Glorious Years of Indian Cinema

Written by Minal Kumar, AJK MCRC

Telling stories from the epics using hand-drawn images in scroll paintings, with accompanying live sounds have been an age old Indian tradition.  And so when the Lumiere brothers’ representatives held the first public showing in Mumbai on July 7, 1896, the new phenomenon of Cinema did not create much of a stir here and no one in the audience ran out at the image of the train speeding  towards them, as it did elsewhere. The Indian viewer took the new experience as something already familiar to him. Lumiere brothers’ Cinematographe arrived in India on July 7 1896.


The introduction of Cinema took place in India with the aid of colonisers.  A kaleidoscopic view of history of India includes the pioneering efforts of Harischandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar. He made two short films as early as in 1897. The first short films in India were directed by Hiralal Sen, starting with Flower of Persia (1898). In 1900 the entire Indian entertainment sector underwent huge changes and the emergence of  Dadasaheb Phalke took Indian cinema to new heights. Thus the path breaking film of the Silent era, Raja Harishchandra, was released in 1913. Dadasaheb Phalke is considered as the ‘father of Indian Cinema’.  Phalke, with his imported camera, exposed single frames of a seed sprouting to a growing plant, shot once a day, over a month-thus inadvertently introducing the concept of ‘time-lapse photography’, which resulted in the first indigenous ‘instructional film’- The Birth of a Pea Plant (1912) – a capsule history of the growth of a pea into a pea-laden plant. This film came very handy in getting financial backing for his first film venture.

During this time and the era of the talkies the main sources for Indian films were the mythological texts. The rapid growth of the  Indian cinema led to the end of the silent era and ushered in the era of the talkies. The latter introduced the Indian cinema in a completely new way to the audiences. Now one could hear the actors and actresses talk, laugh, sing and cry. Initially films were primarily made in Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and Telugu and these films proved to be phenomenal successes. Alam Ara was the first ever Indian sound film directed by Ardeshir Irani in 1931.


The possibility of reaching a large audience through recorded images which could be projected several times through mechanical gadgets caught the fancy of people in the performing arts and the stage and entertainment business. The first decade of the 20th century saw live and recorded performances being clubbed together in the same programme. The strong influence of its traditional arts, music, dance and popular theatre on the cinema movement in India in its early days, is probably responsible for its characteristic enthusiasm for inserting song and dance sequences in Indian cinema, even till today.

Mumbai became the hub of the Indian film industry having a number of self-contained production units in the thirties.



1930s and 1940s witnessed the rise of film personalities, such as, Debaki Bose, Chetan Anand, S.S. Vasan, Nitin Bose and others. Their contributions helped the Indian cinema to grow further.

Among the leading filmmakers of Mumbai during the forties, V Shantaram was arguably the most innovative and ambitious. From his first talkie Ayodhya ka Raja (1932) to Admi (1939), it was clear that he was a filmmaker with a distinct style and social concern whose films generated wide discussion and debate. He dealt with issues like cast system, religious bigotry and women’s rights. Even when Shantaram took up stories from the past, he used these as parables to highlight contemporary situations.


By this time apart from Mumbai, the film industry shaped up well in down south too. The Tamil, Telugu and Kannada film industries were making indigenous films as well. By late 1940s films in India were made in various languages but the religious influence was predominant. With struggle for independence the entire scenario altered. Indian cinema now saw films based on the then contemporary social issues. Movies no longer were limited to the periphery of entertainment; they were now potent instruments to educate the masses as well.

The golden period in the history of Indian cinema is attributed to the 1950s. Fifties saw the rise of great directors like Mehboob, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor who changed the fate of Indian cinema. These directors entered the film industry during the 1930s and ’40s, which were traumatic years for the Indian people. The fight for independence, famines, changing social mores, global fight against fascism all contributed to the ethos in which the directors grew up. Numerous singers, composers, scriptwriters, cameramen and other technicians lend a helping hand in making some of the most outstanding films that carved their own niches in the history of Indian cinema.



In Bombay while the magic of Guru Dutts and Bimal Roys were preponderant Indian cinema moved one step further with the release of K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam in 1960. A trail of romantic movies followed all over India. While the Indian commercial cinema enjoyed popularity amidst the movie goers, Indian art cinema did not go unnoticed. Adoor Gopalakrishnan,  Ritwik Ghatak, Aravindan, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and several other art film directors were making movies that took India to international fame and glory. The fifties was the decade which lead to the emergence of Parallel Cinema movement in India. By 1970s Indian cinema enjoyed the histrionics of superstars like Rajesh Khanna, Sanjeev Kumar, Waheeda Rehman, and others. This was truly the red letter year for Hindi cinema as Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay proved to be an iconoclast and gave to Indian cinema its new superstar Amitabh Bachchan. Hardly did anyone know then that Bachchan era was here to stay for long enough.

At one hand Hindi cinema was growing in leaps and bounds and on the other the regional films were making their presence felt too. A number of well established Hindi film stars who became a part of the star system in India actually began their career with the Indian regional films. 1980s saw the rise of several woman directors, such as, Aparna Sen, Meera Nair and others.


With romantic films at the helm the Indian cinema ushered into 1990s. A mixed genre was witnessed during this time. Romantic, thriller, actions and comic movies were made. Gradually the face of Indian cinema was undergoing changes one again. The audiences, too, were getting weary of similar storylines. Hence the contemporary Indian cinema, keeping pace with time and technology, witnessed dolby digital sound effects, advanced special effects, choreography, international appeal, further investments from corporate sectors along with finer scripts and performances. The aesthetic appeal of cinema became important for the filmmakers.


Stars like Shahrukh Khan , Rajnikanth,  Madhuri , Aamir Khan , Chiranjeevi,  Hrithik Roshan, and others explored all possible techniques to enrich Indian cinema with their performances. Even in contemporary India cinema a troupe of new faces came. The post generation of the existing stars are making Indian cinema rich in its true sense using their youthful dynamism and talent. As years fly away Indian cinema betters itself with more number of films making it to the golden pages of its history.


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