What Is Bollywood

Sunday, July 24 by Stephen Lloyd

Bollywood is often mistaken for being the name of all Indian cinema but what is Bollywood concerns only the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai. Still, in terms of films produced and tickets sold, it is the largest movie industry in the world. The name is mash-up of Bombay, Mumbai's original name, and Hollywood.

The majority of the movies made in Bollywood are called masala movies, after the spice mixture. This is because the films cater to everything the audience wants. Song and dance, love stories, comedy and suspenseful thrills are all packed into one movie. These films are usually three hours long and have an intermission. Plot lines in Bollywood movies are fairly formulaic. Elements such as corrupt politicians, star-crossed lovers, angry parents and scheming villains are featured, complete with dramatic reversals of fortune and coincidences. 

Most Bollywood actors today are exceptional dancers. However, very few are singers. Most of the time vocal parts are pre-recorded by professional singers who make careers out of singing for movies. The actors lip-sync the words. Very rarely does an actor do both. Fans of a particular singer will often go see a movie they have no interest in just to hear the music. Sometimes a film will not sell well because the music is lackluster. Music often makes or breaks a Bollywood movie. Dance numbers are also a quintessential part of Bollywood movies, coupled with the music as extra expression. Originally, the dancing was modeled after classical India dance. Now elements of Latin and Arabic dance show up from time to time. Economics has shown that audiences are very interested in musicals as opposed to pure acting films. However, enough youthful movie goers have become bored with the formula enough for Bollywood filmmakers to attempt more real world stories. 

Mumbai is like Hollywood in that thousands of people flock there to try making it in the film industry. Not nearly as many as that succeed. Very few actors become celebrities and national icons unaffected by a bad film or two, unlike many Hollywood stars. Because of this fickleness, many actors film several movies at a time to make the most of their time in case their career falls to pieces. The first awards ceremony for Bollywood films was created in 1953 and is now somewhat equivalent to the Oscars. Since 1973, the Indian government has sponsored a film awards ceremony as well presided over by the President of India, making these awards highly coveted.

Budgets for Bollywood movies have traditionally been much lower than Hollywood movies. Because of increased distribution of American films in India, there has been a push towards better production values. More movies are having parts filmed outside India as well. Indian banks had long been forbidden to issue loans for film production, leaving filmmakers to seek private funding, though there are a few large studios in the game as well. This ban has since been lifted. Organized crime bosses have been film investors and have used threats towards actors and filmmakers to get what they want out of a deal. Piracy is a problem for Bollywood as thousands of illegal DVDs and VHS tapes have been produced, often before a movie has even hit the theaters. This makes it hard for Bollywood movies to turn a profit. But the slow increase in popularity of Bollywood in the UK and the US is helping combat the ill effects of piracy.