Essay: From History of Bollywood


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Even if you have never been to India or seen its culture close enough, still with the word ‘India’ some stereotypical images pop up in your head. Bright costumes, women in sarees, yoga, dots on the head, spicy cuisine… And, probably, movies. For decades, they have undoubtedly been one of the most capturing and most lucrative genres. But how did such a famous phenomenon evolve?

The name ‘Bollywood’ is the modification of ‘Hollywood’, as many might have already guessed. So, why ‘B’ instead of ‘H’? The letter comes from Bombay, (today Mumbai) – the center of the Indian movie industry. Despite its loud and widely recognizable name, the growth of Bollywood wasn’t immediate. 

Everything started with the silent ‘Raja Harishchandra’, filmed by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1913. At that time, it was something like Tesla for us. Being fascinated by the European movie production, particularly ‘The Life of Christ’ (1906), the director was so inspired to learn filmmaking, that he took a trip to London and later founder Phalke Films Company. With this creative spark, he brought all the technical equipment necessary for filming, from France and the United States. The times we are talking about were way more different than you may imagine – male actors performed all the roles, Phalke was responsible for everything, starting from the actors’ make-up and finishing with scrip editing. All in all, the film was ready-and-complete in nearly 7 months, which is revolutionary for that period of history. One more curious fact is that it was the first movie depicting the ugly side of alcoholism. 

Later, in the 1930s, the first talkies appeared. At this very time, the first cinema in South India was built, introducing the ‘Tent Cinema’ to the wide audience. The days of colonialism were the period of gaining popularity – in 1936, ‘Sant Tukaram’ was acknowledged as one of the 3 best films of the year at the Venice Film Festival; Many the screen versions of historical events, (like ‘Raithu Bidda’ and ‘Wrath’) however, were banned by the government or were altered due to the censorship. 

The date that changed the route was 1947. The Indian film underwent serious reforms: the classical historical and mythological plots were completely replaced by the social topics. The movies often were showing the life of the poor, who, until 1947, were neglected. Movies were more often focusing on issues like equality, family relationships, and polygamy. The absolute favorites among such were ‘good brother-bad brother’ films, like ‘Gunga Jumna’. Together with the whole world, India stepped into the new season in the 1960s, called ‘New Wave’, powered by the renowned directors Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. That is where realism took the reins of the film industry – these new screen versions shed light on the life of simple men, with their struggles and joys. Movies of this period were the ones that were simpler to understand for the white part of the world. However, in most cases, directors didn’t bother to get every part translated.

Anyway, beginning in 1947 and up to the 1960s, life on the screen became more liberated. Crossing the line of becoming independent, India won its own right to develop all industries, not just movies. In the digital age of today, India can be proud of the famous TV box office series: ‘Dead or Alive’ on ALT Balaji and Kabir Khan’s blockbuster that is still in the process of making. Who knows, maybe they will be another turning point in the life of Bollywood and dictate the trends for decades to come? For now, the possibilities are great. Let’s hope Bollywood would use them, showing the world that an Indian film is something far greater than ‘I will kill you, but now I and my 20 nephews will dance’. 

Though, there is one film that drastically changed the genre definition of Bollywood movies, defying the old stereotypes – ‘Masala’. It included a mash of romance, comedy, and action, and reminded a musical with many dances. Till these days, the film remains the dominating model for the up-to-date Bollywood movies. The film’s director, Manmohan Desai, aired his beliefs: ‘I want people to forget their misery. I want to take them into a dream world where there is no poverty, where there are no beggars, where fate is kind and God is busy looking after his flock.’ With this kind of attitude, we can say he managed to cheer the world up!

Today we can be, without exaggeration, in awe of how a country like India, – with its countless hardships and day-and-night fighting for freedom, – won the hearts of millions. Having risen to the top of rankings, in 2016 Indian films have collected 7.95 million of box office revenue, which makes about 13 % of the total. 

Therefore, even though it sometimes lacks diversity, looks funny or runs the same scripts, behind the scenes the Indian movie industry is a story of the warrior-nation, that embarked on a journey to ready to independence, stood up for its prosperity and the right to be their mother land’s leaders.


  • Grant, Andrew. ‘What is Bollywood? A Brief History of Indian Cinema from 1913 to the Present’ Available at [Accessed 19 Aug. 2019]
  • Raja Harishchandra Wiki. Available at: [Accessed 19 Aug. 2019]
  • Cinema of India Wiki. Available at:  [Accessed 19 Aug. 2019]
  • 70 Iconic Films of Indian Cinema. (2017) Available at:  [Accessed 19 Aug. 2019]
  • How India is Shaping Hollywood. (2017) Available at:  [Accessed 19 Aug. 2019]
  • India’s fight for freedom on screen. (2017)  Available at: [Accessed 19 Aug. 2019]
  • Bollywood Wiki. Available at: [Accessed 19 Aug. 2019]



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