The largest film industry in the world
North American cinema impresses with its great quality productions that win over audiences all over the world. But don’t think that Hollywood is the largest film industry in the world.
Who dominates this scenario is Bollywood, with the title of the largest film production company in the world.
The Indians produce around 1500 films a year and have a loyal audience that fills the sessions to follow each release. As the second most populated country in the world with over 1.3 billion people, Indian cinema has an average of over half a million spectators a month.
They also export their films to neighboring countries and places like the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the Arab world which has a large Hindu community.
History behind Bollywood
The first release took place in May 1913, a silent film called “Haja Harischandra” by director Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, told the story of a character quoted in the “Mahbharata”, a classic Indian epic.
From the 1940s onwards, cinema began to be part of Indian culture, soon after independence from England, films were an important tool for the country to create its national identity, the big screen helped to portray a multicultural place with different religions. In the 1970s, productions focused more on social issues and directors expressed their dissatisfaction with the government and the high levels of violence that plagued India.
Since its creation, Bollywood cinema has always had a good audience, but in the 1990s, the Indian government, production companies and executives began to look at cinema as something that could be profitable and contribute to the growth of the GDP. At that time, there was an economic boom and India started to grow almost 9% a year and film productions followed this development, especially the middle class that socially came on fire and acquired new habits, which became part of the films that gained music, choreography and their plots portrayed heroism, adventure, love stories and the dilemmas of young people who had to divide themselves between family traditions or follow their own path.
Reaching global audiences
In the 2000s, that Bollywood reached global reach, was when the number of films produced surpassed Hollywood and the Americans were neither leading the box office nor occupying many cinemas in the country. Because the local audience did not show much interest in productions that did not portray their reality. In 2001 came the first Oscar nomination for Lagaan (“Tax”). The Indian production companies also started buying American scripts already produced and adapted them to their own reality, as was the case with Three Bachelors and a Baby (1987), which became Heyy Baby (2007), and even the trilogy of “The Godfather” got a Bollywood version with Sarkar 1 (2005), Sarkar Raj (2008) and Sarkar 3 (2017), all directed by Ram Gopal Varma, an important Hindu director. For the coming years other remakes are scheduled like “Forrest Gump” and “Guilt is the Stars”.
Bollywood also does co-production partnerships with other industries like the award-winning “Slumdog Millionaire”, directed by Danny Boyle with a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy. The story is an adaptation of the book Q & A by Indian author and diplomat Vikas Swarup. The film was an audience and critical success and took eight Oscars (including Best Film, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay). That film brought Bollywood closer to Hollywood, in the following years American studios started investing in Indian cinema, for example, since 2012 Disney has controlled UTV, the country’s largest audiovisual content producer. Netflix has a session dedicated entirely to content produced by Bollywood. Indian actors or those of Hindu origin have also started to feature in US productions such as Pryanka Choppra, Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Deepika Padukone, Suraj Sharma, Kunal Nayyar among others.
In the year 2013, Bollywood completed 100 years and was honored in a big way at the 66th Cannes Film Festival in France with the screening of two films. Not by chance, after this ceremony, the cinema made in Bollywood began to take a turn in its productions that started to discuss social causes, caste division still present in India, and questions about the participation of LGBTs and women gained strength. Incidentally, the Oscar for best short film in 2019 went to India in a production directed by director Rayka Zehtabchi for Netflix. The film, “Absorb the Taboo”, depicts the story of a village in New Delhi in which women deal with the prejudice of menstruation. The result of this win shows how things are changing in the country, today Indian cinema has quality productions and its industry is self-sustaining, not depending on government subsidies. With all this profit the next few years have everything to award more Bollywood films.
What does the future look like for Bollywood?
The coming years and decades might see Bollywood become even more global, but it will take some time to get there. First, to go global it will need to invent something new, perhaps an Indian version of “La La Land” or “Moonlight”. And to get there, it needs all the producers that have recognized the potential of their country and the talent of its actors and directors.
Then a few years later, if Bollywood does not go through a major crisis that causes the industry decline that we are experiencing in India today, then Bollywood could even be a reference for our country’s cinema in Europe and North America.