Telling stories from the epics using handdrawn tableaux images in scroll paintings, with accompanying live sounds have been an age old Indian tradition. These tales, mostly the familiar stories of gods and goddesses, are revealed slowly through choreographic movements of painted glass slides in a lantern, which create illusions of movements. And so when the Lumire brothers' representatives held the first public showing at Mumbai's (Bombay) Watson's Hotel on July 7, 1896, the new phenomenon did not create much of a stir here and no one in the audience ran out at the image of the train speeding towards them, as It did elsewhere. The Indian viewer took the new experience as something already familiar to him.
Harischandra Sakharam Bhatwadekar, who happened to be present for the Lumiere presentation, was keen on getting hold of the Lumiere Cinematograph and trying it out himself rather than show the Lumiere films to a wider audience. The public reception accorded to Wrangler Paranjpye at Chowapatty on his return from England with the coveted distinction he got at Cambridge was covered by Bhatwadekar in December 1901- the first Indian topical or actuality film was born. In Calcutta, Hiralal Sen photographed scenes from some of the plays at the Classic Theatre
Such films were shown as added attractions after the stage performances or taken to distant venue where the stage performers could not reach. The possibility of reaching a large audience through recorded images which could be projected several times through mechanical gadgets caught the fancy of people in the performing arts and the stage and entertainment business. The first decade of the 20th century saw live and recorded performances being clubbed together in the same programme the strong influence of its traditional arts, music, dance and popular theatre on the cinema movement in India in its early days, is probably responsible for its characteristic enthusiasm for inserting song and dance sequences in Indian cinema, even till today.
Dada Saheb Phalke
Dhundiraj Govind PhaIke (1870 - 1944) affectionately called Dada Saheb Phalke is considered as the. 'Father of Indian Cinema'. Central in Phalke's career as a filmmaker was his fervent belief in the nationalistic philosophy of swadeshi, which advocated that Indians should take charge of their own economy in the perspective of future Independence,
Phalke, with his imported camera, exposed single frames of a seed sprouting to a growing plant, shot once a day, over a month-thus inadvertently introducing the concept of 'timelapse photography', which resulted in the first indigenous 'instructional film'- The Birth of a Pea Plant (1912) - a capsule history of the growth of a pea into a pea-laden plant. This film came very handy in getting financial backing for his first film venture.
Inspired from an imported film - Life of Christ - Phalke started mentally visualising the images of Indian gods and goddesses. What really obsessed him was the desire to see Indian images on the screen in a purely Swadeshi venture, He fixed up a studio in Dadar Main Road, wrote the scenario, erected the set and started shooting for his first venture Raja Harishchandra in 1912. The first full-length story film of Phalke was completed in 1912 and released at the Coronation cinema on April 21, 1913, for special invitees and members of the Press. The film was widely acclaimed by one and all and proved to be a great success.
The opening tableaux presents a scene of royal family harmony- with a space "outside" the. Frame from where the people emerge, and to which space the king when banished seeks shelter. The film's treatment is episodic, following the style of the Indian flok theatre and the primitive novel. Most of the camera set-ups are static, with plenty of movements within the frame. The bathtub' sequence whe're Harishchandra comes to call his wife Taramati, who is in the tub, with her fully drenched attendants is indeed the first bath-tub scene 'in Indian cinema. All the females in their wet sarees and blouses clinging to their bodies are in fact all males in female grab.
Phalke hailed from an orthodox Hindu household - a family of priests with strong religious roots. So, when technology made it possible to tell stories through moving images, it was but natural that the Indian film pioneer turned to his own ancient epics and puranas for source material. The phenomenal success of Raja Harishchandra was kept up by Phalke with a series of mythological films that followed - Mohini Bhasmasur (1914), significant for introducing the first woman to act before the cameras Kamalabai Gokhale. The significant titles that followed include - Satyawan Savitri (1914), Satyavadi Raja Harischandra (1917), Lanka Dahan (1917), Shri Krishna Janma (1918) and Kalia Mardan (1919).
The first film in Southern India was made in 1916 by R Nataraja Mudaliar- Keechaka Vadham. As the title indicates the subject is again a mythological from the Mahabharata. Another film made in Madras - Valli Thiru-Manam (1921) by Whittaker drew critical acclaim and box office success. Hollywood returned Ananthanarayanan Narayanan founded General Pictures Corporation in 1929 and established filmmaking as an industry in South India and became the single largest producer of silent films. Kolhapur in Western Maharashtra was another centre of active film production in the twenties. In 1919 Baburao K MistrY - popularly known as Baburao Painter formed the Maharashtra Film Co. with the blessings of the Maharaja of Kolhapur and released the first significant historical- Sairandhari (1920) with Balasheb Pawar, Kamala Devi and Zunzarrao Pawar in stellar roles. Because of his special interest in sets, costumes, design and painting, he .chose episodes
From Maratha history for interpreting in the new medium and specialised in the historical genre. The exploits bf Shivaji and his contemporaries and their patriotic encounters with their opponents .formed the recurring t.hemes of his 'historicals' which invariably had a contemporary relevance to the people of a nation, who were fighting for liberation from a colonial oppressor. The attack against the false values associated with the Western way of life and their blind imitation by some Indians was humorously brought out by Dhiren Ganguly in pis brilliant satirical comedy - England Returned (1921) presumably the first 'social satire' on Indians obsessed with Western values. And with that another genre of Indian cinema known as 'the contemporary social' slowly emerged. Baburao Painter followed it up with another significant film in 1925 - Savkari Pash (The Indian Shylock) - an attempt at realistic treatment of the Indian peasant exploited by the greedy moneylender.
In Bengal, a region rich in culture and intellectual activity, the first Bengali feature film in 1917, was remake of Phalke's Raja Harishchandra. Titled Satyawadi Raja Harishchandra, it was directed by Rustomjee Dotiwala. Less prolific than Bombay based film industry, around 122 feature films was made in Calcutta in the Silent Era. The first feature film in Tamil, also the first in entire South India, Keechakavatham was made during 1916-17, directed by Nataraja Mudaliar. Marthandavarma (1931) produced by R Sunder Raj, under .Shri.Rajeswari Film, Nagercoil, directed by P V Rao, got into a legal angle and was withdrawn after its premiere.
Based on a celebrated novel by C V Raman Pillai, the film recounts the adventures of the crown prince and how he eliminates the arch-villains to become the unquestioned ruler of the Travancore State. The film has title cards in English and Malayalam, some of which are taken from the original text. A few of the title cards and action make obvious reference to the Swadeshi Movement of the time. Had it not been for the legal embargo; the film would have had a great impact on the regional cinema of the South.
Indian Cinema Starts Talking
Ardeshir Irani released Alam Ara which was the first Indian talking film, on 14 March 1931.H.M. Reddy, produced and directed Bhakta Prahlada (Telugu), released on Sept 15, 1931 and Kalidas (Tamil) [ released on Oct 31, 1931. Kalidas was produced by Ardeshir Irani and directed by H.M. Reddy. These two films are south India's first talkie films to have a theatrical release. Following the inception of 'talkies' in India some film stars were highly sought after and earned comfortable incomes through acting. As sound technology advanced the 1930s saw the rise of music in Indian cinema with musicals such as Indra Sabha and Devi Devyani marking the beginning of song-and-dance in India's films. Studios emerged across major cities such as Chennai, Kolkata, and Mumbai as film making became an established craft by 1935, exemplified by the success of Devdas, which had managed to enthrall audiences nationwide. Bombay Talkies came up in 1934 and Prabhat Studios in Pune had begun production of films meant for the Marathi language audience. Filmmaker R. S. D. Choudhury produced Wrath (1930), banned by the British Raj in India as it depicted actors as Indian leaders, an expression censored during the days of the Indian independence movement.
The Indian Masala film—a slang used for commercial films with song, dance, romance etc.—came up following the second world war. South Indian cinema gained prominence throughout India with the release of S.S. Vasan's Chandralekha. During the 1940s cinema in South India accounted for nearly half of India's cinema halls and cinema came to be viewed as an instrument of cultural revival. The partition of India following its independence divided the nation's assets and a number of studios went to the newly formed Pakistan. The strife of partition would become an enduring subject for film making during the decades that followed.
After Indian independence the cinema of India was inquired by the S.K. Patil Commission. S.K. Patil, head of the commission, viewed cinema in India as a 'combination of art, industry, and showmanship' while noting its commercial value. Patil further recommended setting up of a Film Finance Corporation under the Ministry of Finance. This advice was later taken up in 1960 and the institution came into being to provide financial support to talented filmmakers throughout India. The Indian government had established a Films Division by 1949 which eventually became one of the largest documentary film producers in the world with an annual production of over 200 short documentaries, each released in 18 languages with 9000 prints for permanent film theaters across the country.
The Bengali language cinematic tradition of Tollygunge located in West Bengal has had reputable filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen among its most acclaimed. Recent Bengali films that have captured national attention include Rituparno Ghosh's Choker Bali, starring Aishwarya Rai. Bengali filmmaking also includes Bangla science fiction films and films that focus on social issues. In 1993, the Bengali industry's net output was 57 films.
The history of cinema in Bengal dates back to the 1890s, when the first "bioscopes" were shown in theatres in Kolkata. Within a decade, the first seeds of the industry was sown by Hiralal Sen, considered a stalwart of Victorian era cinema when he set up the Royal Bioscope Company, producing scenes from the stage productions of a number of popular shows at the Star Theatre, Calcutta, Minerva Theatre, Classic Theatre. Following a long gap after Sen's works, Dhirendra Nath Ganguly (Known as D.G) established Indo British Film Co, the first Bengali owned Production Company, in 1918. However, the first Bengali Feature film, Billwamangal, was produced in 1919, under the banner of Madan Theatre. Bilat Ferat was the IBFC's first production in 1921. The Madan Theatres production of Jamai Shashthi was the first Bengali talkie.
In 1932, the name "Tollywood" was coined for the Bengali film industry due to Tollygunge rhyming with "Hollywood" and because it was the center of the Indian film industry at the time. It later inspired the name "Bollywood", as Mumbai (then called Bombay) later overtook Tollygunge as the center of the Indian film industry, and many other Hollywood-inspired names. The 'Parallel Cinema' movement began in the Bengali film industry in the 1950s. A long history has been traversed since then, with stalwarts such as Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak and others having earned international acclaim and securing their place in the history of film.
The Malayalam film industry, based in the southern state of Kerala, is known for films that bridge the gap between parallel cinema and mainstream cinema by portraying thought-provoking social issues. Filmmakers include Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shaji N. Karun, G. Aravindan, K. G. George, Padmarajan, Sathyan Anthikad, T. V. Chandran and Bharathan.
Vigathakumaran, a silent movie released in 1928 produced and directed by J. C. Daniel, marked the beginning of Malayalam cinema. Balan, released in 1938, was the first Malayalam "talkie". Malayalam films were mainly produced by Tamil producers till 1947, when the first major film studio, Udaya Studio, was established in Kerala. In 1954, the film Neelakkuyil captured national interest by winning the President's silver medal. Scripted by the well-known Malayalam novelist, Uroob, and directed by P. Bhaskaran and Ramu Kariat, it is often considered as the first authentic Malayali film. Newspaper Boy, made by a group of students in was the first neo-realistic film in India. Chemmeen directed by Ramu Kariat and based on a story by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, went on to become immensely popular, and became the first South Indian film to win the National Film Award for Best Film. This early period of Malayalam cinema was dominated by actors Prem Nazir, Sathyan, Madhu, Sheela, Sharada and Jayabharathi. Prem Nazir is regarded as one of the most successful film actors in India. He holds four major acting records; including for playing the lead role in over 700 films and for acting opposite eighty heroines.
The 1970s saw the emergence of New Wave Cinema. Swayamvaram (1972), the directorial debut of Adoor Gopalakrishnan pioneered the new wave cinema movement in Kerala. Other movies of the period include Nirmalyam by M. T. Vasudevan Nair (1973), Uttarayanam by G. Aravindan (1974), Swapnadanam (1976) by K. G. George (1976), Cheriyachante Kroorakrithyangal and Amma Ariyan (1986) by John Abraham etc. In the late 1970s, commercial cinema began gaining popularity due to the action films of Jayan, a stunt actor who became one of the first commercial stars of Malayalam cinema. Known for performing stunts, his success was short-lived, ending with his untimely death while performing a dangerous helicopter stunt in Kolilakkam (1980).
The period from late 1980s to early 1990s is popularly regarded as the 'Golden Age of Malayalam Cinema' with the emergence of actors such as Mohanlal, Mammootty, and filmmakers such as I.V. Sasi, Hariharan, Joshiy, Sibi Malayil, Bharathan, Padmarajan, K. G. George, Sathyan Anthikad, Priyadarshan, A. K. Lohithadas, Siddique-Lal and Sreenivasan. This period of popular cinema is characterized by the adaptation of everyday life themes and exploration of social and individual relationships. These movies interlaced themes of individual struggle with creative humour as in Nadodikkattu (1988). Piravi (1989) by Shaji N. Karun was the first Malayalam film to win the Caméra d'Or-Mention at the Cannes Film Festival. This period also marked the beginning of movies rich in well-crafted humour like Ramji Rao Speaking (1989). It was in Malayalam that the first 3D movie in India, My Dear Kuttichathan, was made by Navodaya Appachan, a notable film producer of Kerala. Among all the playback singers in India, Malayalam singers K. J. Yesudas and K. S. Chithra hold the highest record for winning the National Award for best singers in the male and female category respectively. While Yesudas has won 7 awards so far, Chithra has won 6 awards till date.
During late 1990s and 2000s, Malayalam cinema witnessed a shift towards formulaic movies and slapstick comedies. The Malayalam film industry in recent times has also been affected by the rise of satellite television and widespread film piracy.