CINEMA @ 100 – Celebrating 100 Years of Indian Cinema

CINEMA @ 100 – Celebrating 100 Years of Indian Cinema

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Simply magical!

A man with vision and courage pioneered the revolution. Mumbai, called Bombay then, had no idea of what was about to take place. On April 21, 1913, at the Olympia theatre, Dadasaheb Phalke premiered the first ever full-length film, Raja Harishchandra. A silent film based on the legend of King Harishchandra, it was released for the masses on May 3, 1913.

Ten decades have gone by. Today, the nation is paying a tribute to the date that Phalke had immortalized with the first public screening of his film. India being a nation where more than 1,000 films are made in various languages every year, the medium’s growth deserves a special narration for those who wish to understand what cinema in the country is all about.

Indian cinema encompasses regional films (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Bengali, Gujarati, Bhojpuri, Punjabi etc), but the most visible body of work is generated by the Hindi film industry. Right from romances, underworld flicks, hilarious comedies, well-crafted offbeat films and jaw-dropping action films to social dramas and thrillers: Indian cinema includes just about any genre one can possibly think of.

Everything is fascinating about our movies, and its range, as diverse and charming as it can possibly be.

In honor of history

A documentary is being made as a tribute that celebrates the completion of 100 years of cinema. Four distinguished filmmakers – Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar and Dibakar Banerjee – will be making four 20-minute short films, each of which is their own take on the Hindi film industry. The four documentaries, being made under the banner of Flying Turtle Films, will be clubbed together later and released as an 80-minute documentary titled Bombay Talkies.

According to a leading film website, Akhtar’s documentary titled Sheila Ki Jawaani narrates the story of a young boy and his obsession with the song Sheila Ki Jawaani. The film will unfold the tales of popular item numbers, and how peppy and raunchy songs have become over the century. It features Katrina Kaif and also an in-depth interview with Ranveer Singh. While Anurag’s film hasn’t been titled yet, Priyanka Chopra will be a part of it. Karan Johar and Dibakar haven’t started work on their projects yet.

With Indian cinema completing 100 years of existence, renowned filmmaker Subhash Ghai’s film school Whistling Woods International celebrated it in grand style. The inaugural function took off with the unveiling of a life-size statue of Dadasaheb Phalke by A.R. Rahman to deafening applause. A short film depicted the evolution of Indian cinema, beginning with the black and white era. Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra, the young stars from the movie Ishaqzaade, had an informal chat with the students. When asked about the student initiative ‘Cinema 100’, Chopra said, “It is mind-blowing.” Industry veterans such as Randhir Kapoor, K. Shantaram, Rakesh Mehra and Jackie Shroff were also in attendance.

The first day of this three-day event ended with a special show of 18 minutes of Raja Harishchandra, the only part of the first ever silent Hindi feature film available today. This was followed by the acclaimed Marathi film depicting its making, Harishchandrachi Factory. The three-day extravaganza included, among other things, a music-filled occasion with legends like A.R. Rahman, Gulzar, Saroj Khan and Sukhwinder Singh creating an atmosphere of nostalgia for all music and dance lovers alike.

Adding to the celebration of memories, lyricist Prasoon Joshi has written a centenary anthem which will be rendered at the IIFA Awards in Singapore.

Government’s action plan

From this year onwards, the National Film Awards will be given away on May 3rd every year. At the 59th National Film Awards ceremony in New Delhi, Ambika Soni, Minister for Information and Broadcasting, said, “There are a few interesting projects to commemorate the centenary of Indian cinema. We are planning to open a museum of Indian cinema. The museum will be in Mumbai in the heritage building of Gulshan Mahal. It will be ready before May 2013.”

­­The museum will showcase the history of the industry and its global impact. It will be a storehouse of information, equipment like cameras, editing and recording machines, projectors, costumes, photographs and other material. The properties, dresses, sets, tapes, vintage equipment, posters, copies of important films, prints, promotional leaflets, biographies, soundtracks, trailers, transparencies, film magazines and statistics covering film distribution are also expected to be displayed in a chronological manner.

The Directorate of Film Festivals in India is an organization that initiates and presents the most prestigious film ceremonies in India. This year, the organization is celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema by showcasing this year’s all national-award winning films to all the major cities of India.

The glory of Indian cinema needs to be preserved, and shown to millions of film lovers. That it is being done in such an elaborate manner is great news indeed.


The emergence of films in India took every viewer by surprise. A look at what happened then, and what is happening now….


When it all began

Dadasaheb Phalke was a visionary. After he had conquered obstacles, both social and technical, to make Raja Harishchandra, the result was simply unbelievable. Phalke’s film tells the story of the noble and righteous king, Harishchandra, who first sacrifices his kingdom, followed by his wife and eventually his children to honour his promise to the sage Vishwamitra. Pleased with him for what he does, however, the Gods restore his former glory. The film had an all-male cast because no woman was available to play any of the female leads. The reel was 3,700 feet long, and had a running time of 40 minutes. Because of his film’s massive success, Phalke had to make more prints for rural areas. He came to be known as the ‘Father of Indian cinema’ later.

The original film comprised four reels. The National Film Archives of India only has the first and last reels, although some film historians believe they belong to a 1917 remake which shares the same title.

When Cinema Spoke

Indian film industry waited for almost 18 years before the first talkie got made. Titled Alam Ara and directed by Ardeshir Irani, the film debuted at the Majestic Cinema in Mumbai (then Bombay) on 14th March, 1931. It became so popular that it is said that the police had to be summoned to control the crowds.

The Rainbow Effect

Kisan Kanya was a 1937 Hindi feature film directed by Moti B. Gidvani and produced by Ardeshir Irani. It was India’s first indigenously made film in color. However, V. Shantaram had produced a Marathi filmSairandhri (1933) earlier which had scenes in color. However, the film was processed and printed in Germany. Kisan Kanya was, therefore, India’s first indigenously made color film.

Ray of Glory

Indian film industry was prolific in terms of the number of films being made every year. But the man who showed the power of Indian cinema to the world was the celebrated Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Ray’s epic Pather Panchali (1955) was awarded for being the ‘Best Human Document’ at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, establishing him as a major international filmmaker. Till today, it is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made.

New Dimension

Chhota Chetan is a 1998 Hindi movie directed by Jijo Punnoose. It was dubbed from the 1984 Malayalam movie, My Dear Kuttichathan — which was India’s first 3-D film Chota Chetan was the first feature film to introduce DTS for a stereoscopic 3-D feature film.

Sci-fi High

Kaadu (The Jungle), a Tamil-American co-production, was the first sci-fi film in India. The film created an example that many would follow later.


Bollywood may be the most visible filmmaking industry in India. But Indian cinema has a lot to offer beyond that. In fact, artistically brilliant work characterizes many regional filmmaking industries



Bengali cinema has arguably produced the maximum number of aesthetically exquisite films among the different film industries in India. Makers like Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak have given us creations like the Apu Trilogy and Meghe Dhaka Tara whose acclaim has only enhanced as years have gone by. Many contemporary filmmakers like Aparna Sen, Rituparno Ghosh and Goutam Ghose have made films whose impact has been felt beyond Indian shores.


The Telugu film industry accounts for one per cent of the Gross Domestic Product of Andhra Pradesh. In fact, Andhra Pradesh has the highest number of movie theaters in the country. It produces the maximum number of movies in the country per annum. It has produced films such as Sagara Sangamam, Maro Charithra, a huge hit later remade in Hindi as Ek Duje Ke Liye, Rudraveena and Pokiri among many others.


Known for its socially oriented dramas and elaborate musicals, this industry has spawned titans like Sivaji Ganesan, M.G. Ramachandran, and of course, Rajanikanth. The presence of talents like Ilaiyaraja, Kamal Hasan, Mani Ratnam, A.R.Rahman and Prabhudeva has contributed immensely to take Tamil cinema to staggering heights. Movies like Roja, Kandukondain Kandukondain, and in recent times Sivaji and Dasavataram, have ensured that the industry’s flag flies high. And, the future looks just as bright.


Having seen a massive downslide in the 1980s in the face of stiff competition from the more glamorous Bollywood, Marathi cinema returned with a vengeance in 2004 with the Oscar-nominated Shwaas. Following that, there has been no looking back with landmark films like Natrang and Harishchandrachi Factory (the second Marathi film to be sent to the Oscars), apart from other hugely acclaimed ones like Vihir, Jogwa and many others. The emergence of talented directors like Umesh Kulkarni and Satish Rajwade has made a huge difference to the industry which seems poised for tremendous growth.


An upsurge in the 1970s with new-age directors like Adoor Gopalakrishnan (Swayamvaram and Kathapurushan) took Malayalam cinema beyond the confines of Kerala. This genre saw its best era from 1980 to 1990 with the production of masterpieces like Piravi and His Highness Abdullah among others. The industry kept on churning out good humorous and social movies till it received a setback from the more popular Tamil industry. However, in 2005, it saw a revival when directors like Roshan Andrews and Lal Jose made films like Classmates and Notebook among others. Presently, experimental movies and multi-starrers rule the roost.


What makes Indian cinema different from films anywhere else in the world? Here are some answers


Indian films are made to entertain a wide audience, and therefore, offer a lot of variety. They can easily run for three hours, since they are packaged with romance, drama, comedy, fighting, songs and dance.

Right moves and choreographers

madhuri-dixit-dancing-to-pakeezah-number-thade-rahiyoContrary to Western musicals where song and dance scenes are integrated with the story, their counterparts in Indian films may have no connect with the plot whatsoever. Think of this scene. Just a moment ago, two lovers were standing on the stairs of a temple. Suddenly, they find themselves in the park of a palace or on a hill with about 30 people who sing and dance along with them. At times, the lyrics of these songs provide with an opportunity to declare their love for each other or to comment on the happenings in the film so far.

A love song can take place when the hero and the heroine get close to each other for the first time – but this can also be a dream sequence where one of the two imagines a meeting. Weddings in the movies give an opportunity for colorful dance numbers with many people in them. Religious songs can have dances as well. Then there are ‘item songs.’ These are usually song and dance scenes to enhance the entertainment value. In earlier days, item numbers were performed by vamps or minor characters in general, thereby offering an opportunity to show some skin. But nowadays, even the ‘good girls’ (read heroines) can perform an item number.

India produces a huge number of movies every year. So, choreographers work on several films at a time. Ace choreographer Saroj Khan points out that, while the Hindi film industry had barely 60 choreographers at one time, the number has risen to 300 today. When the choreographers are on the sets, they have complete control over the dance sequences. The director only explains his idea of the song and how it will work in the film. The choreographer takes over thereafter.

Today, a number of choreographers are continuing this tradition. Some who come to mind are Shiamak Davar, Saroj Khan, Ahmed Khan, Raju Khan, Vaibhavi Merchant, Remo and Farah Khan.

Music, poetry and their creators

Music has always been an integral part of Indian cinema. Poetry as a form of art originated centuries before cinema did, but it has also made a significant contribution to the cinema of our land. Renowned filmmaker Subhash Ghai observes, “The songwriter is the one who actually gives a character to the actor”. Well-known lyricist Gulzar, however, believes that every director wants only one thing: that is, his songs should be hit and should be sung by everybody. But, he also adds that the style of the artist gets reflected in his work.

The film industry has seen several great music directors in the past. Among them are S.D. Burman, C. Ramchandra, Kalyanji-Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Naushad, Madan Mohan and Shankar Jaikishan who have created immortal music with the combination of Indian classical music and folk music which are treasured even today.

Music in Indian cinema will never go out of fashion. When great songs by the likes of AR Rahman get created today, or when Gulzar and Javed Akhtar pen memorable lines, it becomes obvious that the spirit of Indian cinema is well and truly alive.


Big budget masala movies used to characterize Bollywood. But the scenario is changing for the better


Lavish sets. Highly paid superstars. Exotic locations. Bollywood’s hit factory packaged several such elements in the movies of yesteryear. Such films continue to exist, and do remarkably well too. Alongside such films, however, are small budget films which seem to be making a bigger impact with each passing day.

Siddharth Roy Kapoor, CEO, UTV Motion Pictures, observes, “The success of small budget films is indicative of the fact that audiences today are hungry for entertainment as well as quality content. You give it to them in an interesting manner, and they are happy to come and see it even if the film does not have big stars.”

Small and medium budget movies are proving to be big draws, raking in anything between 16 crore and 40 crore. While the net collection of Kiran Rao’s Rs five-crore directorial debut Dhobi Ghaat was Rs 16 crore, the romantic comedy Tanu Weds Manu that was made for Rs 16 crore raked in Rs 40 crore. Rajkumar Gupta’s adaptation of a real-life story titled No One Killed Jessica was able to gross Rs 28 crore at the ticket window. The total investment in the film was said to be Rs nine crore.

Today, content is the undisputed king in Bollywood. A typically commercial venture can be guilty of overlooking the fact that it needs a good script and good direction. When a producer manages to get a big star, he might believe that his film is made. That is a big mistake. For, in today’s times, audiences make unusual choices often. And most of them are based on the quality of the story and direction.

Last year, quite a few interesting small budget films were able rake in moolah at the box office. These included Shor in the City, Chalo Dilli and I AM.


Promising director Zoya Akhtar shares her views on the growth of the film industry

zoya akhtar
Her brother Farhan Akhtar got his first hit with Dil Chahta Hai, his first film. She got it with her second. We’re talking about the very talented Zoya Akhtar, who made her presence felt with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara last year.

Speaking with likable frankness, Zoya feels that her brother, Farhan got lucky when he started out. “You may get lucky like him,” she said, adding, “He was just 25 when he wanted to make Dil Chahta Hai which reflected his life. He met someone like Aamir Khan who loved the idea. So it just happened.”

Zoya’s first film Luck By Chance was rejected by many leading actors. Finally, she had to settle for her brother Farhan and Konkona Sen Sharma. Even though it was critically acclaimed, the film didn’t do well at the box-office. “The actors I wanted in Luck By Chance didn’t want to do the film. The male actors thought it was a girl’s story. And, after one’s choice of three or four actors, one’s doesn’t want to work with anyone else because they don’t suit the part,” said the filmmaker.

When asked about her signature style in films, Zoya confessed, “I have not developed a style yet. I am just two films old. But friendship is an integral part of my films because of the kind of friends I have had. When you grow up and are from a broken home, your friends tend to become really big in your life. Both Farhan and I have a very tight group of friends, and have a huge regard for those relationships.”

The filmmaker is very upbeat about the future of Indian cinema. She says, “I’m not an astrologer. So I don’t know how accurate I would be. Yes, the world is waking up to Indian cinema, but that is happening in a freakish, over-the-top way. We have a very different way of telling stories. Our audiences go to watch films for very different reasons. We can’t forget that, and we shouldn’t forget that. But, as the market opens further, we will be able to grab a certain amount of distribution in the West and other countries. This will enable the filmmakers to tell their stories in a different form. Right now, it is very difficult for me to have no songs since they are a marketing tool. Till we don’t crack the distribution network, therefore, it will be very difficult.”

She adds on an optimistic note, “The world is getting global and smaller. So, I think it will happen very soon. That is very exciting, and I hope I’m there when it happens. It’ll be nice to tell typically Indian stories in a manner which it is palatable to other people. At the rate at which we’re growing and spreading everywhere, I don’t think the world has an option.” We agree.


The film industry is re-presenting old black and white films in color, thus adding a new charm to classics.

Mugle azam color

When a classic black and white film is produced in color all over again, it acquires a new feel. Whistling Woods International’s celebration of 100 years of Indian Cinema ‘Cinema 100’ played host to Ketan Anand, son of the legendary director Chetan Anand, who was there to show the marvelous effect of colours on his father’s film Haqueeqat.

Haqueeqat Color and black and white

Haqueeqat is a classic, and one of the first war movies of Indian cinema. It starred actors like Dharmendra, Balraj Sahni, Priya Rajvansh, Sanjay Khan and Vijay Anand. In the film, Chetan Anand has shown the lives of a small group of soldiers during the Sino-Indian war of 1962. It’s an extremely touching story about how they died fighting. When asked about his father’s style of filmmaking, Ketan Anand said, “Real incidents influenced his cinema a lot.” It took Ketan Anand three long years to finish the project. He said, “Basically, it is a tedious process. It is literally a paint job.” When the movie was shown, it was as if it was always shot in color.

The process of colorization is evolving with time. Haqueeqat has joined the small list of black and white films that have been colorized in recent years. Along with color, another remarkable addition to this film is the background score. It now has Dolby Digital sound.

Hum Dono - Dev Anand

The costs involved in creating the film with a new look were huge, the process of colorization being new to India. However, the making of such a masterpiece shows how much progress technology has made, and how Indians are adapting to the change.

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Somanjana Chatterjee

Somanjan Chatterjee is San Francisco based consulting editor