A History of Indian Cinema

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Before World War I

At the beginning of the 20th century the Indian subcontinent was one giant British colony (the "East Indies"). There was economic growth but the economic inequality was colossal, with a rich aristocracy enjoying the financial benefits of capitalism and the masses in constant danger of starvation. The caste system and discrimination against women further contributed to create an unequal society.


In July 1896 Lumiere Brothers' Chinematographe showed six silent shorts at a Mumbai/Bombay hotel. At the time the plague was spreading in the city, and a famine that would kill almost a million people was beginning to spread throughout the country. In that year a Harry Clifton Soundy opened a photography studio in Mumbai and one year later advertised a program of daily screenings of short movies. In 1898 two Italians set up tents in Mumbai's open field Gymkhana Maidan (now Azad Maidan) to show imported movies. In 1899 a Harishchandra Bhatvadekar showed (in Mumbai's hanging gardens) the first Indian short, a wrestling match (using Edison's kinetoscope).

Mumbai, the headquarters of the British East India Company since 1672, was already a rich city, the capital of the textile industry, having benefited greatly from the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. The majority of the population was Maharashtrians (Marathi language), followed by Gujaratis. The majority was Hindu but with a sizeable Muslim population, some Jains, some Buddhists and some Christians. Two minorities stood out as relatively wealthy: Parsis and Jews.

Mumbai was home to thousands of Zoroastrians, divided into two groups: the Parsis (who traced their roots to Persian refugees of the 10th century) and the Iranis (whose ancestors arrived in the 19th century). Parsi theatre prospered in the city after the wealthy merchant Jamsedjee Jeejeebhoy, who had become rich in the "triangular" cotton and opium trade with China, bought the financially troubled Bombay Theatre in 1835. Another Parsi merchant, Jagannath Shankershet, established the Grant Road Theater in 1846. Parsi theatrical companies became popular, like the Parsi Dramatic Corp, that in 1853 staged "Rustam Zabuli and Zohrab" at the Grant Road Theatre, an adaptation of Ferdowsi's 10th century epic poem "Shahnameh", or the Parsi Natak Mandali established in 1853. Parsi theater was special because it emphasized singing and dancing, and it favored action over chamber drama, as well as costumed mythological and exotic stories over contemporary drama (clearly the recipe for Bollywood cinema one century later). Parsi actor Khawasji/ Kavasji Khatau established in 1877 the Alfred Theatrical Company. Jamshedji Framji Madan took over the Parsi Elphinstone Dramatic Club in 1883 (originally founded in 1861 by students of Elphinstone College) and later also acquired the Khatau-Alfred Company, including their theaters, actors and writers, notably playwright Aga Hashr Kashmiri.

In the 19th century the British encouraged Jews to move to India in order to improve trade with the West. Many Jews from Arabic-speaking regions of the Ottoman Empire and Iran relocated to Surat (in Gujarat), Kolkata and Mumbai. They were nicknamed "Baghdadi Jews". Being fair-skinned, they looked down not only on Indians but even on Indian Jews, adopted Anglicized customs (the English language, the European clothes) and supported the British colonists during the various rebellions. They even built their own schools, like the Jacob Sassoon Free School of Mumbai, in 1902. The Sassoon family was particularly wealthy and powerful. The dynasty was built by David Sassoon, born in Iraq and emigrated to Mumbai in 1832, who got rich trading opium and cotton with China and Britain. In 1929 Mumbai's equivalent of a mayor post was held by a Baghdadi Jew, Meyer Nissim. (The Baghdadis had arrived with the British and departed with them when India gained independence, emigrating to either Europe or newly-born Israel).

A genre native to the Marathi-speaking Maharashtra region was the Natya Sangeet, the Marathi musical, a genre created by playwriter and producer Trilokekar with his musical play "Nal-Damayanti" (1879) and by Annasaheb Kirloskar’s "Shakuntal" (1881), a musical adaptation of Kalidas's Sanskrit play "Abhidnyan Shakuntalam".

The political capital of British India and its cultural capital was Kolkata/Calcutta. At the turn of the 20th century it boasted a lively cultural life. Rabindranath Tagore published his first play "Valmiki-Pratibha" (1881), his first book of poems "Bhanusimha Thakurer Padabali" (1884) and his first novel "Nastanirh" (1901). In 1901 Ramananda Chattopadhyay launched the Bengali literary monthly magazine "Prabasi". In 1902 Frederick Gaisberg, an engineer of Berliner's Gramophone Company who had set up the London offices, traveled to India to make recordings in a Kolkata theater and (for unknown reasons) recorded two 14-year-old dancing girls (two "baijis"), Shashi Mukhi and Fani Bala, before recording his real target, Gauhar Jaan/ Gohar Jan, a court singer and dancer (born Angelina Yeoward in an Armenian family). Those were the first sound recordings of India and launched Gohar Jan's career in the age of 78 RPM records. (Gohar Jan never made a movie, and is often confused with Gohar Khayyam Mamajiwala, also a singer and dancer, who made several movies).

In 1907 two Kolkata painters, brothers Gaganendranath Tagore and Abanindranath Tagore (Rabindranath's nephew), founded the the "Indian Society of Oriental Art". Abanindranath Tagore, in particular, preached against the "materialist" Western art, rediscovered Mughal and Hindu classical traditions, and mixed it with elements of Chinese and Japanese.

In 1901, the year when Queen Victoria died, Hiralal Sen’s Royal Bioscope Company began producing narrative Bengali films in Kolkata, and projected them using the Urban Bioscope, a film projector sold by London's Warwick Trading Company. Sen was the first Indian director, but he mostly filmed theatrical plays, mostly the productions of Amarendranath Dutta, an influential playwright of Bengali theater. He filmed a full two-hour performance of Dutta's play "Alibaba and the Forty Thieves" (1903, lost) that turned Kusum Kumari into India’s first movie star (of the film were only showed episodes, it was never showed in its entirety). In 1911 Sen made a newsreel that was widely viewed across India: he filmed the visit of the British king, George V.

Meanwhile, in 1902 Parsi theater impresario Jamshedji Framji Madan moved from Mumbai to Kolkata, where he acquired a theater (the Corinthian) and established the Elphinstone Theatrical Company. While staging plays in the theater, in 1902 he set up a tent in Kolkata's open field (the Maidan) for "bioscope shows" of imported movies, using Pathe's equipment, and the Elphinstone Bioscope Company was born. In 1905 Madan established a film production company named Madan Theatres to make newsreels and short movies, and in 1907 he opened the first permanent movie theater of India, the Elphinstone Picture Palace. Until the start of World War I his theaters mostly showed British movies. In the 1910s he opened similar movie theaters in many other cities, from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to Burma (Myanmar). When he died in 1923, he owned more than 80. His story became the blueprint for many other Parsi theater companies that transformed into film companies. Parsi writers of theatrical plays became scriptwriters. Meanwhile sn 1905 Ardeshir Irani, a Parsi Zoroastrian, and Abdulally Esoofally opened a movie theater in Mumbai. Until then, movies were only shown in cities, but then forward-looking businessmen understood that there was a much larger audience out there. In 1906 Kolkata theater impresario Anadi Nath Bose established an itinerant cinema, the Aurora Film Company, which presented imported films, variety shows and theater in tents around Bengal. In 1908 Esoofally had a similar idea of an itinerant cinema and began traveling from village to village all over India, exporting cinema to places that until them only heard of the new invention. In 1911 Anadi Nath Bose and cinematographer Debi Ghosh formed the Aurora Cinema Company in Kolkata and began producing films, following the example of Hiralal Sen's Royal Bioscope in the same city.

Dadasaheb Torne had already made in Mumbai the 22-minute feature film Shree Pundalik (1912), but India's first major film was directed (also scripted and produced) by a professional photographer and owner of a printing press in Mumbai, Dadasaheb Phalke (aka Dhundiraj Govind Phalke), using equipment that he had specifically imported from Europe. Only fragments survive of the 40-minute Raja Harishchandra (1913), based on the "Mahabharata" and concerned with legendary king Harishchandra. Male actors played the women in the story. The film was shown in Mumbai and its success (it would be remade 20 times in several Indian languages in the next 50 years) launched the mythological genre. He continued the genre with Mohini Bhasmasur/ Seductress Mohini (1913), the first Indian film with an actual actress (Durgabai Kamat playing lady Parvati and her daughter playing the child Mohini), Satyavan Savitri (1914), based on a story included in the "Book of Forest" of the "Mahabharata", Lanka Dahan/ The Burning of Lanka (1917), based on an episode of the "Ramayana", Shri Krishna Janma (1918) and Kaliya Mardan (1919). These films were groundbreaking not for their artistic qualities but because they "materialized" supernatural beings that had previously only existed in people's imagination: these films showed the gods walking on Earth, flying, fighting and performing miracles. Clearly this was different than seeing the gods in theatrical plays, where they could not fly or vanish, and they could not be set in a real landscape. The illusion of reality was bigger in a movie theater. Mythological films dominated Indian cinema for a long time.

Another Mumbai pioneer, Sadashiv Narayan Patankar, formed his own production company in 1913 and produced the historical drama The Death Of Narayanrao Peshwa (1915). Dwarkadas Sampat started his career working for Patankar.


Between the Two World Wars

India was a turbulent place. Despite the fact that only 10% of its population could read and write, that 10% was painfully aware that it made no sense to be a colony of a much smaller and distant country, Britain. In 1902 Pramath Nath Mitra founded the independence movement Anushilan Samity in Kolkata. In 1904 Vinayak Savarkar started the secret society Abhinav Bharat Society to fight British occupation In 1905 the National Congress, the nationalist party established by Indian intellectuals in 1885, split into Bal Tilak's violent wing and Gopal Gokhale's peaceful wing. In 1906 Mohammed Ali Jinnah founded the All-India Muslim League while Barin Ghosh formed the Jugantar party advocating violent struggle for independence. The British arrested Tilak in 1908 and Savarkar in 1910. In 1908 Bengali nationalist Hemchandra Kanungo returned from France carrying a manual on how to build bombs, obtained from Russian emigres, and started making bombs for revolutionaries. In 1911 the British moved the capital of their Indian colony from Kolkata (where the independence movement was causing too much trouble) to a brand new city, New Delhi, which was Muslim in character. In 1913 expatriates led by Lala Har-Dayal and Sohan Singh Bhakna established in San Francisco the Ghadar independence movement, advocating violent resistance to the British. In 1914 Mohandas Gandhi returned from South Africa, one year later he became the leader of the National Congress, in 1916 united with the Muslim League to fight for independence from Britain, and in 1917 founded the non-violent movement Satyagraha which promoted civil disobedience or at least non-cooperation with the British. Muslim riots against the British took place in 1913 at the Kanpur mosque, in 1918 in Kolkata and in 1929 in Mumbai. It hardly helped that in 1918 the Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms finally granted some limited Indian participation in government. In 1919 British troops massacred 379 peaceful demonstrators in Amritsar (Punjab), the beginning of large-scale riots in India. Britain arrested Jawaharlal Nehru in 1921 and Gandhi in 1922. In the 1920s approximately 156,000 British citizens ruled over more than 300 million Indian subjects. The debate on what "India" and "Hindu" meant was raging among intellectuals. In 1917 Tagore, who had been awarded a Nobel Prize and was by far India's best known intellectual, published the essay "Nationalism", in 1921 Radhakumud Mookerji published "Nationalism In Hindu Culture", and in 1923 Savarkar published "Hindutva", another manifesto of Hindu nationalism. In 1922 protesters affiliated to the Satyagraha movement attacked a police station in Chauri Chaura killing 22 policemen and the British imprisoned Gandhi for two years. In 1925 Keshav Baliram Hedgewar founded the Hindu nationalist movement Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), while Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy, aka "Periyar", started the Dravidian (or "Self-Respect") movement to abolish the caste system and the feudal "zamindari" system, and to establish an independent homeland ("Dravida Nadu") for the Dravidian people of south India. The movement generated a kind of guerrilla theater that would spill over into cinema three decades later. And at the end of the year the Communist Party of India was founded by Manabendra Nath Roy (who had lived in Japan, the USA, Mexico, the Soviet Union and China) and others. In 1928 the Girni Kamgar Union organized the first major textile strike in Bombay, which lasted for six months. Riots between Hindus and Muslims became commonplace in Mumbai after 1929, and they were particularly vicious. Time magazine wrote: "The bestiality of human mobs was gruesomely exemplified at Bombay last week, when rioting Hindus and Moham-medans stoned and slashed and disemboweled one another". In 1930 Allama Iqbal called for a separate homeland for the Muslims of India, laying the foundations for Pakistan and Bangladesh. In 1930 Surya Sen organized a guerrilla attack in Chittagong that killed 80 soldiers. The unrest against British rules created a number of martyrs ("terrorists" for the British) like the politicians Lala Lajpat Rai (beaten to death in 1928 during a peaceful march), the socialist Bhagat Singh (hanged in 1931) and guerrilla leader Surya Sen (hanged in 1934). Gandhi instead was free to demonstrate, lecture and write. Winston Churchill famously called him a "half-naked seditious fakir".

Meanwhile, much of Europe, the British Empire, east Asia and the USA had gone through World War I. The effect of that war was to push India's movie theaters towards Hollywood as the Europeans were not producing enough movies to satisfy Indian demand. It also encouraged the owners of movie theaters, such as Irani and M feature filmadan, to make their own films. In 1917 Jamshedji Framji Madan's company Madan Theatres moved in earnest into film production. It produced a two-hour Bengali-language remake titled Satyawadi Raja Harishchandra (1917) of Phalke's 1913 movie, directed by Rustomji Dhotiwala, and the even longer Bilwamangal/ Bhagat Soordas (1919), a biopic directed by the same Rustomji Dhotiwala about about a medieval devotional poet which can be considered the first Bengali feature film. Its first star was the Anglo-Indian actress Patience Cooper, who starred in two films directed by Italian director Eugenio de Liguoro, Nala Damayanti (1920), adapted from an episode of the "Mahabharata" and notable for its visual effects, and Dhruva Chartitra (1921), and then in Pati Bhakti/ Human Emotions (1922), directed by Madan’s son Jamahedji Jehangirji. Savitri Satyavan/ Savitri and Satyavan (1923), an adaptation of another episode of the "Mahabharata", was India's first international co-production, co-produced with an Italian studio, directed by Giorgio Mannini, and starring two Italians in the two Indian roles. Madan's best screenwriter was Aga Hashr Kashmiri, a Parsi playwright who wrote in Urdu plays such as "Yahudi Ki Ladki/ The Jew's Daughter" (1913) and "Turki Hur" (1922), the latter adapted by Jamahedji Jehangirji Madan as Turki Hoor (1928). In the 1920s Madan Theatres also acquired the rights to Metro Pictures and United Artists films, which were popular with the British audience and with the Indian elite.

India was a subcontinent of many languages but the advantage of silent cinema is that the intertitles of a silent movie could easily be translated to many languages.

Convervative families (both Hindu and Muslim) considered acting a disreputable profession for women, so that most female roles (both in theater and in films) were played by men.

Hindu mythology was by far the most popular topic in early Indian cinema. However, contemporary society and politics slowly creeped into the film industry, reflecting the maturing of nationalist movements.

Politicians advocating independent from Britain such as Dadabhai Naoroji and Bal Gangadhar Tilak had often encouraged Indians to buy Indian goods and shun British goods. This "Swadeshi" movement ("swaraj" meaning "self-rule"), which had started in 1895 to protest against the cotton tariffs imposed by the British government, intensified in 1905 following a British proposal to partition Bengal in predominantly Muslim and predominantly Hindu regions. The Swadeshi movement influenced literature, painting, theater and cinema.

Another event that exerted an influence on the "nationalist" spirit was the publication in 1921 of the book "Hindustan Sangeet Paddhati", written in Marathi by the Mumbai musicologist Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, the first widely available textbook on Hindustani classical music, with description and classication of 150 classical ragas. Until then, knowledge about the ragas had been preserved mostly orally or in Sanskrit. Calcutta/ Kolkata was the heart of India's film industry, and the heart of India's culture in general. In particular, the Indian intellectuals were increasingly intrigued by the prospect of cultural (not only political) decolonization. Mohandas Gandhi had written about this in "Hind Swaraj/ Indian Home Rule" (1909) and Kolkata philosopher Krishna Chandra Bhattacharya spoke about it in the lectures "Swaraj in Ideas" (1928). Rabindranath Tagore would dominate the literary scene until his death in 1941, but other writers were emerging, for example producing novels like Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay's "Devdas" (1917) and Premendra Mitra's "Pank/ Mud" (1924).

A giant of Bengali theater, Dwijendralal Roy, was the first editor of the literary magazine "Bharatbarsha" just before his death in 1913, and several novels were first serialized there. The first issue of the magazine contained an article on cinema titled "Bioscope" (written by a Pramath Nath Bhattacharyya). By the mid 1930s Kolkata boasted several literary magazines in Bengali: Hemendraprasad Ghosh's "Masik Basumati" (1922) Dinesh Ranjan Das' "Kallol" (1923), which in 1926 serialized Premendra Mitra's "scandalous" novel "Pank/ Mud", Murlidhar Basu's and Shailajananda Mukherjee's "Kalikalam" (1926), Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay's "Deepali" (1929), Sudhindranath Datta's quarterly "Parichay" (1931), Abani Basu's "Chitrapanji" (1932), Buddhadev Bose's and Samar Sen's poetry quarterly "Kavita" (1935), etc.

Bengali theater had been dominated by Girishchandra Ghosh, who in 1872 had founded the first Bengali professional theater company, the Great National Theater. Most of his numerous plays were based on mythological episodes from the great Indian epics, the "Ramayana" and the "Mahabharata". In the 1920s a number of Kolkata playwrights and actors revolutionized Bengali theater, inspired by European stage directors and playwrights like Meyerhold, Reinhard and Brecht. Notable plays of this modernizing movement, that also influenced Bengali cinema, were Kshirod Prasad Vidyavinod's "Alamgir" (1921) and Aparesh Mukhopadhyay's "Karnarjun/ Kama and Arjun" (1923).

A nationalist spirit also infused the visual arts. The painter Abanindranath Tagore was holding his infuential "Vageswari Lectures" (1921-29) at Calcutta University. It is not a coincidence that in 1921 one of his pupils, Jamini Roy, began painting in a style inspired by Bengali folk traditions. His "national" style influenced many others. Founded by Rabindranath Tagore in 1919 in the town of Shantiniketan, the college Visva-Bharati included a Kala Bhavana (Institute of Fine Arts), whose first director was the artist Nandalal Bose, a disciple of Abanindranath Tagore. Artists who made their way to this institute include Benodebehari Mukherjee (later famous for the monumental mural "Medieval Hindi Saints" in Shantiniketan of 1947), Ramkinkar Baij and Somnath Hore. The visual artist Amrita Sher-Gil, born and raised in Europe, returned to India in 1934, and in 1937 produced a famous trilogy of paintings inspired by the murals of Ajanta ruins ("Bride's Toilet", "Brahmacharis" and "South Indian Villagers Going to Market"). Another influential Bengali sculptor was Ram Kinker Baij, who in 1938 unveiled his cement sculpture in Shantiniketan (150 kms from Kolkata), "The Santhal Family".

Film magazines multiplied in the two decades after World War I in Kolkata: "Bijoli/ Bijli" (1920), started by writer and singer Nalinikanta Sarkar, Hemendrakumar Roy's and Premankur Atorthy's "Nachghar" (1924), devoted to the performing arts in general, Sailajananda Mukherjee's "Bioscope" (1930), "Filmland" (1930), which was written in English, Abinashchandra Ghoshal's "Batayan" (1931), Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay's "Chitralekha" (1931), Jyotishchandra Ghosh's "Ruprekha" (1935), Jogjiban Bandyopadhyay's "Kheyali" (1937), etc.

In 1918 Dhirendra Nath Ganguly, a portrait painter and photographer, established the film production company Indo British Film Company, the first Bengali-owned production company. The first major film produced by Ganguly was an anti-British satire, Bilet Pherat/ Bilat Ferat/ England Returned (1921), directed by Nitish Chandra Laharry.

The famous actor of Bengali theater, Sisir Bhaduri, established the film production company Taj Mahal Films, specialized in adaptations of literary works, whose first film was "Andhare Alo/ Beam of Light" (1922), based on Saratchandra Chatterjee's tale and directed by Bhaduri himself.

Madan Theatres produced the first Bengali talkie, Amar Choudhury's Jamai Shashthi/ Son-in-law Day (1931), followed by one of India's biggest productions yet, the 211-minute Indrasabha (1932), directed by Jamahedji Jehangirji Madan in person (Madan’s son who had taken over the company), that turned Agha Hasan Amanat's Urdu-language play of 1853 into a sort of Broadway musical featuring 69 songs (composed by Nagardas Nayak).

The production company New Theatres was formed in 1931 in Kolkata by producer Birendranath Sircar and went on to release important Bengali films such as: Premankur Atorthy's Dena Paona (1931), Rabindranath Tagore's Natir Puja (1932), a recording of the poet's theatrical drama, Debaki Bose's Chandidas (1932), Premankur Atorthy's Yahudi Ki Ladki/ The Jew's Daughter (1933), an adaptation of Aga Hashr Kashmiri's play starring Kundan Lal Saigal, Nitin Bose's Bhagya Chakra (1935), etc. It rapidly became the biggest Indian studio of the 1930s. His top director was Pramathesh Barua, who specialized in melodramatic love stories set in a decadent aristocratic milieu, such as Devdas (1935), also remade in Hindi (1936) and Assamese (1937), and Mukti/ The Liberation of the Soul (1937), both blockbusters thanks also to the camera work of a young Bimal Roy. Atorthy, Debaki Bose, Nitin Bose (who had been assistant to Atorthy and Debaki Bose, and who had Bimal Roy as his assistant) and Barua remained the main directors of the company throughout the 1930s. Nitin Bose also had the original idea of employing playback singers in a film, the Hindi version of his Bengali film Bhagya Chakra/ Wheel of Fate (1935), re-titled Dhoop Chhaon.

The East India Film Company was formed in 1932 in Kolkata and released its first film the year after, Priyanath Ganguli's Jamuna Puline (1933). Unlike New Theatres, it didn't specialize in Bengali language and favored instead Hindi language. Typical of the company's conventional style of melodrama were Abdur Kardar's Hindi films, such as Aurat Ka Pyar (1933) and Sultana (1934), Kardar having moved from Lahore to Kolkata. East India quickly expanded from Hindi to other languages, notably with Chittajallu Pullayya's Sati Savitri (1933) in Telugu and Krishnasamy Subramanyam’s Bhakta Kuchela (1936) in Tamil.

Pramathesh Barua and Debaki Bose were the pioneers of the Bengali realist school based in Kolkata, which turned Indian melodrama into a more socially aware form. Bose directed Aparadhi/ The Culprit (1931), produced and acted by Barua, and Chandidas (1932), perhaps the first Indian film with music.

Jamshedji Madan, the Bengali pioneer, personally directed another early sound films of India, Indrasabha (1932), with a script in Hindi by Sayed Aga Hasan Amanat (actually an adaptation of a famous 19th-century Urdu play by Agha Hasan Amanat) and 69 songs by Nagardas Nayak, a big-budget three and a half hour movie, one of the movies that created the Indian stereotype of singing and dancing to guide the plot (the future "masala" film).

Madhu Bose, director of the theatrical company Calcutta Art Players, turned film director in movies for his wife Sadhona Sen-Bose (whom he married when she was 15), a famous dancer, such as Alibaba (1937), which was an adaptation of Khirode Prasad Vidyavinode's 1897 play, Abhinoy (1938), Kumkum/ The Dancer (1940), made in both Hindi and Bengali, and The Court Dancer/ Rajnartaki (1941) for Wadia Movietone in three languages (English, Bengali, Hindi).

In 1918 Phalke launched Hindustan Cinema Films in Mumbai.

In 1918 Baburao Painter (born Baburao Krishnarao Mestry in a low-caste family of painters and craftsmen), originally a painter and sculptor, obtained financing from the maharaja of Kolhapur (in Maharashtra state) and established the Maharashtra Film Company, a studio which debuted with Baburao Painter's own Sairandhari (1920, lost), based on an episode from the "Mahabharata" (the actresses were devadasi). Baburao Painter was instrumental in bringing the Natya Sangeet to the large screen. He hired top composers of the genre, such as Govindrao Tembe and Master Krishnarao, as well as stage stars. Later Baburao Painter made an early classic of social realism, Savkari Pash/ Indian Shylock (1925, lost), scripted by Marathi novelist Narayan Hari Apte (aka Nanasaheb Apte).

In 1919 Suchet Singh, who had trained in the USA, founded Oriental Film Manufacturing in Mumbai and made Shakuntala/ Lost Ring (1920), an adaptation of Kalidasa' Sanskrit play, employing with both a lead actress and a photographer from the USA. His films were actually completed by his assistant Kanjibhai Rathod, who went one to become Mumbai's first professional film director. He joined Kohinoor Film and directed the nationalist Bhakta Vidur (1921) that was banned and became a sensation (an allegory against colonial rule with the hero representing Gandhi and the evil tribe representing the British), and then the mythological fantasy one of the first historical dramas, Sinhagad (1923), Gul-e-Bakavali/ Flower of Bakawali (1924), written in Gujarati by Mohanlal Dave, and the crime thriller Kala Naag (1924), based on a famous murder case. He was one of the first directors to create political allegories, historical dramas and crime thrillers.

In 1918 Patankar's disciple Dwarkadas Sampat founded Kohinoor Film Company in Mumbai, which quickly developed an industrial Hollywood-style production system with a real studio, professional screenwriters and directors, and the first movie stars (earlier the actors and the directors weren't even credited). At the beginning Kohinoor also produced the first Gandhi documentaries, and militant films like Kanjibhai Rathod's movies. The studio soon crafted the era's first blockbusters, notably Homi Master's movies, such as Bismi Sadi (1924), Manorama (1924) and Kulin Kanta (1925), Mohan Bhavnani’s Veer Bala (1925), and especially Chandulal Shah's Guna Sundari/ Why Husband Go Astray (1927). Kanjibhai Rathod also directed Baap Kamai/Fortune and the Fools (1926), the film that revealed the 16-year-old singer and actress Gohar Khayyam Mamajiwala (a Shia Muslim). Kohinoor also produced Mohan Dayaram Bhavnani's Cinema Ni Rani/ Cinema Queen (1925) and Chandulal Shah's Typist Girl (1926), the two films that revealed Sulochana (born Ruby Myers in an Iraqi Jewish family), one of the stars of the silent era and perhaps the first one modeled after the Hollywood stars. The latter also featured singer/dancer Gohar Mamajiwala, and Chandulal Shah directed her again in Gunsundari (1927), and eventually married her.

In 1922 veteran Ardershir Irani founded Star Films in Mumbai and produced Veer Abhimanyu/ The Brave Abhimanyu (1922), directed by Manilal Joshi. Star Films soon evolved into Majestic Films (1924) and then into Imperial Films (1926) in collaboration with his old partner Esoofally. Imperial's first big hit was Mohan Dayaram Bhavnani's Wild Cat of Bombay (1927), in which actress Sulochana played eight roles, and the first film to pair her with actor Dinshaw Bilimoria. Imperial produced Irani's Alam Ara (1931) in Hindustani, the first Indian talkie, littered with many songs sung by actress Zubeida, and Irani's Kisan Kanya (1937) in Hindi, the first color film processed in India.

In 1925 Maneklal Patel, a director for Dwarkadas Sampat's Kohinoor and an actor who had played the role of Krishna in Kanjibhai Rathod's censored film Bhakta Vidur (1921), started Krishna Film in Mumbai's suburb Andheri, a studio that hired Kanjibhai Rathod (the real brain behind the company) to direct films like “Rajwadana Ranga” (1928) and the social realist "Kono Vak" (1929), and later to direct the studio's first talkies in Hindi (five in 1931 alone, including the devotional biopic Harishchandra). The Krishna Film Company also produced Prafulla Ghosh’s four-episode serial Hatimtai (1929) and Harshadrai Mehta's Rajput romance Janjirne Jankare (1927), considered one of the most advanced technical achievements of the time.

Fatma Begum, India's first female producer and director, a Urdu-speaking Muslim who had started out in theater (the rare actress playing women's roles at a time when men played even women's roles), established in Mumbai in 1925 the production company Fatma Films, and directed her first film, Bulbul-e-Paristan/ Nightingale of Fantasyland (1926, lost), the adaptation of a Persian fairy tale, whose success spawned a trend for fantasy movies based on fairy tales. Begum used technical tricks to create special effects and featured women in leading roles. She cast her teenage daughters Sultana, Zubeida and Shehzadi in her films an and they all went on to become famous actresses. Sultana became a star of the silent era. Zubeida played the protagonist in India's first talkie, Irani's Alam Ara (1931), and sang most of the songs, and became a star of the 1930s.

In 1925 Nanubhai Desai, who had directed Sati Sardarba (1924), starring Fatma Begum and her daughters Zubeida Begum Dhanrajgir and Sultana Razaaq, and a film noir ante-litteram like Mumbai Ni Mohini (1925), set up the Sharda Film Company which went on to specialize in action swashbuckling films, mostly starring Master Vithal (the "Douglas Fairbanks of India"), like Bajirao Mastani (1925), which also featured a famous Marathi theater actor, Nanasaheb Phatak.

In 1924 Jayshanker Dwivedi started India’s first magazine exclusively devoted to cinema, "Mouj Majah", written in Gujarati although published in Mumbai.

In 1929 V Shantaram (born Shantaram Vankudre) founded the Prabhat Film Company in the town of Kolhapur in southern Maharashtra state. Shantaram directed the first Marathi talkie, Ayodhiyecha Raja/ The King of Ayodhya (1932), based on the same "Ramayana" episode of Raja Harishchandra and featuring Master Vinayak, a film which also pioneered the practice of making a film in multiple languages so it could be distributed in multiple Indian states, and Indian's first color film, Sairandhari (1933, lost), featuring Master Vinayak and released in both Marathi and Hindi. Shantaram went on to make important films in both Marathi and Hindi like Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani/ The Immortal Story of Dr Kotnis (1946).

In 1929 Kohinoor's director Chandulal Shah, of Typist Girl (1926) fame, Kohinoor's singer/actress Gohar Khayyam Mamajiwala and Kohinoor's actor Raja Sandow started Ranjit Movietone, specializing in social dramas.

In the 1930s Kohinoor, Imperial and Ranjit Movietone were the largest studios in Mumbai, and in the whole of India.

In 1930 Ambalal Patel and Chimanlal Desai opened in Mumbai the production company Sagar Film (later Sagar Movietone), briefly a subsidiary of Ardeshir Irani's Imperial Film before he withdrew to focus on his (and India's) first talkie. Sagar produced mostly films in Hindi, notably Prafulla Ghosh's Meri Jaan/ Romantic Prince (1931), the studio's first talkie, featuring Zubeida, Prafulla Ghosh's Veer Abhimanyu (1931), featuring the duo of Zubeida and Jal Merchant, the first Tamil talkie, i.e. Hanumappa Muniappa Reddy's Kalidas (1931), the first Gujarati talkie, i.e. Nanubhai Vakil's Narasinh Mehta (1932), Sarvottam Badami's Chandrahasa (1933) and Grihalaxmi (1934), Ezra Mir's Farzande Hind/ Phantom of the Hills (1934), many Mehboob Khan's films, starting with Al Hilal/ Judgement of Allah (1935), the two films that introduced the couple of actress Sabita Devi (born born Iris Gasper into a Jewish family) and actor Motilal Rajvansh, namely Kali Prasad Ghosh's Shaher Ka Jadoo (1934) and Chimanlal Luhar's Silver King (1935), several Badami-directed films for Sabita Devi, starting with Ver Nu Vasulat/ Vengeance Is Mine (1935), written by Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi,

In 1933 the Prabhat Film Company decided to move from Kolhapur to Pune and the ruler of Kolhapur decided to start a new film production company, Kolhapur Cinetone, which produced Bhalji Pendharkar’s Akashwani (1934), Master Vinayak’s Vilasi Ishwar/ Orphans of the Storm (1935), and Dadasaheb Phalke’s Gangavataran (1937), his only talkie.

In 1933 Vijay Bhatt and others started Prakash Pictures in Mumbai. As a director, Bhatt himself specialized in Hindi adaptations of the "Ramayana" such as Bharat Milap (1942) and Ram Rajya/ Kingdom of Rama (1943). Later he directed Hindi hits and notably Baiju Bawra (1952), a film scored by composer Naushad Ali that introduced Indian classical music in Indian cinema.

Kohinoor produced Jayant Desai's Hindi-language Toofan Mail (1934), a movie that launched a new genre: the "stunt" genre. In 1933 Homi Wadia co-founded in Mumbai with his older brother Jamshed Boman Homi a company, Wadia Movietone, that specialized in Hindi-language stunt-action films featuring the Australian-Indian actress and stuntwoman Mary Ann Evans aka "Fearless Nadia". In fact, Hunterwali/ A Woman with a Whip (1935) was the rare female-lead film of the era. Shantaram bought Wadia Movietone in 1942, and Homi Wadia started Basant Pictures without his brother.

Homi's brother Jamshed Wadia, a communist sympathyzer and co-founder of the Radical Democratic Party in 1937, was nonetheless a fan of Hollywood westerns and of Douglas Fairbanks' Mark of Zorro (1920), which he remade in Hindi in 1931, directed Lal-e-Yaman (1933), starring Jal Khambatta (two hours and a half), produced and wrote Aspi Irani's Naujawan/ The Young Man (1937), the first Indian talkie without a single song, and produced the first Indian film with English dialogues, namely Modhu Bose's Court Dancer/ Raj Nartaki (1941), a dancing film for his wife Sadhona Bose.

In 1934 Mahalaxmi Cinetone was started by director Nanubhai Vakil and actress Zubeida, who had been the leading actress of India's first talkie Alam Ara (1931) as well as of Sagar Movietone's first talkie, Prafulla Ghosh's Meri Jaan/ Romantic Prince (1931), and had formed a popular duo with actor Jal Merchant for mythological films such as Prafulla Ghosh's Veer Abhimanyu (1931) and Vakil's own Mahabharat (1933). Vakil directed and Zubeida performed in several movies of 1934-35.

Jaddanbai Hussain was a Muslim singer based in Kolkata who shares with Gauhar Jaan the honor of being one of the first recorded voices of Indian music. After debuting in Lahore in Playart Phototone's Raja Gopichand (1933), she moved to Mumbai to act in Moti Gidwani's Insaan Ya Shaitan (1933) for Imperial Studios and in Ramnik Desai's Nautchwali/ Dancing Girl (1934) for Sagar Movietone (in which her daughter Nargis Dutt debuted at the age of five). In 1936 Jaddanbai started her own production company, Sangeet Film, and launched the career of her daughter Nargis Dutt (born Fatima Rashid from her third marriage). Jaddanbai, more comfortable as a composer and actress/singer, composed the music of Chimanlal Luhar's Talash-e Haq/Search For Truth (1935), in which she played multiple roles, and of her own films, such as Madame Fashion (1936), which debuted Suraiya as a child actress. She was the rare female film director with Thiruvaiyaru Panchapakesa Rajalakshmi, and the rare female composer with Saraswati Devi.

In 1936 Sohrab Modi and Rustom Modi started Minerva Movietone in Mumbai. Sohrab Modi directed a trilogy of historical Hindi epics comprising Pukar (1939), Sikander (1941), possibly his masterpiece, and Prithvi Vallabh (1943), and then one of the earliest Technicolor films of India, namely Jhansi Ki Rani/ Queen of Jhansi (1953), a film with a woman as protagonist (played by Modi's wife Mehtab).

At the same time a similar transformation was rocking Mumbai's theater scene. The most important theatre company was Lalitkaladarsha Natak Mandali, originally founded in Karnataka in 1908 by actor and singer Keshavrao Bhosle but relocated to Mumbai at his death in 1921 by its new director Bapurao Pendharkar. In 1933 the actor Keshav Narayan Kale established in Mumbai the Natyamanwantar theatre company, which revolutionized Marathi theatre with Shridhar Vinayak Vartak's play "Andhalyanchi Shala/ School for the Blind" (1933).

In 1935 famed critic and director Baburao Patel (born Baba Patil), who had worked with Dwivedi in a trilingual magazine (Marathi, Gujarati and English), started the English-language magazine "Filmindia" in Mumbai, which became extremely influential within the intellectual class and made Patel the most feared journalist in the movie industry. Patel, however, failed as a director, even causing the demise of Maharashtra Film with his expensive flop Kismet (1929).

Patel's chief competitor was Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, a journalist imbued with socialist and anti-British spirit who in 1935 joined the nationalist newspaper Bombay Chronicle as both political and film analyst. In 1942 Abbas and Vasant Sathe started the cultural magazine "Sound".

Mumbai had its own film magazines, for example Naginlal Shah's Gujarati-language "Chitrapat" (1929) and Radhakrishna Sharma's Hindi-language "Cinema Sansar" (1932).

Huns Pictures was started in 1936 in Kolhapur by actor Master Vinayak (born Vinayak Damodar Karnataki), who had debuted in his cousin Shantaram's Agnikankan (1932) and had just directed his first film, Vilasi Ishwar/ Orphans of the Storm (1935), for Kolhapur Cinetone, written by Marathi playwright Mama Warerkar. He founded Huns with cameraman Pandurang Naik. Together they made the Marathi films Chhaya/ Shadow (1936), written by Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar, and Brahmachari/ Celibate (1938), written by Pralhad Keshav "Acharya" Atre, both starring Vinayak and his step-brother Baburao Pendharkar. Huns focused on scripts by distinguished Marathi writers such as Warerkar, Atre and Khandekar. In 1943 Vinayak started Prafulla Pictures and directed Gajabhau (1944) in Marathi, the film that launched singer Lata Mangeshkar. Badi Maa/ Elder Mother (1945) in Hindi, starring both Noor Jehan and Lata Mangeshkar. In 1945 he moved his studio to Mumbai and he died two years later.

Bollywood (Mumbai's equivalent of Hollywood) was born in the 1930s, created by three young members of aristocratic India who met in England: Himanshu Rai, originally a Kolkata-educated lawyer in England from a wealthy family and then a producer and actor of mythological films directed in India by the German-born director Franz Osten; his wife, the English-educated Devika Rani (a great-grandniece of poet Rabindranath Tagore) who debuted as actress in his first English talkie (1933); and playwright Niranjan Pal, who too had started his career in England. In 1925 Rai and Pal collaborated on a film directed by Osten, Prem Sanyas/ The Light of Asia/ Die Leuchte Asiens (1925), which was a success in continental Europe, and in 1929 Rai married Rani. Rai instead "sold" the exotic flavor of Indian history and traditions to a curious European public that was not able to travel to India. Rai had a vision of cinema as an international art and the network to make it happen, but in 1933 Hitler seized power in Germany and Rai thought well to focus on the domestic Indian market. In 1934 Rai established the movie studio Bombay Talkies in Mumbai, and they all returned to India. Osten became the director, Rani the main actress, Pal the screenwriter, and then in 1935 Rai hired a woman, Saraswati Devi (actually a Parsi born Khorshed Minocher-Homji, but trained in Hindustani classical music, who adopted a Hindi name to disguise her real ethnicity), to compose the music for their films, one of the first female music composers in Indian cinema. Thus films such as the seminal Achhut Kanya/ Untouchable Maiden (1936) and Jeevan Naiya (1936) were born. Bombay Talkies also produced Naya Sansar/ New World (1941), scripted by film critic Khwaja Abbas and directed by a former reporter, NR Acharya, about a radical journalist, almost a preview of the IPTA cinema. Gyan Mukherjee was another director associated with the studio, and he went on to direct two blockbusters, Jhoola/ Swing (1941) and Kismet/ Fate (1943). The latter in particular smashed all box-office records, established Ashok Kumar as the first superstar of Indian cinema, and yielded several hit songs (composed by Anil Biswas). Since it presented an anti-hero (a criminal), the film was dubbed "anti-social" by influential critics like Baburao Patel. Bombay Talkies launched the careers of Dev Anand with Shaheed Latif's Ziddi/ Stubborn (1948) and of Madhubala with Kamal Amrohi's Mahal (1949). Bombay Talkies created one of Indian cinema's most famous couples when Madhubala and Dilip Kumar were paired in Ram Daryani's Tarana/ Anthem (1951). In 1940 Rai died and in 1943 Gyan Mukherjee, Sashadhar Mukherjee and Ashok Kumar broke with Bombay Talkies and established Filmistan Studio, leveraging the style invented by those two movies, the style that would become known as "Bollywood". An important screenwriter hired (in 1948) by Filmistan was Nasir Hussain, who went on to become a director. Other directors hired by Filmistan include: Kishore Sahu, who directed Sajan/ Boyfriend (1947), starring Ashok Kumar, the film that launched actress Rehana's career, and Nadiya Ke Par/ Across the River (1948), starring Dilip Kumar, both scored by Chitalkar; Ramesh Saigal, who directed Shaheed/ Martyr (1948), with music by Ghulam Haider and dialogues by Qamar Jalalabadi, and starring Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal, and then Samadhi (1950), the film that established the couple of Ashok Kumar and Nalini Jaywant, with music by Ramchandra Chitalkar; and Subodh Mukherjee, who directed Munimji/ Clerk (1955) and Paying Guest (1957), both starring Dev Anand with dialogues by Nasir Hussain and music by Burman

Ironically, there was less going on in India's capital Delhi, and less in general in Hindi. In 1924 Sunder Singh Lyallpuri, a leading Sikh member of the independence movement in Punjabi, founded an English-language daily Hindustan Times, printed in Delhi. In 1934 Hrishamcharan Jain founded the Hindi-language film magazine "Chitrapat" in Delhi.

The cultural capital of Punjab was Lahore. The musical tradition was particularly strong in Punjab. Since 1875 the Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan had been the most prestigious festival of Hindustani classical music. In 1901 the music school Gandharva Mahavidyalaya started publishing musical texts which had traditionally been accessible only to the musical elite. This event enabled and inspired a generation of singers and composers. Famous musicians originally from Lahore include: composers Roshan Lal Nagrath, Mohammed Zahur Khayyam and Ghulam Haider; female singers Khursheed Bano, Roshan Ara Begum and Shamshad Begum; and male singer Muhammad Rafi.

In 1901 Punjab passed a law limiting investment in agriculture. As a result, investors moved into the entertainment business generating a boom in theater and cinema. However, early Punjabi movies were mostly documentaries and educational films, often commissioned and funded by the railways.

In 1924 Roshan Lal Shorey started Kamala Movietone, for which his son Roop Kishore Shorey directed several talkies in the 1930s as well as Dulla Bhatti (1940), the debut of Ragni/ Ragini (born Shamshad Begum, not the Malayalam actress of the 1960s).

In 1928 Abdur Kardar established the United Players Association, which the following year spawned the film studio Playart Phototone, the company that funded Kardar's own debut as a director, Heer Ranjha (1932), which was the first Punjabi talkie, and BM Shukla's Raja Gopichand (1933), Jaddanbai's film debut, both produced by Hakim Ramprasad.

Lahore's cinema remained in the periphery of Indian cinema until a new production company started making national hits. In 1939 Punjabi pioneer Dalsukh Pancholi, at the time possibly the largest distributor of foreign films in northwestern India, and his brother Damodar started Pancholi Art Pictures. Dalsukh himself directed the Punjabi films Gul-E-Bakawali/ Flower of Bakawali (1939), a remake of Kanjibhai Rathod's silent movie Gul-e-Bakavali (1924), based on a tale from the "Arabian Nights", beginning a fruitful collaboration with composer Ghulam Haider and with teenage singer Noor Jehan (born as Allah Rakhi Wasai into a Punjabi Muslim family). Jehan became a star with the songs of Moti Gidwani's three-hour blockbuster Yamla Jat (1940), again composed by Ghulam Haider. The same musical duo appeared in Pancholi Art Pictures' third great Punjabi film, Chaudhry (1941), directed by Niranjan Pal. The studio (and the Haider-Jehan duo) then transitioned to the Hindi language with Gidwani's Khazanchi/ The Treasurer (1941), reaching a much broader audience (thanks also to playback singer Shamshad Begum). Pancholi paired Noor Jehan with Pran Krishan Sikand Ahluwalia, a Delhi actor (from a Punjabi Hindu family), in the Hindi film Khandaan/ Family (1942), directed by Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, the film that launched Pran's career the certified villain of Indian cinema. The collaboration between Pancholi and Haider came to an end after another hit, Zamindar (1942), directed by Gidwani, a movie that was a blueprint for the "masala" genre of the future. Much of the studio's success was due to Haider's songs, and the following films didn't fare well. Jehan went on to sing a record of 2422 songs in 1148 Pakistani films.

The studios of Lahore were mostly owned by Hindu families such as the Pancholis and the Shoreys. When the British split the colony into India and Pakistan, many of the Lahore filmmakers, screenwriters, musicians and actors decided to move to India.

Tamil speakers are mostly concentrated in Tamil Nadu, the state of Chennai/Madras. Tamil theater was as vibrant as Bengali theater. At the turn of the 20th century, Tamil theater was dominated by Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar, who started the Suguna Vilasa Sabha company and adapted several Shakespeare plays into Tamil, and by Balamani Ammal, a devadasi (a girl devoting her life to a deity), who started a troupe entirely made of women (typically destitute devadasi), who also played the male roles (the opposite of what male troupes were doing). At the beginning of the 20th century a new phenomenon altered the world of theater: companies of boys, frequently orphans (sometimes toddlers, more often teenagers). One of the earliest such company was organized by Jagannatha Iyer: the Bala Meena Ranjini Sangeetha Sabha. Another one was Yadhaartham Ponnusamy Pillai's Madurai Bala Gana Sabha. The most famous was the Madurai Bala Shanmughananda Sabha established in 1925 by four brothers (TK Sankaran, TK Muthuswami, TK Shanmugam and TK Bhagavathi), later known as the TKS Brothers troupe. Sankaradas Swamigal formed the boys company Tattva Meenalochani Vidwat Bala Sabha and wrote the play "Valli Thirumanam".

It was in Chennai that the "touring cinema" originated. In 1905 a Samikannu Vincent set up his tent cinema in Chennai's Esplanade district and called it "Edison's Grand Cinemamegaphone". In 1914 he built one of south India's first movie theaters (in Coimbatore, in the far west of Tamil Nadu state). In 1910 a photographer, Raghupathi Venkayya Naidu, set up another tent cinema in the same Esplanade area, and in 1914 he established a movie theater, "The Gaiety". Several movie theaters appeared around that time in Chennai. The first movie theater of Chennai was probably the Bioscope, which began operations in in 1911 (and lasted only for about six months). In 1913 Warwick Major and Reginald Eyre started the Electric Theatre (which lasted two years). In 1915 Thiru Murugesa Mudaliar turned his Chennai "Majestic Theater" into a movie theater.

Tamil cinema, nicknamed "Kollywood" from the Kodambakkam district of Chennai, was pioneered by Rangaswamy Nataraja Mudaliar who directed Gopal Krishna (1915) and Keechaka Vadham (1918), and by A. Narayanan (not clear what "A" stands for), who in 1929 started one of Chennai's key production studios, the General Pictures Corporation (GPC). The first Tamil talkie is technically Kalidas (1931) by Hanumappa Muniappa Reddy, although he was a Telugu director and the actors spoke multiple languages, but the first talkie made in Chennai was Narayanan's Srinivasa Kalyanam (1934), now credited to his new company, Srinivasa Cinetone.

Raja Sandow, born PK Nagalingam (not clear what "PK" stands for) , who had achieved fame as an actor in the silent era working in Mumbai for Kohinoor, especially in Chandulal Shah's Gunsundari (1927) next to Gohar Mamajiwala and in the subsequent Shah-Gohar talkies, even co-founding Ranjit Movietone with them, directed social-reform films in Chennai, starting with the silent movies Anadhai Penn/ Orphan Girl (1930), the adaptation of Kothainayaki Ammal’s novel, and Peyum Pennum (1930) for Padmanabhan's Associated Films. In 1928 a man called Padmanabhan had founded the Associated Films Studio in Chennai, and paired Raja Sandow as director and Krishnasamy Subramaniyam (later himself an influential social-realist director) as screenwriter, resulting in silent movies like Pride of Hindustan (1931).

TP Rajalakshmi (born Thiruvaiyaru Panchapakesa Rajalakshmi) was the first female actor in Tamil cinema, and possibly the first female director and producer in the whole of South India. Ardeshir Irani had cast her in the early talkie Kalidas (1931) and she had sung what is arguably the first hit song of Tamil cinema (“Manmadha baanamada, nenjinil paayuthada/ The arrows of Manmadha, the love God, pierces through the heart"). She became a star with the hit Valli Thirumanam (1933), directed by PV Rao (not clear what "PV" stands for) and produced by Tamil pioneer Samikannu Vincent in collaboration with the Pioneer Films Company of Kolkata. In 1936 Rajalakshmi started her own production company, Sri Rajam Talkies, and delivered an early social-realist film, Miss Kamala (1936), produced, directed, scripted and acted by her. At the same time she appeared in the hit movie Seemanthini (1936), directed by Ellis Dungan who had just moved from California to Chennai. She went on to direct herself in Madurai Veeran (1939).

In 1934 C.V. Raman (not clear what "CV" stands for), brother of A. Narayan, and tycoon Alagappa Chettiar founded Meenakshi Cinetone and produced Krishnasamy Subramanyam’s Pavalakkodi (1934), which turned Mayavaram Krishnasamy Thiyagaraja Bhagavathar into the main star of Bengali cinema. (The company was later renamed Neptune Studios and then Sathya Studios).

Manik Lal Tandon directed an early social-realist film of Tamil cinema, Damhacharii/ A Vain Man (1935). His other film Bhakta Nandanar/ Devotee Nandanar (1935) is distinguished by the participation of two famous Carnatic singers: Kodumudi Balambal Sundarambal (her film debut) and Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer.

In 1937 a sound engineer Dinshaw Tehrani, originally a Zoroastrian immigrant from Iran, started Newtone Studios in Chennai.

Yaragudipati Varada Rao, generally a Telugu director, directed in Tamil Chintamani (1937), one of the most successful films of the decade.

In 1936 a group of investors led by B. Rangaswamy Naidu in cahoots with pioneering film exhibitor Samikannu Vincent established Central Studios in Coimbatore, which produced Subbarayalu Munuswami Sriramulu Naidu's Thukkaram (1937), the only movie to feature Carnatic musician Musiri Subramania Iyer.

In 1937 TR Sundaram (born Tiruchengodu Ramalingam Sundaram Mudaliar) started Modern Theatres in Selam/Salem, halfway between Chennai and Coimbatore. He produced the first Malayalam talkie, Balan (1938, lost), directed by Shewakaram Nottani, and personally directed Utthama Puthiran (1940), the film that turned Pudukkottai Ulaganathan Pillai Chinnappa into a Tamil star (he had debuted in the boys company Madurai Original Boys), and Manthiri Kumari (1950), that turned Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran into a Tamil star.

Krishnasamy Subramanyam’s Pavalakkodi (1934) established Mayavaram Krishnasamy Thiyagaraja Bhagavathar as a major star, a status further enhanced by Naidu's blockbuster Sivakavi (1943) before his career came to an abrupt end (in 1944 he was arrested for the murder of a Tamil film journalist, a fact that contributed to make Sundarrao Nadkarni's Haridas one of the big hits of the year).

In 1939 Moola Narayana Swamy and Bommireddy Narasimha Reddy started Vauhini Pictures, a company that made Reddy one of the prominent Telugu directors via films such as Vande Mataram (1939), Sumangali (1940) and the blockbuster Malliswari (1951).

AV Meiyappan or simply AVM (born Avichi Meiyappa Chettiar), who established his own Pragathi Studios in 1940 and later his own AVM Productions in 1945, was the most successul Tamil director of the 1940s, with hits such as Sabhapathy (1941), an adaptation of Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar's play, and Nam Iruvar (1947), an adaptation of Palaniyaandi Neelakantan's play "Thyaga Ullam" which became a big hit. He also produced Sundarrao Nadkarni's Telugu film Bhookailas (1940). He became one of two movie moguls of Tamil cinema. The other one was SS Vasan (born Subramaniam Srinivasan), also owner of a popular Tamil magazine and founder of Gemini Studios in 1940. Gemini Studios released Mangamma Sabatham/ Mangamma's Vow (1943), directed by Thoothukudi "Achary" Raghavachari like Apoorva Sagodharargal (1949), and Vasan personally directed Chandralekha (1948), the most expensive Indian film until then (and the first Bengal-made talkie to become a hit all over India in its Hindi version) and the first national blockbuster not produced by either Mumbai or Kolkata.

In 1919 a photographer from Madras/Chennai, Raghupati Venkaiah Naidu, established the Star of East Films Company, which produced the first Telugu feature film, Bhishma Pratigya (1921), which he directed and in which he starred. Telugu is mostly spoken in Andhra Pradesh state.

The first Telugu talkie was Hanumappa Muniappa Reddy's Bhakta Prahlada (1932). Chittajallu Pullayya made his first Telugu film in Kolkata, Sati Savitri (1933), also the first Telugu film produced by the East India Film Company. He later directed Lava Kusa (1934), remade in 1963. Until Sarathi Studios moved in 1956 to Hyderabad, Telugu films were made in Chennai.

In 1937 Andhra Pradesh's aristocrat Yaralagadda Sivarama Prasad and director Gudavalli Ramabrahmam founded Sarathi Films. Ramabrahmam directed Telugu-language social-reform films written by Tapi Dharma Rao Naidu such as Mala Pilla (1938) and Raithu Bidda/ Farmer of Common Origins (1939). Sarathi also produced films by Laxmi Vara Prasada Rao (LV Prasad) and Tapi Chanakya, son of Tapi Dharma Rao Naidu.

Yaragudipati Varada Rao directed the Telugu movie Viswa Mohini/ The World of Entertainment (1940), perhaps the first Indian films about cinema. Rao also made important movies in Tamil and Kannada languages.

The first Gujarati talkie was Nanubhai Vakil's religious biopic Narasinh Mehta (1932) but Gujarati cinema remained negligible until the success of Vishnukumar Maganlal Vyas' Ranakdevi (1946), with songs by Chhanalal Thakur sung mostly by playback singer Amirbai Karnataki.

The first talkie in Odia (the language of Odisha state, the state of Oriya) was Mohan Sundar Deb Goswami's Seeta Bibaha (1934).

The first talkie in Kannada (the language of Karnataka state) was either Parshwanath Altekar's Bhakta Dhruva (1934) or Yaragudipati Varada Rao's Sati Sulochana (1934). Gubbi Veeranna, the owner of a theatrical company, was one of the first film producers of Karnataka, and his best known theatrical production, a Kannada version of Shirish Athwale's play "Mitra", also became one of his first movie productions, the comedy Sadarame (1935), directed by Raja Chandrasekar.

The first Malayalam film was Joseph Chellayya Daniel's Vigathakumaran/ The Lost Child (1930) and the first Malayalam talkie was Balan (1938, lost), directed by Shewakaram Nottani, a Parsi from Mumbai.

The first Assamese film was made by poet and playwright Jyoti Prasad Agarwala: Joymoti (1935), an adaptation of Lakshminath Bezbaroa's play "Joymoti Kunwari" (1915).

In 1930 the famed novelist Munshi Premchand started the Hindi-language literary magazine "Hans" in Varanasi.

In 1928 a British survey counted 24 film production companies in India, including 14 in Bombay/Mumbai, four in Kolkata, two in Madras/Chennai, two in Punjab, and two in Delhi. The most commercially successful were in the general Bombay region: Imperial Film in Grant Road, Kohinoor Film in Dadar, Maharashtra Film in Kolhapur, Sharda Film in Tardeo, etc.

Wall Street crashed in 1929. Ironically, this was good news for Indian cinema because it stopped Hollywood's expansion into India.

In 1935 India produced 228 feature films.

The advent of sound presented a dilemma. A silent movie could be exhibited anywhere in India, whereas a movie with Bengali or Tamil or Marathi dialogues could be viewed only in the region where that language was spoken. After independence (1947), Hindi-language cinema dominated the Indian market because for anyone else it was difficult to cross over to a national audience in such a multilingual nation. Mumbay became the center for nationally distributed Hindi films while cities like Kolkata become regional centers for locally-distributed films in the local language (for example, Bengali).

India's sound films were, first and foremost, musical. In no other country was the soundtrack composer as important as in India. In no other country the "playback singer" could become a national star.


1940s

In 1939 Britain declared war on Hitler's Germany and World War II started. India, a British colony, was now formally at war with Germany, although Indian intellectuals like Nehru advocate fighting against both fascism and colonialism.

While the Europeans, the Americans, the Chinese and the Japanese were fighting World War II, the Indians were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with British domination. In August 1942 Gandhi delivered a famous speech, known as the "Quit India" speech, in which he demanded India's independence from Britain. The British responded by arresting the independence leaders, including Gandhi himself and Nehru. Activists such as Jayaprakash Narayan organized a "Quit India" campaign that left 300 people dead. In 1943 a Subhash Chandra Bose proclaimed a government of India in exile (in Singapore), recognized by Germany and Japan. In 1943 and 1944 millions died of starvation in India's Bengal. Eventually, Britain released from prison both Gandhi (1944) and Nehru (1945). World War II ended with Britain's victory over Japan and Germany. Britain had granted "free" elections to India since 1920. The voters elected the representatives of a Central Legislative Assembly. In 1934 these elections had witnessed the triumph of the Indian National Congress. At the end of 1945 there were new elections, the first since 1934. Gandhi's and Nehru's Congress again won the majority of seats but, crucially, lost in almost all the Muslim-majority regions to Jinnah's Muslim League. The following year, after Bengali Muslims rioted in both Kolkata and Dakha, it became clear that India was heading towards partition into Hindu-majority and Muslim-majority regions. Additional trouble in the subcontinent was due to the awful, feudal conditions of the peasantry. In 1946 India's Communist Party led an insurrection of peasants against the princely state of Hyderabad (the "Telangana Rebellion", which lasted five years) and a rebellion in the princely state of Travancore, now in Kerala state (the "Punnapra-Vayalar Uprising"). In 1947 Britain finally granted independence to its colony, but inevitably had to create two countries, India and Pakistan, and the chaos and communal violence that followed caused an exodus of more than 14 million people and killed one million people. The following year Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu extremist. That year the foundation was also laid for a trouble that would last many decades: India refused to allow a plebiscite in Kashmir, where many wanted to join Pakistan, not India. In 1949 India, ruled by Jawaharlal Nehru, moved decisively into the orbit of the communist Soviet Union. India was a country of many languages, and many were spoken by dozens if not hundreds of million of people. In 1949 Hindi was adopted as India's official language but there were protests, especially in the south.

An important cultural event was the establishment in 1943 of the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) in Kolkata, a theatre and film movement backed by the Communist Party, an evolution of the Progressive Writers Association and of Binoy Roy's "Bengal Cultural Squad" that traveled across Bengal, with the intention of exporting the idea of "cultural squads" to the entire nation. Among the founders were also Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Ritwik Ghatak, Ravi Shankar (at the time an author of dance plays), Prithviraj Kapoor, Balraj Sahni, Utpal Dutt and Salil Chowdhury. Their plays, starting with Bijon Bhattacharya's "Nabanna/ Fresh Harvest" (1944), a play about the Bengal famine, were delivering strong anti-imperialist and filo-communist messages. Utpal Dutt, who formed in 1948 the Brecht Society, presided by Satyajit Ray, and in 1949 the Little Theatre Group, was the foremost Indian exponent of Bertolt Brecht's and Erwin Piscator's "epic theater". IPTA's debut in cinema was Khwaja Ahmad Abbas' Hindi-language Dharti Ke Lal/ Children of the Earth (1946), inspired by "Nabanna" and by a Krishen Chander socialist novel, followed by Nemai Ghosh's Bengali-language Chinnanul/ The Uprooted (1950), about the tragedy of the Partition. IPTA's writers typically followed in the footsteps of the "futurist" avantgarde of the Russian revolution, fusing Marxist agit-prop, national folklore and European avantgarde. Ironically, IPTA's influence on Indian cinema was more significant in the late 1950s and 1960s, when its filmmakers entered the mainstream, than in the early period when they were radicalized.

The key event of Indian cinema in the 1940s was the exponential growth of the Bengali school. There were new magazines, like Kalish Mukhopadhyay's Bengali film monthly "Rupamancha" (1943), Sudhangshu Basu's Bengali film weekly "Rupanjali" (1947) and Gour Chattopadhyay's Bengali film monthly Chitrabani (1949), and in 1947 (the year of India's independence and partition from Pakistan) Satyajit Ray, Chidananda Das Gupta and others created the Calcutta Film Society.

Mumbai too had its own artistic renaissance. For example, in 1947 (right after independence and partition) a group of Mumbai painters (Francis Newton Souza, Hari Ambadas Gade, Maqbool Fida Husain, Sayed Haider Raza, Krishnaji Howlaji Ara and Sadanand Bakre) formed the Progressive Artists Group, reacting against the Bengali school of art (that was harking back to India's traditional art) and aiming to align Indian art with the Western avantgarde (for example, abstract expressionism). In 1944 Rafi Peerzada, a pupil of Max Reinhardt in Berlin, helped to establish the Indian National Theatre in Bombay (and after 1947 helped to develop Pakistani theater).

Abdur Kardar moved in 1937 to Mumbai and in 1940 started his own Kardar Productions. Naushad Ali composed the music for Kardar's films featuring the teenage playback singer Suraiya, such as Sharda (1942). The collaboration with Naushad led to the blockbuster Shahjehan (1946), written by Kamal Amrohi and featuring actress Ragini and actor Kundan Lal Saigal.

Sundarrao Nadkarni, originally a Telugu director, after settling in Chennai directed the Tamil hits En Manaivi/ My Wife (1942), an Indian variation of Moliere's "Self-deceived Husband", produced by Avichi Meiyappa Chettiar (AVM), and Haridas (1944), especially the latter.

Sri Lankan-born Arul Susai Arogya Sami, who had become famous as a playwright in the 1930s with the three-hour Tamil play "Bilhanan" based on the life of the Kashmiri poet Bilhana, launched the career of Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran, the Douglas Fairbanks of Tamil cinema, with his debut as director, Rajakumari/ Princess (1947), an adaptation of a story from the Arabian Nights, a film that also featured actor "Sandow" Marudur Marudachalamurthy Ayyavoo Chinnappa Thevar, later the founder of Devar Films that produced many of Ramachandran's movies.

Uday Shankar was an international star of dance whose troupe toured the world (including his ten-year-old brother Ravi Shankar, the future star of sitar playing). Uday Shankar adapted one of his dances for his only film, Kalpana (1948), made at Gemini Studios.

Chetan Anand directed Neecha Nagar (1946), written by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, perhaps the very first Hindi film to enjoy an international audience, and then directed his younger brother Dev Anand in several Hindi films like the musical Taxi Driver (1954).

Khwaja Abbas directed the influential social realist film Hindi film Dharti Ke Lal/ Children of the Earth (1946), scripted by himself. During the 1940s he also carried out agit-prop activities, both dramas and ballets, performed by itinerant troupes.

Mehboob Khan directed several Hindi-language blockbusters: Andaz (1949), the musical Aan (1951), which was the first Technicolor film of Indian cinema, Amar/ Immortal (1954), and especially the epic Mother India (1957), a remake of his own Aurat (1940), starring Nargis Dutt and Sunil Dutt.

Chetan Anand's Neecha Nagar (1946) and Khwaja Abbas' Dharti Ke Lal (1946) were direct precursors of "Parallel Cinema" of the 1950s.

Kamal Amrohi, who had scripted Karim Asif's debut Phool (1945), directed Hindi's first horror movie, Mahal (1949), the movie that turned Madhubala into a star, and the musical melodrama Pakeezah (begun in 1958 and completed only in 1971).

In 1947 Boben Kunchako founded Udaya Studios in Kerala, which rapidly became the main producer of Malayam-language films.

In 1947 India produced 280 films.

In 1949 Dev Anand and Chetan Anand started Navketan Productions in Mumbai, a studio that dominated Bollywood for two decades with its musical melodramas.

The screenwriter was often more important than the director. Niranjan Pal was the brain behind Franz Osten's Hindi films, such as Achhut Kanya/ Untouchable Maiden (1936) and Janmabhoomi/ Land of Birth (1936). Wajahat Mirza wrote Mehboob Khan's Watan (1938), Aurat/ Woman (1940) and its more famous remake Mother India (1957), the film that launched the dacoit/bandit genre, as well as Ramesh Saigal's Shikast/ Defeat (1953), and contributed to Karim Asif's Mughal-e-Azam/ The Great Mughal (1960). Zia Sarhadi wrote Mehboob Khan's early films and Sarvottam Badami's Sajani (1940), and then directed Footpath (1953). Urdu writer Saadat Hassan Manto contributed to Hindi cinema by writing Dada Gunjal's Apni Nagariya (1940), Gyan Mukherjee's Chal Chal Re Naujawan/ Keep Going Youngsters (1944), Savak Vacha's Shikari (1946), Jai Kishn Nanda's Jhumke (1946), etc. Khwaja Abbas was an influential screenwriter before becoming an influential director. He scripted V. Shantaram's Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani/ The Immortal Story of Dr Kotnis (1946), Chetan Anand's Neecha Nagar/ Lowly City (1946), Raj Kapoor's blockbusters Awara/ The Tramp (1951) and Shri 420/ Mr 420 (1955), Jagte Raho/ Stay Awake (1956), Mera Naam Joker/ My Name is Joker (1970) and Bobby (1973). Nasir Hussain wrote Nandlal Jaswantlal's Anarkali (1953), based on Urdu playwright Imtiaz Ali Taj's play "Anarkali" (1922), and Subodh Mukherjee's Munimji (1955) and Paying Guest (1957). Later, Hussain would define the "masala" stereotype (melodramatic musical romance) with Yaadon Ki Baaraat/ Procession of Memories (1973), scripted by Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar.

This early generation led to the most well-known screenwriters of the 1970s: Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, who wrote Seeta Aur Geeta (1972), directed by Ramesh Sippy, Zanjeer (1973), directed by Prakash Mehra, Nasir Hussain's Yaadon Ki Baaraat/ Procession of Memories (1973), the film that launched the "masala" genre, Deewaar (1975), directed by Yash Chopra, Sholay/ Embers (1975), directed by Ramesh Sippy and possibly their best, that proposed a fusion of India's "dacoit" genre and Italy's "spaghetti western", and Shaan (1980), directed again by Sippy.

Kader Khan, raised in Mumbai by Afghan immigrants, was discovered by star Rajesh Khanna and director Manmohan Desai for the movie Roti (1974) and went on to script many Khanna vehicles. He also scripted several movies for the other star, Amitabh Bachchan, notably the ones directed by Desai Amar Akbar Anthony (1977). Kader Khan also wrote Prakash Mehra's Muqaddar Ka Sikander/ Conqueror of Destiny (1978) and Mukul Anand's Agneepath/ The Path of Fire (1990).

As Bollywood movies were frequently associated with a hit song, the music composer was becoming more relevant.

A female pioneer was Jaddanbai Hussain, who composed the music of Chimanlal Luhar's Talash-e Haq/Search For Truth (1935) and of her own films.

The success of Franz Osten's Achhut Kanya/ Untouchable Maiden (1936), Janmabhoomi/ Land of Birth (1936) and Jeevan Naiya (1936), as well as of Gyan Mukherjee's Jhoola/ Swing (1941) owes a lot to the music of Saraswati Devi.

The songs composed by Punjabi composer Ghulam Haider (and mostly sung by Noor Jehan) were the real reason for the success of the movies produced by Pancholi Art Pictures, from Dalsukh Pancholi's Gul-E-Bakawali/ Flower of Bakawali (1939) to Moti Gidwani's Zamindar (1942) via Moti Gidwani's Yamla Jat (1940) and Niranjan Pal's Chaudhry (1941). Haider also scored Nazir Ajmeri's Hindi film Majboor (1948) for singer Lata Mangeshkar.

In 1946 Filmistan hired the celebrated Bengali singer Sachin Dev Burman, who had just scored a hit with the soundtrack to Sukumar Dasgupta's Rajkumarer Nirbashan (1940). Burman scored Savak Vacha's Shikari (1946), starring Ashok Kumar, Munshi Dil's blockbuster Do Bhai (1947), that includes the song "Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya", and again starred Ashok Kumar, and Bibhuti Mitra's Shabnam (1949), starring the classic couple of Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal, with lyrics and dialogues by poet and future best-selling songwriter Qamar Jalalabadi (Om Prakash Bhandari). He also scored four Guru Dutt films: Baazi/ Gamble (1951), Jaal (1952), Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool/ Paper Flowers (1959). Burman also scored Subodh Mukherjee's Munimji/ Clerk (1955) and Paying Guest (1957), Vijay Anand's Teesri Manzil (1966), Nasir Hussain's Yaadon Ki Baaraat/ Procession of Memories (1973), etc.

Anil Biswas fused western-style symphonic orchestration with Indian musical motives in films such as Mehboob Khan's Roti/ Flatbread (1942), Gyan Mukherjee's Kismet/ Fate (1943), Ram Daryani's Tarana/ Anthem (1951), and Khwaja Abbas' Pardesi/ Foreigner (1957).

Pandit Amarnath (not the classical vocalist) scored Roop Shorey’s Hindi film Nishani (1942) and Hiren Bose's Punjabi film Daasi/ Dassi (1944).

Ramchandra Chitalkar (C Ramchandra) mixed Indian instruments and jazz instruments (sax, trumpet) and even Caribbean instruments (the bongo drum) in his scores for Bhagwan Dada's Sukhi Jeevan (1942), PL Santoshi's Shehnai (1947), Bhagwan Dada's and Geeta Bali's Albela (1951), Nandlal Jaswantlal's Anarkali (1953), and V Shantaram's Navrang (1959) and Stree (1961). His duets with singer Lata Mangeshkar were legendary.

Khemchand Prakash composed popular hit songs for Jayant Desai's Tansen (1943) and Kishore Sahu's Sindoor (1947) and Sawan Aya Re/ The Monsoon Has Come (1949); and went on to score Shaheed Latif's Ziddi/ Stubborn (1948) and Kamal Amrohi's Mahal/ Mansion (1949).

Naushad Ali composed the music for Abdur Rashid Kardar's Sharda (1942), that debuted the 13-year-old playback singer Suraiya, Mohammed Sadiq's Rattan (1944), produced by Kardar and scripted by Rama Shankar Choudhury, Kardar's Shahjehan (1945), Nitin Bose's Deedar (1951), Vijay Bhatt's Baiju Bawra (1952), for which he drafted Hindustani classical vocalists Amir Khan and Dattatreya Vishnu Paluskar, Mehboob Khan's Anmol Ghadi (1946) and Mother India (1957), and especially Karim Asif's Mughal-e-Azam/ The Great Mughal (1960).

Omkar Prasad Nayyar was Guru Dutt's favorite composer, scoring Baaz/ Falcon (1953), Aar Paar (1954) and Mr & Mrs '55 (1955), and also scored Abdur Kardar's Baap Re Baap (1955), Nasir Hussain's Tumsa Nahin Dekha/ Never Seen Anyone like You (1957) and Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon (1963) and Kishore Sahu's Bare Sarkar/ Big Boss (1957).

The duo Shankar & Jaikishan scored Ramesh Saigal's Shikast/ Defeat (1953); Raj Kapoor's Barsaat/ Rain (1949) and Shree 420 (1955); Subodh Mukherjee's Love Marriage (1959); Kishore Sahu's Mayurpankh (1954), Kismet Ka Khel/ Fate's Game (1956) and Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai/ My Heart is Mine and My Love is for Someone Else (1960); etc.

Vasant Desai scored V Shantaram's Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (1955) and Do Aankhen Barah Haath/ Two Eyes Twelve Hands (1957), as well as Vijay Bhatt's Goonj Uthi Shehnai/ The Call of the Shehnai (1959).

The three actors Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor dominated the golden age of India's commercial cinema from the 1940s to the 60s. Dev Anand starred in Shaheed Latif's Ziddi/ Stubborn (1948) and in seven movies he made with his lover Suraiya Jamal Sheikh, such as Chetan Anand's Afsar (1950). Dilip Kumar (a Muslim born Mohammed Yusuf Khan) starred in seminal films such as Bimal Roy's Devdas (1955) and Karim Asif's Mughal-e-Azam/ The Emperor of the Mughals (1960). Raj Kapoor directed himself in ambitious movies like Barsaat/ Rain (1949) and Awaara/ The Vagabond (1951).

Sunil Dutt emerged in the 1960s after starring in Mehboob Khan's Mother India (1957).

Famous actresses of Hindi cinema of the time include: Devika Rani; Madhubala (born Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi), who starred in Kamal Amrohi's Mahal (1949), formed a famous couples with Dilip Kumar starting with Ram Daryani's Tarana/ Anthem (1951) and starred in Karim Asif's Mughal-e-Azam/ The Great Mughal (1960); Vyjayanthimala, who starred in Nandlal Jaswantlal's Hindi film Nagin (1954) and Bimal Roy's Devdas (1955); Waheeda Rehman, who starred in Guru Dutt's Pyaasa/ Thirst (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool/ Paper Flowers (1959); Nargis Dutt (born Fatima Rashid), mostly known for her collaborations with Raj Kapoor, such as Barsaat/ Rain (1949) and Awaara (1951), but also for her role in Mehboob Khan's Mother India (1957); and Meena Kumari (born Mahjabeen Bano), one of India's most famous tragic actresses, the star of Vijay Bhatt's Baiju Bawra (1952); Bimal Roy's Parineeta (1953), LV Prasad's Sharada (1957), Devendra Goel's Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan (1959), Abrar Alvi's Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam/ The Master, the Wife, and the Slave (1962), Ram Maheshwari's Kaajal (1965), and her husband Kamal Amrohi's Pakeezah (1971).

Suchitra Sen was the most famous actress of Bengali cinema, thanks to the many movies she shared with actor Uttam Kumar.

The actor Amitabh Bachchan was the ruler of Hindi-language Bollywood blockbusters for two decades, from Khwaja Abbas' Saat Hindustani/ Seven Indians (1969) to the many collaborations with director and producer Yash Chopra, such as Deewaar (1975), to the many collaborations with Prakash Mehra, such as Zanjeer/ Shackles (1973), and the many collaborations with screenwriter Kader Khan, such as Manmohan Desai's Amar Akbar Anthony (1977).

Rajesh Khanna rose to prominence as a Bollywood actor via Hindi films such as Chetan Anand's Aakhri Khat/ The Last Letter (1966), Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anand (1971), Ramesh Sippy's Andaz (1971), written by Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, and Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Bawarchi (1972), written by Tapan Sinha. For several years Khanna benefited from the songs composed by Rahul Dev Burman and sung by playback singer Kishore Kumar in films such as Shakti Samanta's Kati Patang (1971). Given the importance of singing in India's cinema, the star was often a singer-actor. Zubeida Begum Dhanrajgir was the rare star of silent cinema to become a successful actress and singer.

Hindi singer Kundan Lal Saigal (born in Punjab but relocated to Kolkata), hired by New Theaters, acted and sang in Mohabbat Ke Ansu (1932), scored by Rai Chand Boral, Premankur Atorthy's Yahudi Ki Ladki (1933), scored by Pankaj Mullick, Puran Bhagat (1933), which was Debaki Bose's first Hindi film. also scored by Boral, Abdur Rashid Kardar's Shahjehan (1945), scored by Naushad Ali, and Jai Kishn Nanda's Parwana/ Moth (1947), scored by Khurshid Anwar.

Noor Jehan (born as Allah Rakhi Wasai into a Punjabi Muslim family) was the singing half of a formidable duo with composer Ghulam Haider that triumphed in Moti Gidwani's Yamla Jat (1940) and Niranjan Pal's Chaudhry (1941).

Suraiya Jamal Sheikh, a child actress who had debuted at 12 in Nanubhai Vakil's Taj Mahal (1941) and starred in Karim Asif's Phool (1945), became one of the most famous singing stars of Hindi cinema thanks to three collaborations with singer-actor Kundan Lal Saigal, notably Jayant Desai's Tadbir (1945), scored by Lal Mohammad, and Jai Kishn Nanda's Parwana/ Moth (1947), scored by Khurshid Anwar, thanks to three musical scores by Naushad Ali, namely Mehboob Khan's Anmol Ghadi (1946), Abdur Kardar's Dard/ Pain (1947) and Kardar's Dillagi/ The Jest (1949), thanks to three films scored by Ghulam Mohammad, notably Sohrab Modi's Mirza Ghalib (1954), and thanks to the seven films she made with her lover Dev Anand, starting with Girish Trivedi's Vidya (1948) and Chetan Anand's Afsar (1949), both scored by Sachin Dev Burman.

Equally important were the playback singers, the ones who really sung the songs that actors and actresses only lip-synched.

Playback singing was first employed by Nitin Bose for the Hindi film Dhoop Chhaon (1935), but became popular only in the 1940s.

Punjabi singer Shamshad Begum (not the actress Ragni) lent her vocals to several Moti Gidwani movies, such as Yamla Jat (1940), Khazanchi/ The Treasurer (1941) and Zamindar (1942), as well as to Shaukat Hussain Rizvi's Khandaan/ Family (1942).

Hindi and Marathi playback singer Lata Mangeshkar was discovered by Master Vinayak in Gajabhau (1944) and followed him to Mumbai where she became famous (after Vinayak's death) with the songs of Nazir Ajmeri's Hindi film Majboor (1948), composed by Ghulam Haider. She sang famous songs in soundtracks composed by Naushad Ali, such as Nitin Bose's Deedar (1951) and Mehboob Khan's Mother India (1957), by the duo Shankar & Jaikishan, such as Raj Kapoor's Barsaat/ Rain (1949) and Shree 420 (1955), by Sachin Dev Burman, such as Bimal Roy's Devdas (1955), and by Madan Mohan, such as Ramesh Saigal's Railway Platform (1955) and B.R. Ishara's Dil Ki Rahen (1973).

Kannada and Gujarati singer Amirbai Karnataki sang most of the songs of Gyan Mukherjee's Kismet/ Fate (1943), Shaukat Hussain Rizvi's Zeenat (1945), and Vishnukumar Maganlal Vyas' Ranakdevi (1946).

Hindi singer Mohammed Rafi (born in Punjab) was chosen by composer Naushad Ali for Vijay Bhatt's Baiju Bawra (1952), by composer Sachin Dev Burman for Guru Dutt's Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool/ Paper Flowers (1959), by composers Shankar & Jaikishan for Barsaat (1949) and countless other movies, by composer Madan Mohan for Devendra Goel's Aankhen/ The Eyes (1950) and Raj Rishi's Sharabi/ Drunkard (1964), by composer Omkar Prasad Nayyar, etc.

The most successful films of the 1940s were often the ones with the most successful songs: the songs drove the audience to watch the film.


1950s

The 1950s were the decade when Indian cinema was recognized internationally, with top prizes awarded at major European festivals to Indian directors. The anti-imperialist stance of pre-independence was being replaced by an awareness of the injustices embedded in India's own society.

Politically, India kept moving to the left. In 1954 Nehru and China's communist dictator Mao signed a treaty of friendship. In 1955 Nehru proclaimed the need for a socialist society. In 1956 Nehru, Nasser of Egypt and Tito of Yugoslavia pledged a neutral stance between the Soviet Union's communism block and the West' capitalist block, and started the "Non-Aligned Movement", although in reality they were all socialist leaders. This was the fourth pillar of Nehru's ideology after democracy (India was technically the largest democratic country in the world, with a federal structure copied from the USA and a parliamentary system copied from Britain), secularism (no religion was given preference and Islam was tolerated and protected in a Hindu-majority country despite the tensions with Pakistan) and socialism. Following the model of Mao in China, Nehru's government invested in dams and steel plants, calling them "the temples of the future", and launched five-year plans to industrialize India and achieve economic self-sufficiency. Railways, airlines and the Imperial Bank were nationalized. Agriculture was revolutionized by state subsidies and cooperative land reforms. Nehru presided over the establishment of India's scientific institutions, such as the IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) in 1950, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in 1954, the AIIMS (All India Institutes for Medical Sciences) in 1956, etc. The CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) had already been launched in 1942. Unlike the Soviet Union and China, India maintained a parallel capitalist system that allowed entrepreneurs to start companies and India maintained a free press. And in 1959 Nehru began to face a right-wing opposition that favored a Western-style market-based economy: Chakravarti Rajagopalachari's Swatantra Party. Previously the elections had delivered Congress the vast majority of seats in parliament, and the second and third party were left-wing too (the Socialist Party and the Communist Party). Ironically, despite its anti-Western mood, India still accepted English as the national language. It would have been politically explosive to pick Hindi or any other local language as a national language (when the government tried in 1965, there were riots in Chennai to rival the riots against the British).

The economic conditions of India were still dreadful. A vast population lived below the poverty line. The economist Singh Minhas estimated that in 1956–57 India's poverty rate was 65%, i.e. 215 million people. (Incidentally, that number wouldn't change much in the next 60 years, as in 2017 the World Bank still estimated 60% living below the poverty line).

The 1950s witnessed a consolidation of India's film industry. Prabhat shut down in 1953 and New Theatres in 1955, while Filmistan in Mumbai and Vijaya in Chennai surpassed respectively Bombay Talkies and Vauhini.

Mumbai's "Bollywood" scene was growing by leaps and bounds. JC Jain (not clear what JC stands for) launched the English-language film magazine "Filmfare" (1952) and instituted the "Filmfare Awards" (1953), the Indian "Oscars". Manohar Prasad Gupta started the Hindi magazine "Cinema" (1952). Since 1935 a poet named Prabhulal Garg, aka Kaka Hathrasi, had been publishing a monthly magazine titled "Sangeet" on Indian classical music and dance. In 1956 his publishing house Sangeet Karyalaya started also the magazine "Film Sangeet" in Hindi.

Vittorio DeSica's neorealist films were a sensation at the first International Film Festival of India, held in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata in 1952.

DeSica's influence on Bengali cinema was already visible before that festival, for example in Nemai Ghosh's Chinnamul/ The Uprooted (1950), the first film to deal with partition, written by Swarnakamal Bhattacharya, produced by Bimal Dey, starring Ritwik Ghatak who was also assistant director, with documentary scenes of refugees camped in Kolkata's train station.

Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha were the most influential figures of Bengali's intellectual cinema, with Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen the most directly influenced by the IPTA, while Ajoy Kar, who directed the popular couple of Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen in Harano Sur (1957), and Tarum Majumdar, who later directed the blockbuster Balika Badhu (1967), were exponents of Bengali's commercial cinema.

Reacting against mainstream commercial Indian cinema, which was mainly musical, the cinema of these Bengali filmmakers, later known as "Samantarala Calaccitra/ Parallel Cinema", was inspired by Italian Neorealism.

Ghatak's Nagarik (1952) was the first film of this generation, although not released until after his death in 1977, while Bimal Roy's musical melodrama Do Bigha Zamin/ Two Acres of Land (1953), inspired by Vittorio DeSica's Ladri di Biciclette/ Bicycle Thieves, starring IPTA actor Balraj Sahni and scored by IPTA composer Salil Choudhury, was the first one to get international recognition. Ray's trilogy of Pather Panchali/ Song of the Road (1955), Aparajito/ The Unvanquished (1956) and Apur Sansar/ The World of Apu (1959) marked the official birth of the movement. It also marked the separation of commercial mainstream cinema (the kind now embodied by Vasan's Chandralekha) and independent militant cinema.

In 1957 a group including Chidananda Das Gupta, Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen started the "Indian Film Quarterly".

The intellectuals didn't kill commercial Bengali cinema, that continued to produce hits like Nirmal Dey's comedy Sharey Chuattor/ Seventy Four and Half (1953), based on a novel by Bijon Bhattacharya, debuting Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen, soon to become the iconic romantic couple of Bengali cinema; and Sagarika (1956), another mega-hit for Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen, based on a Nitai Bhattacharya story, with songs composed by Robin Chatterjee, and directed by a group of film technicians called Agragami. The idea of having a collective direct a film was unique to Bengali cinema. The original collective was called Agradoot. Three of them (Saroj Dey, Nishith Mukhopadhyay and Bimal Bhowmick) split and formed Agragami. They other hits with Shilpi (1956) and Dak Harkara (1958).

Tamil cinema underwent its own revolution. The Dravidian movement founded in Tamil Nadu in 1925 became stronger after independence, and the introduction of electricity to rural areas allowed Dravidian politicians to use movies as a tool of political propaganda. In 1949 the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or DMK (Dravidian Progressive Federation), a Tamil nationalist party, had been formally established in Tamil Nadu, mostly by people of the film industry. Two of its activists were screenwriters and scripted politically motivated films. Both would later become chief ministers of the state. Conjeevaram Natarajan Annadurai scripted the three-hour Nallathambi (1949), a Tamil adaptation of Frank Capra's Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936), directed by the duo Krishnan–Panju (R. Krishnan and S. Panju), and adapted his 1946 play for the three-hour Velaikari/ Servant Maid (1949), directed by Arul Susai Arogya Samy. Muthuvel Karunanidhi scripted the three-hour, elaborately plotted, Parasakthi/ The Supreme Goddess (1952), based on Pavalar Balasundaram's play and directed by Krishnan & Panju, that launched the career of actor Viluppuram Chinnaiah Ganesamoorthy (aka Sivaji Ganesan).

The DMK saw cinema as a vehicle to promote its anti-Brahmin and anti-Hindi ideology.

On the commercial front, Tamil cinema yielded Sundaram Balachander's film noir Andha Naal (1954), and Chitthamoor Vijayaraghavalu Sridhar's romantic Kalyana Parisu (1959) and his comedy Thennilavu (1961).

Subbarayalu Munuswami Sriramulu Naidu founded in Coimbatore the Pakshiraja Studios in 1945, then produced K Ramnoth's Ezhai Padum Padu/ Beedala Patlu/ Plight of the Poor (1950), which was a Tamil adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel "Les Miserables" (1862), and personally directed Malaikkallan/ Thief of The Hills (1954), featuring Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran. The same Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran, aga "MGR", starred in hits such as Chitrapu Narayana Murthy's En Thangai (1952) and Subbarayalu Munuswami Sriramulu Naidu's Malaikkallan/ Thief of The Hills (1954), and debuted as a director with Nadodi Mannan/ The Vagabond King (1958), specializing in the swashbuckling genre. MGR's rise to stardom originated the first fan club in Tamil Nadu (in 1954), which acquired a political connotation by aligning with the Dravidian movement's goal of opposing the imposition of Hindi on the south.

Telugu cinema was blessed with quite a few creative minds.

Vedantam Raghavaiah, a famous dancer and the choreographer of Gudavalli Ramabrahmam's Telugu film Raithu Bidda (1939), co-founded the Vinoda Studio in 1950 and personally directed the three-hour Devadasu (1953), the first adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's novel in Telugu. (Trivia: at the age of nine he had married his five-year-old cousin). In 1948 Bommireddy Nagi Reddy and Chakrapani (born Aluri Venkata Subbarao) founded Vijaya Pictures in Chennai, specializing in Telugu movies such as Kadiri Venkata Reddy's influential Pathala Bhairavi/ The Goddess of the Netherworld (1951), which was also made in Tamil.

In 1951 Telugu actress Anjali Devi and producer and composer Penupatruni Adinarayana Rao founded the Anjali Pictures, which debuted with LV Prasad's Paradesi/ Poongothai (1953) in Telugu and Tamil, followed by Anarkali (1955) in Telugu, directed by Vedantam Raghavayya like most of the following ones.

LV Prasad (born Laxmi Vara Prasada Rao), who by coincidence had acted in the first ever talkies in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu (respectively Alam Ara, Kalidasa and Bhakta Prahlada), and who during World War II had been an actor in Prithviraj Kapoor's Prithvi Theatres in Mumbai, debuted with Telugu films such as Gruha Pravesam (1946), Mana Desam (1949). He then made Shavukaru/ Businessman (1950) and Samsaram (1950), both starring Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, and Pelli Chesi Choodu/ Kalyanam Panni Par (1952), in Telugu and Tamil, the film that turned Savitri Ganesan into a star before directing the three-hour Manohara (1954), based on Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar's play and simultaneously released in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi.

Telugu cinema then prospered thanks to the LV Prasad school of low-budget domestic melodramas Tatineni Prakash Rao specialized in village melodramas starring NT Rama Rao and Savitri, such as Palletooru/ Village (1952) and Parivartana/ Realization (1954), adapted from Srirama Murthy Pinisetti's novel "Anna-Chellelu". Kolli Kotayya Pratyagatma (aka K Pratyagatma) made Bharya Bharthalu (1961), adapted from Lakshmi Tripurasundari's Tamil novel "Pennmanam", and Kula Gotralu/ Caste and Clans (1961), written by Acharya Aatreya.

P. Pullaiah produced and directed the musical Jayabheri (1959), a remake of V Shantaram's Marathi movie Lokshahir Ram Joshi (1947) with new music by Pendyala Nageswara Rao, and the mythological Shri Venkateshwara Mahatyam (1960), a remake of his own namesake movie of 1939, scripted by Duvvuri Ramireddy, and the film that turned NT Rama Rao (playing Srinivasa) into a star of Telugu cinema, paired with Savitri (playing Padmavathi). It featured 31 songs composed by Pendyala Nageswara Rao.

Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, aka NT Rama Rao aka NTR, rose to prominence in LV Prasad's Shavukaru/ Businessman (1950) and in Thodu Dongalu (1954), produced by his brother Nandamuri Trivikrama Rao. He and Akkineni Nageshwara Rao (another future star) acted in Subba Rao's Palletoori Pilla (1950). He played Krishna in Kadiri Venkata Reddy's Maya Bazaar (1957), a role that he would repeat many times. He became a god-like star after playing Srinivasa/ Venkateshwara in LV Prasad's Shri Venkateshwara Mahatyam (1960). His home in Chennai became a shrine worshipped by pious pilgrims. In 1982 NTR started a political party and went on to serve three terms as head of government of Andhra Pradesh state in southeastern India (1983–95), the first non-Congress chief minister of the state ever.

The highlight of Kannada-language cinema of the decade was probably the biopic Ranadheera Kanteerava (1960), directed by NC Rajan (not clear what NC stands for) and written by Ganapathi Venkataramana Iyer, which turned actor Rajkumar (born Singanalluru Puttaswamaiah Muthuraj) into a star.

Assamese cinema was jumpstarted by Jyotiprasad Agarwala (another member of IPTA), who adapted Lakhindranath Bezbaruah's militant play for his film Joymati (1955).

India's Films Division was established in 1948 the first state film production and distribution unit to "produce documentaries and news magazines f and sponsored documentaries such as German-born Paul Zils's ethnographic Martial Dances of Malabar (1958) in English and Harisadhan Dasgupta's educational The Story of Steel (1956), written in English by Satyajit Ray, composed by Ravi Shankar, edited by Hrishikesh Multherjee, and photographed by Jean Renoir's brother Claude. Dasgupta had co-directed the documentary Konarak (1949) with Claude Renoir and assisted Jean Renoir on The River (1951).

Hindi-language cinema was still maturing. Guru Dutt's Pyaasa (1957) was emblematic of "middle cinema", a compromise between artsy and commercial cinema.

Baldev Raj Chopra's Naya Daur/ The New Era (1957) and Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anari (1959) were typical of commercial Hindi cinema.

IPTA's influence was particularly felt in Kerala's cinema. Pulloottupadathu Bhaskaran and Ramu Kariat co-directed Neelakuyil/ The Blue Koel (1954), adapted from Malayam novelist Uroob (real name Parutholli Chalappurathu Kuttikrishnan), then created the hits Mudiyanaya Puthran/ The Prodigal Son (1961) and Chemmeen/ The Shrimp (1965). Kariat made Mudiyanaya Puthran (1961), adapted from a play by Thoppil Bhasi (the author of the influential 1952 play "Ningalenne Communistaki/ You Made Me a Communist"), while Bhaskaran directed Kattukurangu/ Wild Monkey (1968), with music by Paravur Devarajan.

An influential composer of Kerala's Malayalam cinema was Paravur Devarajan (aka G Devarajan). His first hit was Boben Kunchacko's Bharya (1962).


1960s

In 1959 there was also the first event that disrupted the friendly ties between India and China when Mao decided to annex Tibet in violation of the 1954 treaty: thousands of Tibetan refugees fled to India, including their leader, the Dalai Lama. Three years later India was badly beaten by China in a border war. The Communist Party of India was already in trouble due to the Telangana Rebellion". The war against communist China dealt it the final blow. In 1964 a large faction led by Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran (EMS) Namboodiripad formed the Communist Party of India Marxist or CPI(M). In 1964 Nehru died. In 1965 there were protests and riots, especially in the south (Madurai and Chennai) because the Indian government tried again to impose Hindi as the national language, just like in 1949. In 1965 India and Pakistan went to war again over Kashmir. In 1966 Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi became the new prime minister of India, but the Congress Party loses the 1967 elections in half the states: the Left United Front (communists and socialists) win in West Bengal and the DMK wins in Tamil Nadu. The communists also started organizing peasant uprisings. In 1967 Maoists from Naxalbari (the "Naxalites") led by Krishak Samiti started a guerrilla war in West Bengal, followed by Maoist groups in Telengana and Srikakulam, more or less affiliated with Charu Majumdar's Communist Party Marxist Leninist or CPI(ML).

In 1960 the Indian government established the Film Finance Corporation to finance independent films, and in 1961 the Film Institute of India to train aspiring directors, something akin to the Soviet film schools of the 1920s.

Karim Asif debuted with the Hindi film Phool (1945), written by Kamal Amrohi with music by Ghulam Haider, and starring the 16-year-old Suraiya, and then crafted one of India's most influential films, Mughal-e-Azam/ The Great Mughal (1960), 16 years in the making, starring Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, written by four screenwriters including Kamal Amrohi and Wajahat Mirza from Urdu playwright Imtiaz Ali Taj's play "Anarkali" (1922), and scored by Naushad Ali (possibly his musical masterpiece) with singing by Lata Mangeshkar.

Kailasam Balachander, a Tamil playwright, debuted with the three-hour Tamil comedy Bama Vijayam (1967).

Tamil star Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran, aga "MGR", recast his heroic feats into contemporary India with blockbusters such as Palaniyaandi Neelakantan's Thirudathe/ Do not Steal (1961), Thanjavur Radhakrishnan Ramanna's Periya Idathu Penn/ The Wealthy Woman (1963), Thozhilali/ Worker (1964), produced by Sandow Thevar, Tatineni Prakash Rao's Padagotti/ Coxswain (1964), etc.

Yash Chopra directed the Hindi blockbuster Waqt/ Time (1965), written by Akhtar Mirza, starring actress Sadhana and actor Sunil Dutt, with hit songs composed by Ravi Shankar Sharma.

Shakti Samanta's Hindi movie Aradhana/ Worship (1969), scored by Sachin Dev Burman and with singing by playback singer Kishore Kumar, turned Rajesh Khanna into a star, and was remade in Tamil as Sivagamiyin Selvan (1974) and in Telugu as Kannavari Kalalu (1974).

Hindi-language escapist cinema also yielded Raj Kapoor's Sangam (1964), Pramod Chakravorty's Love in Tokyo (1966) and Manoj Kumar's Upkaar/ Obligation (1967).

The Bengali "new wave" continued to produce important films, such as: Mrinal Sen's Baishey Shravana/ Wedding Day (1960), Tapan Sinha's Kshudhita Pashan (1960), and Ghatak's Meghe Dhaka Tara/ Cloud Capped Star (1960) and Subarnarekha (1962). N Lakshminarayan's Naandi (1964) was perhaps the first example of "parallel cinema" in Kannada. At the end of the decade, a new wave of "parallel cinema", funded by the Film Finance Corporation, started with Mrinal Sen's grotesque comedy Bhuvan Shome/ Mr Shome (1969) and Mani Kaul's black-and-white Uski Roti/ A Day's Bread (1969).

The blockbuster that established the Malayalam industry of Kerala state as major force was Ramu Kariat's Chemmeen/ The Prawn (1965), an adaptation of Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai's novel.

Kasinadhuni Viswanath directed Telegu films that fuse mysticism, music, melodrama, social critique, such as Aatma Gowravam (1965), as well as the delirious melodrama Sankarabharanam (1979).


1970s

The decade ended in political drama when the Congress Party expelled prime minister Indira Gandhi. She moved to the left, turning India into a more socialist country, for example nationalizing India's leading banks, and at the same time cracked down on the communists. In 1971 a new war against Pakistan resulted in the creation of independent Bangladesh. At the end of the war, Indira Gandhi signed a a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union. In 1974 India became a nuclear power after detonating an underground atomic bomb and in 1975 India launched its first satellite (from a Soviet center). Becoming an increasingly authoritarian leader, Indira Gandhi faced demonstrations led by Jayaprakash Narayan. The government reacted by jailing thousands of dissidents. In 1976 she announced the program to sterilize men, and in a few months 3.7 million Indians were sterilized. That was her idea of "population control". Finally in 1977 she was defeated in national elections and had to step down.

In 1971, India produced 431 feature films, more than any other country in the world.

In the 1970s some of the most acclaimed Indian filmmakers of "parallel cinema" were from the Malayalam industry of Kerala state (traditionally India's most literate state): Palissery Narayanankutty Menon's Olavum Theeravum (1970), scripted by novelist Madath Thekkepaattu Vasudevan Nair, Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Swayamvaram/ One's Own Choice (1972), realized by a cooperative of technicians, John Abraham's Vidhyarthikale Ithile Ithile (1972), Govindan Aravindan's Uttarayanam/ Throne of Capricorn (1974), KP Kumaran's Athithi (1975), Bharathan's Prayanam (1975), Kulakkattil Geevarghese George's Swapnadanam/ Journey Through a Dream (1976), Melattoor Ravi Varma's Anugraham (1977), P Padmarajan's Peruvazhiyambalam/ The Halfway House (1979), etc. In fact, in 1979 Malayalam film production passed the Hindi one, thanks to Kerala government’s Chitranjali Film Studio.

Notable films of "parallel cinema" in Hindi were: Rajinder Singh Bedi's Dastak (1970); Kumar Shahani's Maya Darpan/ The Illusory Mirror (1972); Mani Kaul's Duvidha/ Indecision (1973); Shyam Benegal's Ankur/ Seeding (1974) and Nishant (1975); Aandhi/ Storm (1975), directed by Urdu poet Gulzar (born Sampooran Singh Kalra).

Other films of "parallel cinema" included: Kantilal Rathod's Kanku (1969) in Gujarati; Tikkavarapu Pattabhirama Reddy's Samskara/ Funeral Rites (1970) in Kannada; Satyadev Dubey's Shantata - Court Chalu Aahe (1971) in Marathi (an adaptation of Vijay Tendulkar's play of 1963); Girish Kasaravalli's Ghatashraddha/The Ritual (1977) in Kannada; Bhabendra Nath Saikia's Sandhya Raag (1977) in Assamese; Talakadu Srinivasaiah Nagabharana's Grahana (1978) in Kannada; Baraguru Ramachandrappa's Ondu Oorina Kathe (1978) in Kannada; Buddhadep Dasgupta's Dooratwa/ Distance (1978) in Bengali, and Mrinal Sen's Ek Din Pratidin/ And Quiet Rolls the Dawn (1979) also in Bengali.

Madath Thekkepaattu Vasudevan Nair, already a famous novelist, scripted Palissery Narayanankutty Menon's Olavum Theeravum (1970), his own Nirmalyam (1973) and Bandhanam (1978), Hariharan's films Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989) and Parinayam (1994), his own Kadavu (1991), Sibi Malayil's Sadayam (1992) and his own Oru Cheru Punchiri (2000).

Notable cases of "middle cinema" included: Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Satyakam (1969) in Hindi; Basu Bhattacharya's trilogy that started with Anubhav (1971) in Hindi; Kailasam Balachander's Arangetram (1973) in Tamil; Basu Chatterjee's Us Paar (1974) in Hindi; Bijja Satyanarayana Narayana's Nimajjanam/ The Immersion (1979) in Telugu; Aribam Syam Sharma's Olangthagee Wangmadasoo (1979) and Imagi Ningthem/ My Son My Precious (1981) in Manipuri.

Notable commercial films included: Tulsi Ramsay's and Shyam Ramsay's horror movie Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche/ Two Yards Under the Ground (1972) in Hindi, Yash Chopra's Deewaar/ The Wall (1975) in Hindi, Bharathiraja's 16 Vayathinile (1977) in Tamil, Mahendran's Mullum Malarum (1978) in Tamil, Kasinadhuni Viswanath's musical Shankarabharanam/ The Jewel of Sankara (1979) in Telugu.

Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran, aka “MGR”, the Tamil mega-star, acted in Krishnan Nair's blockbuster Rickshawkaran/ The Rickshaw Man (1971) and directed the sci-fi movie Ulagam Sutrum Valiban/ Globetrotting Youngster (1973). He was so popular that in 1977 he was elected chief minister of Tamil Nadu. When he died in 1987, 30 people committed suicide.

Chennai's "Kollywood" (the district of Kodambakkam) was becoming a major film production center, rivaling the Hindi Bollywood.

Jabbar Patel directed three Marathi films about political corruption scripted by Tendulkar, namely Saamna/ Confrontation (1975), Sinhasan/ The Throne (1979) and Umbartha/ Threshold (1981), as well as the musical blockbuster Jait Re Jait/ Win Win (1977).

Marathi journalist and poet Ramdas Phutane (India, 1943) produced Jabbar Patel’s Saamna/ Confrontation (1975) and then directed his own Sarvasakshi/ Omniscient (1978), a black-and-white film in the style of social realism about the conflict between science (an idealistic schoolteacher who preaches medicine) and superstition (a witch doctor who preaches human sacrifice).

K Vasu (born Kolli Srinavasa Rao) directed Pranam Khareedu (1978), starring a young Chiranjeevi (born Konidela Sivasankara Varaprasad) and the Telugu blockbuster Sri Shirdi Saibaba Mahatyam (1986), starring Vijayachander (born Vijayachander Telidevara).


1980s

Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980. In June 1984 Indian troops stormed the holy Sikh shrine of the "Golden Temple" in Amritsar where Sikh secessionists led by Jarnail Singh Bindranwale were hiding, and hundreds were killed. Four months later Indira Gandhi was assassinated by Sikh bodyguards and riots between Hindus and Sikhs killed thousands around India, including the 329 passengers who died when a bomb blew up an Air India flight out of Canada. At the end of 1984 a leak at the Union Carbide pesticides plant in Bhopal caused thousands of death. Indira's son Rajiv became the new prime minister, but he failed to bring peace to Punjab (in fact, the insurrection span out of control) and his government was soon enveloped in scandals. In 1987 he sent troops to quell the bloody Tamil rebellion in Sri Lanka, and in 1991 he was assassinated by Tamil terrorists. Rajiv bequeathed another problem to his successors. Since at least 1986 Hindu fanatics had been demanding that mosque in Ayodhya be demolished and replaced by a Hindu temple, and Rajiv had tolerated their religious charades. In 1992 Hindu extremists destroyed the mosque, causing riots around the country that killed 2000 people.

Parallel cinema of the 1980s included: Govind Nihalani Aakrosh/ Outrage (1980), written by Marathi playwright Vijay Tendulkar in Hindi; Sai Pranjpaye's Sparsh/ The Touch (1980), made by the rare female director; Rabindra Dharmaraj's only film Chakra (1981), set in the slums of Mumbay among bums, counterfeiters and prostitutes; Muzzaffar Ali's Umrao Jaan (1981); Saeed Mirza's Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai (1980) and Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho! (1984) in Hindi; Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Elippathayam/ The Rat Trap (1982) in Malayalam; Jahnu Barua's Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai/ The Catastrophe (1987) in Assamese; Shaji Karun's Piravi/ The Birth (1989) in Malayalam; Vijaya Mehta's Pestonjee (1988) in Hindi, made by a celebrated female director of Marathi theater; Bongu Narsing Rao's Daasi (1988) in Telugu, scripted by Kanaala Nanjunda Tirumala Sastry; TV Chandran's Alicinte Anveshanam (1989) and Ponthan Mada (1994) in Malayalam; Akkineni Kutumba Rao's Bhadram Koduko (1992) in Telugu.

Commercial hits of the 1980s included: Aparna Sen's 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981) in Bengali; Balu Mahendra's Moondram Pirai (1982) in Tamil; Shekhar Kapur's Masoom (1983), an adaptation of Erich Segal's novel "Man, Woman and Child", and his superhero movie Mr India (1987) in Hindi; Mani Ratnam's Mouna Ragam (1986) and gangster movie Nayakan/ Hero (1987) in Tamil; Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay (1988) in Hindi; Penmetsa Ram Gopal Varma's Siva (1989) in Telugu.

The new star of Tamil cinema was Rajinikanth (born Shivaji Rao Gaikwad), whose career was largely shaped by director SP Muthuraman (not clear what "SP" stands for), for example in Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri/ Bhuvana is a Question Mark (1977) and Nallavanukku Nallavan/ Goodman to the Good (1984). MGR also starred in blockbusters by R Krishnamoorthy (not clear what the "R" stands for), such as Billa (1980), a remake of Chandra Barot's Hindi-language movie Don (1978), and by A Jagannathan (not clear what the "A" stands for), such as Moondru Mugam/ Three Faces (1982).

Daggubati Venkatesh became the star of Telugu cinema thanks to Kodi Ramakrishna's Srinivasa Kalyanam/ The Marriage of Srinivasa (1987) and Ram Gopal Varma's Kshana Kshanam/ Every Moment (1991).

Malayalam cinema had two stars. The career of Mammootty (born Muhammad Kutty Panaparambil Ismail) was launched by director IV Sasi (born Irruppam Veedu Sasidaran) with movies such as Athirathram (1984), Adiyozhukkukal/ Undercurrents (1984), Aavanazhi (1986) and Ayarthi Thollayirathi Irupathonnu (1988). Joshiy directed him in Sandarbham (1984) and New Delhi (1987). He gave famous performances in Balu Mahendra's Yathra/ The Journey (1985), K Madhu's Oru CBI Diary Kurippu/ A CBI Diary Entry (1988), Hariharan's Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989), scripted by Madath Thekkepaattu Vasudevan Nair, and Jabbar Patel's Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar (2000). Mohanlal Viswanathan was even more prolific, starring in blockbusters such as Sathyan Anthikkad's Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam/ For those Good Graced (1986), Thampi Kannanthanam's Rajavinte Makan (1986), scripted by Dennis Joseph and based on Sidney Sheldon's novel "Rage of Angels", Sibi Malayil's Kireedam (1989), scripted by Ambazhathil Karunakaran Lohithadas, Priyadarshan's Kilukkam/ Jingle (1991), written by Venu Nagavalli, Sasi's Devaasuram (1993), written by Ranjith Balakrishnan, Abdul Fazil's Manichitrathazhu (1993), written by Madhu Muttam, Shaji Karun's Vanaprastham (1999), and Shaji Kailas' Narasimham/ The man-lion (2000), written again by Ranjith.

Emblematic of the era are the three Hindi movies directed by Chandrashekhar Narvekar (aka N Chandra): Ankush (1986), Pratighaat (1987) and Tezaab/ Acid (1988), which turned Madhuri Dixit into a star (with music by Laxmikant Kudalkar and Pyarelal Sharma).


1990s

In 1991 India changed radically economic course. The new prime minister, Narasimha Rao, and especially his finance minister Manmohan Singh, largely abandoned socialism and launched a program of economic liberalization. In particular, the government set up the Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) to promote software exports and opened the first park in the Electronics City of Bangalore. In 1993 the USA outsourced the management of its credit-card business to its Indian office led by Roman Roy, the first major project of business-process outsourcing to India. India underwent an economic boom and tycoons began careers that would lead to some of the biggest fortunes in the world: the Essar Group conglomerate, Lakshmi Mittal's Mittal Steel, Gautam Adani's financial empire, and Anil Ambani's and Mukesh Ambani's Reliance. In 1998 Tata introduced India's first passenger car. Particularly impressive was the growth of the service sector. In 1999 Azim Premji became the richest person in India and his Bangalore-based computer company Wipro the highest valued company. By the year 2000, the majority (62%) of India's exports of software went to the USA: during the 1990s India became an appendix to the software industry of the USA. The fastest growing economies of the 1990s were to be found in Gujarat (9.5% yearly), Maharashtra (8%) and Tamil Nadu (6.2%).
At the same time India was surrounded by neighbors in very unstable political situations. Bangladesh was mired in the feud between the two "battling begums", Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina. Myanmar was ruled by a military junta and devastated by several civil wars. Sri Lanka was engulfed in a civil war, with the "Tamil Tigers" carrying out bombings and massacres against both Buddhists and Muslims. Nepal was the first country in the world to have a democratically elected communist regime (1994) and was nonetheless threatenend by the armed insurrection of a Maoist party. India's arch-enemy Pakistan was de facto always ruled by the military (until general Pervez Musharraf finally appointed itself president in 1999) in cahoots with corrupt politicians and with Islamist militias devoted to fighting India (like Lashkar-e-Taiba). The Taliban that seized power in Afghanistan in 1996, and that provided a base for Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda, were born in Pakistan (and funded and armed by Pakistan). Pakistan's national hero was Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, and it turned out that he was providing North Korea with nuclear technology.
India had to deal with its own uprisings: in 1993 bombs by Islamic fundamentalists killed 257 people in Mumbai (in retaliation for the demolition of a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya by Hindu fundamentalists), in 1993 Assam separatists killed 100 Muslims at a refugee camp, of India's north-eastern Assam state in 1994 Muslim separatists of Hizbul Mujahideen plant bombs in Kashmir, killing dozens, between 1997 and 2000 the state of Tripura was rocked by a wave of kidnappings, the Ranvir Sena militia and the Naxalite maoists carried out massacres in Bihar state, and then there was Kashmir, where about 12,000 civilians and about 13,000 militants were killed during the decade. The good news is that the Punjabi was finally pacified (after 20,000 people have been killed in the ten-year insurrection).
An era ended when, in 1998, Gandhi's glorious Congress Party lost power to the Hindu nationalist party BJP and Atal Behari Vajpayee became prime minister.

At the beginning of the liberalization, in 1992, India produced 189 Hindi films, 180 Tamil films, 153 Telugu films, 92 Kannada films, 90 Malayam films, 42 Bengal films, 25 Marathi films.

The Hindi-language musical Hum Aapke Hain Koun/ Who am I to You (1994), written and directed by Sooraj Barjatya and scored by Raamlaxman (born Vijay Patil), basically a remake of Nadiya Ke Paar (1982), which was in turn an adaptation of Keshav Prasad Mishra's novel "Kohbar Ki Shart", was declared the biggest hit in Indian cinema's history yet. Barjatya and Raamlaxman had already collaborated on Maine Pyar Kiya/ I've Loved Someone (1989), starring Salman Khan, and collaborated again on Hum Saath Saath Hain/ We Are Together (1999), starring the same. Sooraj Barjatya had another big hit with Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon/ I am Crazy about Prem (2003), a remake of Basu Chatterjee's Chitchor (1976), this time scored by Anu Malik.

Other hits of the 1990s were: Abdul Hameed Muhammed Fazil's Manichitrathazhu/ The Ornate Lock (1993), written in Malayalam by Madhu Muttam, lavishly remade in Hindi as Bhool Bhulaiyaa/ Labyrinth (2007) by Priyadarshan; Shekhar Kapur's Bandit Queen (1994) in Hindi; Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge/ The Big-Hearted Will Take the Bride (1995) in Hindi, produced by his father Yash Chopra with music by brothers Jatin and Lalit Pandit and starring Shah Khan; 's sexually-charged Fire (1996) in English; Penmetsa Ram Gopal Varma's Satya (1998) in Hindi; Karan Johar's Kuch Kuch Hota Hai/ Some Things Happen (1998) in Hindi.

The 1990s saw the emergence of three new superstars of Hindi cinema, the "three Khans" (ironically all three Muslim): Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir. Salman Khan starred in Sooraj Barjatya's films Maine Pyar Kiya/ I've Loved Someone (1989), Hum Aapke Hain Koun/ Who am I to You (1994), Hum Saath Saath Hain/ We Are Together (1999). Aamir Khan starred in Mahesh Bhatt's Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke/ We Are Travelers on the Path of Love (1993), Penmetsa Ram Gopal Varma's Rangeela/ Colourful (1995) and Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan (2001). Shah Rukh Khan starred in Abbas Burmawalla's and Mustan Burmawalla's Baazigar/ Gambler (1993), Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge/ The Big-Hearted Will Take the Bride (1995), and Karan Johar's Kuch Kuch Hota Hai/ Some Things Happen (1998). They were bigger-than-life fgures. In 2002 Salman Khan got away with drunk driving that resulted into one dead and injured six people, and fleeing the scene.

The films of what used to be called "parallel cinema" became more international, films like Nagesh Kukoonur's Hyderabad Blues (1998) in Hindi, Santosh Sivan's Bayangaravaathi/ The Terrorist (1998) in Tamil, Kaizad Gustad's Bombay Boys (1998) in English. The Bengali school added Rituparno Ghosh, with films such as Unishe April (1994), Dahan/ Crossfire (1998) and Asukh/ Illness (2000).

The century ended with the triumph of the Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the general elections of 1998, so that Atal Behari Vajpayee became the new prime minister.


The 2000s

India's population reached one billion in the year 2000. Despite the economic boom, a third of Indians still lived on less than a dollar a day.
The year 2001 was the year when Al Qaeda attacked the USA and the USA retaliated by invading Afghanistan and deposing the Taliban (which had also destroyed the 1500 year-old Buddha statues of Bamiyan). Somehow that became the decade of terrorism (mainly Islamic terrorism). Political violence in India proliferated: the endless insurrection in Assam (notably a series of bombs in 2008), several killing of police officers by the Naxalites in Chhattisgarh, endless trouble in Kashmir, an ethnic rioting in Gujarat that killed 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, in 2002, more separatist violence in Tripura, etc. Inevitably the violence of these regions spilled into the wealthy cities: Islamist bombs in Mumbai in 2003, bombs by Kashmir militants in Delhi in 2005, bombs in Varanasi in 2006, multiple bombs in Mumbai that killed more than 200 people in 2006, bombs in in Hyderabad in 2007, bombs in Jaipur in 2008, bombs in Ahmedabad in 2008, and bombs in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 164 people. And that was nothing compared with the effect of terrorism on Pakistan. The conquest of Afghanistan by the Pakistani-bred Taliban simply unleashed a torrent of bombings (especially suicide bombings) in Pakistan itself: Baloch separatists, Sunni fundamentalists targeting Shiites, domestic Taliban, and assorted militias of the Northwest. In 2004 Pakistan timidly began a military operation to dislodge the Islamists that were de facto carving their own state in the northwest. In 2007 the Pakistani military stormed a mosque in Islamabad killing scores of fanatical Muslims who had taken refuge there and that year Pakistan experienced 56 suicide bombings, notably one that killed more than 140 people at a political event for Benazir Bhutto, who was later assassinated. In 2007, for the first time, more civilians were killed in Pakistan than in Afghanistan by Islamic militants. In 2008 there were more suicide bombings in Pakistan than in either Iraq or Afghanistan. In 2009 finally the Pakistani army began in earnest an offensive against its own Islamists, supported by US drone strikes, but the result was an even deadlier year: 2586 terrorist attacks that killed 3021 people.
Instead calm retured to Nepal with the electoral triumph of the Maoists in 2008 and the end in 2009 of the Tamil Tiger insurrection in Sri Lanka
India's economy was still growing rapidly despite all the terrorism. In 2007 India's GDP grew by 9.4%. Mumbai alone generated 5% of India's GDP. India was largely immune to the international financial crisis of 2008. In fact, in 2008 Indian car manufacturer Tata bought Britain's glorious Jaguar. India's Infosys was one of the world's largest software firms, and by the end of the decade India's Bharti Airtel had become the fifth largest telecom operator in the world. In 2011 the USA counted 413 billionaires, China 115, Russia 101 and India 55. But India's per-capita GDP was only $800.

Hindi-language Bollywood became more international thanks to Ashutosh Gowariker's four-hour musical extravaganza Lagaan (2001), Farhan Akhtar's Dil Chahta Hai/ The Heart Desires (2001), Toronto-based Deepa Mehta's Jal/ Water (2005), and London-born Asif Kapadia made in India's northwest the medieval fable The Warrior (2001), all made in Hindi. Aparna Sen directed Mr and Mrs Iyer (2002) in English.

Rajkumar Hirani directed and scripted Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. (2003) and its sequel Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006). He then joined forces with screenwriter Abhijat Joshi to craft two epochal blockbusters: 3 Idiots (2009), a loose adaptatiion of Chetan Bhagat's novel "Five Point Someone", and the science fiction comedy PK/ Tipsy (2014).

On the more intellectual front, Sekhar Kammula made Godavari (2006) and Anand (2004) in Telugu.


The 2010s

If the previous decade had opened with Al Qaeda's attacks on the USA, the new decade opened with the assassination of Al Qaeda's leader Osama bin Laden by US forces inside Pakistan.
India's economy kept growing at a rapid pace (7.3% in 2015 when the economies of the other BRICs were shrinking or slowing down). Terrorism wasn't as virulent as before. India still had to fight long-standing insurrections in Assam, Kashmir and Chhattisgarh, but no major terrorist attack took place like in the 2000s. The nation was turning towards inner problems. At the end of 2012 the death of an Indian student after being gang-raped and tortured in New Delhi prompted street protests across the country. In 2014 the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won national elections in India, and, furthermore, that was the first time in India's history that a party obtained more votes than Congress. The Hindu nationalist and populist Narendra Modi (former chief minister of wealthy Gujarat) became the new prime minister of India.
Pakistan remained torn by its many civil wars: the Baloch separatists in the south, the Taliban-affiliated groups in the northwest, groups fighting Shiites, Pakistani cricket celebrity Imran Khan won elections and became prime minister in 2018 but in 2022 he was forced to resign (and jailed the following year). The world was appalled by stories of barbaric brutality in Pakistan, where people were still being killed for "blasphemy" and women were still being killed by their relatives if they caused "shame" on their family. There was a new threat for the Islamic nations: ISIS terrorism emerged in 2015 in Afghanistan, in 2016 in Bangladesh and in 2017 in Pakistan.

In 2021 the USA withdrew from Afghanistan after 20 years, and the Taliban rapidly seized power again. Afghanistan became a new battlefield, this time between the competing Islamic armies of the Taliban and ISIS.
In 2022 India signed the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) with the USA, Japan, and other Asian and Pacific countries. That was the year when India's GPD overtook Britain and India became the world’s fifth-largest economy. The following year India passed China to become the most populous country in the world with 1.4 billion people.

Original Hindi movies of the 2010s also included: Abhinav Kashyap's Dabangg (2010), Amit Dutta's Nainsukh (2010), Vikramaditya Motwane's Udaan (2010), Kiran Rao's Dhobi Ghat (2011), Anurag Basu's Barfi (2012), Umesh Shukla's Oh My God (2012), Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani/ Story (2012), a thriller about bioterrorism set in apocalyptic crowds (the Durga Puja festival), Vikas Bahl's Queen (2013), Ayan Mukherjee's Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013), Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox (2013) and Photograph (2019), Shashanka Ghosh's Khoobsurat/ Beautiful (2014), Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Bajirao Mastani (2015), Kabir Kha's Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015), etc.

Lokesh Kanagaraj's Kaithi/ Prisoner (2019) was the first installment in the "Lokiverse", a series of Tamil-language films inspired by John Wagner's and Vince Locke's graphic novel "A History of Violence" (1997).

Tamil Nadu had a particular relationship with cinema. Movie star MGR had been political leader of the state for a decade. Jayaram Jayalalithaa, an actress, ruled from 1991 until her death in 2016. It felt like the population of Tamil Nadu interpreted the role played in a film as an indication of the real character of the actor. The actor was treated like a real hero simply because he played a hero in the movie.

Rajinikanth continued to dominate commercial Tamil cinema with movies such as Padayappa/ Son of Warrior (1999), directed by KS Ravikumar (not clear what "KS" stands for). The new contender for super-star status was Vijay (born Joseph Vijay Chandrasekhar), who emerged with blockbusters such as Dharani's Ghilli/ Gutsy (2004), which was a remake of Gunasekhar's Telugu-language Okkadu/ The One and Only (2003), Bharathan's Azhagiya Tamil Magan/ Adorable Tamil son (2007) Babu Sivan's Vettaikaaran/ Hunter (2009), all the way to Lokesh Kanagaraj's Master (2021). AR Murugadoss (born Arunachalam Murugadoss) directed him in three blockbusters: Thuppakki/ Gun (2012), Kaththi/ Knife (2014) and Sarkar/ Government (2018). Atlee (born Arun Kumar) directed him in the hits Theri/ Spark (2016) and Mersal/ Zapped (2017).

Tamil director Atlee debuted in Hindi with the blockbuster Jawan/ Soldier (2023), starring Shah Rukh Khan and Nayanthara.

Nayanthara (born Diana Mariam Kurian) became a star in four different languages thanks to movies like Super (2010) directed in Kannada by Upendra Koteshwara, Adhurs/ Marvelous (2010), directed in Telugu by VV Vinayak (born Gandrothu Veera Venkata Vinayaka Rao), Raja Rani/ The King and Queen (2013) directed in Tamil by Atlee (Arun Kumar), and Puthiya Niyamam/ New Law (2016), directed in Malayalam by AK Sajan (not clear what "AK" stands for).

The most successful filmmaker of commercial cinema was however a Telugu filmmaker, Srisaila Rajamouli, who cooked up one blockbuster after the other, mostly scripted by his father Viswa Vijayendra Prasad, notably Eega/ The Fly (2012).


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