|Bollywood… Hollywood of the East
What is Bollywood?
Bollywood is the nickname given to the Indian film industry - it's a play on the word Hollywood.
The B comes from Bombay (also known as Mumbai), a big city in India.
Bollywood is massive. It makes up to 800 films a year - twice as many as Hollywood and about 14 million Indian people go to the cinema everyday
Films are made so fast that sometimes actors on set shoot scenes for four different films at a time - using the same actors and the same backgrounds. And sometimes the scripts are even hand-written!
Where did it all start?
In 1899 the first Indian short film was screened, and Bollywood was born. Just like in Hollywood the films were silent to begin with, then in the 1930s the films became 'talkies'. Many Indians came to live and work in Britain around fifty years ago, and they brought their culture with them. Now, Bollywood's biggest audience outside India is in Britain.
Why is Bollywood so big now?
2002 was the year it all kicked off for Bollywood in Britain.
A season of Indian films was shown on TV when India and England played in a big cricket tournament.
A department store devoted a summer to Indian fashion, and shops everywhere were full of colourful clothes, bindis, bangles, saris and henna.
Bombay Dreams, a new West End musical, was a sell out. Special cinemas also showed Bollywood classic films and had exhibitions featuring Bollywood film posters.
Lagaan, a huge Bollywood hit, was nominated for an Oscar.
The charts were full of Bhangra, with Timbaland, Dr Dre and the Neptunes sampling Indian beats and Punjabi MC having big hits. India was even featured in cool car adverts.
Bollywood films have managed to cross over and now it's not just Indian families watching them - they're being shown in big cinemas across the UK.
What makes Bollywood films unusual?
Bollywood films are really colourful and crammed with singing, dancing, loads of costume changes.
The also used to stick to a formula of boy meets girl, they fall in love and they struggle for family approval.
There's also always a hero, a heroine, a vamp and a comedy sidekick.
Romance is big but there's no sex!
Bollywood song and dance
While most actors, especially today, are excellent dancers, few are also singers. Songs are generally pre-recorded by professional playback singers with actors lip-synching the words, often while dancing. One notable exception was Kishore Kumar who starred in several major films in the 1950s while also having a stellar career as a playback singer. K. L. Saigal, Suraiyya and Noor Jehan were also known as both singers and actors. Of late, a few actors have again tried singing for themselves. Amitabh Bachchan, who started the trend of non-singing stars at the mike with the runaway hit "Mere Angane Mein" in "Lawaaris" in the mid-80's, continued his toe-dipping in singing with turns in "Silsila", "Mahaan" "Toofan" and more recently in the movies Baghban and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, as well as doing a duet with Adnan Sami in the song Kabhi Nahi (Never). Aamir Khan took a turn singing "Kya Bolti Tu" in Ghulam but only because "the character had attitude that only Aamir could do justice to", according to director Vikram Bhatt. These forays, while well-received at the time, have not led to real singing careers for either actor.
Playback singers are prominently featured in the opening credits and have their own fans who will go to an otherwise lackluster movie just to hear their favorites. The composers of film music, known as music directors, are also well-known. Their songs can make or break a film and usually do.
The dancing in Bollywood films, especially older ones, is primarily modeled on Indian dance: classical dance styles, dances of historic northern Indian courtesans (tawaif), or folk dances. In modern films, Indian dance elements often blend with Western dance styles (as seen on MTV or in Broadway musicals), though it is not unusual to see Western pop and pure classical dance numbers side by side in the same film. The hero or heroine will often perform with a troupe of supporting dancers, usually of the same sex. If the hero and heroine dance and sing a pas-de-deux (a dance and ballet term, meaning "dance of two"), it is often staged in beautiful natural surroundings or architecturally grand settings.
What is Bollywood dancing?
Bollywood dancing is a commercial name for modern Indian dancing. It's a combination of classical Indian dance (which is the base), folk dancing such as Bhangra and sometimes has a Latino and Arabic influence. It's fun and very expressive and there's a lot of deep meaning behind music in the films. You can actually express what the music means, through the graceful movements of the body.
Why is dancing so crucial to Bollywood films?
People in India have been brought up on musicals and if the music in a film isn't very good, sometimes the movie doesn't sell. Specific producers, such as Yash Chopra, Karan Johar generally produce movies with phenomenal and very emotional songs; hence the dancing comes into play.
Choreographers are now starting to take the industry by storm because Farah Khan – a famous choreographer recently directed her first movie called Main Hoon Na. This goes to show that people want to see elaborate and funky dance sequences, they don't want pure acting, hence dancing is a crucial.
Cast and crew
Bollywood employs people from all parts of India. It attracts thousands of aspiring actors and actresses, all hoping for a break in the industry. Models and beauty contestants, television actors, theatre actors and even common people come to Mumbai with the hope and dream of becoming a star. Just as in Hollywood very few succeed.
Stardom in the entertainment industry is very fickle, and Bollywood is no exception. Popularity of the stars can rise and fall rapidly, based on single movies. Very few people become national icons, who are unaffected by success or failure of their movies, like Amitabh Bachchan. Directors compete to hire the most popular stars of the day, who are believed to guarantee the success of a movie (though this belief is not always supported by box-office results). Hence stars make the most of their fame, once they become popular, by making several movies simultaneously. Aamir Khan is one of the few actors who is notable for his insistence on doing only one movie at a time.
Bollywood can be clannish, and the relatives of film-industry insiders have an edge in getting coveted roles. One notable film clan is the Kapoors: the patriarch Prithviraj Kapoor, his sons Raj Kapoor, Shammi, and Shashi, Raj's sons Randhir, Rishi, and Rajiv, and Randhir's daughters Karisma and Kareena Kapoor, have all been popular actors or even stars. Yet industry connections are no guarantee of a long career: competition is brutal and if film industry scions don't succeed at the box office, their careers will falter.
The Indian screen magazine Filmfare started the first Filmfare Awards in 1953. These awards were to be Bollywood's version of the Academy Awards. Magazine readers submit their votes and the awards are presented at a glamorous, star-studded ceremony. Like the Oscars, they are frequently accused of bias towards commercial success rather than merit.
Since 1973, the Indian government has sponsored the National Film Awards, awarded by the government-sponsored Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF). The DFF screens not only Bollywood films, but films from all the other regional cinemas and independent/art films. These awards are handed out at a ceremony presided over by the President of India and hence are coveted by all
Who are the big stars?
Arjun Rampal is a Bollywood heart-throb. He's been making films for four or five years, and famously starred in Pyar Ishq Aur Mohabbat.
Arjun Rampal is a Bollywood actor. He chats to Becky Jago about the Indian film industry.
How did you get into Bollywood?
It's taken me four or five years to get where I am. Acting isn't easy. You have to have talent, and I think, a lot of luck. You have to appeal to a very large section of the Indian audience.
I watched films as I was growing up. They've definitely changed. You watch an old film today and it will look outdated. Films are more modern now.
All the plots are similar though aren't they?
The cinema is the only form of entertainment that's why you have to pack everything in and that's why they're so long. But things are changing now. Indian films haven't been original enough, but that's starting to happen now. There's a big market for Indian movies abroad now. Big studios are coming to India.
Why have they become popular in the UK?
There is a large number of Indians living abroad. Somewhere down the line they've understood each other's cultures. Indian films have had the Indian culture in them taken the mickey out of. But now we're proud of our culture so we've been able to share it. Indians here also understand the culture out there.
I hope it's not just a phase. I hope it's more permanent but that needs work.
What do you look for in a script?
I like to see the clarity that the director has in his mind. I need to see myself as that character. It has to be a clear draft and hopefully have a message.
I like the singing and dancing and that's something which people out here enjoy. I was on a world tour recently and it's lovely having people singing your songs. I felt a little bit like a rock star even though I can't sing to save my life. We playback our songs.
How would you describe a Bollywood film?
Just go and enjoy it - it's colourful and entertaining. The basic storyline was about rich boy and poor girl falling in love and obstacles in the way.
I think Bollywood and Hollywood are very different. It's totally different markets. I would do a Hollywood film but it would have to be right.
Being an actor is great - reaching out to so many people and being creative. The conditions we shoot in are tough.
What's your worst experience when filming?
My first film - there was a dance sequence in Switzerland. I was wearing a tight t-shirt dancing under a waterfall in the freezing temperatures. I don't know how long I will continue acting but I hope to be in the industry for a while.
There are big changes coming. We've been shaken up by losses. Film-makers are getting their acts together and starting to work on the script.
What problems does Bollywood face?
Bollywood's biggest problem is piracy - where people copy the films and either sell them or show them to other people for free. At the moment not all films made make more money than they cost to make, even though they can be seen by around one billion people. If everyone paid to see the film legally the industry would make lots more money. At the moment Bollywood film producers are trying to work out a way to stop this happening.
Another problem is that younger generations sometimes find the stories a bit predictable and are get bored of the similar tales. Film-makers are trying to solve this by changing storylines to reflect real life - like the fact that children of Indian families now study abroad.
What's the future for Bollywood?
The future looks even brighter for Bollywood. Big US film companies such as Warner Bros and Twentieth Century Fox are setting up offices in India.
Where Indian film makers have found it difficult to compete with Hollywood's special effects, this is seen as the next big area for Bollywood to develop.