100 years of Indian Cinema Part Deux
Continuing with the tribute and moving on to the next era which is hailed as the golden era of Indian cinema. The 40’s (late) to 60’s gave audiences a taste of many facets of the Indian ethos and culture. It was a period which churned out some real classics and cult movies that would be revered by the ages to come. This era would also witness the inception of many awards as well as technical breakthroughs, creation ageless melodies and renditions, see the rise of actors that really established our ( the Indian) brand of cinema in on the global canvas like never before.
The Golden Age: 40’s to the 60’s
The 40’s was a time of change, especially with the “Quit India” movement and high anti-British sentiments being on the rise followed by the breaking out of the famines and the wars. All this contributed majorly to the making cinema which had a soul and connected with its audiences. Eventually this era made the audiences witness some quality cinema and changed the landscape forever.
It was primarily due to the vision and imagination of creative geniuses like Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, Mehboob Khan, Ritwik Ghatak, Satyajit Ray, Chetan Anand, V.Shantaram and Guru Dutt, that this era saw some of the most flourishing cinematic work ever done. Films made were balanced with both emotional and realistic content and also dabbled with melodramas which were a treat both visually and musically. Cinema landscape was to change forever.
The change started with Bengali Cinema which really spurred the turnaround of the Indian films. With its unique and touching tales, it was the coming of age of the so called parallel/art cinema. Films like “Naagorik” and “Do Beegha Zameen” proved to be the stepping stones of neo-realism in Indian cinema. This status was also further consolidated by films like “The Apu Trilogy” (Pother Panchali, Apur Sansar and Aporajito) and Guru Dutt’s “Pyaasa” and “Kaagaz Ke Phool” in the 50’s. Films which are till date considered as an integral part of the best cinema of all times.
The 50’s was the era which saw the unprecedented rise of Indian Films on the global arena. Films by Ray and Bimal Roy took both the critics and jury by storm and swept across all the accolades at national and international circuits. Ray’s Pother Panchali won as many as 11 awards. Although each filmmaker had his own style and distinct way of narration, most of these style was accepted by the audiences and till date inspires new filmmakers.
The prominent landmark film of the 40’s was” Kismet” (1943) which saw Ashok Kumar play a negative character with finesse. It was also the first legitimate box office blockbuster. Other films like ‘Mahal” and “Humayun’ made him a credible star.
The later part of the 40’s was dominated by Raj Kapoor. In 1948 Raj Kapoor debuted with his “Aag” followed by films like “Barsaat”, “Awaara” and “Shri 420” and proved to be India’s answer to Charlie Chaplin. He actually can be credited as the man who really took Indian Cinema beyond boundaries and his films reached out to the masses even in nations like Russia then USSR, China and other parts of South East Asia. Inspired by “Citizen Kane” and Chaplin’s “The Tramp”. “Awara” showcased Kapoor’s talent very well. It was not just his chaplinesque act but his passion for cinema as well. He created an open set for the dream sequence and torched his set to get the desired effect for scenes in “Awara”. The song took 30 days to shoot. But what shown across was the genius of Kapoor. He was one man who really showcased India’s issues on the big screen like no one else did. His contribution also was that he introduced a young Shashi Kapoor to the screen. Shashi, of course would later became the poster boy romantic hero and also produced some critically acclaimed films with Shyam Benegal and also go on to work in some interesting Merchant Ivory films. In fact it is the oldest film family in India.
The first National Award (1954) was won by Bimal Roy’s “Do Beegha Zameen”. There were stories, that the film fraternities were not keen to see a dhoti kurta clad personality (Bimal Roy) pick up the award. But Raj Kapoor who was nominated in the same category went out of his way hugged Roy and announced that it was a film even he would have been proud of. The film also was one of the very first where a foreign educated Balraj Sahani, took some serious method acting classes by pulling the Rickshaw barefooted on the scorching streets of Kolkata to get into Mahato’s character. Passion for cinema was evident in the era.
This era also gave us a breed of accomplished actors like Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand , Raj Kapoor, Balraj Sahani to name a few. They spearheaded the film bastion. This phase would also see the rise of commercial cinema and would also see experimentation with varied topics like social status disparity, status of women, class divide and problems of the common man. The lost and found genre, the dacoit drama, reincarnation, women liberation, class divide etc were some basic themes this era would see along with adaptations of classics and out and out musicals.
This era also saw the first brushes with glamour as actresses like Nargis, Madhubala, Nutan, Waheeda Rehman, Vayjayanti Mala stunned the audiences and left them gasping with their looks, superlative performances and their dancing prowess. People actually fell in love with cinema like never before. Cinema had succeeded in making the audiences believe in a world beyond their own.
The same era saw the likes of Dilip Kumar debut with “Jwar Bhata” but was noticed in “Jugnu” which established him as the numero uno matinee idol for quite some time. He was a pro at both thespian roles and played comic and romantic roles with aplomb. He was amongst the finest actors to have surfaced on the silver screen. He also won the first Filmfare award in 1954 for “Daag”. The market for films was growing and some actors were also offered international assignments as well.
The comedy genre was dominated by the hugely talented Kishore Kumar Ganguly, he was a master mimic and an iconoclast. He could sing, dance and act. In short almost do it all. With films like “Ziddi”, “Half Ticket” and “Chalti ka Naam Gaadi” he made his presence felt. However he was largely interested in singing, which his elder brother Ashok Kumar was not willing of initially. But he switched gears and later established himself as an all-time great singer dominating the charts throughout the 70’s and the 80’s. He also made an attempt to make his mark as a director with “Door Gagan Ki Chaoon Mein” and touched his audiences with his flair for cinema.
This era also saw films focus on both urban and rural India. While Dilip and Kapoor both dabbled with rustic roles and the modern city bred blokes, it was the suave and debonair Dev Anand who stamped his arrival by playing the city slicker and the modern man. He established himself as the ultimate romantic and India’s first style icon. His films had themes of love, deceit and suspense which also were a novelty in the 40’s and 50’s.Films like “Baazi”, “CID” and others saw him team up with Guru Dutt and later make his own production house called “Navketan”.
The film industry also saw on screen goddesses light up the screen. Madhubala one such diva, was endowed with immense natural beauty and grace. She was the biggest heart throb during her era. Debuting with “Basant” as a child actor, her talents were noticed by many and she later starred in many hits like “Mahal”, “Kaala Paani”, “Badal”, “Tarana”, “Howrah Bridge”, “Phagun” , “Mr and Mrs 55” and K.Asif’s magnum opus “Mughal-e-Azam”. She was one of the few actresses who also generated a lot of Hollywood interest and was also approached by Frank Capra to act in a Hollywood film as well.
Other actresses like Nutan with films like “Seema:, Bandini, Paying Guest and Waheeda Rehman with films like “Kaala Baazaar”, “Pyaasa” to her credit who also made acting talent count. Later Asha Parekh and Mala Sinha also followed up with hits and films like “Teesri Manzil”, “Shikari” and “Gumraah”, “Pyaasa” “Aankhen” and “Himalaya Ki God Mein” respectively.
But the one actress who left an indelible mark was Nargis. Starting early she acted in a host of hits like” Barsaat”, “Awaara”, “Andaaz”, “Shri 420” and “Mother India”. She and Raj Kapoor made one of the most famous on screen couples in the late 40’s.
It was the late 40’s which would introduce heroines (without dupattas), which actually earned the films with a dubious “A” certification. These were a few instances which showed our industry was maturing fast. Filmmakers like V. Shantaram with their path-breakers proved that Indian cinema was here to stay. This was a time too when the southern and eastern film industry made their initial forays and gave superstars Like NTR and Uttam Kumar. Our industry was peaking and slowly making its presence felt amongst the global audiences. Wowing the Russians and the Europeans had started. Films like “Barsaat”, “Do Beegha Zameen”, “Do aankhen Barah haath”, “Dr. Khotnis” blurred the lines between the real and the commercial and won the applause of the critics and the audiences alike. Fresher topics were introduced as compared to the stalemate in the earlier years. Ritwik Ghatak with Bengali films like ”Megha Dhaka Tara” and “Subarnarekha” and Mrinal Sen with “Oka orei Khatha” and “Bhuvan Shome” won many hearts.
Malyalam films also were in a budding stage and got late acclaim. But films like Ramu Kariat’s “Chemmeen”. Prem Nazir was the Malyalam hero and played lead in most films and starred in 610 films. Notable of these were “Marumakkal”, “Vissipinte Villi” and “Irruthinthe Athimayu”. Udaya, KK Combines, Excel and Merryland were some of the important production houses.
Music was another important area where the golden era really made some serious contributions. Composers like Naushad, S.D Burman, Madan Mohan, Shanker Jaikishen were a few musical geniuses who created some magical tunes which would last for decades.
Sensitive issues with stunning visuals and deft treatment by the masters, made films into an experience which were hard to forget. The fifties saw a spate of new actors like Dev Mukherjee, Biswajeet, Manoj Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar and Raaj Kumar who essayed many roles and were a part of many landmark films like “Waqt”, “Kohraa”, “Ek Musafir Ek Haseena”, “Mere Mehboob”.
But it was also an era which saw a few character actors without whom the films would have been rather bland. Be it Shubha Khote, Lalita Pawar, David, Pran K.N Singh, all can be credited for their special contributions. Pran was an icon in his own way, as he had films written keeping him in the centre and was the ultimate villain. So much so that people even stopped naming their children “Pran”. He gave some superlative performances in films like “Azaad”, “Madhumati”, “Jis Desh Mein Ganga behti hai”, “Ram aur Shyaam”, “Shaheed” etc. But his acting prowess was unmatched and he commanded equal attention as the other stars during his era.
The 60’s saw cinema trying to break away from the black and white era and try to change it colors. It was shifting from the realistic era to the one that of commercial. The 60’s was an era where dancing and music were an integral part of cinema. The other interesting thing about this era was gradual shift towards lighter cinema with comedy and humor being the chief themes which was experimented with. It was an era which saw Shammi Kapoor and RD Burman make serious waves and enchant audiences with their song and dance flair. The 60’s brought about a distinctive change from the serious cinema and established simple and family based films. It was a time which also saw some interesting technological breakthroughs. But it was commercial cinema which ruled and “Bollywood” films were a distinctive brand. Films instead of focusing on issues were trying to give the audiences happy endings and packaged formulae with music, songs, dances, comedy and tears wrapped in all.
The 60’s was also the emerging of many important landmarks as it saw the flux from serious cinema to a lighter brand of films. It also had movies which would be shot at foreign and outdoor locations and make the cabaret a sensation “An Evening in Paris” and “Love in Tokyo”. It would also see the rise of new stars and the birth of the first Indian Superstar “Rajesh Khanna”. The man who lived the dream- first by winning the talent contest and then later by reining the film industry. The era saw other filmmakers like Hrishijesh Mukherjee, Shakti Samanta, B.R Chopra, Mehboob Khan and K.Asif make films for wider audiences and become successful with their own brands.
The other side of the 60’s was credited to Manoj Kumar and his patriotic brand of cinema. His films like “Shaheed”, “Upkaar” and “Purab aur Paschim” earned him a lot of kudos and his name was christened to Bharat. This era also saw director Hrishikesh Mukherjee at his sublime best. Starting his career as an editor to the great Bimal Roy and having edited films like” Do Bigha Zameen”, “Madhumati” and” Devdas”, his notable films during this era were “Anari”, “Anuradha” and “Asli Naqli”.
One interesting aspect of experimentation in Indian cinema here was that live location shots were also being canned. This broke the monotony from films shot on sets and gave opportunities to cinematographers to give us some memorable shots.
Comedians like Memmood left their lasting impression on the masses and sometimes even stole the show amongst stalwarts. With movies like “Bhoot Bangla”, “Gumnaam” and “Pyaar Kiye Jaa” Mehmood made his own position as an actor.
This period also saw the rise of stars like Dharmendra, Sunil Dutt. Both had their own disctinctive style of acting to some amazing performances. Sunil Dutt’s “Sadhana”, “Sujata”,” Gumraah”,” Mother India” and “ Mujhe Jeene Do” were successful and his film “Yaadien” was an experimental and ahead of its time film. While Dharmendra’s “Anpadh”, “Bandini”,” Phool aur Patthar” and “Bharaein Phir Bhi Aayengi” and” Haqeeqat” were popular hits.
Some of the most memorable compositions of the era (40’s were ) 50’s were Mera Joota hai Jaapani (Shri 420), Yeh Nayaan Dare Dare (Kohraa), Awaraa hoon (Awaara), Shola Jo Bhadke (Albela) . The era also saw the magic of Kishore and Rafi rule the charts with immortal numbers like Abhi Na Jao chod kar (Hum Dono) Hum Bekhudi mein (Kala Pani) and Mana Janaab ne pukara nahi (Paying Guest) which are being adapted to popular tastes (remixed) till date. Amongst the singers Shamshaad Begum, Suraiah, Begum Akhtar, Geeta Dutt and Noor Jahan in females and Rafi, Mukesh , Kishore, Hemant Kumaar, Talat Mehmood and Manna Dey were the leading voices. The void left by Saigal was tried to be bridged but was instead closed with most of the original voices which wowed the audiences. Mukesh who actually copied Saigal, was gradually to become the voice of Raj Kapoor and the duo created some of the brilliant songs ever made. The composers were another group who were largely responsible for making the audiences take notice. Starting from folk to classical and western experimentation this era saw it all. Composers like O.P Nayyar, Shanker-Jaikishen, S.D Burman, Anil Biswas, Khemchand Prakash, Chaudhry, Naushad were some legends of this period. Well there are innumerable compositions which were very popular then and are still quiet pleasurable to listen to.
But I would like to share some of my personal favs here like Aaaiye Meherbaan (Howrah Bridge), Tu Pyaar ka Saagar Hai (Seema), Main Zindagi Ka Saath (Hum Dono), Hum Bekhudi Mein (Kaala Paani), Eena meena Deeka (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi) , Woh Shyaam and Tum Pukaar lo (Khamoshi), Waqt ne Kiya (Kagaaz Ke Phool) and all the songs of (Pyaasa).
This era also saw the inception of the awards like the filmfare awards then called the “Clare” award after the critic in 1954. The award was started initially with just five categories. But later went to become one of the most popular awards of all times. The period also saw the awards and gossip magazines flourish big times. Bimal Roy with 7 awards still holds the record for the best director of all times and Nutan with 6 for acting are stalwarts proving that this indeed was an era to reckon with. Film like Mehboob Khan’s “Mother India” was another special which was India’s first official entry into the Oscars. Another film which deserves special mention is K. Asif’s “Mughal –e-Azam” which took 14 years and Rs. 1.5 crores to make. The film was a landmark for Indian cinema. The film was also the first to be promoted in a grand way with elephants and lavish sets used during the premier. The film also had many stories attached to the top one being K.Asif’s affair with Dilip Kumar’s sister. The lavish sets the grandeur and the huge star cast made “Mughal –e-Azam” the top grosser for many years to come.
It’s actually surprising as to the many films which featured on the lists of top 100 films of all times etc. ‘Pyaasa’ and ‘The Apu Trilogy’ feature in most of the lists. Specially the films made in the 50’s which was an age where creativity ruled and melody and music made hearts flutter and stellar performances and off screen romances kept the paparazzi busy. Be it the Dilip Kumar – Madhubala or Dev Anand- Suriah were all part of the romances which made folks interested in films.
This era was followed by the 70’s which reinvented the entire way films were made and introduced action, Indian westerns and horror genres more on that in the next edition.
Keep watching this space.