Bhojpuri cinema had a humble beginning in the 1950s following an encounter between India's first Bihar-born president Rajendra Prasad and Mumbai-based character actor Nazir Hussain.
The president, upon realising that Hussain was a native of Ghazipur in eastern Uttar Pradesh, began to address him in Bhojpuri, the former's mother tongue.
The conversation soon veered to movies and "Rajendra babu asked Hussain, 'why don't you make a film in Bhojpuri?", according to a new book Cinema Bhojpuri by Avijit Ghosh, The encouragement from the president prompted the actor into action and resulted in "Ganga Maiya Tobe Pyari Chadhaibo (Ganga Maiya, I'll Offer You The Yellow Cloth)".
The success story of Bhojpuri cinema has been traced in Ghosh's book, published by Penguin-India. Since Hussain's film, Bhojpuri cinema has travelled a long way and acquired a pan-Indian identity. It will celebrate its golden jubilee in less than two years.
The Jan 23, 2010 issue of "Film Information", a trade journal, carried reports that 15 Bhojpuri movies were under production and now the overall number is much higher, says Ghosh.
The boom of the genre has a lot of do with the rich folk heritage of the land, the social milieu with its multiple political issues that the Bhojpuri cinema addressed.
Bhojpuri movies stand out for a variety of reasons, the writer says.
"One, the high number of films released in the past five years; about 300 of them. Second, the genre has also attracted major Bollywood actors such as Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini, Ajay Devgun, Jackie Shroff and Mithun Chakraborty, Bhagyashree. This has ensured that mainstream media has always discussed them," Arrah-born Ghosh told IANS.
Third, theatres screening Bhojpuri films have been targeted by political groups in Maharashtra and by terrorists in Punjab, generating news, he said. "Major Bhojpuri stars such as Ravi Kishan and Manoj Tiwari have performed popular shows in top entertainment television channels. A combination of all these factors has ensured that the regional film industry occupies national mind space," he said.
In the 1960s and 1970s, "the audiences of Bhojpuri films was largely confined to eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar". Now, due to migration, the genre's footprints has expanded to include cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Amritsar and various towns in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
The first phase of Bhojpuri films was over by 1966. Between 1967 and 1976, only two little known movies, "Vidhana Naach Nachave (Fate Will make You Dance in 1968)" and "Dher Chalaaki Jin Kara (Don't Act Too Smart in 1971)" were released, writes Ghosh in his book.
Bachubhai Shah, who produced "Bidesiya" in 1963, infused fresh life into the dormant regional film industry. Another movie that injected vigour into Bhojpuri cinema was Hussain's "Balam Pardesiya (1979)". Over 25 years, between 1977 and 2001, nearly 150 movies were produced with an average of six every year, the book says.
The movie "Dharti Maiya (1981)" produced by Ashok Chand Jain featured the first play back by Kishore Kumar.
"The song 'Hum to Gaili Tohaar' was a super hit. In fact, 'Dharti Maiya' was advertised as the first Bhojpuri movie with a song by Kishore Kumar and the last Bhojpuri movie in which Mohammed Rafi sang," the books says.
"Commercial Bhojpuri cinema primarily caters to the need of its core audience: the young underclass of small-towns and mofussils of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. That's what decides its content and language," he said.
What keeps the industry going? In the past decade or so, mainstream Bollywood has adjusted its cinematic language and
sensibility to suit its new core audience: the urban multiplex-going crowd and the NRIs, analyses the writer. "It has created a certain kind of commercial cinema that many in hinterland and mofussil India are unable to identify with.
"Bhojpuri cinema recreates the sights and sounds of an India that Bollywood ignores today," he said.