The name “Bollywood” is a portmanteau of 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 term “Bollywood” has origins in the 1970s, when India overtook America as the world’s largest film producer. Credit for the term has been claimed by several different people, including the lyricist, filmmaker and scholar Amit Khanna, and the journalist Bevinda Collaco.
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, which rhymed with “Hollywood” and was the center of the cinema of India at the time. The name “Bollywood” later arose as the Bombay-based film industry overtook the one in Tollygunge as the center of the Indian film industry.
Raja Harishchandra (1913), by Dadasaheb Phalke, was the first silent feature film made in India. By the 1930s, the industry was producing over 200 films per annum. The first Indian sound film, Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara (1931), was a major commercial success. There was clearly a huge market for talkies and musicals; Bollywood and all the regional film industries quickly switched to sound filming.
The 1930s and 1940s were tumultuous times: India was buffeted by the Great Depression, World War II, the Indian independence movement, and the violence of the Partition. Most Bollywood films were unabashedly escapist, but there were also a number of filmmakers, who tackled tough social issues, or used the struggle for Indian independence as a backdrop for their plots.
In 1937, Ardeshir Irani, of Alam Ara fame, made the first color film in Hindi, Kisan Kanya. The next year, he made another colour film, Mother India. However, color did not become a popular feature until the late 1950s. At this time, lavish romantic musicals and melodramas were the staple fare at the cinema.
Following India’s independence, the period from the late 1940s to the 1960s is regarded by film historians as the “Golden Age” of Hindi cinema. Some of the most critically-acclaimed Hindi films of all time were produced during this period. Examples include the Guru Dutt films Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and the Raj Kapoor films Awaara (1951) and Shree 420 (1955). These films expressed social themes mainly dealing with working-class urban life in India; Awaara presented the city as both a nightmare and a dream, while Pyaasa critiqued the unreality of city life. Some of the most famous epic films of Hindi cinema were also produced at the time, including Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam (1960). V. Shantaram’s Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957) is believed to have inspired the Hollywood film The Dirty Dozen (1967). Madhumati (1958), directed by Bimal Roy and written by Ritwik Ghatak, popularized the theme of reincarnation in Western popular culture. Other acclaimed mainstream Hindi filmmakers at the time included Kamal Amrohi and Vijay Bhatt. Successful actors at the time included Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt, while successful actresses, included Nargis, Meena Kumari, Nutan, Madhubala, Waheeda Rehman and Mala Sinha.
While commercial Hindi cinema was thriving, the 1950s also saw the emergence of a new Parallel Cinema movement.Though the movement was mainly led by Bengali cinema, it also began gaining prominence in Hindi cinema. Early examples of Hindi films in this movement include Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar (1946) and Bimal Roy’s Two Acres of Land (1953). Their critical acclaim, as well as the latter’s commercial success, paved the way for Indian neorealism and the Indian New Wave. Some of the internationally-acclaimed Hindi filmmakers involved in the movement, included Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani, Ketan Mehta, Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal and Vijaya Mehta.
Ever since the social realist film Neecha Nagar won the Grand Prize at the first Cannes Film Festival, Hindi films were frequently in competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, with some of them winning major prizes at the festival. Guru Dutt, while overlooked in his own lifetime, had belatedly generated international recognition much later in the 1980s. Dutt is now regarded as one of the greatest Asian filmmakers of all time, alongside the more famous Indian Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray. The 2002 Sight & Sound critics’ and directors’ poll of greatest filmmakers ranked Dutt at #73 on the list. Some of his films are now included among the greatest films of all time, with Pyaasa (1957) being featured in Time magazine’s “All-TIME” 100 best movies list, and with both Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) tied at #160 in the 2002 Sight & Sound critics’ and directors’ poll of all-time greatest films. Several other Hindi films from this era were also ranked in the Sight & Sound poll, including Raj Kapoor’s Awaara (1951), Vijay Bhatt’s Baiju Bawra (1952), Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957) and K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam (1960) all tied at #346 on the list.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, romance movies and action films starred actors like Rajesh Khanna and Dharmendra, and actresses like Sharmila Tagore, Mumtaz, Leena Chandavarkar and Helen. In the mid-1970s, romantic confections made way for gritty, violent films about gangsters and bandits. Amitabh Bachchan, the star known for his “angry young man” roles, rode the crest of this trend with actors like Mithun Chakraborty and Anil Kapoor, which lasted into the early 1990s. Actresses from this era included Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha.
Some Hindi filmmakers such as Shyam Benegal continued to produce realistic Parallel Cinema throughout the 1970s, alongside Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani, Ketan Mehta, Govind Nihalani and Vijaya Mehta. However, the “art film” bent of the Film Finance Corporation came under criticism during a Committee on Public Undertakings investigation in 1976, which accused the body of not doing enough to encourage commercial cinema. The 1970s thus saw the rise of commercial cinema in the form of enduring films such as Sholay (1975), which solidified Amitabh Bachchan’s position as a lead actor. The devotional classic Jai Santoshi Ma was also released in 1975. Another important film from 1975 was Deewar, directed by Yash Chopra and written by Salim-Javed. A crime film pitting “a policeman against his brother, a gang leader based on real-life smuggler Haji Mastan,” portrayed by Amitabh Bachchan, it was described as being “absolutely key to Indian cinema” by Danny Boyle. The most internationally-acclaimed Hindi film of the 1980s was Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay (1988), which won the Camera d’Or at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the pendulum swung back toward family-centric romantic musicals with the success of such films as Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), making stars out of a new generation of actors (such as Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan) and
actresses (such as Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla and Kajol). In that point of time, action and comedy films were also successful, with actors like Govinda and Akshay Kumar and actresses such as Raveena Tandon and Karisma Kapoor appearing in films of this genre. Furthermore, this decade marked the entry of new performers in arthouse and independent films, some of which succeeded commercially, the most influential example being Satya (1998), directed by Ram Gopal Varma and written by Anurag Kashyap. The critical and commercial success of Satya led to the emergence of a distinct genre known as Mumbai noir, urban films reflecting social problems in the city of Mumbai. This led to a resurgence of Parallel Cinema by the end of the decade. These films often featured actors like Nana Patekar, Manoj Bajpai, Manisha Koirala, Tabu and Urmila Matondkar, whose performances were usually critically approved.
The 2000s saw a growth in Bollywood’s popularity in the world. This led the nations filmmaking to new heights in terms of quality, cinematography and innovative story lines as well as technical advances in areas such as special effects, animation, etc. Some of the largest production houses, among them Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions were the producers of new modern films. The opening up of the overseas market, more Bollywood releases abroad and the explosion of multiplexes in big cities, led to wider box-office successes in India and abroad, including Lagaan (2001), Devdas (2002), Koi… Mil Gaya (2003), Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), Veer-Zaara (2004), Rang De Basanti (2006), Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006), Krrish (2006), Dhoom 2 (2006), Om Shanti Om (2007), Chak De India (2007), Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008), Ghajini (2008) and 3 Idiots (2009), delivering a new generation of popular actors (Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan) and actresses (Aishwarya Rai, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukerji, Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra), and keeping the popularity of actors of the previous decade. Among the mainstream films, Lagaan won the Audience Award at the Locarno International Film Festival and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 74th Academy Awards, while Devdas and Rang De Basanti were both nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The Hindi film industry has preferred films that appeal to all segments of the audiences and has resisted making films that target narrow audiences. It was believed that aiming for a broad spectrum would maximize box-office receipts. However, filmmakers may be moving towards accepting some box-office segmentation, between films that appeal to rural Indians, and films that appeal to urban and overseas audiences.