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India's Bollywood celebrates 100th birthday

Milestone for India's vibrant film-industry is marked with a commemorative short film titled "Bombay Talkies".

Last Modified: 28 Apr 2013 07:19
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The 1970s saw a growing commercialism with the rise of the "masala" movie, a family entertainer mix [AP]

India's brash, song-and-dance-laden Bollywood film industry celebrates its 100th birthday, which began in 1913 with the first all-Indian feature film "Raja (King) Harishchandra", a silent, black-and-white story of a virtuous king from Hindu mythology.

The milestone is marked later this week with the release of "Bombay Talkies", made up of short commemorative films by four leading directors, while India will be honoured as "guest country" at next month's Cannes festival.

Exhibitions in the capital New Delhi are showcasing a century of cinema, including onscreen kissing scenes that originally fell foul of the censors.

India produced almost 1,500 movies last year and the industry is expected to grow from $2 billion to $3.6 billion in the next five years, according to consultancy KPMG.

Time for reflection

The industry has evolved from its early screen adaptations of Hindu mythology to the garish romantic escapism of modern blockbusters.

But old-timers complain that it has become superficial, neglecting to deal with pressing social concerns of the age.

"There's a dumbing down that has taken place in the content. I think we are suffering from what is called the narrative crisis," said veteran director and producer Mahesh Bhatt.

He contrasts modern filmmakers with Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, known as the "father of Indian cinema", who brought the first all-Indian feature film to the silver screen in Bombay (now Mumbai) on May 3, 1913.

For many the "golden age" of cinema was the 1950s, when movie greats emerged such as Satyajit Ray, India's most renowned filmmaker, who hailed from the alternative film hub of West Bengal.

It was the era of newly independent India, searching for an identity and producing films such as Mehboob Khan's 1957 hit "Mother India", which combined social concerns with popular appeal.

The 1970s and 80s saw a growing commercialism with the rise of the "masala" movie -- a family entertainer that typically mixed up romance and action, songs and melodrama, a comedy touch and a happy ending.

Parallel Cinema continued to focus on realism, with films such as Mahesh Bhatt's "Arth" (Meaning) in 1982, a gritty tale of an extramarital affair that presented strong female characters.

It was a path-breaker in a decade described as the "dark ages" of Hindi cinema, which struggled with the advent of colour television, rampant piracy and dependence on the Mumbai underworld for funding.

Things improved after India's economy opened up in the early 1990s, and again a decade later when filmmaking won formal "industry" status. Both steps encouraged foreign firms, such as Fox and Disney, to invest in Bollywood.

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Source:
AFP
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