Legacy of a 100 years
Soon after the Lumiere Brothers Cinematographer unveiled six soundless short films at Bombay’s Watson’s Hotel, in 1886, Hiralal Sen and H.S. Bhatavdekar started making films in Calcutta and Bombay, respectively. Bhatavdekar made India’s first actuality films in 1899. Tough there were efforts at filming stage plays earlier India’s first feature film Raja Harishchandra was made in 1913 by Dadasaheb Phalke who is known as the Father of Indian Cinema. By 1920 there was a regular industry bringing out films starting with 27 per year and reaching 207 films in 1931. Today India makes about 800 feature films every year.


Alam Ara (1931) was the genesis of the talkie feature films. The film’s popular Hindustani dialogues and seven songs made it a big hit which resulted in other filmmakers to raise the number of songs in their films till it reached a whooping 71 in “Indrasabha”. Film songs became a Pan-Indian phenomenon. Regional culture and craving to see-hear a film in one’s own language caused the mushrooming of the regional film industries beginning with Bengali, Tamil & Telugu followed by Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Assamese, English and several other dialects.

The Golden Era

The post-independence period saw the golden era of Indian cinema with melodious socials & melodramas. International recognition came with Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali in 1955. Satyajit Ray is considered as one of the greatest directors of all times. He was awarded an Oscar for lifetime achievement shortly before his death in 1995. The 70’s saw the birth of the parallel cinema which promoted realistic cinema. At around the same time was born the long-lasting trend on the angry young man pitted against the Establishment as represented by Amitabh Bachchan, the superstar of the Indian Film Industry. Amitabh Bachchan was virtually a one-man industry and this trend lasted till the late eighties.


The 90’s saw the Indian Cinema come to a full circle with ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun’ turning out to be the biggest grosser ever. Indian cinema has come a long way from the shaky flickering images and grating noises and sounds to a very sophisticated state-of-the-art technology for creation and projection of image and soundtrack. The film industry has grown multi-dimensionally with unique blend of commerce, art, craft, star glamour, social communication, literary adjuncts, artistic expression, performing arts, folk forms and above all a wide-ranging and abiding appeal to the heart, the mind and the conscience. The people’s lifestyle and sociology have been reflected in the mind-boggling number of 28000 plus feature films and thousands of documented short films in 52 different languages making it the largest and most fascinating film producing country in the world.

The Indian film industry is the largest in the world in terms of ticket sales and number of films produced annually. Movie tickets in India are among the cheapest in the world. India accounts for 73% of movie admissions in the Asia-Pacific region, and earnings are currently estimated at US$8.9 billion. The industry is mainly supported by the vast cinema-going Indian public. The Central Board of Film Certification of India cites on its website that every three months an audience as large as India’s billion-strong population visits cinema halls. Indian films are popular in various parts of the world, especially in countries with significant Indian communities.

Regional Film Industries

India is a large country where many languages are spoken. According to the 1991 Census of India there are about 10,400 ‘raw mother tongues’ in India. If closely related and mutually comprehensible dialects are grouped, the number can be reduced to 1576 ‘rationalised’ mother tongues, or with even more consolidation, 114 main languages. These 114 languages are the ones surveyed in the Indian census. Indian film producers have made films in thirty of the largest languages. However, only the very largest language groups support major regional industries. These are: Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Marathi, Kannada, Oriya, Malayalam. Official statistics categorize Indian films according to the languages in which they are distributed.

There is a great deal of mobility between the regional industries. Many workers in other regional industries, once their talent and popularity is established, move on to work in other film industries, nationally as well as internationally. For example, A. R. Rahman, one of the best known film music composers in Indian cinema, started his career in Tamil cinema in Chennai but has since worked in Bollywood, London, and New York. Similarly, films that succeed in one language are often remade or dubbed in others. Films like Padosan and Roja, for example, were re-made or dubbed from their original Bengali and Tamil versions respectively, into Hindi.

Bhojpuri (Purvanchal) Film Industry

Bhojpuri dialects, varieties, and creoles are also spoken in various parts of the world, including Brazil, Fiji, Guyana, Mauritius, South Africa, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, many colonizers had faced labour shortages and were unable to obtain slaves from Africa due to the abolition of slavery; thus, they imported many Indians as indentured servants to labour on plantations. Today, many Indians in the West Indies, Oceania, and South America still speak Bhojpuri as a native or second language.

The Bengali (Bangla) film industry

The history of cinema in Bengal dates to the 1890s, when the first “bioscopes” were shown in theatres in Calcutta. Within a decade, the first seeds of the industry was sown by Hiralal Sen. 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. A long history has been traversed since then, with stalwarts such as Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak and others having earned international acclaim and securing their place in the movie history. Today, there are two Bengali film industries, one in Kolkata (Calcutta), India and the lesser known one in Dhaka, Bangladesh (called Dhallywood). The film industry based in Kolkata is sometimes referred to as Tollywood, a portmanteau of the words Tollygunge, the area of South Kolkata where this industry is based, and Hollywood. The Bengali film industry has long centred in the Tollygunge district of Kolkata (Calcutta). Its most famous film director is Satyajit Ray, who won an Oscar for lifetime achievement in cinema. However, Bengali films have always remained the hot favourites among the National Film Awards jury almost every year since its inception. Some of the most popular Bengali film personalities include Kishore Kumar, Mithun Chakraborty, Uttam Kumar, Soumitra Chatterjee, and recently Proshenjit. Some of the other Bengalis who have made it big are Ashok Kumar, Bimal Roy, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Aparna Sen, Suchitra Sen, Hemanta Mukherjee (Hemant Kumar), Manna Dey, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, and Rituparno Ghosh.

The Hindi Film Industry (Bollywood)

The Hindi film industry, based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), is the largest branch of Indian cinema. Hindi film Industry is often called ‘Bollywood’ (a melding of Hollywood and Bombay). The word “Bollywood” is sometimes applied to Indian cinema as a whole, especially outside South Asia and the South Asian diaspora. It is considered the most liberal out of the Indian language film industries.

Regional movies are distinctively different from Bollywood (Hindi) movies, as the stories and themes of these movies portray the culture of the region from which they originate, while most Bollywood movies nowadays are greatly influenced by Western culture.

Although Bollywood does not distribute a lot of films, it can be considered to be largest in terms of viewers. It is believed that Bollywood movies are watched by majority of the Indian movie goers. It also has international recognition, especially in Western countries such as the UK, USA, Canada, and Australia where there is a large South Asian community.

The Kannada Film Industry

The Kannada film industry, based in Karnataka, is sometimes called ‘Sandalwood’, as Karnataka is known for its abundant sandalwood forests; however, this term does not seem to be in widespread use. The Gubbi Veeranna Company, or Veeranna’s Sri Chennabasaveshwara Krupa Poshita Nataka Sangha and other groups established themselves first as theatre troupes, and later went on to dominate kannada cinema into the 1960s. “They provided all its key directors like H.L.N . Simha, B. R. Panthulu and G. V. Iyer, its stars led by Rajkumar and Leelavathi and most of its early commercial hits: Bedara Kannappa (1953), for instance. The first big success in Kannada cinema adapted a Gubbi Company stage play written by G. V. Iyer to introduce the mythological adventure movie into that language.” Kannada films has become very popular after the recent hits like Jogi (2005) & Mungaru Male (2007).

The Kashmiri Film Industry

The Kashmiri film industry, which had been lying dormant since the release of Habba Khatoon in 1967, was revived after a 39-year hiatus with the release of Akh Daleel Loolech in 2006. However, critics dispute this claim because this film was a small budget digital film which did not play in any film theatres except in a few private and film festival screening. Besides Akh Daleel Lolach uses a film style which is common on Kashmiri television and by those standards Kashmiri video makers were making films since early 1980s. Cinema halls had been shut down for a long time in Kashmir, by militants protesting the New Delhi based Government. There are few cinema halls and a handful of directors have been returning to shoot in the region. Though the region was favoured by many producers as a scenic locale in pre-militancy era Bollywood movies as a romantic backdrop, the regional industry was not strong, due to lack of finances and infrastructure.

The Malayalam Film Industry

The Malayalam film industry is based in Kerala. Malayalam movies are known for their artistic nature and they frequently figure in the national film awards. It is also currently known for being the most conservative out of the different film industries in India, despite the fact that it went through a liberal phase in the 80’s. Notable personalities include the filmmakers Padmavibhushan Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Bharathan, Aravindan, Padmarajan and John Abraham, the scriptwriters M. T. Vasudevan Nair and Sreenivasan, the cinematographers Azhagappan, Santhosh Sivan and Shaji; the actors Bharath Gopi, Tilakan, Padmabhushan Prem Nazeer, Satyan, Padmashri Mammootty, Padmashri Mohanlal, Balachandra Menon; the playback singers, K. J. Yesudas, K. S. Chitra, P. Jayachandran, M.G. Sreekumar and Sujatha.

The first 3D film which produced in India was in Malayalam. Its name was My Dear Kuttichatthan produced by Navodaya Productions. Padayottam, the first fully indigenous 70 mm film with all its work done in India was in Malayalam which was also produced by Navodaya. The fist Cinemascope film in the world was produced in Malayalam. Chemmeen was the first film which earned a gold medal from the President from South India.”Guru”, directed by Rajiv Anchal, is the only Malayalam film proposed as the Indian entry by the Indian Film Industry council for Oscar Award so far.

The Marathi Film Industry

Marathi Film Industry, one of the oldest film industries in India, originated in Nasik, and developed in Kolhapur and Pune. In recent years, it has moved mostly to Mumbai (Bombay), Maharashtra.

Dadasaheb Phalke, recognized as the father of Indian cinema, was a pioneer of movies in Marathi. He produced the first Indian silent movie, and later some Marathi talkies. In his honour, a much coveted “Dadasaheb Phalke Award” is given annually for exceptional contribution to Indian cinema.

1940s and ’50s formed the classical era of Marathi cinema, mainly because of some hallmark productions by the now extinct “Prabhat Film Company” in Kolhapur. As an offshoot of Prabhat, V. Shantaram founded “Rajkamal Studios” in Pune, and produced some excellent Marathi movies in the late 1950s and early ’60s. Because of the rise of Hindi movies in Bollywood, Marathi film industry underwent a decline in the 1980s and ’90s. But recently it has been reviving with some quality movies like “Shwaas” (which earned an official Indian entry for an Oscar award in 2004), “Pak Pak Pakaak” (which won Swarovski Trophy in AFFF, Singapore, in 2005), “Sane Guruji”, “Saatchya Aaat Gharaat”, etc.

Bhalji Pendharkar, Baburao Painter, V.Shantaram, Dada Kondke, Raja Paranjpe, Mahesh Kothare, Smita Talwalkar, Sumitra Bhave, Sunil Sukthankar, Sandeep Kashyap, Gajendra Ahire, Jabbar Patel, Amol Palekar, Chandrakant Kulkarni, Bipin Nadkarni, Sandeep Swant, Mangesh Hadawale and Kedar Shinde are some of the notable directors and producers in Marathi cinema in the past few decades. Modern Marathi actors include Dilip Prabhavalkar, Bharat Jadhav, Sonali Kulkarni, Sadashiv Amrapurkar, Ashwini Bhave, Amruta Subhash, Atul Kulkarni and Sanjay Narvekar. While some old Marathi movie songs remain popular, new composers like Ajay-Atul have been producing some extremely popular songs. Some of the old songs have also been remixed.

The Tamil Film Industry (Kollywood)

The Tamil film industry (Kollywood), based in the Kodambakkam area of Chennai is the third largest in India after Hindi and Telugu movie industries.

Several technicians have crossed industries to encapture National fame such as Mani Ratnam, Selvaraghavan, A. R. Rahman, Shankar, Ravi K. Chandran and Jeeva. However, unlike the technical counterparts, artistes tend to fail to break into Bollywood, with only a handful breaking through, them being Kamal Haasan, Sridevi, Madhavan, Siddharth Narayan and Asin Thottumkal. Alaipayuthey (2000), mastered both the qualities of commercial and critical cinema. Ironically, several Bollywood actresses made their débuts in Kollywood, with Aishwarya Rai appearing in Iruvar, Priyanka Chopra in Thamizhan, Lara Dutta in Arasatchi and Sushmita Sen in Ratchagan. Furthermore, several actresses have done Tamil films while struggling to breakthrough in Bollywood, such as Kajol and her sister, Tanisha as well as Amisha Patel.

In the Tamil film industry, directors such as K. Balachander, Shankar, Bala, Bharathiraja, Balu Mahendra, and Mani Ratnam have achieved box-office success whilst producing films that have balanced art and popular elements. The Tamil film industry accounts for approximately 1% of the gross domestic product of the state of Tamil Nadu. Costs of production have grown exponentially from just under Rs.4 million in 1980 to over Rs.110 million by 2005 for a typical star-studded big-budget film. There has been a growing presence of English in dialogue and songs as well. It is not uncommon to see movies that feature dialogue studded with English words and phrases, or even whole sentences. Some movies are also simultaneously released in two or three regional languages (either using subtitles or several soundtracks). Contemporary Tamil movies often feature Madras Bashai, a colloquial version of Tamil spoken in Madras. Overseas, Tamil films’ five major markets are Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, Europe and the U.S., with about 60 per cent of the audiences being Sri Lankan Tamils.

The Telugu film industry (Tollywood)

The Telugu film industry is based in Andhra Pradesh’s capital city, Hyderabad is the second biggest industry in India after “Hindi”. The state also has what is claimed to be the largest film studio in the world, Ramoji Film City. The first studio for Telugu talkies was Vel Pictures, constructed in 1934 by P.V. Das, located at Madras. The first film made here was Sita Kalyanam. Animportant Telugu personality of this era was Y.V. Rao (1903-1973), an actor and director, whose silent film (directing) credits include Pandava Nirvana (1930), Pandava Agnathavaas (1930) and Hari Maya (1932). The first big movies in Telugu were made by the Surabhi Theatres troupes. They produced the first Telugu talkie, Bhakta Prahlada, directed by Hanumappa Munioappa Reddy in 1931. In the first few years of Telugu talkies, films were all mythological stories, taken from the stage. In 1936, Krittiventi Nageswara Rao made the first Telugu film not based on mythology, Premavijayam. The film influenced other Telugu film-makers into making such films. Some popular themes of these films (often called ’social’ films) were the feudal zamindari system (Raitu Bidda, 1939), untouchability (Maala pilla, 1938), and widow remarriage. Since then, there have been both social (contemporary) and mythological or folk stories in Telugu cinema.

In the Telugu film industry, directors such as K.Viswanath, Ram Gopal Varma, Jandhyala, Krishna Vamsi and Singeetam Sreenivasa Rao have achieved box-office success whilst producing films that have balanced art and popular elements. Most number of Guiness records are in the telugu industry which include the most number of films directed, most films produced by a producer, most number of songs sung by a male singer and many more.

Telugu films are released in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra , Orissa and are also in Kerala (Dubbed in Malayalam). Overseas, Telugu movies are released primarily in United States, Australia, United Kingdom and Singapore.

Art cinema in India

In addition to commercial cinema, there is also Indian cinema that aspires to seriousness or art. This is known to film critics as “New Indian Cinema” or sometimes “the Indian New Wave”, but most people in India simply call such films “art films”. These films deal with a wide range of subjects but many are in general explorations of complex human circumstances and relationships within an Indian setting.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, art films were subsidised by Indian governments: aspiring directors could get federal or state government grants to produce non-commercial films on Indian themes. Many of these directors were graduates of the government-supported Film and Television Institute of India. Their films were showcased at government film festivals and on the government-run TV station, Doordarshan. These films also had limited runs in art house theatres in India and overseas. Since the 1980s, Indian art cinema has to a great extent lost its government patronage. Today, it must be made as independent films on a shoestring budget by aspiring auteurs, much as in today’s Western film industry.

The art directors of this period owed more to foreign influences, such as Italian neorealism or the French New Wave, than they did to the genre conventions of commercial Indian cinema. The best-known New Cinema directors were Bengali: Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, and Bimal Roy. Some well-known films of this movement include the Apu Trilogy by Ray, the Calcutta Trilogy of Sen, Meghe Dhaka Tara by Ghatak (all in Bengali) and Do Bigha Zameen by Roy (Hindi). Of these filmmakers, Satyajit Ray was arguably the most well-known: his films obtained considerable international recognition during the mid-twentieth century. He was awarded an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1992. His prestige, however, did not translate into large-scale commercial success. His films played primarily to art-house audiences (students and intelligentsia) in the larger Indian cities, or to film buffs on the international art-house circuit in India and abroad. Like him, Mrinal Sen who has primarily been a political film director and has received international acclaim, is not well known for commercial success, with the lone exception being Bhuvan Shome, which ushered the New Indian Cinema.

Noteworthy Indian Art Cinema women filmmakers from the diaspora include Shashwati Talukdar, Nandini Sikand, Sonali Gulati, Prema Karanth, Nisha Ganatra, Eisha Marjara, Pratibha Parmar, Liggy Pullappally, and Shanti Thakur.

Art cinema was also well-supported in the South Indian state of Kerala. Some outstanding Malayalam movie makers are Adoor Gopalakrishnan, G. Aravindan, T. V. Chandran, Shaji N. Karun, and M. T. Vasudevan Nair. Some of their films include National Film Award-winning Elippathayam, Piravi (which won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival), Vaanaprastham and Nizhalkkuthu (a FIPRESCI-Prize winner).

Starting in the 1970s, Kannada film makers from Karnataka state produced a string of serious, low-budget films. Girish Kasaravalli is one of the few directors from that period who continues to make non-commercial films. He is the only Indian director other than Satyajit Ray and Buddhadev Dasgupta to win the Golden Lotus Awards four times.

From the 1970s onwards Hindi cinema produced a wave of art films. The foremost among the directors who produced such films is Shyam Benegal. Others in this genre include Govind Nihalani (Ardh Satya), Mani Kaul (Uski Roti), Kumar Shahani (Maya Darpan), H. K. Verma (Kadamabari), M.S. Sathyu (Garam Hava).

Many cinematographers, technicians and actors began in art cinema and moved to commercial cinema. The actor Naseeruddin Shah is one notable example; he has never achieved matinee idol status but has turned out a solid body of work as a supporting actor and a star in independent films such as Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding. H.K.Verma, a cinematographer turned to direction with his maiden venture Kadambari starring Shabana Azmi.

Marathi art cinema has been continuously churning out gems even when Marathi mainstream cinema had not suffered a setback. Dr.Jabbar Patel, Bhave-Sukthankar, Amol Palekar are some of the notable names while acclaimed movie titles are Umbartha, Dhyaasparva, Uttarayan, Vaastupurush etc.

Globalization of Indian Cinema

Contact between Indian and Western cinemas was established in the early days of film in India. Dadasaheb Phalke was moved to make Raja Harishchandra after watching the film Life of Christ at P.B. Mehta’s American Indian Cinema. Similarly, some other early film directors were inspired by Western movies.

In India at least 80 percent of films shown in the late 1920s were American, even though twenty-one studios manufactured local films, eight or nine of them in regular production. American serials such as Perils of Pauline and Exploits of Elaine, and the spectacular sets of films like Quo Vadis and Cabira were popular and inspiring during the World War I era. Universal Pictures set up an Indian agency in 1916, which went on to dominate the Indian distribution system. J. F. Madan’s Elphinstone Bioscope Company at first focused on distribution of foreign films and organization of their regular screenings Additionally, J.P. Madan, the prolific producer, employed Western directors for many of his films.

Today, Indian cinema is becoming increasingly westernised. This trend is most strongly apparent in Bollywood. Newer Bollywood movies sometimes include Western actors (such as Rachel Shelley in Lagaan), try to meet Western production standards, conduct filming overseas, adopt some English in their scripts or incorporate some elements of Western-style plots. Bollywood also produces box-office hit like the films Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Kal Ho Naa Ho, both of which deal with the overseas Indian’s experience.

However, the meeting between west and India is a two-way process: Western audiences mostly of Indian origin are becoming more interested in India, as evidenced by the mild success of Lagaan, Bride and Prejudice and Sivaji. As Western audiences for Indian cinema grow, Western producers are funding maverick Indian filmmakers like Gurinder Chadha (Bride and Prejudice) and Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding). Both Chadha and Nair are of Indian origin but do not live in India, and who made their names in Western independent films; they have now been funded to create films that “interpret” the Indian cinematic tradition for Westerners. A similar filmmaker is Deepa Mehta of Canada, whose films include the trilogy Fire, Earth and Water.

Indian cinema is also influencing the English and American musical, Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! (2001) incorporates a Bollywood-style dance sequence; The Guru and The 40-Year-Old Virgin feature Indian-style song-and-dance sequences; A. R. Rahman, a film composer, was recruited for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams; and a musical version of Hum Aapke Hain Koun has played in London’s West End.