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Bollywood (Hindi: बॉलीवुड, Urdu: بالی وڈ) is the informal name given to the popular Mumbai-based Hindi language film industry in India. The term is often incorrectly used to refer to the whole of Indian cinema.

The name is a portmanteau of Bombay(the former name for Mumbai) and Hollywood, the center of the American film industry. Though some purists deplore the name, arguing that it makes the industry look like a poor cousin to Hollywood, it seems likely to persist and now has its own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Bollywood is also commonly referred to as "Hindi cinema", even though Hindustani, the substratum common to both Hindi and Urdu, might be more accurate. Many people make the mistake of defining Bollywood as all of the movies that are played in India such as Telugu, Tamil, Kannada etc. However, Bollywood consists of the languages of Hindi and Urdu. The use of poetic Urdu words is fairly common. The connection between Hindi, Urdu, and Hindustani is an extremely contentious matter and is discussed at length in the linked articles relating specifically to the languages.

There has been a growing presence of English in dialogue and songs as well. It is not uncommon to see films which feature dialogue with English words and phrases, even whole sentences. A few films are also made in two or even three languages (either using subtitles, or several soundtracks).

Popularity and Appeal[edit]

Bollywood and the other major cinematic hubs (Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Marathi, Bengali, Malayalam and Assamese) constitute the broader Indian film industry, whose output is the largest in the world in terms of number of films produced and in number of tickets sold. Bollywood films are widely watched and understood in Pakistan and other Islamic countries. It also has large diasporic audiences in the UK, Canada, Australia and the U.S., all of which have large Indian immigrant populations. Bollywood is a strong part of popular culture of not only India, but also of the rest of South Asia, the Middle East, parts of Africa, parts of Southeast Asia, and among the South Asian diaspora worldwide. The Bollywood film industry produces the most motion pictures in the world.


Bollywood movies are equally as popular in Afghanistan as they are in India, if not more. And they have been since the film industry's inception, influencing the culture of this country. Bollywood productions are usually very colorful and fun, and include flashy shows that catch the audience's eye.[1] All theatres across Afghanistan are saturated with Indian films with crowds often standing in lines for hours to purchase tickets. Though the range of selection of films from across the world (including Hollywood) is not limited in these cinemas, it is the flicks from India that win the larger share of audience numbers. The songs from Indian films are almost always chart toppers of Afghan radio stations with bestselling soundtracks of these films setting new music trends.

The actors and actresses of Bollywood are role models of the youths of Afghanistan (as they are also in India), with actors like Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai becoming worshipped idols. In the 70s, Amitabh Bachchan served as a major trend setter among young men and was immensely popular for decades afterwards.[2] In the 1990s, it was Madhuri Dixit who inspired the "wanna-be" Afghan girls to don saris and imitate her dance moves from various films. This was also true of new generation of Afghans living in exile in various Western countries who preferred to look like the actress over major Hollywood or European stars. Madhuri was also very popular among the Afghan men. Recently, Shilpa Shetty has claimed notability among men.

So enticing are Indian movies in this country and have been throughout the years that despite the restrictions imposed in the 1990s by the Taliban people managed to stay current with new releases from Mumbai.[3] Even the Taliban acknowledged that they couldn't repress Indian films, with their own soldiers falling to the lure of this film industry.

Entertainment magazines in Afghanistan are bountiful accounts of Bollywood stars' lives and bulletins of upcoming movies.

Arab World[edit]

Ranking second to Egyptian cinema, Indian films have historically been popular in quite a few Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf countries. Almost all imported Indian films are immediately dubbed in Arabic upon their release. Indian film stars have huge fan base in a variety of Arab countries.

Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukerji, Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan are popular stars in Arab countries.

Rumors of Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan's death caused quite a stir in the Arab world, especially Cairo, when they were printed in the Al-Ahram newspaper. The rumors were eventually proven wrong, but also proved the breadth of Bollywood's fan-base in the Arab world.


Bangladesh after India is one of the most influenced country by Bollywood. The film industry is much associated with India and shares a lot of India's film making traditions. Being the neighboring country in South Asia, Bollywood films are very popular there. However, Hindi films are not allowed to be played in theaters, but are available on DVDs within few days of official release.


Much like Afghanistan, but to a lesser extent, Indian films dominate cinemas across Iran. Of the major theatres in Tehran, a number are dedicated exclusively to Indian films. Stars from Bollywood, even the newcomers, are well recognized faces in Iran. Entertainment magazines dedicate specific sections to the latest news from Bollywood.

Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Rani Mukerji are ranked the most popular stars in Iran[citation needed]. In a 2006 poll, Bollywood film Sholay was nominated one of the best films by Iranians.[4]


Previously an official government ban on Bollywood films screening in theatres has been removed , the public remain fans of Bollywood films. Every new release from India is readily available to the public in Pakistan through pirated versions. Many actors, including Shah Rukh Khan,Aishwarya Rai Rani Mukerji and Salman Khan are very popular in Pakistan. Also Pakistan is the only country, apart from India, where Bollywood films are readily watched and understood. This is due to the similarities between Urdu and Hindi.


Bollywood films were popular in the former Soviet Union. Ashok Sharma, Indian Ambassador to Surinam, who has served three times in the Commonwealth of Independent States region during his diplomatic career said:


Bollywood is also very popular in France.

Genre conventions[edit]

File:Mother India poster.jpg
Typical Bollywood Movie Poster

Westerners would tend to classify most Bollywood films as musicals, because few films are made without at least one song-and-dance number. The standard Bollywood film is expected to contain a number of elements, and one of the essentials is catchy music in the form of song-and-dance numbers woven into the script. Indeed, a film's music is often released before the movie itself and helps increase the audience.

Indian audiences expect full value for their money, with a good entertainer generally referred to as paisa vasool, (literally, "money's worth"). Songs and dances, love triangles, comedy and dare-devil thrills — all are mixed up in a three-hour-long extravaganza with an intermission. Such movies are called masala films, after the Hindustani word for a spice mixture, masala. Like masalas, these movies are a mixture of many things.

Bollywood plots have tended to be melodramatic. They frequently employ formulaic ingredients such as star-crossed lovers and angry parents, love triangles, family ties, sacrifice, corrupt politicians, kidnappers, conniving villains, courtesans with hearts of gold, long-lost relatives and siblings separated by fate, dramatic reversals of fortune, and convenient coincidences.

There have always been Indian films with more artistic aims and more sophisticated stories, both inside and outside the Bollywood tradition (see Art cinema in India). They often lost out at the box office to movies with more mass appeal. Bollywood conventions are changing, however. A large Indian diaspora in English speaking countries, and increased Western influence at home, have nudged Bollywood films closer to Hollywood models. Film kisses are no longer banned. Plots now tend to feature Westernised urbanites dating and dancing in discos rather than arranged marriages.

Film critic Lata Khubchandani writes,"..our earliest films...[had] liberal doses of sex and kissing scenes in them. Strangely, it was after Independence the censor board came into being and so did all the strictures."[6]

Bollywood song and dance[edit]

Songs in Bollywood are sung by professional playback singers, rather than actors, who lip-sync the lyrics. Pictured here is Mukesh, a famed playback singer.

Bollywood film music is called filmi music (from Hindi, meaning "of films").

Songs from Bollywood movies are generally pre-recorded by professional playback singers, with the actors then lip synching the words to the song on-screen, often while dancing. While most actors, especially today, are excellent dancers, few are also singers. One notable exception was Kishore Kumar, who starred in several major films in the 1950s while also having a stellar career as a playback singer. K. L. Saigal, Suraiyya, and Noor Jehan were also known as both singers and actors. Some actors in the last thirty years have sung one or more songs themselves; for a list, see Singing actors and actresses in Indian cinema.

Playback singers are prominently featured in the opening credits and have their own fans who will go to an otherwise lacklustre movie just to hear their favourites. One of the most recorded of these playback singers is Lata Mangeshkar who, through the course of a career spanning over six decades, has recorded thousands of songs for Indian movies. Many of the female songs in films from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s were sung by Lata or by her sister Asha Bhosle. Some of the famous male playback singers were Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, and Kishore Kumar. The composers of film music, known as music directors, are also well-known. Their songs can make or break a film and usually do. Remixing of filmi songs with modern beats and rhythms is a common occurrence today, and producers may even release remixed versions of some of their films' songs along with the films' regular soundtrack albums.

The dancing in Bollywood films, especially older ones, is primarily modelled on Indian dance: classical dance styles, dances of historic northern Indian courtesans (tawaif), or folk dances. In modern films, Indian dance elements often blend with Western dance styles (as seen on MTV or in Broadway musicals), though it is not unusual to see Western pop and pure classical dance numbers side by side in the same film. The hero or heroine will often perform with a troupe of supporting dancers. Many song-and-dance routines in Indian films feature unrealistically instantaneous shifts of location and/or changes of costume between verses of a song. If the hero and heroine dance and sing a pas-de-deux (a dance and ballet term, meaning "dance of two"), it is often staged in beautiful natural surroundings or architecturally grand settings. This staging is referred to as a "picturisation".

Songs typically comment on the action taking place in the movie, in several ways. Sometimes, a song is worked into the plot, so that a character has a reason to sing; other times, a song is an externalisation of a character's thoughts, or presages an event that has not occurred yet in the plot of the movie. In this case, the event is almost always two characters falling in love.

Bollywood films have always used what are now called "item numbers". A physically attractive female character (the "item girl"), often completely unrelated to the main cast and plot of the film, performs a catchy song and dance number in the film. In older films, the "item number" may be performed by a courtesan (tawaif) dancing for a rich client or as part of a cabaret show. The dancer Helen was famous for her cabaret numbers. In modern films, item numbers may be inserted as discotheque sequences, dancing at celebrations, or as stage shows.

For the last few decades Bollywood producers have been releasing the film's soundtrack, as tapes or CDs, before the main movie release, hoping that the music will pull audiences into the cinema later. Oftentimes, the soundtrack is more popular than the movie. In the last few years some producers have also been releasing music videos, usually featuring a song from the film. However, some promotional videos feature a song which is not included in the movie.

"Dialogues" and lyrics[edit]

The film script or lines of dialogue (called "dialogues" in Indian English) and the song lyrics are often written by different people.

Dialogues are usually written in an unadorned Hindi or Hindustani that would be understood by the largest possible audience. Some movies, however, have used regional dialects to evoke a village setting, or old-fashioned courtly Urdu in Mughal-era historical films. Contemporary mainstream movies also make great use of English. In fact, many movie scripts are first written in English, and then translated into Hindi.

Cinematic language, whether in dialogues or lyrics, is often melodramatic and invokes God, family, mother, duty, and self-sacrifice liberally.

Music directors often prefer working with certain lyricists, to the point that the lyricist and composer are seen as a team. This phenomenon is not unlike the pairings of American composers and songwriters that created old-time Broadway musicals (e.g., Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, or Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe). Song lyrics are usually about love. Bollywood song lyrics, especially in the old movies, frequently use Arabo-Persic Urdu vocabulary. Here's a sample from the 1983 film Hero, written by the lyricist Anand Bakshi:

Bichhdey abhi to hum, bas kal parso,
jiyoongi main kaisey, is haal mein barson?
Maut na aayi, teri yaad kyon aayi,
Haaye, lambi judaayi!
Devanāgarī: "बिछड़े अभी तो हम, बस कल परसों,"
"जियूँगी मैं कैसे, इस हाल में बरसों?"
"मौत न आई, तेरी याद कयों आई?"
"हाय, लंबी जुदाई!"
Nasta'liq: بچھڑے ابھی تو ہم، بس کل پرسوں
جیوں گی میں کیسے، اس حال میں برسوں؟
موت نہ آئی، تیری یاد کیوں آئی؟
!ہاۓ، لمبی جدائی
Translation: We have been separated just a day or two,
How am I going to go on this way for years?
Death doesn't come; why, instead, do these memories of you?
Oh; this long separation!

Another source for love lyrics is the long Hindu tradition of poetry about the mythological amours of Krishna, Radha, and the gopis. Many lyrics compare the singer to a devotee and the object of his or her passion to Krishna or Radha.

Cast and crew[edit]

Bollywood employs people from all parts of India. It attracts thousands of aspiring actors and actresses, all hoping for a break in the industry. Models and beauty contestants, television actors, theatre actors and even common people come to Mumbai with the hope and dream of becoming a star. Just as in Hollywood, very few succeed.

Stardom in the entertainment industry is very fickle, and Bollywood is no exception. The popularity of the stars can rise and fall rapidly. Directors compete to hire the most popular stars of the day, who are believed to guarantee the success of a movie (though this belief is not always supported by box-office results). Hence many stars make the most of their fame, once they become popular, by making several movies simultaneously.

Only a very few non-Indian actors are able to make a mark in Bollywood, though many have tried from time to time. There have been some exceptions, one recent example is the hit film Rang de Basanti, where the lead actress is an Englishwoman. Kisna, Lagaan, and The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey also featured foreign actors.

Bollywood can be very clannish, and the relatives of film-industry insiders have an edge in getting coveted roles in films and/or being part of a film's crew. However, industry connections are no guarantee of a long career: competition is brutal and if film industry scions do not succeed at the box office, their careers will falter. Some of the biggest stars, such as Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, and Shah Rukh Khan have succeeded despite total lack of show biz connections. For film clans, see List of Bollywood film clans.


Bollywood movies are released commercially all over the world.

Bollywood budgets are usually modest by Hollywood standards. Sets, costumes, special effects, and cinematography were less than world-class up until the mid-to-late 1990s. As Western films and television gain wider distribution in India itself, there is increasing pressure for Bollywood films to attain the same production levels. Sequences shot overseas have proved a real box office draw, so Mumbai film crews are increasingly filming in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, continental Europe and elsewhere. Nowadays, Indian producers are winning more and more funding for big-budget films shot within India as well, such as Lagaan, Devdas and other recent films.

Funding for Bollywood films often comes from private distributors and a few large studios. Indian banks and financial institutions were forbidden from lending money to movie studios. However, this ban has now been lifted.[7] As finances are not regulated, some funding also comes from illegitimate sources, such as the Mumbai underworld. The Mumbai underworld has been known to be involved in the production of several films, and are notorious for their patronisation of several prominent film personalities; On occasion, they have known to use money and muscle power to get their way in cinematic deals. In January, 2000, Mumbai mafia hitmen shot Rakesh Roshan, a film director and father of star Hrithik Roshan; it had been reported that he had rebuffed mob attempts to meddle with his film distribution. In 2001, the Central Bureau of Investigation seized all prints of the movie Chori Chori Chupke Chupke after the movie was found to be funded by members of the Mumbai underworld.

Another problem facing Bollywood is widespread copyright infringement of its films. Often, bootleg DVD copies of movies are available before the prints are officially released in cinemas. Manufacturing of bootleg DVD, VCD, and VHS copies of the latest movie titles is a well established 'small scale industry' in parts of South Asia and South East Asia. Besides catering to the homegrown market, demand for these copies is large amongst some sections of the Indian diaspora, too. (In fact, bootleg copies are the only way people in Pakistan can watch Bollywood movies, since the Government of Pakistan has banned their sale, distribution and telecast). Films are frequently broadcast without compensation by countless small cable TV companies in India and other parts of South Asia. Small convenience stores run by members of the Indian diaspora in the U.S. and the UK regularly stock tapes and DVDs of dubious provenance, while consumer copying adds to the problem. The availability of illegal copies of movies on the Internet also contributes to the piracy problem.

Satellite TV, television and imported foreign films are making huge inroads into the domestic Indian entertainment market. In the past, most Bollywood films could make money; now fewer tend to do so. Balanced against this are the increasing returns from theatres in Western countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, where Bollywood is slowly getting noticed. As more Indians migrate to these countries, they form a growing market for upscale Indian films. 'Foreign' audiences—in East Asian and Western countries—are also growing, if more slowly.

For an interesting comparison of Hollywood and Bollywood financial figures, see this chart [archive]. It shows tickets sold in 2002 and total revenue estimates. Bollywood sold 3.6 billion tickets and had total revenues (theatre tickets, DVDs, television etc.) of US$1.3 billion, whereas Hollywood films sold 2.6 billion tickets and generated total revenues (again from all formats) of US$51 billion.


Many Indian artists used to make a living by hand-painting movie billboards and posters. (The well-known artist M.F. Hussain was a poster painter early in his career.) This was because human labour was found to be cheaper than printing and distributing publicity material. Now, a majority of the huge and ubiquitous billboards in India's major cities are created with computer-printed vinyl. The old hand-painted posters, once regarded as ephemera, are becoming increasingly collectible as folk art.

Releasing the film music, or music videos, before the actual release of the film can also be considered a form of advertising. A popular tune is believed to help pull audiences into the theaters.

Bollywood publicists have begun to use the Internet as a venue for advertising. Most of the better-funded film releases now have their own websites, where browsers can view trailers, stills, and information about the story, cast, and crew.

Bollywood is also used to advertise other products. Product placement, as used in Hollywood, is widely practiced in Bollywood. [8]

Bollywood movie stars appear in print and television advertisements for other products, such as watches or soap (see Celebrity endorsement). Advertisers say that a star endorsement boosts sales.


Raja Harishchandra (1913) was the first silent feature film made in India. It was made by Dadasaheb Phalke. By the 1930s, the industry was producing over 200 films per annum. The first Indian sound film, Ardeshir Irani's Alam Ara (1931), was a super hit. There was clearly a huge market for talkies and musicals; Bollywood and all the regional film industries quickly switched to sound filming.

The 1930s and 1940s were tumultuous times: India was buffeted by the Great Depression, World War II, the Indian independence movement, and the violence of the Partition. Most Bollywood films were unabashedly escapist, but there were also a number of filmmakers who tackled tough social issues, or used the struggle for Indian independence as a backdrop for their plots.

In the late 1950s, Bollywood films moved from black-and-white to color. Lavish romantic musicals and melodramas were the staple fare at the cinema. Successful actors included Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. In late 1960s and mid 1970s, romance movies and action films starred actors like Rajesh Khanna and Dharmendra. In the late 1970s and 1980s, romantic confections made way for gritty, violent films about gangsters and bandits. Amitabh Bachchan, the star known for his "angry young man" roles, rode the crest of this trend. In the early 1990s, the pendulum swung back towards family-centric romantic musicals with the success of such films as Hum Aapke Hain Koun (1994) and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995).

The Indian film industry has preferred films that appeal to all segments of the audience (see the discussion in Ganti, 2004, cited in references), and has resisted making films that target narrow audiences. It was believed that aiming for a broad spectrum would maximise box office receipts. However, filmmakers may be moving towards accepting some box-office segmentation, between films that appeal to rural Indians, and films that appeal to urban and overseas audiences.


Accusations of plagiarism[edit]

Constrained by rushed production schedules and small budgets, some Bollywood writers and musicians have been known to resort to plagiarism. They copy ideas, plot lines, tunes or riffs from sources close at hand from other Indian regional films or far away (Hollywood and other Western movies, Western pop hits). Some films (including music) in Pakistan are also inspired by Bollywood.

In past times, this could be done with impunity. Copyright enforcement was lax in India. As for the Western sources, the Bollywood film industry was largely unknown to Westerners, who would not even be aware that their material was being copied. Audiences also may not have been aware of the plagiarism, since many in the Indian audience were unfamiliar with Western films and tunes.

While copyright enforcement in India is still a little hit-and-miss, Bollywood and Hollywood are much more aware of each other now, and Indian audiences are more familiar with foreign movies and music. Flagrant plagiarism may have diminished -- however, there is no general agreement that it has.

Bollywood awards[edit]

The Indian screen magazine Filmfare started the first Filmfare Awards in 1953. Modelled after the poll-based merit format of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, individuals may submit their votes in separate categories; The awards are presented at a glamorous, star-studded ceremony. However, unlike the Oscars, voting is not restricted to members of a specific club or academy, but is open to anyone who buys a magazine and sends in a ballot. Like the Oscars, the Filmfare awards are frequently accused of bias towards commercial success rather than artistic merit.

Lately, other companies, such as Stardust Magazine, Zee TV, etc have joined the movie award bandwagon. Some of the other popular awards are:

Most of these award ceremonies are lavishly staged spectacles, featuring singing, dancing, and lots of stars and starlets.

Since 1973, the Indian government has sponsored the National Film Awards, awarded by the government run Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF). The DFF screens not only Bollywood films, but films from all the other regional movie industries and independent/art films. These awards are handed out at an annual ceremony presided over by the President of India.

See also[edit]



  • Alter, Stephen. Fantasies of a Bollywood Love-Thief: Inside the World of Indian Moviemaking. (ISBN 0-15-603084-5)
  • Ganti, Tejaswini. Bollywood, Routledge, New York and London, 2004.
  • Joshi, Lalit Mohan. Bollywood: Popular Indian Cinema. (ISBN 0-9537032-2-3)
  • Kabir, Nasreen Munni. Bollywood, Channel 4 Books, 2001.
  • Mehta, Suketu. Maximum City, Knopf, 2004.
  • Mishra, Vijay. Bollywood Cinema: Temples of Desire. (ISBN 0-415-93015-4)
  • Raheja, Dinesh and Kothari, Jitendra. Indian Cinema: The Bollywood Saga. (ISBN 81-7436-285-1)
  • Bernard 'Bollywood' Gibson. Passing the envelope, 1994.
  • Rajadhyaksha, Ashish and Willemen, Paul. Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema, Oxford University Press, revised and expanded, 1999.

Academic articles[edit]

External links[edit]

General guides