Bollywood is the name given to the Mumbai-based Hindi-language film industry
in India. When combined with other Indian film industries (Tamil, Telugu,
Bengali, Malayalam, Kannada), it is considered to be the largest in the
world in terms of number of films produced, and maybe also the number of
The term Bollywood was created by conflating Bombay (the city now called
Mumbai) and Hollywood (the famous center of the United States film
Bollywood films are usually musicals. Few movies are made without at least
one song-and-dance number. Indian audiences expect full value for their
money; they want songs and dances, love interest, comedy and dare-devil
thrills, all mixed up in a three hour long extravaganza with intermission.
Such movies are called masala movies, after the spice mixture masala. Like
masala, these movies have everything.
The plots are often melodramatic. They frequently employ formulaic
ingredients such as star-crossed lovers, corrupt politicians, twins
separated at birth, conniving villains, angry parents, courtesans with
hearts of gold, dramatic reversals of fortune, and convenient coincidences.
Bollywood song and dance
While most actors, especially today, are excellent dancers, few are also
singers. Songs are generally pre-recorded by professional playback singers
with actors lip-synching the words, often while dancing. One notable
exception was Kishore Kumar who starred in several major films in the 1950s
while also having a stellar career as a playback singer. K. L. Saigal,
Suraiyya and Noor Jehan were also known as both singers and actors. Of late,
a few actors have again tried singing for themselves.
Amitabh Bachchan, who started the trend of non-singing stars at the mike
with the runaway hit "Mere Angane Mein" in "Lawaaris" in the mid-80's,
continued his toe-dipping in singing with turns in "Silsila", "Mahaan" "Toofan"
and more recently in the movies Baghban and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, as well
as doing a duet with Adnan Sami in the song Kabhi Nahi (Never). Aamir Khan
took a turn singing "Kya Bolti Tu" in Ghulam but only because "the character
had attitude that only Aamir could do justice to", according to director
Vikram Bhatt. These forays, while well-received at the time, have not led to
real singing careers for either actor.
Playback singers are prominently featured in the opening credits and have
their own fans who will go to an otherwise lackluster movie just to hear
their favorites. The composers of film music, known as music directors, are
also well-known. Their songs can make or break a film and usually do.
The dancing in Bollywood films, especially older ones, is primarily modeled
on Indian dance: classical dance styles, dances of historic northern Indian
courtesans (tawaif), or folk dances. In modern films, Indian dance elements
often blend with Western dance styles (as seen on MTV or in Broadway
musicals), though it is not unusual to see Western pop and pure classical
dance numbers side by side in the same film. The hero or heroine will often
perform with a troupe of supporting dancers, usually of the same sex. If the
hero and heroine dance and sing a pas-de-deux (a dance and ballet term,
meaning "dance of two"), it is often staged in beautiful natural
surroundings or architecturally grand settings.
What is Bollywood dancing?
Bollywood dancing is a commercial name for modern Indian dancing. It's a
combination of classical Indian dance (which is the base), folk dancing such
as Bhangra and sometimes has a Latino and Arabic influence. It's fun and
very expressive and there's a lot of deep meaning behind music in the films.
You can actually express what the music means, through the graceful
movements of the body.
Why is dancing so crucial to Bollywood films?
People in India have been brought up on musicals and if the music in a film
isn't very good, sometimes the movie doesn't sell. Specific producers, such
as Yash Chopra, Karan Johar generally produce movies with phenomenal and
very emotional songs; hence the dancing comes into play.
Choreographers are now starting to take the industry by storm because Farah
Khan a famous choreographer recently directed her first movie called Main
Hoon Na. This goes to show that people want to see elaborate and funky dance
sequences, they don't want pure acting, hence dancing is a crucial.
Dialogues and lyrics
The film script (frequently credited as "Dialogues") and the song lyrics are
often written by different people. The dialogues are mostly written in
Hindi, with use of Urdu in situations which require poetic dialogues.
Contemporary mainstream movies also make great use of English. Dialogues are
often melodramatic and invoke God, family, mother, and self-sacrifice
- In the 1975 film Deewar, a dialogue between the gangster brother Vijay
and his policeman brother Ravi:
Vijay: Hum dono ek hi jagah se apni
zindagi ki shuruwat ki thi -- aaj main kaha hoon aur tum kahan ho. Mere paas
gaadi hai, bungalow hai, daulat hai -- kya hai tumhaarey paas?
We both started our lives from the same place -- look where I am today and
where you are. I have cars, bungalows, wealth -- what do you have?
Ravi: Mere paas ma hai.
I have Mother.
Music directors often prefer working with certain lyricists, to the point
that the lyricist and composer are seen as a team. Song lyrics are usually
about love. Bollywood song lyrics, especially in the old movies, frequently
use Urdu or Hindustani vocabulary which has many elegant and poetic Arabic
and Persian loan-words. Here's a sample from the 1983 film Hero, written by
the great lyricist Anand Bakshi:
Bichhdey abhi to hum, bas kal parso,
jiyoongi main kaisey, is haal mein barson?
Maut na aayi, teri yaad kyon aayi,
Haaye, lambi judaayi!
We have been separated just a day or two,
How am I going to go on this way for years?
Death doesn't come; why, instead, do these memories of you?
Oh, this long separation!
Cast and crew
Bollywood employs people from all parts of India. It attracts thousands of
aspiring actors and actresses, all hoping for a break in the industry.
Models and beauty contestants, television actors, theatre actors and even
common people come to Mumbai with the hope and dream of becoming a star.
Just as in Hollywood very few succeed.
in the entertainment industry is very fickle, and Bollywood is no exception.
Popularity of the stars can rise and fall rapidly, based on single movies.
Very few people become national icons, who are unaffected by success or
failure of their movies, like Amitabh Bachchan. Directors compete to hire
the most popular stars of the day, who are believed to guarantee the success
of a movie (though this belief is not always supported by box-office
results). Hence stars make the most of their fame, once they become popular,
by making several movies simultaneously. Aamir Khan is one of the few actors
who is notable for his insistence on doing only one movie at a time.
Bollywood can be clannish, and the relatives of film-industry insiders have
an edge in getting coveted roles. One notable film clan is the Kapoors: the
patriarch Prithviraj Kapoor, his sons Raj Kapoor, Shammi, and Shashi, Raj's
sons Randhir, Rishi, and Rajiv, and Randhir's daughters Karisma and Kareena
Kapoor, have all been popular actors or even stars. Yet industry connections
are no guarantee of a long career: competition is brutal and if film
industry scions don't succeed at the box office, their careers will falter.
The Indian screen magazine Filmfare started the first Filmfare Awards in
1953. These awards were to be Bollywood's version of the Academy Awards.
Magazine readers submit their votes and the awards are presented at a
glamorous, star-studded ceremony. Like the Oscars, they are frequently
bias towards commercial success rather than merit.
Other companies (Stardust magazine, Zee TV etc) later entered the award
business. Some of the other popular awards are:
- Zee Cine Awards
- Star Screen Awards
- Stardust awards
- IIFA Awards
They all sponsor elaborately staged award ceremonies, featuring singing,
dancing, and lots of stars and starlets.
Since 1973, the Indian government has sponsored the National Film Awards,
awarded by the government-sponsored Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF). The
DFF screens not only Bollywood films, but films from all the other regional
cinemas and independent/art films. These awards are handed out at a ceremony
presided over by the President of India and hence are coveted by all.
Bollywood budgets are usually modest by Hollywood standards. Sets, costumes,
special effects, and cinematography were less than world-class up until the
mid-to-late 1990s. But as Western films and television gain wider
distribution in India itself, there is increasing pressure for Bollywood
films to attain the same production levels. Sequences shot overseas have
proved a real box office draw, so Mumbai film crews are increasingly
peripatetic, filming in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, continental
Europe and elsewhere. Nowadays, Indian producers are drawing in more and
more funding for big-budget films shot within India as well, such as Lagaan,
Devdas, and the current production The Rising.
Bollywood films often comes from private distributors and a few large
studios. Indian banks were forbidden to lend money to film productions, but
this ban has been lifted recently. As the finances are not regulated
properly some of the money also comes from illegitimate sources. Mumbai
gangsters have produced films, patronized stars, and used muscle to get
their way in cinematic deals. In January of 2000, Mumbai mafia hitmen shot
at Rakesh Roshan, film director and father of star Hrithik Roshan; he had
rebuffed mob attempts to meddle with his film distribution. In 2001 the
Central Bureau of Investigation, India's national police agency, seized all
prints of the film Chori Chori Chupke Chupke after the movie was found to be
funded by members of the Mumbai underworld.
Another problem facing Bollywood is piracy of its films. Often pirated DVDs
arrive before the print for the picture. Factories in Pakistan and India
stamp out thousands of illegal DVDs, VCDs, and VHS tapes, which are then
shipped all over the world. (Copying is particularly rife in Pakistan, since
the government has banned the import of Indian films, leaving piracy as the
only way to distribute them.) Films are frequently broadcast without
compensation by countless small cable-TV companies in India and Asia. Small
Indian grocery-spice-video stores in the U.S. and the U.K. stock tapes and
DVDs of dubious provenance while consumer copying adds to the problem.
Satellite TV, television and imported foreign films are making huge inroads
into the domestic Indian entertainment market. In the past, most Bollywood
films could make money; now fewer do so. Balanced against this are the
increasing returns from theatres in Western countries like the United
Kingdom, Canada, and the United States of America, where Bollywood is slowly
getting noticed. As more Indians migrate to these countries, they form a
growing market for upscale Indian films. 'Foreign' audiences—in Asian and
Western countries—are also growing, if more slowly.
What problems does Bollywood face?
Bollywood's biggest problem is piracy - where people copy the films and
either sell them or show them to other people for free. At the moment not
all films made make more money than they cost to make, even though they can
be seen by around one billion people.
If everyone paid to see the film legally the industry would make lots more
money. At the moment Bollywood film producers are trying to work out a way
to stop this happening. Another problem is that younger generations
sometimes find the stories a bit predictable and are get bored of the
similar tales. Film-makers are trying to solve this by changing storylines
to reflect real life - like the fact that children of Indian families now
What's the future for Bollywood?
The future looks even brighter for Bollywood. Big US film companies such as
Warner Bros and Twentieth Century Fox are setting up offices in India.
Where Indian film makers have found it difficult to compete with Hollywood's
special effects, this is seen as the next big area for Bollywood to develop.
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