectual” content too, like Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee to name a few. Actors are more than willing to take the risk and be a part of the kind of cinema that has a number of constraints involved. Recently, films like Shanghai, Gangs Of Wasseypur 1 & 2 and Shaitaan have got high critical acclaim despite the fact that they belong to the “popular” genre. It’s not going to be long when the lines will be blurred between what is “popular” and what is “parallel” cinema.

In these 100 years of cinema, one can see how society has developed because cinema in some way or another reflects society. Cinema is seen like any other industry now. The acceptance of cinema surely doesn’t seem like a big thing now as it was in its early years.

Today Indian cinema is one of the most talked about cinemas in the world. It is a very big player in world cinema, given the amount of talent and money it possesses. Needless to say, it will surely be celebrated across the world for a thousand more years to come.

Aliya Khan

Image Courtesy [The Viewspaper]