Conventions of commercial films
The principal difference between American and Indian commercial cinema is that Indian films usually feature periodic song-and-dance routines which, in a good movie, are expected to move the story forward (in mediocre movies, they are poorly integrated into the story). Songs are sung by professional play-back singers and lip-synched by dancing actors and actresses.
Indian commercial films, in whatever regional center they are made, tend to be long; they are usually two to three hours long, with an intermission. They tend to be melodramatic and sentimental, but may also feature romance, comedy, action, suspense, and other generic elements.
In addition to commercial cinema, there is also Indian cinema that aspires to seriousness or art. This is known to film critics as "New Indian Cinema" or sometimes "the Indian New Wave" (see the Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema), but most people in India simply call such films "art films".
From the 1960s through the 1980s, the art film was usually government-subsidised: aspiring directors could get federal or state government grants to produce non-commercial films on Indian themes. Many of these directors were graduates of the government-supported Film and Television Institute of India. Their films were showcased at government film festivals and on the government-run TV station, Doordarshan. These films also had limited runs in art house theatres in India and overseas. Since the 1980s, Indian art cinema has to a great extent lost its government patronage. Today, it must be made as independent films on a shoestring budget by aspiring auteurs, much as in today`s Western film industry.
The art directors of this period owed more to foreign influences, such as Italian neorealism or the French New Wave, than they did to the genre conventions of commercial Indian cinema. The best known New Cinema directors were Bengali: Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, and Bimal Roy. Some well-known films of this movement include the Apu Trilogy by Ray (Bengali), Meghe Dhaka Tara by Ghatak (Bengali) and Do Bigha Zameen by Roy (Hindi).
Art cinema was also well-supported in the state of Kerala. Malayalam movie makers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, G. Aravindan, T. V. Chandran, Shaji N Karun, and M. T. Vasudevan Nair were fairly successful. Starting the 1970s, Kannada film-makers from Karnataka state produced a string of serious, low-budget films. Girish Kasaravalli is one of the few directors from that period who continues to make non-commercial films.
In the film markets of South India, particularly the Tamil film and Telugu film industries, directors such as K. Balachander, Bharathiraja, Balu Mahendra, Bapu and Ramana, Puttanna, Siddalingaiah, Dr.K.Vishwanath, Santhana Bharathi and Mani Ratnam have achieved box-office hits whilst balancing elements of art and popular cinema. Such films include Nayagan, Mouna Raagam, Kannathil Muthamittal, Sindhu Bhairavi and Gunaa.
Satyajit Ray was the most successful of the "art" directors. Many Indians knew his name and took pride in his numerous foreign awards. Prestige, however, did not translate to large-scale commercial success. His films played primarily to art-house audiences (students and intelligentsia) in the larger Indian cities, or to film buffs on the international art-house circuit.
From the 1970s onwards Hindi cinema produced a wave of `art films`. The foremost among the directors who produced such films is Shyam Benegal. Others in this genre include Govind Nihalani, Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani, M.S. Sathyu.
Many cinematographers, technicians and actors began in art cinema and moved to commercial cinema. The actor Naseeruddin Shah is one notable example; he has never achieved matinee idol status, but has turned out a solid body of work as a supporting actor and a star in independent films such as Mira Nair`s Monsoon Wedding.
Indian cinema meets Hollywood
Contact between Indian and Western cinemas was established in the early days of film in India itself. Dadasaheb Phalke was moved to make Raja Harishchandra after watching Life of Christ at P.B. Mehta`s American-Indian Cinema. Similarly, some other early film directors were inspired by Western movies.
In India at least 80 percent of films shown in the late 1920s were American, even though twenty-one studios manufactured local films, eight or nine of them in regular production. American serials such as Perils of Pauline and Exploits of Elaine, and the spectacular sets of films like Quo Vadis and Cabira were popular and inspiring during the World War I era. Universal Pictures set up an Indian agency in 1916. J. F. Madan`s Elphinstone Bioscope Company at first focussed on distribution of foreign films and organization of their regular screenings Additionally, J.P. Madan, the prolific producer, employed Western directors for many of his films.
A number of Indian films have been accused of plagiarising from Hollwood Movies. Due to the long time taken by courts to decide a case, few cases relating to copyright violations are brought up. One of the reasons Bollywood hesitates in purchasing rights is the assumption that these would run into millions of dollars, though according to some like screenwritor-director Anurag Kashyap, this is incorrect; He argues that while the films may cost millions of dollars in the west, the rights would be less expensive for Hindi remakes because the price would be based on the audience`s buying power, the economy and the number of bidders.In 2003, best-selling fiction writer Barbara Taylor Bradford brought a copyright infringement suit against Sahara Television for allegedly making a television series (Karishma: A miracle of destiny) out of her book, A Woman of Substance.
Today, Indian cinema is becoming increasingly westernized. This trend is most strongly apparent in Bollywood. Newer Bollywood movies sometimes include Western actors (such as Rachel Shelley in Lagaan), try to meet Western production standards, conduct filming overseas, adopt some English in their scripts or incorporate some elements of Western-style plots. Bollywood also produces box-office hit like the films Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Kal Ho Naa Ho, both of which deal with the overseas Indian`s experience.
However, the meeting betwen Hollywood and India is a two-way process: Western audiences are becoming more interested in India, as evidenced by the mild success of Lagaan and Bride and Prejudice. As Western audiences for Indian cinema grow, Western producers are funding maverick Indian filmmakers like Gurinder Chadha (Bride and Prejudice) and Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding). Both Chadha and Nair are of Indian origin but do not live in India, and who made their names in Western independent films; they have now been funded to create films that "interpret" the Indian cinematic tradition for Westerners. A similar filmmaker is Deepa Mehta of Canada, whose films include the trilogy Fire, Earth and Water.
Indian cinema is also influencing the English and American musical; Baz Luhrmann`s Moulin Rouge! (2001) incorporates a Bollywood-style dance sequence; The Guru and The 40-Year-Old Virgin feature Indian-style song-and-dance sequences; A. R. Rahman, India`s star film composer, was recruited for Andrew Lloyd Webber`s Bombay Dreams; and a musical version of Hum Aapke Hain Koun has played in London`s West End.
Some Indians have succeeded in the Western film industry purely on their own terms without showing any Bollywood influence, such as filmmakers Manoj Night Shyamalan and Jay Chandrasekhar. Indian actors like Aishwarya Rai are getting good roles in Western films.
Criticism of Indian Cinema
Indian Cinema, is continiously criticised, for its lack of creativity and its over usage of the same plot line. Movies like Kaho Naa Pyar Hai one of Indian Cinema`s biggest hits, had a storyline which was used for generations. Critics also point out that almost every Drama film in India, is mainly centered around family, and that each of there dramas are extremely similair to those of soap operas.
Indian Cinema, is also very celebrity oriented. It should be noted that Film-makers in Bengal, and Orissa, and Tamil Nadu, which are states of India, have extremely talented Film makers, and have made much better films, than those of Hindi Cinema, which is popularly called Bollywood, but none of these films, are even considered for the Indian entry to the Academy Awards.
Ratings also show that the young Indian Audiences are slowly moving away from the conventional Films, and are looking for variety, which proves the Commercial successes of movies like Black, Iqbal, Rang De Basanthi, and other comparatively well-made films. Another aspect to be noted is that during the IIFA, the International Indian Film Awards, not one film from any other language other than Hindi, was nominated for any award. Which proves to show that the glamour of Indian Cinema, only rests with the Bollywood, and no one ese. Movies which were big critical failures, like Aitraaz, No Entry, Mission Kashmir, but huge box-office hits, due to their use of absurd, and voyueristic humour, have been nominated for Best Picture awards in almost every major Film Award Ceremonies. It is to be noted that most out-of-the-mainstream movies do resort to extreme publicity gimmicks and rather blatant orchestration to get the point across.
The major criticism however is that Indian CInema, gives no leverage to new directors, or actors. Most who are given the chance, have to mould out of their conventional styles, and have to transform to the thoughts of the producers, who don`t care for the artistic aspect of films, but more for the commercial aspect of it, hence the introduction of Item Numbers, and skimpily clad women. Indian Cinema is at its lowest level at the moment, and even though a few are trying to lift it up, it will take the entire consesus of both the Audiences and the producers, to make Indian Cinema on par with those like the American, Vritish, French, Chinese or Iranian films, which are widely credited to be the best in both art as well as in commercialism.