Dienstag, 25.06.2019 06:00 Uhr

Bombastic, Fantastic... Bollywood

Verantwortlicher Autor: Sharon Oppenheimer Berlin, 22.05.2019, 10:05 Uhr
Nachricht/Bericht: +++ Special interest +++ Bericht 3971x gelesen

Berlin [ENA] Over a century ago, the world's largest film industry was born: Bollywood. The shiny world of Bollywood films is more ridiculed than loved in Germany. But who does not take Bollywood seriously is mistaken: the Indian film industry not only offers colourful costumes, singing, dancing and lively film sets, but also artisan films that are in no way inferior to the Western movies.

Non-Indians understand "Bollywood" as a synonym for the entire Indian film industry, which is actually incorrect. The word "Bollywood" is made up of "Bombay" and "Hollywood" (In 1996, the city council in Bombay decided to change the name to Mumbai).The local film industry produces more films than the USA, China and Japan. Only in 2016 more than 2.2 billion movie tickets were sold in India, making it the world's leading film market - German cinema can only dream of that!

In India, "Bollywood" is the name for the Hindi-language film that exists alongside the Tamil film, the Telugu cinema (Tollywood), the Punjabi film (Pollywood), Malayalam cinema (Mollywood) and other cinemas. In total, 1721 languages are spoken on the subcontinent, of which 122 are main languages. Between 2014 and 2015, the Indian film industry shot 1827 films in over 39 languages, of which 297 were in Tamil, 297 in Hindi and 284 in Telugu. Despite the variety of languages the Indian entertainment films, regardless of which region they originate from have a lot in common.

Indian cinema is a phenomenon that reflects the cultural pattern of Indian society. An emerging nation on the way to becoming an industrialised country, full of spirituality, a 5000-year culture of 1.3 billion people, including 1 billion Hindus, 200 million Muslims, nearly 28 million Christians, more than 20 million Sikhs, over 8 million Buddhists, among them the most famous refugee in the world, the Dalai Lama, some 69,000 Parses and less than five thousand Jews. India is also the birthplace of three world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism and the youngest world religion, Sikhism.

Among the major influences which have shaped Indian cinema are the ancient Indian epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. They have always made a deep impression on the works as well as the ancient Sanskrit drama, which focused on an action combining music, dance and gesture. Another element is the traditional folk theatre of India, which became popular in the 10th century after the decline of the Sanskrit theatre.

The Parsi Theatre is another component which shaped the cinematic tradition of India. Realism and fantasy, music and dance, narrative, plot, elemental dialogues, rough humour and the ingenuity of stage presentation are combined with melodrama. The Parsis originally come from ancient Persia, from which they fled to India after the decline of the Sassanid Empire and the following Islamisation in the 8th century. The most famous Parsi in the Western Hemisphere was Freddy Mercury.

Hollywood musicals, which were popular until the 1950s, served as a guideline for Indian feature films as there is a deep-rooted tradition of narrating myths, stories, fairy tales, and the like through song and dance. Western musical television, especially MTV, shaped factors such as speed, camera angles, dance sequences and music in the 1990s. Indian films are much longer than Western films: two to three hours of running time is the rule, interrupted by a compulsory interval, due to the script, which is based on the guidelines of the Victorian script structure. The typical feature is still the interval in the middle of the film. Most movies are a mixture of romantic melodrama, comedy and action. Bollywood plots tend to be melodramatic.

They often use content such as lovers and angry parents, love triangles, family ties, relatives, corrupt politicians, kidnappers, seductive scoundrels, lost loved ones and lovers who have parted fate and of course lots of music and dancing. It is expected that actors know how to dance. The vocal part is often - but not always - taken over by professional playback singers.

The history of Indian Film began in 1896 with the first cinematographic performance of the brothers Lumière in Bombay. From 1898, the Bengale Hiralal Sen filmed theatrical performances. In December 1901, the first Indian documentary recording of a recent political event was made by Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar. In addition to short documentary films, theatre films were also produced during the first years. The turning point of the Indian feature film is “ Raja Harishchandra, filmed in 1912 and premiered in May 1913 movie by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke. The film was not a film adaptation of a play, but a sophisticated feature film and became a success because the audience got to see a story that was known to it.

But it was the Jews of India who pushed the boundaries of Indian cinema: the first film kiss, the first dance, the first talkie and the first color film. Ezra Mir, a Jew from Calcutta, who had learned his craft in the USA, recognised the importance of sound film together with Ardeshir Irani and became the first Indian talkie. “Alam Ara” is a 1931 Indian Bollywood Hindi / Urdu film directed by Ardeshir Irani. Ezra Mir produced the film. “Alam Ara” made his debut at the Majestic Cinema in Mumbai in March 1931. The first Indian talkie was so popular that the police were called to keep the masses under control.

In the beginning, just like in the theatre, women rarely appeared as actors, since the acting profession for women was considered disreputable at the time. Therefore men performed, dressed as women. One of the "female actors" was the cinematographer Anna Hari Salunke, also known as A. Salunke and Annasaheb Salunke. Between 1913 and 1931 he performed many female roles. Nevertheless, male female actors could not meet the demand for female protagonists. It was the women of a small minority who went to Mumbai to conquer Bollywood.

For Jews it was not taboo when women showed themselves in public. For more than 2000 years, Jews have lived on the Indian subcontinent. Presumably the first Jews arrived more than 2500 years ago. In fact the oldest Jewish cemetery in India is far older than 2000 years. Jews came to India in several waves over the centuries, sometimes as merchants but often on the run. Jewish women were more independent and progressive and conquered the silver screen by storm. The Indians believed they were descendants of Islamic conquerors or Anglo-Indian women because of their look and their stage names.

Sulochana who was in actual fact Ruby Meyers, was the first female superstar of Indian cinema in the silent movie era. She was so famous that the films of Gandhi were shown before hers in order to increase his popularity. Rose Musleah was born in 1911 in Calcutta, where she was a dance teacher. After her divorce, she decided to try her luck in the film industry. As "Miss Rose" she made a career and played a major role in many films. When the family of Rachel Sofaer was financially struck by the economic crisis, she began working under the name Arati Devi as a film actress. After her marriage in 1933 she gave up her film career. Esther Abraham aka Pramila, was the star of Indian cinema in the 1930s. In 1947 she became the first "Miss India".

One of Pramila´s films, "Mother India" from 1938 was shown as the first Indian movie at Buckingham Palace. In the late 1940s, especially after independence, the profession of "actress" no longer represented any moral concerns. Again it was a Jewish actress who set new standards. Farhat Ezekiel chose the stage name "Nadira" and established a new type of woman: the vamp. Smoking cigarettes, with unusual costumes and hairdoes she was considered the prototype of the vamp of Indian cinema. She often played the role of the seductress, the counterpart to the chaste heroine, favored by the Bollywood industry.

A Jewish actor even became the father figure of Indian film. Known as "David" performer David Abraham Cheulkar could look back on a career spanning over four decades and more than 110 films. However the period in which Jews influenced the Indian film industry is long gone. The Jewish community of India which once numbered 90,000 souls has decreased to less than 5,000. After Israel's Independence in 1948, most of them left the country.

The period following India's Independence from 1947 to the 1960s is regarded by film historians as the "golden age" of Hindi cinema. Some of the most critically acclaimed Hindi films of all times were produced during this period. Examples are the Guru Dutt films Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and the Raj Kapoor films Awaara (1951), Shree 420 (1955) and Dilip Kumar's Aan (1952). Some of Hindi's most famous epic films were produced at the time, including Mehboob Khan's Mother India (1957). In the late 1960s and early 1970s, romantic films as well as action films became the trend in Bollywood.

Later in the mid seventies, romantic tear-jerkers made way for action films with gangsters and bandits of all kinds, while in the 80's and 90's the industry returned successfully to the well-tried, family oriented, romantic musicals. The 2000s brought growth for Bollywood and recognition worldwide. A rapid boom in the Indian economy and a demand for quality entertainment in this era brought the nation's film industry to new heights in terms of production values, cinematography and innovative scripts, as well as advances in special effects and animation. From 2010, the industry proved the trend of established movie stars like Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar and Shahrukh Khan.

Films are rigorously restricted in prudish India: sex and intimacy are prohibited. Film kisses were generally banned by censors until the 1990s; even to this day, kissing falls victim to censorship. Once upon a time, India produced the Kamasutra, but one can only speculate as to what changed the moral concepts on the subcontinent. For decades filmmakers have complained that film censors act like moral guardians, demanding that lewd language, sexuality, homosexual issues, and politically sensitive content be cut from films - and not just that.

In 2016 a Bollywood blockbuster almost failed because of its topic: the drug problems in the northern state of Punjab. According to reports, censors had asked the creators of "Udta Punjab" ("Flying Punjab") to cut out dozens of scenes and remove all references to the state, including the title. "All characters are negative, it will affect the whole community." claimed Pahlaj Nihalani, head of the Central Committee for Film Certification, to India's press. His prophecy did not become true. Pahlaj Nihalani failed as a fortune teller.

It was in 2016, when Bollywood registered an interesting newcomer in the movie "Udtha Punjab", the film which almost became victim to censorship. His name is Diljit Dosanjh. Without family ties to the industry, but with a lot of talent, diligence and the necessary charisma he made the breakthrough. He is considered one of the leading artists in the music industry of the Punjab, the Sikh state, and has participated regularly since 2011 in Punjabi films. At first many did not expect any great opportunities for him in Bollywood: as Sikh he wears a turban and has a beard. But he proved them wrong. Nevertheless, he made the breakthrough with the film "Udta Punjab" and the audience loves this sympathetic artist.

One of the biggest Bollywood stars of the present is Shahrukh Khan. He is probably the Indian actor who best known in Germany. In India he not only makes films, but also advertisements for expensive skin whitening creams. He is not the only one who makes advertisements for these products. He would probably not have success in Germany, especially since solariums still enjoy great popularity.

Bollywood is a world unto itself, playing by its own rules. Within the Indian film industry, there is a recurrent theme: family clan members who literally dominate the movie industry over many generations whether as actors, directors, screenwriters or producers: there are the Khans, the Kapoors, the Bachchans, the Bhatt family and others. Filmmakers already in the fourth and the fifth generations are currently being tinkered. It is a small group of people who worship and favour each other. For a newbie, it's not so easy to get a foothold unless you belong to the old-established Bollywood families - but exceptions only confirm the rule.

Of course India's film industry also produces a lot of trash and questionable concoctions that are full of stupidity and tastelessness. In 2011 "Dear friend Hitler" was published in India under the title "Gandhi to Hitler". It is a film that glorifies Adolf Hitler as alleged supporter of India in the fight for freedom against the British. The truth is: Hitler disliked Indians. He killed up to 1,5 Million Romani People, also known as Gypsies, an Indo-Aryan ethnic group originating from the northern Indian subcontinent, from modern-day Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab. The father of the nation meets the Gröfaz (Hitler was called by the Germans "Gröfaz" which is a shortcut for "greatest father of all times").

Unfortunately many people in South Asia have little knowledge of National Socialism and see Hitler as a great statesman. For example a member of Indian Parliament is called “Adolf Lu Hitler Marak”. Hitler's use of the swastika, an ancient Hindu symbol of fortune and his relation to the Aryans fall to benevolent recognition among simple-minded people. Also in 2011 the Punjabi movie "Hero Hitler in Love" was released, which was touted as a ”love comedy". The author of the story was the singer Babbu Maan who wrote both the script and the music and took over the leading role. This schmaltzy film is another prime example of cinematic hazardous waste. The main character of the film is a respected man in his native village, nicknamed Hitler.

The Film´s title was universally criticised. Maan defended his work by saying that the contradictory title "Hero Hitler" was ironic, since Hitler in India stood for "rascality and hatred". Internationally the film failed tremendously. But he had success in the Punjab. In 2016 however Babbu Maan made a name for himself due to his constant verbal and witless attacks on Diljit Dosanjh. Perhaps it is the phenomenal success of Diljit Dosanjh with his films and songs which causes Babbu Maan to freak out. Babbu Maan is not the first to unnecessarily criticise Diljit. Others had already tried that. Diljit should not take these attacks to his heart since he is by far better than his critics.

Amitabh Bachchan is considered the largest and most influential actor in the history of Indian cinema. His career began in 1969. There is even a temple in Calcutta where Amitabh Bachchan is worshiped as a god. Over three decades ago he was a good friend of Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi. In 1984, he briefly went into politics and won a seat in Parliament for Allahabad. He spilled his deadly venom by using his popularity in 1984 and cheering on the Sikh massacres. He shouted "Khun ka badia," which means "blood needs revenge," to the masses following Indira Gandhi's assassination by two Sikh bodyguards. In the next days whole districts burned in New Delhi, at least 3000 people perished in the capital alone.

The Sikhs murdered outside of Delhi are numbered more than 30,000. Hundreds of Sikhs, if not thousands, disappeared without a trace. The exact number remains unknown. Each of these mob gangs of about 200-300 men, led by a leader, began to swarm out into the Sikhs' homes, killing children, raping women, tying men to tires set on fire with kerosene, burning houses and shops, after looting them while the police looked on. After three years Amitabh Bachchan retired from politics without ending his term and for whatever reason broke with the Gandhi family. Bachchan never faced legal action for his complicity. He returned to acting and gives the impression as though such a great artist as himself is indispensable.

Statistically almost every day a new movie is released in India. This makes the country the world leader in film production. The gigantic studios are located in Mumbai, Calcutta and Madras. Indians are enthusiastic moviegoers and about ten million people pour into theatres every day. Indian films are represented in all genres. No wonder that Bollywood is defying American cinema and making a laughing stock of German cinema.

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