Genres of Indian Commercial Cinema comprises number of significant themes and subjects that find repeated expression. Romantic love, male friendship, motherhood, renunciation, fate, respect for tradition, social injustice are some of the most compelling among them. As with the genres so with the themes - a distinctively culture-specific approach is adopted, giving these Indian commercial films a characteristically Indian outlook. So when examining what is unique about Indian commercial cinema we need to pay particular attention to questions of theme and genre.
Mythological Film Genre
Mythological films constitute a very important segment of Indian commercial cinema
. They have their roots in the ancient past in that they deal with characters and events taken from the distant past, very often as inscribed in the epics and scriptures. They depict the actions and interactions of gods, demons and superhuman powers. But they are not merely historical; they portray the interface between the past and the present.
Apart from the Hindi film industry Telugu films based on mythology were also made in the earlier eras. Sita Kalyanam, Bhisma Pratigna and others were quite popular with the audiences. Debaki Bose
`s Seeta was one of the early mythological films in India.
Devotional Film Genre
One of the best films in this genre is Sant Tukaram
(1936) directed by V. Damle and S. Fatehlal, which became the first Indian film to win an award at the Venice film festival. It is about a poet-saint who lived in the seventeenth century and who holds the villagers enthralled by his songs of devotion. His wife is somewhat perturbed by his behaviour, and urges him to become more practical and attend to family matters. Tukaram has also to contend with an envious priest and aspiring saint, Salamalo, who hatches various plots against him. Divine intervention results in the saving of Tukaram and the villagers from various catastrophes.
As time passes, great leaders come from long distances to sit at the feet of the poet-saint. He is offered wealth and other material blandishments; he rejects them. When the time comes for Saint Tukaram to leave, a divine vehicle is sent for him and he invites his wife to join him. She says she is quite happy with her home and children and she decides to stay on earth. Through a series of intrigues against the low-caste village poet by the high caste temple performer Salamalo, the story is transformed into a memorable film with devotion at the centre.
Genre of Social Drama
This genre figured prominently right from the beginning of Indian commercial cinema
. What is distinctive about the social dramas is the way that social issues are treated with a characteristically Indian flavour cinematically. Achut Kanya, made in 1936, is an early exploration of an important social issue that had been highlighted by leaders such as Gandhi
and Nehru. The film deals with the love between a Brahmin boy and an untouchable girl. Through this tragic film the filmmakers call attention to the problem of untouchability. Films on similar themes were also made later. Bimal Roy
`s Sujata is one film that stands out amongst these.
This is also true of recent films in this genre. For example, in the film, Bombay (1995), Mani Ratnam
explores a highly sensitive issue - relations between Hindus and Muslims in India. The director has highlighted the self-defeating nature of extremist thinking and xenophobia and stressed the need to take a more rational approach to the whole question of religious loyalties and ethnic affiliations in the context of multiracial, multi-religious India.
There are other films as well that deal with sensitive social issues. Mother India
, Salaam Bombay, Arjun, Roja
, Chak De India
, Dil Se
, Mahanagar, Seemabaddha, Jana Aranya, Pratidwandi
, Traffic Signal, etc. are perfect instances of social dramas where the film either focuses upon a particular contemporary problem or portrays the social degeneration.
Romance and eroticism have always featured strongly in Indian commercial cinema. As with most traditions of cinema in the East and the West, romantic films are extremely popular in India and have been so from the very beginning of Indian cinema. Here again, one sees very clearly the shaping hand of culture. Unlike in Western films, overt sexuality is prohibited in Indian films; so much is conveyed through suggestion, innuendo, coded signs and symbols. Songs and dances play a crucial role; eroticism and sexuality often are being closely linked with song and dance numbers. In these romantic films, the sentiments expressed and the ways of expression is rooted in traditional culture. Indian film historians observe that in order to understand the true meaning of Indian romantic films we need to reconnect them with tradition.
As far as the romantic films are concerned the `Laila-Majnu` and `Radha-Krishna` traditions are important. In the Laila-Majnu tradition, love is seen as the essential desire of God; earthly love is regarded as a preparation for heavenly love. The absolute devotion of the woman to the man, marital fidelity, loving secretly but without guilt is important aspects of this tradition. The `Radha-Krishna` tradition, on the other hand, emphasizes the here and the now, the desire to capture the joy of each moment as it passes. Love is seen not as tragic but as tender and joyous. In some commercial films such as Barsaat (1949) and Andaaz (1949) both traditions are present. Love on the silver screen is also epitomized by Mughal-e-Azam
and Jodhaa Akbar
One person who had epitomized romance on the silver screen is director-producer, Yash Chopra
. Be it Silsila, Kasme Vaade or Veer Zaara
, love and beauty acquired new dimensions with Yash Chopra
. Indian cinema comprises of a long list of films that fall into this genre. Another landmark film that cannot be missed is Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge
. In the recent past this genre has undergone sea change. Films today deal with subjects, such as, infidelity, extra marital relations, separation and sexuality is no more a taboo.
Patriotic Film Genre
Patriotism is a common emotion that binds India, a multi lingual country. From the very beginning there had been films that were made with national sentiments. Early patriotic films
include Kismet, Shaheed, Vigathakumaran, Balan, Kunjali Marakkar, Purab aur Paschim and others. Recent films include Kalapaani, Lagaan
, Legend of Bhagat Singh, Swadesh
and several other films.
Animation in Indian Cinema
The trend of animation films has become very popular in India. With corporate sectors ready to invest such films are now being made by the leading production houses in India. Well known stars are also lending their voices for the animation
. On the other hand several Hollywood films are being dubbed in Hindi for the audience. Films like Hanuman, Ramayana
and others are quite popular with the audience.
Action and Thriller Genre
The action films
came largely into vogue in 1970s and 80s with the rise of the concept of angry young man. Bollywood actors, such as, Dharmendra
, Vinod Khanna
and of course, Amitabh Bachchan
were the popular action icons. Down south it was Rajnikanth who set the trend and Kamal Hassan
, Zanjeer, Shahenshah, Agneepath, Ramana, Don
, Run (Tamil), Indian, Company
, Satya, Sivaji: the Boss
, Billa, Ek Haseena Thi, Dasavatharam, Dhoom
, Race, Dus and several others. Some of the popular action stars of all times are Amitabh Bachchan, Rajnikanth
, Suresh Gopi
, Ajay Devgan, Akshay Kumar
, Sunny Deol
, Kamal Hassan
and the list goes on.
In Indian cinema, comedy as a genre took a while to carve a niche. While history of Hindi cinema
tells us that in the earlier times, cinema typically concentrated on mythology, melodrama and stunts, it was the utter need to laugh in order to relax, paved the way for the comic genre in. Comedy in movies was then merely for comic relief. Comedy genre
truly developed in 1930s, when the comic duo of Ghory and Dixit coupled to restore an Indian version of Laurel and Hardy. That was just the beginning and soon, comedies became a staple in Bollywood movies.
Bollywood started producing movies with comedy as central theme at regular intervals. Indian film comedians
like Johny Walker
, Tuntun, Mukri, Rabi Ghosh
, Santosh Dutta
, etc. gradually earned a name for themselves. The year was 1950 and Bollywood
witnessed the first full-fledged mainstream comedy "Chalti Ka Naam Gadi" which invariably coifed the stage whilst setting it for the arrival of Kishore Kumar
as a comedian in Hindi cinema. From 1950 till 60s he delivered many good comedies. In the hands of Manmohan Desai
the traits of comedy in Hindi films got a shot and his Amar Akbar Anthony became a true representation of an ideal comedy. The 70s witnessed the comedies by Hrishikesh Mukherjee
and Basu Chatterjee
. Comedy is still popular and comedians in Bollywood
have worked hard to achieve that. The comic genre has perhaps gained its fuller shape in the recent times with the Munna Bhai MBBS and its sequel, Lage Raho Munnabhai
. For the greater interest to forget the tears, agony, pain and fears comedy in movies is therefore indeed important. Down south actors like Vivek are popular comic stars.
The horror films
in India are still at the nascent stage. However there are several films that have helped in establishing the horror films as a genre in Indian cinema
. Directors like Bimal Roy
, Ram Gopal Varma, Priyadarshan
and others have successfully explored the horror genre.