Then and Now: How Bollywood has Evolved Over 75 Years

The most dominant themes have shifted, from action to comedy. Films are getting shorter. Women are taking up more space, on screen and behind the scenes. Take a look at some of the most dramatic shifts in Bollywood, as we break down a dataset on films across the decades, to trace the stories the numbers tell.


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The average number of films made in Bollywood each year has risen from 121 in 1947 to 184 in 1991 (the year the process of economic liberalization began). With video streaming as an alternative medium, 2019 saw a further jump, with 346 films made, averaging out to about 7 releases a week. Even during the pandemic, the option to stream kept the industry going.


The appearance of colour in Hindi cinema pre-dates Independence, but black and white remained the norm. 1967 was the first year when Bollywood made more films in colour than in black-and-white. Black-and-white films are still made, in rare instances and always as an artistic statement. As directors once opted for colour to highlight a scene or a showcase song, some now drain colour from the screen to let light and shadow tell the tale.


The number of films with a woman actor as the first lead has traced a zig-zag pattern: rising in the 1950s and 1960s, falling in the 1970s and 1980s, and rising again in the past decade. In 2019, 27% of films listed had a woman lead, a sharp rise from 14% in 2009, but still a far cry from equal status. Overall, an overwhelming majority of films continue to lead with a male actor.


Of the 11,556 films covered in this exercise, only 336 had a woman director. That’s 2.9%. It was only in 2004 that the number of Hindi films directed by women in a given year hit double digits. And it’s only in the past decade that their numbers have been rising. The best year was 2019, when women directed 34 of the films listed, or about 10%. In the decadal period before that, the average was 12 films.


Films are getting shorter. Audience attention spans are part of the reason. Changing storytelling methods are responsible too. Until the mid-1970s, most films had a runtime of 2 to 2.5 hours. From the mid-1970s to the turn of the century, runtimes on average got longer. The share of films with a runtime of above 2.5 hours increased. Now, more than half the films made have a runtime of less than 2 hours.


IMDb classifies a film by multiple genres. Even accounting for this, over the years, the shift in Bollywood has been from action to comedy, and from family films to thrillers. Far more biographies are being made. Use the dropdown menu to see how the numbers stack up for nine different genres.