The year-long celebration of Indian cinema turning 100 has started. It was 99 years ago in May 1913 that the first feature film was released. A lot of water has flown down the Ganges since the days of Raja Harishchandra. From 1913 till today, we have not only witnessed a progressive Bollywood but also an industry which has literally been adored, celebrated and loved worldwide.
Be it bringing alive the real-life characters like Gandhi, Bose, Bhagat Singh or creating some typical mad cap characters like Kishoreda in Half Ticket, Mahmood in Padosan, Shakti Kapoor in almost all Govinda movies Bollywood has done it all! Few also accused Bollywood of being candyfloss and being too stereotype but again its reply was subtle yet befitting. If Manmohan Desai’s movies were too “filmy” the Guru Dutt churned out movies which were realistic to core, if Subhash Ghai scripted revenge dramas then Yash Chopra was the king of romantic movies.
In the last 25-30 years, so many changes have innovated the way movies are made. If anyone watches a movie made in the 1970s now in a theatre, one would realise the technological limitations which the producers and directors faced then. There was no paid subscription television and even India’s Doordarshan was limited to a few State capitals and aired the immensely popular dance and song show Chitrahaar and a movie every Sunday.
When Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha or Jitendra kicked or boxed anybody, you could see that a sound of ‘dhishum dhishum’ was coming from the background. But no one took it otherwise as the movies were wholesome entertainers, lots of songs, dance, fight, emotions—masala and curry mixed deftly. There was no body contact in the fight scenes then and it is only now that you can spot it when compared to the films made in the last 10 years or so. Watching Deewar, Sholay, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Silsila, Noorie, Jaani Dushman, Naseeb, Dharam Veer, Nadiya ke Paar, etc. was such an experience that I remember the entire sequence even now. Seeking permission from parents to go for a movie is something which is etched in my memory. Then there was a phase when I bunked classes to go to the movie.
Once the movie was out of the theatre, there was no way you could see them. The VCRs arrived later and became popular only after the mid 1980s. Air conditioners were a distant dream then, only fans whirred in the movie halls. Something like a commercial of a fan company featuring Rajesh Khanna being aired on TV these days. Remember, the impact of carbon dioxide generated by over 1,000 people in a cramped space on a hot and humid day sans the air conditioner.
But then, people were so involved that they identified themselves with the character of the movie. This was the only medium of escape from the harsh reality. When Amitabh Bachchan died in Deewar, Sholay and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, the entire audience wept. Some loudly, others silently but almost every eye was moist when they left the theatre.
While it may seem like just yesterday that the silent film “Shree Pundalik” was released in Mumbai, May 18th marks the hundredth anniversary of what many consider to be the first Indian film made. The past century has seen India grow to become the world’s largest producer of films. Jonathan Torgovnik has been photographing the Indian film industry since 1997, and the resulting images are collected in the book “Bollywood Dreams.” “Going to the cinema is about going to see the actors larger than life,” Torgovnik says. “It is about living the glamorous life for a few hours and leaving your daily hardships behind.” Please take a break from your daily hardships for a few minutes and enjoy this selection of Torgovnik’s Bollywood photographs.
All photographs by Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty.