Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Miscellanous thoughts on the history of Bollywood, Part 1.

I won't go into detail on what inspired this post; let's just say I've been learning about these things as of late.

  • At times it really bugs me that the early history of Indian film is so hard to access - I think the earliest films available are from 1940's, maybe a few select earlier films available on DVD or as archived material (you can only access by going to India). Compare this to what you can get your hands on from the silent era of European film, or Hollywood, or Scandinavian film. It's a huge, rich context we're quite simply missing out on, and can only really read about in books and by seeing still photographs of movies.
  • Addendum: why this bugs me especially is because of the difference of Hindi film's history compared to other cinemas. The influences are different. The style is different. The context is obviously unique. Regarding the influences, I've read and heard Parsi theater, other folk theater traditions and Sanskrit aesthetics (the entire 'rasa' theory) cited as heavy influence. In a way, not being able to discuss early cinema with the voice of experience (or rather, just having seen some of these damn movies!) feels like I'm missing a very vital link. You know, I don't know if I would be interested in watching 30+ Sulochana movies or a dozen mythological silent movies, but I'd at least like to have the opportunity to do so. Basically, to see the continuity clearer from past cinema to modern cinema, would be nice, even if just to justify some of the things that make Bollywood as it is: when somebody disgards the films as overly dramatic, I could simply say, "Look, this is the tradition over there. This is the preference of the audience, throughout the ages. Why do you assume they'd be making movies according to your tastes?"
  • I feel awfully embarrassed because as much as I love Guru Dutt, I've seen such a rare few of his films. The big ones, sure, and I have Mr & Mrs 55 in the mail, arriving next week and will get to it eventually, but in comparison to my other favourites on the oldie front, it's just embarrassing. Then again, to be honest, I do find it easier to watch a nice 70's film than a 50's/60's masterpiece. There is something wrong with me like that. (By the way, if you recommend me Guru Dutt films - please do - I'd prefer ones with him as an actor, not the director.)
  • Don't you love the romanticized tragic on-screen/off-screen jodi's of the 50's? I'm talking Raj Kapoor-Nargis, Madhubala-Dilip Kumar and of course, Guru Dutt-Waheeda Rehman. I think out of the three, only Madhubala-Dilip is confirmed - they did date, her family didn't approve, there was a court hassle over a movie, and then they broke up, and the romanticized version of the story goes, she never stopped loving him to the event of her untimely death. Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt were married men, which makes the alleged romances with their most popular on-screen partners slightly less romantic but tragic all the same (especially Guru and Waheeda - I'm really surprised they weren't in speaking terms while filming Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam because that was my first film with the two and I adored their chemistry to pieces).
  • Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi - a movie I ought to see more like, and a movie you ought to see, period.

  • Does it ever bother anybody else that as a fan, you sometimes latch onto historically inconsequential (or maybe just-not-all-that-important) stars and films? I know I'll read and learn about 70's Hindi films, I probably won't hear a word about Vinod Khanna, and am probably lucky to hear about Dharmendra or Hema Malini unless the subject is Sholay (which the subject very well should be!). On the other hand, in the modern times, I feel like my favourites, especially in terms of movies, are the ones most people will remember in 10 years' time. It's odd.
More coming in part 2, whenever I get around to writing it up. :)


rossywar said...

I agree about the availability of early Indian films. For example, reading about "Fearless Nadia" really makes me want to watch at least one of her films, but being "B" movies and old, they just aren't available on DVD. The documentary about her isn't even widely available :(

I hope that some day soon, an enterprising person will get DVD right and make DVD copies of a good selection of these old films.

ajnabi said...

I totally agree about the difficulty faced by Dharmendra and Hema fans--I'm right there with you. Maybe one of these days the older films will be released on compilation DVD's like HW's are in the U.S.

Anita said...

Well, Hema and Dharmendra were huge stars at the time, whether or not they are talked about in a historical sense now. My mom always talks about her friends who loved Dharmendra so much and my dad was a HUUUGE Hema fan back in the day. :)

Anonymous said...

U r absolutely right about the huge gap in our knowledge of the 40s and earlier movies. Even the 50s movies, we are lucky to find some on DVD.

Lets hope we get some of these soon.

waiting for ur part 2

bollyviewer said...

Guess it must be frustrating wanting and not being able to watch 20s and 30s Bollywood. Having seen a couple of examples from 30s on TV I am not particularly anxious to see them! Compared to contemporary Hollywood, they were rough technically and performance-wise. Guess there isnt a big market for them which is why the few survivors from that era dont make it to DVD!

Most books I've read about Bollywood talk about Dharam-Hema though its more about Hema than Dharamendra who for some reason (that I cant fathom) isnt considered a great actor. You're right about Vinod Khanna though - for all his acting skills and hunky good looks, he is rarely mentioned anywhere!

Ajnabi, I'm not sure what problem you faced about Dharam-Hema movies - most of them seem to be out on DVD/VCD and are easily available at a lot of online DVD stores.

Nicki said...

Yes, older Bollywood films are hard to get!

What are you talking about? Look at how much Bollywood films I watch and I haven't watched a lot of the classic oldies. :)

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Its terrible but so true. Google "Moser Baer" though, and you will find that this company is coming out with cheap VCD/DVDs, which is enabling really obscure movies to become available. Hopefully, its just a matter of time before we get all the goodies.

Oh and if you are enthu about Guru Dutt, try "Aar Paar"- that remains my favorite of his movies till date.

veracious said...

rossywar - Seconding the want for some Fearless Nadia films. The company who made them still exists, I don't understand why they don't realize there's a market for a Hindi film stunt heroine movies! C'mon.

ajnabi - Nooo, it's not so much the DVD's that aren't available but rather that when people discuss 70's film, Amitabh and Rajesh Khanna seem to be the main topics.

anita - Yay for Hema-Dharam fans! :)

anonymous - I've seen clips of pre-Partition movies so they're out there but yes, very scarcely so.

bollyviewer - I know, they are probably not very impressive cinema. There are good reasons why it's only 50's when film rose to its true heights in Hindi cinema, but still!

I guess Dharmendra is considered a populist hero, but not really a great actor. *shrug* I love the man, though. And yes, such is the tragedy of Vinod Khanna. :(

nicki - Well, movies from the 70's are veeery available so if you haven't seen many of those, you really ought to! It's my favourite decade besides modern films. :)

Shweta - Thanks for the tip! & the Guru Dutt recommendation.

Anonymous said...

Vinod Khanna indeed is not only handsome but also a talented actor - perhaps overshadowed by AB's popularity

I remember seeing "Insaaf' a long time ago - VK plays a cop and Dimple Kapadia is a doctor. It was a good movie and I would recommend it

Rum said...

there are a tonnnnn of Guru Dutt's too watch such as Pyaasa, Kaagaz ke Phool, Bahurani, AAr Paar, Chaudvin ka Chand! hope you enjoy!