India is probably the world’s most culturally and linguistically diverse nation. Its people speak 22 different languages, besides hundreds of dialects. No wonder then that India is a land of many cinematic traditions. The 1800-odd movies that the country annually produces are made in a number of languages, each with its own distinct literature, history, theatre and music.
Indian films are produced in several centres around the country. Each of these filmmaking cities serves as the hub of cinema in one prominent language.
Mumbai, regarded as India’s movie capital, hosts the Hindi film industry that has a pan-Indian footprint. Marathi-language films are also produced in the city (besides neighbouring Pune) that is inextricably intertwined with the history of Indian cinema.
Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram, Bangalore, Bhubaneswar and Guwahati are the other major Indian cities where films are produced.
While the distribution of these so-called ‘regional’ films is largely limited within the territories for which they are made – they do not have the nationwide reach of Bollywood blockbusters – they add immensely to the depth and range of Indian cinema.
The centre-point of Indian film industry, Mumbai, popularly Bollywood, is a land of cinema. From commercial grandeur to arthouse movies, there is no short of cinema in the capital city of Maharashtra
The bustling western Indian metropolis is the heart of the Indian movie industry, producing nearly 200 films a year in the Hindi language. It also, along with the nearby city of Pune, produces Marathi-language films, which, in the silent era and beyond, thrived in the hands of pioneering stalwarts like V Shantaram and Bhalji Pendharkar, among others. A large chunk of the Hindi films produced in Mumbai constitute what is usually described as Bollywood, a label used for an old cinematic tradition built on a formulaic and crowd-pleasing mix of melodrama, romance, moral conflict and music. This extravagant form of storytelling is extremely popular in the other filmmaking centres as well. However, it is by no means the only kind of cinema that emerges from Mumbai.
The city has always had two distinct streams of filmmaking – one aimed at providing glitzy and emotionally satisfying entertainment to the masses; the other designed to appeal to a niche audience with a taste for more realistic movies. There have of course been occasions when these two separate approaches have merged in the same film and resulted in timeless classics such as Mother India, Mughal-e-Azam, Deewar and Lagaan. The A-list Mumbai cinema stars, objects of adulation around the country and by the Indian Diaspora, power the mainstream Bollywood industry. Mumbai played a key role in the evolution of parallel films in the late 1960s and 1970s,thanks to the efforts of directors like Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani. Its filmmakers also drove the global spread of the Bollywood narrative idiom in the aftermath of major commercial successes in the past decade and a half. A breed of younger Mumbai filmmakers, migrants to the city from different parts of the country, have scripted a new kind of popular cinema that blends social awareness, aesthetic clarity and stylistic accessibility. Several of these films have travelled to international festivals in recent years while finding takers on the domestic distribution circuit as well.
Located down south of India, Chennai is the birthplace of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada film industries. While the last three moved to their respective neighbouring states, Tamil movies continue to be made in this city, thus making it a sought after destination of movie making in the country
Chennai (formerly Madras) is home to the hugely successful and productive Tamil movie industry, which has, over the decades, given Indian cinema a few of its biggest and most abiding stars. The Tamil movie industry has seen film production since the mid 1910s. It has constantly kept pace with the growth of the rest of Indian cinema. In fact, at several junctures in its history, it even set the pace for others to follow, especially in matters of technology and film production practices. Tamil cinema has a following not only in the state of Tamil Nadu but also in the other southern states of India, besides among the Tamil expatriate community across the world. Hindi versions of Tamil box office hits as well as bilingual productions mounted in Chennai have been successful around India ever since 1948’s Chandralekha opened the sluice-gates for nationally distributed films from this part of India.
The dominant strain of Tamil movies, like that of Hindi popular cinema, hinges on the crowd-pulling power of its male superstars, notably veterans Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. A new generation of stars have continued the tradition. But in the past as well as in recent times, the industry has seen a steady output of films from young directors working outside the conventional star system with great success. For audiences around the country, Mani Ratnam, who also makes films in Hindi, is one of the better known Chennai directors.
Kolkata has given the world some of the best movies and filmmakers. Right from the black and white era, Bengali films carried the stamp of reality and social awareness, and the flag still flies high.
Bengali-language cinema, known the world over for the celebrated masterpieces of Satyajit Ray, is produced in Kolkata from studios located largely in Tollygunge in the city’s southern suburbs.
Many of the pioneers of early Indian cinema worked in this city in the silent era. In fact, Hiralal Sen is known to have made films here well before India’s officially recognized first full-fledged fiction film, D.G. Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra, was screened in Mumbai. Commercial Bengali cinema has thrived right since the silent era, barring a few troughs in the 1980s and 1990s caused by the death of its most luminous superstar Uttam Kumar and the retirement of his on-screen partner Suchitra Sen.But it is for the critically acclaimed works of three masters – Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen – that Kolkata enjoys global fame. Directors such as Tapan Sinha and Tarun Majumdar built their careers around films that struck a fine balance between artistic merit and commercial potential.
More than their counterparts in any of the other film production centres of India, screenwriters and directors in Kolkata, especially those that work in the non-mainstream sphere, continue to draw inspiration primarily from literature. It is a tradition that dates back to the silent era, a period during which Bengali cinema, unlike other cinemas that were beginning to take roots in that period, produced social satires and dramas adapted from literary works rather than mythological epics.
Not just the land, but its films too are known for their spicy nature. It will be no exaggeration if we call Hyderabad the capital of commercial cinema. For, most of India’s colourful and costly movies are made here.
Hyderabad is the hub of Telugu cinema, which is one of the most prolific and commercially consistent of all the cinemas of India. Between Telengana and Andhra Pradesh, the two separate states that the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh has recently been split into, there are 2800 movie halls, the highest in any single region of India. On several occasions in the last decade, Telugu films accounted for more releases in a year than cinema in any other Indian language, including Hindi. Many big-budget Hindi and Tamil films are official remakes of Telugu hits, a sure measure of the mass appeal of movies made in Hyderabad. In terms of artistic quality and global recognition, Telugu cinema may lag behind films made in Malayalam and Tamil, but it continues to be the most robust of the southern industries.Hyderabad has some of India’s best film production studios. They have been set up by established names of the Telugu movie industry – men such as B. N. Reddy, L.V. Prasad, Akkineni Nageswara Rao and D. Rama Naidu. Until about three decades ago, large sections of the Telugu movie industry operated out of Chennai. But today, Hyderabad is where all the Telugu cinema action is focused. Filmmmaker S.S. Rajamouli and male stars such as Prabhas enjoy nationwide popularity thanks mainly to the super success of the period action drama Baahubali.
Known for producing award winning films, Thiruvananthapuram, the hub of Malayalam cinema, is lately carving a niche for itself for new-age content-rich and commercial movies. From Adoor Gopalakrishnan to Mohanlal-Mammootty to Vineeth-Nivin Pauly, the land has a rich legacy of cinema
Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Trivandrum) is the capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala. The city, along with Kochi, serves as the nerve-centre of cinema in Malayalam. Although films were made in the state in the silent era, cinema in Kerala was late to flourish and at the time of India’s Independence in 1947, only a handful of Malayalam filmshad been produced. But when the movie industry in this part of the country took off in the 1950s, it not only quickly caught up with the rest of Indian cinema, it also established itself at the forefront of the Indian parallel cinema movement. Malayalam movie superstars Mohanlal and Mammootty are known across the country and directors such as Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Shaji N. Karun and the late G. Aravindan are feted at film festivals around the world.
When Malayalam cinema began to assume the proportions of a full-fledged industry post-Independence, it was headquartered in Chennai. It was only by the late 1980s that it moved completely to its current location in Thiruvananthapuram. Like the other cinemas of India, Malayalam movies are divided between a popular genre and a socially relevant strand. Cinema from Kerala gained national and international prominence, riding on the films made by Adoor and Aravindan in the 1970s and 1980s. The tradition of making realistic and meaningful cinema continues to this day.
The capital city of Karnataka is the home of Kannada film industry, popularly Sandalwood. It has produced some great talents, from actors to directors to technicians
In Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley, films are made in the Kannada language. The first Kannada film was made in the talkie era, and the industry’s growth was steady until the late 1940s. The 1950s marked the advent of Dr.Rajkumar, whose popularity as a lead actor in mythological epics helped Kannada cinema achieve new heights. The 1970s and 1980s are generally regarded as the golden era of Kannada cinema, which was enriched by the work of directors like B.V.Karanth, Girish Karnad and Girish Kasaravalli. In 1970, Samskara, based on a novel by celebrated writer U.R. Ananthamurthy and directed by Pattabhi Rama Reddy, inaugurated the parallel cinema movement in Karnataka. While alternative cinema has continued to thrive in the state, commercial cinema, too, has sustained itself despite not quite enjoying the financial clout of Tamil and Telugu films.
Bhojpuri cinema, which also caters to third and fourth generation migrants in Surinam, Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago, Fiji and Guyana, has its own star system and a committed audience base
The central Indian city of Lucknow is one of the bases of Bhojpuri cinema, which is produced largely in and for eastern Uttar Pradesh, western Bihar and Jharkhand. The first-ever Bhojpuri-language film, Ganga Maiyya Tohe Piyari Chadaibo (Mother Ganges, I Will Offer You a Yellow Sari), was released only in the early 1960s. But the industry grew steadily as the demand from people who speak the dialect in India and elsewhere increased. Bhojpuri cinema, which also caters to third and fourth generation migrants in Surinam, Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago, Fiji and Guyana, has its own star system and a committed audience base, but it has failed to build on the opportunities to break into the national mainstream. The last couple of decades have seen a major spurt in the production of Bhojpuri films, but these have all been run-of-the-mill potboilers designed for an audience that seems to be undemanding and easy to please. In parts of India where Bhojpuri speakers live and work, these films continue to be exceedingly popular. But since most of these films are made on tight budgets and follow rushed production timelines, they tend to be rather low on technical finesse.
The shift of Odia cinema from Kolkata to Bhubaneswar heralded a new era. Since then, Bhubaneswar continues to be the focus point of Odia films
In the eastern Indian state of Odisha, films are made in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack.
The first Odia-language film was made in 1936, but until the 1950s only a handful of more titles were produced. Back then, the Odia film industry did not have production facilities of its own. Films in the language had to depend on Kolkata, which made movie-making in Odisha difficult and unviable.
In the late 1950s, the first cooperative venture to produce, distribute and exhibit Odia films was set up by Krushna Chandra Tripathy. The organization was named Utkal Chalachitra Pratisthan, and it produced several films in the 1960s that gave Odia cinema a distinct identity.
In 1961, another production house, Pancha Sakha, was set up by amateur artiste Dhira Biswal, who produced four hugely popular films. His first production, Nua Bou, created a sensation all across the state of Odisha.
Odia cinema developed its own idiom in subsequent years thanks to the efforts of the husband-wife team of Gour Prasad Ghosh and Parbati Ghosh. The duo produced several National Award-winning films, including the epochal Kaa.
Other production houses took roots in the 1970s, including Diamond Valley Productions, set up by entrepreneur Sarat Pujari.
In 1975, the state government stepped in to promote cinema by setting up the Odisha Film Development Corporation. Five years later, the Kalinga Studio came up with the support of Chennai’s Prasad Studios. Odisha currently produces an average of 20 films a year.
Despite heavy influence from Bollywood, Assamese cinema, being made from Guwahati, has carved a niche for itself and its presence in National Awards every year stands testimony to the claim
Assamese films, produced in north-eastern city of Guwahati, are a constant presence in India’s National Awards. Yet the film industry in Assam remains commercially unviable.
Constantly under the shadow of Bollywood films, the state has not been able to develop a distribution and exhibition system that can prop up locally made films and make them viable.
At the turn of the millennium, a ray of hope had emerged in the form of a spurt in Bollywood-inspired Assamese melodrama that found takers among the mass audience in the state. But the trend was short-lived.
Despite the effort of the pioneers and the work of their successors in the 1950s and 1960s (Bhupen Hazarika, Nip Barua, Pudum Barua), Assamese cinema has been dragged down by the paucity of exhibition outlets.
Despite all the odds, the names of the late author and filmmaker Bhabendra Nath Saikia and the still-active Jahnu Barua shine bright. In recent years, Rima Das, working largely out of her native village near Guwahati, has made massive waves globally with her films Village Rockstars and Bulbul Can Sing.
Filmmakers from the rest of Northeast India, notably Manipur and Meghalaya, are also increasingly making their presence felt on the national and international stage. Manipur’s Aribam Syam Sarma has for decades been a leading light of cinema from this region of India and his films have been lauded at festivals, including Cannes.