How Indian cinema evolved over the years

Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi
May 03, 2013 04:27 PM IST

A hundred years ago on this date, India’s first film Raja Harishchandra was released. Over the past hundred years, our cinema and its facets have evolved and how!!

A hundred years ago on this date, India’s first film Raja Harishchandra was released. Over the past hundred years, our cinema and its facets have evolved and how!!

HT Image
HT Image

The hero

From mooch to macho
From a bulky mustached Raj Kapoor in the 40s to a six-pack flaunting, butt-baring John Abraham now, the Bollywood hero has had quite a makeover. The 50s was the era of method-acting with the likes of Dilip Kumar, while in the 60s, Rajesh Khanna and Dev Anand epitomised romance on screen. After Khanna’s guru kurtas and fluffy hairtop, Amitabh Bachchan brought the angry young man into the picture in the 70s and 80s with Zanjeer, Deewar and Agneepath, also bringing to the fore, bell bottoms and side burns. The 90s was the time of the lover boys Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan dancing in exotic foreign locales. Now, the Bollywood hero is not restricted by genre or style and fits into every mould. He is a looker, chocolatey, experimental and total paisa vasool, read Ranbir Kapoor and Imran Khan. heroine

From feeble to fabulous

In the early decades, the heroine in Indian cinema had only one objective in life, that of being a sati-savitri, who never looked beyond her family and husband. The kitchen was her cocoon, and she epitomised all things good. Through the 1940s, 50s and 60s, heroines such as Mala Sinha, Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Nanda and Asha Parekh ruled these roles. It was only in the 80s and 90s that she evolved as a strong character (Rekha in Khoon Bhari Mang, 1988), (Meenakshi Sheshadri in Damini, 1993). While in the early 2000s, she was still the demure girl, she managed to live her life on her terms like Rani Mukerji in Kabhie Alvida Naa Kehna. And the heroine today is the sexy, uber cool woman who cares for little more than her own life. Way to go girl!

The villain
From scary to suave
From the usual lot of wicked village zamindars, smugglers, murderers, rapists, dacoits and terrorists, the larger-than-life Bollywood villains have become rare in new age cinema. Thus the traditional villain, Loin, Shakal, Mogambo, Dr Dang and Badman, has died a natural death. The wigged, cigar-smoking avatars played by the likes of Pran, Prem Chopra, Amrish Puri, have made way for smart and sometimes more-adorable-than-the-hero kind of villains. Exhibit A- Saif Ali Khan (Omkara) and Shah Rukh Khan (Don). No lines are drawn now and black characters have became grey with lead actors playing antagonists in films, almost replacing the dedicated villains. This marked the end of ever reverberating iconic one liners like “Kitne aadmi the?” and “Saara sheher mujhe Loin ke naam se jaanta hain.”

The maa
Rona-dhona to supercool
From the God fearing and homely mum to a party freak, mothers in Bollywood have come a long way since 1930s. While Nargis in Mother India (1957) played a mother who went through hardships and struggled to bring up her offsprings, Nirupa Roy in the 70s became synonymous with white saris and a melancholic look. Then came Reema Lagoo, with her bindi and sindoor, an ideal middle class Indian mother in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) and Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), who tried to be a friend to her son. But now, mothers are the uber cool women who are ready to accept even same-sex couples, case in point, Kirron Kher in Dostana (2008). And now there are mom who drink and dance at weddings, ala Dolly Walia in Vicky Donor (2012).

The item girl

Taboo to must-haves

The dancing girl evolved from the Cabaret seductress, the free-spirited banjaran, the sensuous courtesan to dancing temptresses in half-saris. In the 40s and 50s, Cuckoo Moray, hotted up the screen with her innocent charm. The 50s saw Vyjayanthimala woo the audience in songs such as Chad Gayo Papi Bichua in Madhumati (1958) in ghagra cholis, and junk silver jewellery. Helen ruled the 60s and 70s, emerging in a bold avatar with dramatic ensembles. The 80s saw the trend of heroines appear in item numbers with Zeenat Aman in Qurbani (1980). Madhuri Dixit’s Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai became the ultimate tease in the 90s. The item girls of 2000s are sexy, not afraid to show skin and love to play hard to get, be it Malaika Arora Khan in a mid-riff baring choli dancing atop a train or Katrina in Sheila Ki Jawani.

The comedian
Funny face to frontman
The comedian in the 40s, was the fat man with funny facial expressions, whose mere presence made audiences laugh. In the 1950s, the lean Johnny Walker broke that trend and managed to win hearts with his slapstick humour. Kishore Kumar, essentially a singer, redefined comedy by using his songs like Meri Pyari Bindu (Padosan 1968) as elements of fun in films. But it was Mehmood, with his fringed hair and impeccable dialogue delivery who became the king of comedy in the 1970s. The next big thing in comedy was Johnny Lever, who left audiences in splits with his body language and dialogues in films like Raja Hindustani (1996) and Dulhe Raja (1998). Now, it’s the heroes — Akshay Kumar (Hera Pheri), Ajay Devgn (Golmaal) who are doubling as comedians.

The friend
Sidekick to the right-hand man
The side kick or hero’s best friend, every Bollywood film has had one. The role could be that of a fun buddy who provides comic relief to the film or that one jigari dost who stays with the hero through thick and thin (in other words, fights for the hero and often dies in the end). From the days of Mukri and Mehmood, who played the hero’s good friend in the 1950s and 60s to the current time where actors like Arshad Warsi and Sharman Joshi play as powerful characters as the hero himself, this portrayal has had a sea change. Mehmood in Humjoli (1970), for instance, played a sidekick who brought the house down with his antics, but Arshad Warsi in the Munnabhai series (2003/06) played the ideal Robin to Sanjay Dutt’s Batman, and got some of the best lines in the films.

The romance

Touch-me-not to pre-marital sex

Romance in Bollywood turned from bold to coy and back to racy and bold. The silent film, ‘A Throw of Dice’ (1929) saw actor Seeta Devi kiss actor Charu Roy. Post-independence, in the 1940s, romance became conservative. The Cinematograph Act in 1952, called kissing on screen indecent and romance became associated with clasping hand and staring into each other’s eyes. Kissing was shown with two flowers coming together or honey bees sucking nectar from flowers. 1970s was Raj Kapoor’s era that brought a passion back to romance with movies such as Bobby (1973), Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978). It was the 90s that romance took a pure and sweet form the two blockbuster hits Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) Dilwale Duhaniya Le Jayenge (1995). Now, in the 2000s, pre-marital sex shown in films like Salaam Namaste (2005) and Rockstar (2011), is considered cool.

The music
Melodies to racy tracks
The 1930 and 40s, were defined by nasal renditions by the likes of KL Saigal (Jab Dil Hi Tooth Gaya, Shahjahan, 1946) and Noorjehan. The 50s were all about soul-soothing melodies. Songs like it Pyaar Huya Ekraar Huya (Shree 420 1952) or Jaane Woh Kaise Log The (Pyaasa 1957) became epics. However, it was R D Burman, who single-handedly changed the course of Bollywood film music, and introduced westernised tunes in songs in the 60s. While 70s remained the decade of a mix of soft and fast numbers, the 80s turned Bollywood music on its head, as Bappi Lahiri brought in disco music. Disco Dancer (1982) marked the beginning of a range of high-on-noise, low-on-lyrics songs. The 1990s churned out several hugely forgettable numbers, except for musical hits like 1942 a Love Story (1994), Saajan (1991). The 2000s have been the decade of experimenting - thus Sonu Nigam and Yo Yo Honey Singh both find place in the same film.

The dialogues
Melodrama to quirky
Power-packed dialogues get the maximum seetis from the audience, and why not. A film is often remembered for its iconic dialogues. Kaun kambakth bardasht karne ke liye peeta hai, from Devdas that’s a favourite even with the ‘daarubaaz’ of today. However, dialogues like Kitne aadmi the, and “Kuttey main tera khoon pi jaunga” from Sholay, “Pushpa, I hate tears” from Amar Prem and “Mere paas maa hai” from Deewar; have gone on to become epic. In the 1990s, heroes impressed their lady love with dialogues. Thus came, “I love you Kkk... Kiran” (Darr), “Bade bade shehron mein aisi chhoti chhoti baatein hoti rehti hain.” (DDLJ 1995). In 2000, quirky dialogues such as, Main apni favourite hoon (Jab We Met), Picture Abhi Baki Hai Dost (Om Shanti Om) are the big hits among film buffs.

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