Indian film industry is one of world's top three, by the number of produced films each year and its viewers

Hundred years of Indian cinema

Regardless of the language barriers, these films are extremely popular in neighbouring countries, as well as in African, Arabic, other Asian and some former communist countries. This mainly goes for commercial films modelled on ancient Indian theatre form, where the plot was enriched with music and dance. Identical structure has been used in entertainment films of the most well-known and most popular centre in India - Bollywood. This year the world is celebrating the centenary of Indian cinema. Dadasaheb Phalke is considered to be its founding father who presented his first feature film Raja Harishchandra in 1913, about the adventures of the legendary king Harishchandra, passed on through an oral tradition. This film largely influenced the development of Indian cinema by bringing mythology to the big screen, thus marking the beginning of the historical myth film genre which dominated the early years of Indian cinematography. After a few mythological films, Phalke made his fist feature length film Shri Krishna janma about Krishna's adventures in 1918, and founded Hindustan Film Company shortly after. At the very beginnings of Indian cinematography three large film centres were formed: Mumbai (Bombay), Kolkata (Calcutta) and Chennai (Madras). Although smaller than Bombay in size, Kolkata surpassed Bombay in artistic quality of its films in the 1920s.

When sound film came to India in the 1930s, a little later than in other countries, it started a film revolution. Apart from reproducing voices, films also contained music, and ths very discovery has determined the course of the development of Indian film to this day. Music accompanied by dance became an inevitable part of Indian films, the choice of which often affected its success. The first sound film fully filmed and produced in India was Alam Ara (The Ornament of the World, Ardeshir Irani, 1931), screened in Bombay. Only a few months later first sound films in Bengali language were screened in Kolkata. The rivalry between the two centres was not only commercial but also in film themes: the Bombay production was influenced by history or mythology in its feature films inspired by traditional theatre and ancient epics, while film directors in Kolkata found their inspiration in literary works of famous authors, such as the Nobel prize winner Rabindranath Tagore. Most film studios were located in Bombay and Kolkata until World War II, and three production companies were home to some of the well-known film directors of the pre-war era: New Theatres in Kolkata, Prabhat in West India near Bombay and Bombay Talkies. Kolkata's debutants were: Debaki Bose, Pramatesh Chandra Barua (known for his adaptation of one of the most popular Indian love stories written by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Devdas, 1935), Bimal Roy (who entered the world of film as director of photography in Barua's hit film Devdas, later becoming one of the most important Indian film directors of the 1950s), Nitin Bose and others. Production company Prabhat financed the TV production of Indian mythological stories which were a metaphor of Indian socio-political situation, and this company's most important director and associate was Vankudre Shantaram, whose films brought him world fame. Apart from Ayodhya ka raja (The King of Ayodhya, 1932), which is homage to the father of Indian cinema Phalke, Shantaram gaind fame in Europe with his feminist film Duniya na mane (The Unexpected, 1936), which deals with arranged marriage and social degradation of women. Southern Indian cinema was largely influenced by Bombay and Kolkata, and the first production company in Tamil Nadu was established at the end of the 1930s. Despite its mythological themes, singing and dancing similar to the one in the north, southern cinema was behind, for financial reasons.

During World War II Indian cinema was in stagnation, mostly due to pressure from British colonial authorities, which forced directors to make documentary propaganda about allied troops' success. It was in the 1940s with the help of economic and political situation, as well as severe censorship, that a new popular genre was born - so-called masala style – known today as Bollywood film. Masala is the name for a mixture of spices used in Indian cuisine, and Bollywood or masala film follows a similar recipe, mixing at least six songs accompanied by interesting choreography, with a plot which incorporates elements of melodrama and romantic comedy. Thanks to the post-war economic boom, Bombay became the centre of masala film in the 1940s, as it still is today. As all films before it, this genre was also partly inspired by traditional performance arts, but in the following decades it promoted new values of post colonial India through populist subgenres, including elements of modern lifestyle, but not renouncing tradition.

Great bloom in Indian cinema happened in the 1950s with new film directors on the scene whose style differed from the popular masala film. Those young filmmakers, inspired by Nehru's socialist ideas, see film as socially engaged art. They produced some of Indian film classics, such as Mehboob Khan (Mother India, 1957), Bimal Roy (founder of Indian neorealism: Do Bigha Zamin, Two Acres of Land, 1953), Guru Dutt's Pyaasa (Thirsty, 1957.), actor, director and producer Raj Kapoor (created and embodied the character of Raju, Indian equivalent of Charlie Chaplin who became the symbol of Indian proletariat in Awaara, The Vagabond, 1951), and others.

In the east of the country, in Kolkata, still the most famous and most recognised Indian director, Satyajit Ray, debuted in the mid 1950s. The first part of his trilogy about Apu, Pater Panchali (Song of the Little Road, 1955), based on the novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, was awarded "Best Human Document" in Cannes. This film, as the other two in the trilogy, Aparajito (The Unvanquished, 1956) and Apu Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959), was clearly influenced by Italian neorealism, and documentary approach to filming. At the same time, another interesting director emerged on the scene in Bengal, Ritwik Ghatak, who detaches himself from the commercial masala film with his emphasised poetics. Due to his non-linear drama structure and at times illogical mixture of sound and visual background, he was not well received during his lifetime, and the value of his films was completely unrecognised following his death. Mrinal Sen is the third Bengali director who is the most responsible for the development of auteur film and he is the main representative of political film. Parts of his trilogy (Interview, 1970; Calcutta '71, Kolkata '71, 1972.; Padatik, The Guerilla Fighter, 1973), where he intertwines elements of documentary and feature film are still considered the most important examples of socially engaged political film in India. These three directors were the ambassadors of Indian cinema on the global stage, simultaneously offering an alternative to Bollywood film and opened the door to auteur film in India.
(Etami Borjan)