Raja Harishchandra (1913) was the first silent feature film made in India. It was made by Dadasaheb Phalke. By the 1930s, the industry was producing over 200 films per annum. The first Indian sound film, Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara (1931), was a super hit. There was clearly a huge market for talkies and musicals; Bollywood and all the regional film industries quickly switched to sound filming.
The 1930s and 1940s were tumultuous times: India was buffeted by the Great Depression, World War II, the Indian independence movement, and the violence of the Partition. Most Bollywood films were unabashedly escapist, but there were also a number of filmmakers who tackled tough social issues, or used the struggle for Indian independence as a backdrop for their plots.
In the late 1950s, Bollywood released its first color films; however, the majority of films continued to be black-and-white until the mid-1960s. At this time, lavish romantic musicals and melodramas were the staple fare at the cinema. Successful actors included Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor and actresses like Nargis, Meena Kumari, Nutan and Madhubala. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, romance movies and action films starred actors like Rajesh Khanna and Dharmendra. In the mid-1970s, romantic confections made way for gritty, violent films about gangsters and bandits. Amitabh Bachchan, the star known for his “angry young man” roles, rode the crest of this trend with actors like Mithun Chakraborty and Anil Kapoor, which lasted into the early 1990s. Actresses from this era included Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha.
In the mid-1990s, the pendulum swung back towards family-centric romantic musicals with the success of such films as Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) making stars out of a new generation of actors (such as Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan) and actresses (such as Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit and Kajol). In that point of time, action and comedy films were also successful, with actors like Govinda and Akshay Kumar and actresses such as Raveena Tandon and Karisma Kapoor appearing in films of this genre. Furthermore, this decade marked the entry of new performers in art and independent films, some of which succeeded commercially. These films featured actors like Nana Patekar, Manisha Koirala, Tabu and Urmila Matondkar, whose performances were usually acclaimed by critics.
The 2000s saw a growth in Bollywood’s popularity in the world. This led the nation’s filmmaking to new heights in terms of quality, cinematography and innovative story lines as well as technical advances such as special effects, animation etc. Some of the largest production houses, among them Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions were the producers of new modern films. The opening up of the overseas market, more Bollywood releases abroad and the explosion of multiplexes in big cities, led to wider box office successes in India and abroad, including Devdas, Koi… Mil Gaya, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Veer-Zaara and Dhoom 2, delivering a new generation of popular actors (Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan) and actresses (Aishwarya Rai, Preity Zinta and Rani Mukerji), and keeping the popularity of actors of the previous decade.
The Indian film industry has preferred films that appeal to all segments of the audience (see the discussion in Ganti, 2004, cited in references), and has resisted making films that target narrow audiences. It was believed that aiming for a broad spectrum would maximise box office receipts. However, filmmakers may be moving towards accepting some box-office segmentation, between films that appeal to rural Indians, and films that appeal to urban and overseas audiences.