On May 3, 1913, the Father of Indian Cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke released the first film made in the country, Raja Harishchandra. As was the case with the advent of several modern inventions like the telegraph and railway, courtesy the English rulers, Cinematography too made its debut in India quite early, just about two decades since the motion pictures were invented in the West. Those were the days of the British imperialism and Indian cinema too was stifled in its nascent years amidst the rise of nationalism. But even in those formative years filmmakers such as Sohrab Modi (Pukar and Sikander) picked up mythological and historical stories to awaken the masses and spread the spirit of nationalism. In the 1943 film Kismet, regarded as the first super hit film that catapulted Ashok Kumar to stardom, lyricist Kavi Pradeep penned the song “Door hatho aye duniya walon Hindustan hamara hai”; the song escaped the scissors under the strict British censorship perhaps with references to the words Germany and Japan amidst the 2nd World War, but its underlying meaning coming close on the heels of the 1942 Quit India movement was not lost. Shortly Kavi Pradeep went underground to avoid an arrest warrant.
Post independence, the Cinema played a pivotal role in shaping a new nation’s destiny, – Anandamath (1952) featured Lata Mangeshkar’s memorable rendition of the national song “Vande Mataram” written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Do Beegha Zameen (1953) directed by Bimal Roy and featuring Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy in the lead roles, Jagriti (1954) with its everlasting patriotic songs including “Aao bachchon tumhein dikhayein jhanki Hindustan ki,” “De di humein azaadi bina khadag bina dhal Sabarmati ke sant” and “hum laye hain toofan se kishti nikal ke,” Jagte Raho (1956) starring Raj Kapoor with the hummable Mukesh song “Zindagi khwab hai”, Mother India (1957) directed by Mehboob Khan with a sterling performance by Nargis and Naya Daur (1957) directed by Baldev Raj Chopra, V. Shantaram’s Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957) featuring the song “Ae Malik tere bande hum” rendered by Lata Mangeshkar,
Hum Hindustani featuring Mukesh song “Chhodo kal ki baatein,” Vijay Anand’s Haqeeqat (1964) based on the 1962 China War featuring Mohammad Rafi’s soulful voice in Kaifi Azmi’s elegy “Kar chale hum fida jaan-e-tan saathiyon, ab tumhare hawale vatan saathiyon,” Shaheed (1965) starring Manoj Kumar and featuring songs “Ae watan, ae watan humko teri kasam, teri raahon pe jaan tak luta jayenge” and “Mera Rang de Basanti chola.” Bollywood achieved some notable milestones during this period with Sohrab Modi delivering India’s first technicolour film Jhansi ki Rani in 1953, but the film made at a huge budget bombed at the box office. Around the time Jhansi ki Rani was released, K. Asif commenced shooting of Mughal-e-Azam and during the seven years in its making, the costliest film ever made in Bollywood left him bankrupt. Upon its release in theaters in 1960 the film starring Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala smashed all box-office records, a record it held for the next 15 years.
The decades of the 1950s, Sixties and Seventies, is often referred to as The Golden Era of Hindi Film Music. While the trio of Dilip Kumar-Dev Anand-Raj Kapoor continued to consolidate their fan following, the Sixties saw the emergence of the first star in Bollywood, Rajendra Kumar, who earned the nickname ‘Jubilee Kumar’ with cinemas simultaneously screening as many six silver jubilee hits starring Rajendra Kumar in the lead. Come 1969 and Rajendra Kumar was swamped away by the tide as Aradhana, directed by Shakti Samanta and music composed by Sachin Dev Burman, broke all box-office records. A new super star was born, – Rajesh Khanna. The chocolate hero era eventually came to an end by the Eighties with the emergence of the angry young man Amitabh Bachchan in Prakash Mehra’s 1973 superhit Zanjeer. Bachchan scaled the path to stardom in the next two decades to be crowned the Super-Star Number One. It was during this period Bollywood got its biggest hit, – the multi-starrer Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay (1975).
There have been many contenders to the No.1 spot since the Nineties as the Bachchan magic wand started losing its touch. Sunny Deol, Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor and Govinda came to fill the vacuum only briefly as the three Khans, – Shahrukh, Salman and Aamir took the succession battle to the next stage. As the charm of the Box-Office faded, it coincided with the emergence of home
entertainment, – colour television, cheap CDs and the cable/satellite TV boom and the Indian Cinema faced its biggest threat. One after the other single screen theaters shut down shutters in cities after cities as watching films on the big screen became unaffordable for the traditional cinegoer, – the whistle blowing rickshaw puller and the labourer. Pricey multiplexes came to the fore as Bollywood further faced twin blows, – the invasion of dubbed Hollywood and regional Indian language, particularly southern, cinema and video piracy. With the crackdown on terror financing and black-marketing becoming effective, the flow of funds into films with minimum budgets running into a couple of crores also choked. Fortunately Bollywood has survived its toughest years as it evolved and adapted itself to the grave challenges of the recent past. Film financing has again flourished with the corporate sector chipping in and the losses due to shrinking theater audience have been more or less pared with the distribution of television and cable rights and a new found expatriate audience in markets abroad.
As I look back upon the last hundred years I cannot help but lament about Bollywood having been robbed of its talents and ideas, particularly in the last decade. At this moment I can think of Gulzar as the only littérateur ate who enriches Bollywood. Prakash Jha is one filmmaker of the one-time alternate cinema genre that included Shyam Bengeal and Govind Nihalani, who continues to experiment in the mainstream cinema. But having watched the slide from Damul to Gangaajal, Apaharan, Rajneeti, Aarakshan and Chakravyuh, it might alas prove to be true, “one swallow does not a summer make.” AR Rehman and Pritam are among the most successful music composers but do you remember when was the last time you heard an album worth cutting a platinum disc, although that fashion has since long gone out of vogue. With the passing away of Yash Chopra days before the recent release of Jab Tak Hai Jaan, it seems the era of film musicals has also come to an end, sadly Yash Raj Films failing to recreate the charm of film music despite the meeting of three great minds, – Yash Raj Chopra, Rehman and Gulzar.
(Contributed by Kiran)