They are the wizards turning words, props, light and shadow into worlds we can’t forget. But how does the timelessness of storytelling adapt to new technology, to a nation that is young and vibrant and reinventing itself?

What spells do the wizards choose to cast when the audience is looking up at the screen and hoping, hungering, for something new? These were questions as vital in 1947 as they are today.

Where that was a world before colour, this is a world of streaming. Where women were then the most visible front of social change, today it is those on the margins of caste, gender and sexuality demanding to be seen.

What is constant is the demand. There is something in us that hungers for a compelling tale, a world of larger-than-life, a parallel universe in which dreams, all those dreams we in the audience have quietly laid to rest, can come true.

But stories matter for more than this. They change us, and connect us. They remind us of who we wanted to be.

This Independence Day, we’re marking 75 years of mainstream Hindi cinema with a look at its greatest storytellers, biggest hits, finest poet-lyricists, singers and stars. Start at the beginning, and end in the now, with the compelling question: Where do we go from here? With the audience always in their seats, and rivals storming the box office, what’s next for the great Indian tamasha that is the Bollywood film?



The Golden Age 1947-1962

Some of India’s finest films were made in the decade just after Independence. Turn to our watchlist for this era and see how the screen still gleams with the work of artists such as Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Nargis and Sahir Ludhianvi. Philosophers were crafting the stories. Poets were writing the lyrics. It was the India of Awara. It was also the India of Mughal-e-Azam. It was an India that was, above all, finally free.

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Sounds of Music 1962-1977

Colour arrived, and it did for songs what sound had done for cinema. Amid scenes of joy and love in picturesque landscapes, this became a period of youthfulness, abandon, escapist romance. Audiences could finally see their country and the world. There were meet-cutes in the mountains of Kashmir. Also, Love In Tokyo, An Evening In Paris, a Night In London. Then a young man in a police uniform lashed out, and everything changed, as the legend of Amitabh was born.

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The ‘Lost’ Years 1977-1992

The rise of the VCR saw revenues fall, theatres in decline. Piracy was everywhere. On screen, it was the same story over and over: gangs, crime, revenge, as the industry desperately sought a successor to the Angry Young Man. For India too, these were lost years, amid economic crises, militancy and riots. By the late 1980s, the story was finally changing. Two young men, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan, began their tryst with stardom, in the love stories Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Maine Pyar Kiya.

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A Globalised Tale 1992-2007

These were the Shah Rukh Khan years; the decades of DDLJ and also of AR Rahman. Of Sridevi, arguably India’s first woman superstar, being overtaken by Madhuri Dixit. And of reinvention. The NRI movie gave India a new face overseas. Then a young Farhan Akhtar sent three youngsters to Goa in Dil Chahta Hai and an axis tilted. Young India took centrestage. These would also be the last years of box-office hegemony, before the world hit play on streaming.

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Twists and Turns 2007-2022

The words indie and blockbuster came together in ways they hadn’t before. Anurag Kashyap launched a new business model, and a nursery for talent. Meanwhile, the small screen got smaller, viewing platforms more diffused. Then a pandemic hit, but first, a new invasion: from the south, the rise of the non-Hindi Hindi blockbuster. By mid-2022, of the highest-earning Indian films of all time domestically (a list typically dominated by Hindi blockbusters), the top three were Bahubali 2, KGF 2 and RRR, originally made in Telugu-Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu.

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