Music & Entertainment  Bollywood and Indian Cinema: a (p)review
02/12/201600:00 Roch Archambault

“Bollywood” as a term is often used to define Indian cinema in general. As a matter of fact, this word is simply representative of a part, or parts, of India’s vibrant industry of cinematography, based in the metropolis of Mumbai. The term itself did not originate from India; rather, it was coined by British press in the 1970s.
When we talk about this industry, the word “masala” often comes up. This is an apt reference to the majority of films in Bollywood. These often refer to cinematic productions lasting to about 3 hours, ones where scenes of dance and music serve as a break in between the storytelling. This is what makes Mumbai cinema iconic and sets it apart from movie productions from across the globe.
Bollywood films see their origins in Indian dramaturgy, where theatrical works are used a way to recite vedas, sacred texts from India in the antiquity. Mahabharata is one prime example. This is a piece of classic literature which has been replayed and covered over centuries by comedians via dance and song, where members of different social classes are able to better understand the richness of its content.



In modern day cinema and in theatrical works in general, rasa, a word which refers to the emotions or mental states experienced by the spectators, are also the important fabric to the make-up of an oeuvre. The tradition of Indian aesthetics lies within this word, in reference to 8 principle emotions, which are love, laughter, anger, compassion, aversion, fear, altruism and wonder. According to these principles, actors must convey these precise emotions to the spectators via their performance. The need of doing so is also present in dance, music and the garment donned by the actors. All of these are, in fact, regulated by highly rigorous and careful rules and regulations.
All these elements are carefully presented to the audience according to a well-defined structure of drama. Songs, dance and scenes of comedy are also included into this aesthetic framework.
The early years

When we talk about Indian cinema, we must go back to the days of the end of the 19th century. In 1896, an operator of the Lumière Brothers revealed to the people of Bombay (present day Mumbai) the wonders of cinema. The first production of Indian film – a 40-minute piece- took place in 1913, and was entitled Raja Harishchandra. Immediately after, a large amount of Indian films were made, at the rate of some 10 pieces of work every year. The first audio film of India came about in 1931 and is called Alam Ara. From there onwards, the industry commenced its production of films with sound, dialogues and even “musicals”, many of which found its creative inspiration from the social context and stories of the time. Many of the films were inspired by Hollywood. Historic and mythological stories were the themes that dominated films of this era.


Raja Harishchandra

Alam Ara

Up until the 1940s, India produced entertainment films that somehow reflected and captured the spirit of the greatest contemporary events and movements. These included India’s Independence movement, the Partition, the Great Depression as well as the Second World War. A recurring theme in these productions often spoke of harmony in the family, as it was an overriding theme which represented the Indian nation and its aspirations.
In 1937, India’s first coloured film, Kisan Kanya, was released. However, it was not until the 1950s where black and white films finally phased out from the “top” spot in the industry.

Mother India
The Golden Era

As Hollywood’s own golden era came to an end after some 30 years of artistic ingeniousness, Indian cinema started to pick up, reflecting its ascent since the country saw its independence in 1947, all the way to the 1960s.


Many classics were made during this creative era, in particular the film Baazi (1951), Mr. & Mrs. ’55 (1955), Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), all works of the director Guru Dutt. He has produced movies which resonated with the social tendencies and ebbs of the era; many of his works have now achieved a cult status among many a cinephile. Guru Dutt passed away in 1964 at the age of 39.
Raj Kapoor
Films from the “Showman” Raj Kapoor were also highly popular. These include Awaara (1951) and Shree 420 (1955), whose main character was a nod to the iconic figure of Charlie Chaplin. Dutt and Kapoor were, in fact, more than directors; they played in their own films as well.
Bimal Roy was the third important player in this golden era, one who displayed a sense of realism in his social dramas and other cinematographic depictions. His film, Madhumati, released in 1958, is probably one of the first films which referred to the concept of reincarnation.


Another film of notable mention is Aan (1952), as well as the grand, epic production entitled Mother India. All were works of director Mehboob Khan. The film Mughal-e-Azam (1960) also managed to pull in record sales at the box office. During this period, many comedians achieved immense success, including Dev Anand, who starred in 114 films over the course of 65 years. Dilip Kumar, AKA “King of Tragedy”, Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt were among this star-studded list. Female stars also made this list, such as Vyjayanthimala who excelled in dancing, and the “Queen of Tragedy” Meena Kumari, who sadly passed away at the mere age of 38.
Dev Anand

Dilip Kumar


In terms of commercial films, a genre known as Parallel Cinema arose from Bengal. These are films where no dancing would take place; the focus is mostly on the social context of the film. After this, neo-realism and India’s very own Nouvelle Vague came on the scene.
Modern Cinema

After the 1960s, Indian cinemas focused on social stories within their play in the 1970s. These can be seen with works of Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt. Many of these films were made available to the rest of the world by means of international film festivals. The biggest stars of this era included Rajesh Khanna, who was a producer and politician; Sanjeev Kumar, known for his authenticity; Shashi Kapoor, brother of Raj Kapoor and the “King of Action movies”, as well as Dharmendra. Female stars included Sharmila Tagore, who oversaw the Indian Film Censor Board in the 2000s; there was also Mumtaz and Asha Parekh.
Asha Parekh

Gangster films start to become in vogue in the middle of the 1970s. The famed comedian Amitabh Bachchan became known as an icon of these films. He gained popularity as the quintessential “angry young man”, an image which lasted well into the 1980s. Other actors found success in films of violence, such as Mithun Chakraborty, who is now a Deputy at the Indian parliament. Anil Kapoor made his appearance in the globally acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire and the American TV-series, 24. Sunny Deol, son of Dharmendra, also was part of this list. Actresses such as Hema Malini took part in more than 150 films; Jaya Bachchan, wife of Amitabh Bachchan, and the versatile Rekha (wife of Dharmendra), also achieved commercial success and are both deputies in the Indian parliament at present.
Amitabh Bachchan

Mithun Chakraborty
Movies in Bollywood became more commercial and increased its degree of violence during this time. Some notable films of this era are Zanjeer (1973) and Deewar (1975).


Action films and romantic flicks were highly popular in the 1980s. Comedy as a genre was also increasingly well-received. Recipient of the Caméra d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival and other awards in Montreal, Salaam Bombay! (1988) is a notable film of this genre. Another is Quayamat Se Quayamat Tak, produced in 1988 and is a modern-day version of Romeo and Juliette.
Salaam Bombay!
Starring Aamir Khan, Dil (1990) and the romance Hum Aapke Hain Koun! (1994) featured the theme of traditional Indian marriages. Both were big box office hits in the 1990s. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge  (1995), featuring Yash Chopra and his son Aditya, spoke of a couple who met in Europe instead of India. A trend which transcended into present day Bollywood formed at this time; it spoke of the Indian diaspora around the world. To understand its popularity, this particular film was shown more than 1,000 times in the Maratha Mandir theatre up until the year 2015. Satya (1998) meant the debut of a new genre of cinema, quaintly known as Mumbai Noir.

Hum Aapke Hain Koun!
During this period, new actresses took on the scene. These include Madhuri DixitSridevi, Juhi ChawlaRaveena Tandon and Karisma Kapoor.
Karisma Kapoor

Contemporary male stars in romantic comedies include Aamir KhanSalman KhanShahrukh KhanGovinda.

Aamir Khan
Shahrukh Khan

The 2000s
During this period, innovations in technology meant that Bollywood stepped up its game, effectively going global. To appease to the elite class of Mumbai and Delhi, Bollywood also sought to cater to an ever-growing diaspora of spectators. Films at these time became large-scale productions, blockbusters which aimed to woo the Indian – and foreign- crowd all across the world. Two famous production houses came into existence during this period, being Yash Chopra’s Yash Raj Films and Yash Johar’s Dharma Productions.

Two trilogies made its way onto the top of the box office results. There was Dhoom and Rakesh Roshan’s Krrish, which turned his son, Hrithik Roshan, into a star. The list is not complete without Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), Veer-Zaara (2004), Hum Hum (2004) and Jab We Met (2007).
Certain actors rose to the throne of mega-stars, such as Hrithik Roshan, a great dancer, Abhishek Bachchan and Shahid Kapoor. Actresses achieving fame were Rani Mukerji, Preity Zinta, and title holders of Miss World, Aishwarya Rai and 
Priyanka Chopra. This period also sees Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone, Kangana Ranaut and American Imran Khan joining this list of famous and successful.
Hrithik Roshan 

Abhishek Bachchan
Shahid Kapoor

Aishwarya Rai

Ranveer Singh


Imran Khan
Bollywood Today
India’s contemporary cinema now covers much more than just films of Bollywood. Rather, it is an amalgamation of films ranging from comedy to action, from politics to history. An Indian film does not automatically include dance and music into its making, and many films are often shorter (than one may think). As said before, the films are also working to appease foreign crowds, and are therefore embedding variety and foreign settings into its making.

Priyanka Chopra

Some of India’s finest are now playing in foreign productions, such as Priyanka Chopra in the TV-series Quantico. Amitabh Bachchan played in The Great Gatsby; Kalki Koechlin and Shriya Pilgaonkar featured in Claude Lelouch’s Un + Une.

The Great Gatsby
For those who are interested to learn more about Bollywood and Indian cinema in general, these are my recommendations. The majority of India’s films are subtitled in English, and some come with French subtitles as well.

For a list of recommended movie trailers, please refer to the French (and original) version of this article.


Translated by TV5MONDE Asie-Pacifique
Roch Archambault is a French-Canadian whose interest in Asia spans 3 decades. Over the course of the past 20 years, he has developed a particular passion for Chinese popular music, as well as for current music forms like K-Pop and J-Pop. ​

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