BW Help: What is Bollywood


Typical Bollywood Movie PosterWhat is "Bollywood"?
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 tickets sold.

The term Bollywood was created by conflating Bombay (the city now called Mumbai) and Hollywood (the famous center of the United States film industry).

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 liberally.

 - 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?
<short pause>
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.

Stardom 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.

Bollywood awards
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 accused of 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.

Finances
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.

Funding for 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 study abroad.

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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