The name is a portmanteau of Bombay (the former name for Mumbai) and Hollywood, the center of the American film industry. However, unlike Hollywood, Bollywood does not exist as a real physical place. Though some deplore the name, arguing that it makes the industry look like a poor cousin to Hollywood, it seems likely to persist and now has its own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Bollywood is commonly referred to as Hindi cinema, even though "Hindustani", understood as the colloquial base common to both Hindi and Urdu, might be more accurate. There has been a growing presence of Indian English in dialogue and songs as well. It is not uncommon to see films that feature dialogue with English words and phrases, even whole sentences. There is a growing number of films made entirely in English.
Raja Harishchandra (1913) was the first silent feature film made in India. It was made by Dadasaheb Phalke. By the 1930s, the industry was producing over 200 films per annum. The first Indian sound film, Ardeshir Irani's Alam Ara (1931), was a super hit. There was clearly a huge market for talkies and musicals; Bollywood and all the regional film industries quickly switched to sound filming.
The 1930s and 1940s were tumultuous times: India was buffeted by the Great Depression, World War II, the Indian independence movement, and the violence of the Partition. Most Bollywood films were unabashedly escapist, but there were also a number of filmmakers who tackled tough social issues, or used the struggle for Indian independence as a backdrop for their plots.
In the late 1950s, Bollywood released its first color films; however, the majority of films continued to be black-and-white until the mid-1960s. At this time, lavish romantic musicals and melodramas were the staple fare at the cinema. Successful actors included Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor and actresses like Nargis, Meena Kumari, Nutan and Madhubala. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, romance movies and action films starred actors like Rajesh Khanna and Dharmendra. In the mid-1970s, romantic confections made way for gritty, violent films about gangsters and bandits. Amitabh Bachchan, the star known for his "angry young man" roles, rode the crest of this trend with actors like Mithun Chakraborty and Anil Kapoor, which lasted into the early 1990s. Actresses from this era included Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha.
In the mid-1990s, the pendulum swung back towards family-centric romantic musicals with the success of such films as Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) making stars out of a new generation of actors (such as Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan) and actresses (such as Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit and Kajol). In that point of time, action and comedy films were also successful, with actors like Govinda and Akshay Kumar and actresses such as Raveena Tandon and Karisma Kapoor appearing in films of this genre. Furthermore, this decade marked the entry of new performers in art and independent films, some of which succeeded commercially. These films featured actors like Nana Patekar, Manisha Koirala, Tabu and Urmila Matondkar, whose performances were usually acclaimed by critics.
The 2000s saw a growth in Bollywood's popularity in the world. This led the nation's filmmaking to new heights in terms of quality, cinematography and innovative story lines as well as technical advances such as special effects, animation etc. Some of the largest production houses, among them Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions were the producers of new modern films. The opening up of the overseas market, more Bollywood releases abroad and the explosion of multiplexes in big cities, led to wider box office successes in India and abroad, including Devdas, Koi... Mil Gaya, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Veer-Zaara and Dhoom 2, delivering a new generation of popular actors (Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan) and actresses (Aishwarya Rai, Preity Zinta and Rani Mukerji), and keeping the popularity of actors of the previous decade.
The Indian film industry has preferred films that appeal to all segments of the audience (see the discussion in Ganti, 2004, cited in references), and has resisted making films that target narrow audiences. It was believed that aiming for a broad spectrum would maximise box office receipts. However, filmmakers may be moving towards accepting some box-office segmentation, between films that appeal to rural Indians, and films that appeal to urban and overseas audiences.
Indian audiences expect full value for their money, with a good entertainer generally referred to as paisa vasool, (literally, "money's worth"). Songs and dances, love triangles, comedy and dare-devil thrills are all mixed up in a three-hour-long extravaganza with an intermission. Such movies are called masala films, after the Hindi word for a spice mixture. Like masalas, these movies are a mixture of many things such as action, comedy, romance etc. Most films have heroes who are able to fight off villains all by themselves.
Bollywood plots have tended to be melodramatic. They frequently employ formulaic ingredients such as star-crossed lovers and angry parents, love triangles, family ties, sacrifice, corrupt politicians, kidnappers, conniving villains, courtesans with hearts of gold, long-lost relatives and siblings separated by fate, dramatic reversals of fortune, and convenient coincidences.
There have always been Indian films with more artistic aims and more sophisticated stories, both inside and outside the Bollywood tradition (see Art cinema in India). They often lost out at the box office to movies with more mass appeal. Bollywood conventions are changing, however. A large Indian diaspora in English speaking countries, and increased Western influence at home, have nudged Bollywood films closer to Hollywood models. Film kisses are no longer taboo. Plots now tend to feature Westernised urbanites dating and dancing in clubs rather than arranged marriages.
Film critic Lata Khubchandani writes,"..our earliest films...had liberal doses of sex and kissing scenes in them. Strangely, it was after Independence the censor board came into being and so did all the strictures.
Stardom in the entertainment industry is very fickle, and Bollywood is no exception. The popularity of the stars can rise and fall rapidly. Directors compete to hire the most popular stars of the day, who are believed to guarantee the success of a movie (though this belief is not always supported by box-office results). Hence many stars make the most of their fame, once they become popular, by making several movies simultaneously.
Only a very few non-Indian actors are able to make a mark in Bollywood, though many have tried from time to time. There have been some exceptions, one recent example is the hit film Rang De Basanti, where the lead actress is Alice Patten, an Englishwoman. Kisna, Lagaan, and The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey also featured foreign actors.
Bollywood can be very clannish, and the relatives of film-industry insiders have an edge in getting coveted roles in films and/or being part of a film's crew. However, industry connections are no guarantee of a long career: competition is fierce and if film industry scions do not succeed at the box office, their careers will falter. Some of the biggest stars, such as Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, and Shahrukh Khan have succeeded despite total lack of show business connections. For film clans, see List of Bollywood film clans.
The ubiquity of ADR in Bollywood cinema became prevalent in the early 1960s with the arrival of the Arriflex 3 camera, which required a blimp (cover) in order to shield the sound of the camera, for which it was notorious, from on-location filming. Commercial Indian filmmakers, known for their speed, never bothered to blimp the camera, and its excessive noise required that everything had to be recreated in the studio. Eventually, this became the standard for Indian films.
The trend was bucked in 2001, after a 30-year hiatus of synchronized sound, with the film Lagaan, in which producer-star Aamir Khan insisted that the sound be done on location. This opened up a heated debate on the use and economic feasibility of on-location sound, and several Bollywood films have employed on-location sound since then.
Bollywood film music is called filmi music (from Hindi, meaning "of films").
Songs from Bollywood movies are generally pre-recorded by professional playback singers, with the actors then lip synching the words to the song on-screen, often while dancing. While most actors, especially today, are excellent dancers, few are also singers. One notable exception was Kishore Kumar, who starred in several major films in the 1950s while also having a stellar career as a playback singer. K. L. Saigal, Suraiyya, and Noor Jehan were also known as both singers and actors. Some actors in the last thirty years have sung one or more songs themselves; for a list, see Singing actors and actresses in Indian cinema.
Playback singers are prominently featured in the opening credits and have their own fans who will go to an otherwise lackluster movie just to hear their favourites. Going by the quality as well as the quantity of the songs they rendered, most notable singers of Bollywood are Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum and Alka Yagnik among female playback singers; and K. L. Saigal, Talat Mahmood, Mukesh, Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar, Kishore Kumar, Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan and Sonu Nigam among male playback singers. Mohammed Rafi is often considered arguably the finest of the singers that have lent their voice to Bollywood songs, followed by Lata Mangeshkar, who, through the course of a career spanning over six decades, has recorded thousands of songs for Indian movies. The composers of film music, known as music directors, are also well-known. Their songs can make or break a film and usually do. Remixing of film songs with modern beats and rhythms is a common occurrence today, and producers may even release remixed versions of some of their films' songs along with the films' regular soundtrack albums.
The dancing in Bollywood films, especially older ones, is primarily modelled on Indian dance: classical dance styles, dances of historic northern Indian courtesans (tawaif), or folk dances. In modern films, Indian dance elements often blend with Western dance styles (as seen on MTV or in Broadway musicals), though it is not unusual to see Western pop and pure classical dance numbers side by side in the same film. The hero or heroine will often perform with a troupe of supporting dancers. Many song-and-dance routines in Indian films feature unrealistically instantaneous shifts of location and/or changes of costume between verses of a song. If the hero and heroine dance and sing a pas-de-deux (a dance and ballet term, meaning "dance of two"), it is often staged in beautiful natural surroundings or architecturally grand settings. This staging is referred to as a "picturisation".
Songs typically comment on the action taking place in the movie, in several ways. Sometimes, a song is worked into the plot, so that a character has a reason to sing; other times, a song is an externalisation of a character's thoughts, or presages an event that has not occurred yet in the plot of the movie. In this case, the event is almost always two characters falling in love.
Bollywood films have always used what are now called "item numbers". A physically attractive female character (the "item girl"), often completely unrelated to the main cast and plot of the film, performs a catchy song and dance number in the film. In older films, the "item number" may be performed by a courtesan (tawaif) dancing for a rich client or as part of a cabaret show. The dancer Helen was famous for her cabaret numbers. In modern films, item numbers may be inserted as discotheque sequences, dancing at celebrations, or as stage shows.
For the last few decades Bollywood producers have been releasing the film's soundtrack, as tapes or CDs, before the main movie release, hoping that the music will pull audiences into the cinema later. Often the soundtrack is more popular than the movie. In the last few years some producers have also been releasing music videos, usually featuring a song from the film. However, some promotional videos feature a song which is not included in the movie.
Dialogues are usually written in an unadorned Hindi or Hindustani that would be understood by the largest possible audience. Some movies, however, have used regional dialects to evoke a village setting, or old-fashioned courtly Urdu in Mughal era historical films. Contemporary mainstream movies also make great use of English. In fact, many movie scripts are first written in English, and then translated into Hindi. Characters may shift from one language to the other to express a certain atmosphere (for example, English in a business setting and Hindi in an informal one).
Cinematic language, whether in dialogues or lyrics, is often melodramatic and invokes God, family, mother, duty, and self-sacrifice liberally.
Music directors often prefer working with certain lyricists, to the point that the lyricist and composer are seen as a team. This phenomenon is not unlike the pairings of American composers and songwriters that created old-time Broadway musicals (e.g., Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, or Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe). Song lyrics are usually about love. Bollywood song lyrics, especially in the old movies, frequently use Arabo-Persic Urdu vocabulary. Another source for love lyrics is the long Hindu tradition of poetry about the mythological amours of Krishna, Radha, and the gopis. Many lyrics compare the singer to a devotee and the object of his or her passion to Krishna or Radha.
Sequences shot overseas have proved a real box office draw, so Mumbai film crews are increasingly filming in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, continental Europe and elsewhere. Nowadays, Indian producers are winning more and more funding for big-budget films shot within India as well, such as Lagaan, Devdas and other recent films.
Funding for Bollywood films often comes from private distributors and a few large studios. Indian banks and financial institutions were forbidden from lending money to movie studios. However, this ban has now been lifted. As finances are not regulated, some funding also comes from illegitimate sources, such as the Mumbai underworld. The Mumbai underworld has been known to be involved in the production of several films, and are notorious for their patronisation of several prominent film personalities; On occasion, they have been known to use money and muscle power to get their way in cinematic deals. In January, 2000, Mumbai mafia hitmen shot Rakesh Roshan, a film director and father of star Hrithik Roshan. In 2001, the Central Bureau of Investigation seized all prints of the movie Chori Chori Chupke Chupke after the movie was found to be funded by members of the Mumbai underworld.
Another problem facing Bollywood is widespread copyright infringement of its films. Often, bootleg DVD copies of movies are available before the prints are officially released in cinemas. Manufacturing of bootleg DVD, VCD, and VHS copies of the latest movie titles is a well established 'small scale industry' in parts of South Asia and South East Asia. Besides catering to the homegrown market, demand for these copies is large amongst some sections of the Indian diaspora, too. (In fact, bootleg copies are the only way people in Pakistan can watch Bollywood movies, since the Government of Pakistan has banned their sale, distribution and telecast). Films are frequently broadcast without compensation by countless small cable TV companies in India and other parts of South Asia. Small convenience stores run by members of the Indian diaspora in the U.S. and the UK regularly stock tapes and DVDs of dubious provenance, while consumer copying adds to the problem. The availability of illegal copies of movies on the Internet also contributes to the piracy problem.
Satellite TV, television and imported foreign films are making huge inroads into the domestic Indian entertainment market. In the past, most Bollywood films could make money; now fewer tend to do so. However, most Bollywood producers make money, recouping their investments from many sources of revenue, including selling ancillary rights. There are also increasing returns from theatres in Western countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, where Bollywood is slowly getting noticed. As more Indians migrate to these countries, they form a growing market for upscale Indian films.
For an interesting comparison of Hollywood and Bollywood financial figures, see chart It shows tickets sold in 2002 and total revenue estimates. Bollywood sold 3.6 billion tickets and had total revenues (theatre tickets, DVDs, television etc.) of US$1.3 billion, whereas Hollywood films sold 2.6 billion tickets and generated total revenues (again from all formats) of US$51 billion.
Releasing the film music, or music videos, before the actual release of the film can also be considered a form of advertising. A popular tune is believed to help pull audiences into the theaters.
Bollywood publicists have begun to use the Internet as a venue for advertising. Most of the better-funded film releases now have their own websites, where browsers can view trailers, stills, and information about the story, cast, and crew.
Bollywood is also used to advertise other products. Product placement, as used in Hollywood, is widely practiced in Bollywood.
Bollywood movie stars appear in print and television advertisements for other products, such as watches or soap (see Celebrity endorsement). Advertisers say that a star endorsement boosts sales.
As the Filmfare, the National Film Awards were introduced in 1954. Since 1973, the Indian government has sponsored the National Film Awards, awarded by the government run Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF). The DFF screens not only Bollywood films, but films from all the other regional movie industries and independent/art films. These awards are handed out at an annual ceremony presided over by the President of India. Under this system, in contrast to the National Film Awards, which are decided by a panel appointed by Indian Government, the Filmfare Awards are voted for by both the public and a committee of experts.
Additional ceremonies held within India are:
Ceremonies held overseas are:
Most of these award ceremonies are lavishly staged spectacles, featuring singing, dancing, and lots of stars and starlets.
Bollywood movies are popular in Afghanistan due to the country's close proximity with the Indian subcontinent and certain cultural perspectives present in the movies. Several Bollywood actors have their roots connected to Afghanistan. A number of Bollywood movies were filmed inside Afghanistan while some dealt with the country, including Dharmatma, Kabul Express, Khuda Gawah and Escape From Taliban.
Recently Bollywood has progressed in Israel. Special channels dedicated to Indian films have been displayed on cable. Indian films have been popular in a few Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf countries. Imported Indian films are usually subtitled in Arabic upon their release. Other Asian countries where Bollywood films are watched include Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and post-Soviet states. In the past, Bollywood films were also watched in China and the Soviet Union.
The popularity of Bollywood in the CIS dates back to the Soviet days when the films from Hollywood and other Western countries were banned in the Soviet Union. As there was no means of other cheap entertainment, the films from Bollywood provided the Soviets a cheap source of entertainment as they were supposed to be non-controversial and non-political. In addition, the Soviet Union was recovering from the onslaught of the Second World War. The films from India, which were also recovering from the disaster of partition and the struggle for freedom from colonial rule, were found to be a good source of providing hope with entertainment to the struggling masses. The aspirations and needs of the people of both countries matched to a great extent. These films were dubbed in Russian and shown in theatres throughout the Soviet Union. The films from Bollywood also strengthened family values, which was a big factor for their popularity with the government authorities in the Soviet Union.
After the collapse of the Soviet film distribution system, Hollywood occupied the void created in the Russian film market. This made things difficult for Bollywood as it was losing market share to Hollywood. However, Russian newspapers report that there is a renewed interest in Bollywood among young Russians.
Bollywood films are also performing well in the United Kingdom, where they frequently enter the UK top ten. Many films, such as Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham have been set in London. The UK is also one of the most filmed locations for Bollywood films, however there is no official report claiming this as there are many Indian films shot in the UK, yet no mention of the UK itself in the film. Bollywood is also appreciated in Germany as well as France. Various Bollywood movies are dubbed in German and shown on the German television channel RTL II on a regular basis.
Bollywood is not as popular in South American countries, however it has its recognition in Caribbean nations with large Indian diasporas, such as Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago — all of which have people of Indian descent as a majority of their population. Bollywood culture and dance has also been recognised in Peru. In 2006, Dhoom 2 became the first Bollywood film to be shot in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Australia is one of the countries where there is a large South Asian Diaspora. Bollywood is popular amongst non-Asians in the country as well. Since 1997 the country has provided a backdrop for an increasing number of Bollywood films. Indian filmmakers have been attracted to Australia's diverse locations and landscapes, and initially used it as the setting for song-and-dance sequences, which demonstrated the contrast between the values. However, nowadays, Australian locations are becoming more important to the plot of Bollywood films. Hindi films shot in Australia usually incorporate aspects of Australian lifestyle. The Yash Raj Film Salaam Namaste (2005) became the first Indian film to be shot entirely in Australia and was the most successful Bollywood film of 2005 there. This was followed by Heyy Babyy and Chak De! India which turned out as box office successes.