Born in the 80’s cinema was initially watching action or romance capers in single screen cinema’s, or watching the Saturday, Sunday feature film telecasts along with a segment called “Panorama” which promoted the regional cinema. But slowly and steadily I felt that movies were beyond entertainment. They were an integral part and parcel of our lives. Masses identified with them; they actually used to form a major part of the usual past times banter. People who used to be domestically employed with us used to constantly quote from films like ‘Sholay”, discuss scenes from “Roti Kapda aur Makaan” and other action and high voltage drama films. The impression of films was undeniably deep rooted. This was one heady dope which made people happy and made their lives tolerable. It acted as a panacea for the masses.
It’s actually amazing that India had its tryst with its own brand of films almost a century ago. 1913 was a landmark year for India. It was the year when India made its foray into cinema production. It was primarily due to the visionary and his relentless efforts, Shri Dadasaheb Phalke (Largely considered the father of Indian Cinema) that Indian film industry got its first taste with the celluloid. But, the romance and courtship with the global audiences still continues. It is now an industry which has spawned legions of fans, produced cult classics, and has given us screen gods and god makers (geniuses who made their mark) even before cricket. Films have mesmerized us with trips to exotic locales for a nominal fee and made thousands dreams come alive on the silver-screen. It’s a place a wonderland where the common man becomes special. Thus, inspiring many commoners to embark upon a journey to the city of dreams and later rule in the hearts and the box office. Beyond the obvious, films also mirrored the social fabric and proved to be means for the masses to democratize entertainment.
I being a big film buff really can’t imagine a life without cinema. Cinema is a way of life. It’s not just an Industry, but a place where dream merchants weave their wondrous spread to make the audiences life better atleast for the time they spend in the theatres, making them for while away their worries. This piece of work is an ode and tribute to that cinema from me. Its something which empowers me to dream. It manages to secure a curve which plays on my lips whenever I experience the ecstasy on screen. It inspires me to visualize the world in a different way, to blur the lines between reality and the surreal. But, most importantly to learn and romance life.
The Beginning: Silent Era
Indian film industry started off in 1912, as a fledgling one, thanks to the laudable efforts of a man named Dada Saheb Phalke. Although the first film made in India was “Shree Pundalik” which remains an unknown fact, but since the film had a crew which was mostly British is not really considered an Indian film. Phalke saab’s impressive repertoire consisted (95 full length silent films and 20 short films). He was passionate about his films. Knowing the public sentiments well, Phalke focused mostly on historical s and mythologies. His films were based historic icons like Harsha, Ashoka and the Mughal’s which were easily comprehensible and required almost zero narration. But It was Phalke’s contemporary Raghupati Venkaiah Naidu the master filmmaker of the Silent Era who made some interesting contributions during this era. Since this was the silent era the 1913’s, conservative Indian mentality contributed much to the making of films as well. So much so that even the female characters were largely portrayed by men in wigs.
This era however had its share of few more peculiarities and roadblocks. A few interesting films like “Pati Bhakti 1922′ starring Lalita Pawar, saw her (Ahem) kissing on screen, this was however considered a taboo in movies till the late 90′s and had stiff opposition from the censors. Controversies were created by films like “Bhakt Vidur (1921)” which had rows with the censors for depicting anti british sentiments and not vulgarity or violence.
This era saw stars like Hiralal Sen, Baburao Painter and R. Nataraja Murlidhar. Though the initial response to the films was from the affluent class, subsequent flux of the masses was also seen towards the later part of the era. The pricing and the content of films both started to favor towards the masses. Commercial cinema was also showcasing the life and the culture of the nation. This was also a period, where other newer genres were being experimented with. Internationally also audiences were getting aware of the Indian cinema. The silent era which lasted upto 1931 had laid the foundation for the talkies, this is when Adeshri Irani (the father of the Talkies era) changed the sceanrio with his film”Alam Ara”.Which was the first talkies.
The era of talkies had begun. But it was a tough phase of the filmmakers as there was a dearth of quality topics and script and screenplay writers to begin with. The actors in addition to looking good had to be adept at singing and had to be blessed with a golden voice. Filmamkers like H.M Reddy with Telugu films like “Bhakt Prahalad” and “Kalidas” proved to be huge crowd pullers. This era saw both Adeshri and Reddy combine to form a formidable partnership in the era. Irani was also the first make a colour film (Kisen Kanya 1937) . But this was not a popular format of film making till the 60′s. Here on the films made by Wadia bros carved a niche for themselves. With Robinhoodesque capers like “Hunter Waali” etc making a huge impact with the oppressed masses. The Wadia’s actually were attempting to make films for the cerebral audiences. But their films found a huge mass response from the lower oppressed strata. The Wadia’s made films with actions and stunts, which were never seen before on the Indian screen. Films like “Hunter Waali” brought the Australian born actress and Stunt woman Marie Ann Evans aka Nadia and post the stupendous success of the film “Fearless Nadia”. This also was another first where the films prime protagonist was a woman.
The late 30′s saw the likes of Devika rani and Ashok Kumar the first legitimate superstars emerge and give romance a new definition. The film “Achoot Kanya” proved to be an iconoclastic film defying the rules of a highly caste based cinema. It is widely regarded as a master piece of the non-independent India. The irony being Devika Rani being the was the real star then as compared to our Dada Moni, who would later become one of the iconic legends of Indian cinema in years to come. Other notable actors were Sohanlal, K.N Singh and K.L Saigal.
Slowly but steadily the Indian love affair with music had begun. With better progress in the technology of sound, music and songs became the latest rage of the late 30’s. Notable musicals in this era were “Indra Sabha” and “Devi Devyani” which were widely accepted by the audiences. By 1935 most metros like Madras, Mumbai and Kolkata had established studios and films wereaccepted as a craft and an established medium of work.With the success of films like “Devdas” and others established the likes of K.L Saigal, Suraiah, Shamshad Begum as the new icons of cinema. Saigal was one of the most sought after actors of this era. His voice was like honeydrop to flies. He redefined the films with his voice and became an undisputed artistes with a unique identity for ages to come. Saigal was truely a persona which made a huge impact, which continues till date with the 2011 film “Delhi Belly” giving him a tribute with a song called “Saigal Blues”.
But in the 40’s and specially the later part (partition related). Bombay Talkies and Prabhat Studios were the major studios of the era. Prithviraj Kapoor the founder and patriarch of the Kapoor family also made rapid strides in this period. Also having the credit of acting in the first talkies “Alam Ara”he later made his own mark by establishing his theater troupe. His notable films were “Vidyapati” and “Sikandar” 1941, where Kapoor portrayed the role of Alexander with rare finesse. His look in the Alexander-sue costume was almost inimitable. Only to be equalled decades later by “Dharmendra”. But with the audiences asking for more and with newer international topics gaining ground the Indian cinema stepped into the 40’s. This era however as per the viewer would have been a tad bland. No real juicy gossips, no competition, no awards. Obviously being at a nacent stage these things came up gradually. But what makes showbiz really intresting are these aspects. But this era laid the foundation for an Industry which was here to stay and to captivate audiences for a long long time.
The next era was to be one of the best and golden era’s of Indian Cinema. Where many benchmarks were set by actors, filmmakers and technicians. The audiences (both domestic and overseas) experienced path-breaking cinema (Indian) at its best. An era which lasted two decades and enthralled spectators and ‘etched n earned ‘ and made that lasting impression with many a masterpieces in world cinema. But this era being a special one deserving a special mention would be further discussed in part two of this three part series. So keep watching the space….