Searching for 100 Years of Indian Cinema

100 years of Indian CinemaThis year the Indian Cinema is celebrating it’s 100th birthday.  It was on the 9th of May 1913 that India screened its first ever full-lenght feature film, Raja Harishchandra, in a theatre in Mumbai. And even though the label Bollywood – merging the city’s name which was previously called Bombay with Hollywood – was created much later in the 80s, and despite the fact that India has many other regional movie scenes like Tollywood and Kollywood, I hear many talk about the “centenary of Bollywood”.

Given the common amount of passion for Bollywood all over India, the huge emotions and dreams the people share, this historically wrong expression might have it’s justification. Because across the country, men and women, rich and poor, speaking a babel of languages, adore the same Bollywood films. For all Indians alike, cinema is an escape, from rising prices, corruption, power cuts and general chaos.

Film City

To get a feeling for the 100-year-long cinematic journey, I flew down to Mumbai and went straight to Film City, a huge arid area at the bottom of the hills just north of the metropolis. Along the streets that wind through the shrubby land, rest fake cities. Or fake palaces. Or halls in which everything is fake. It’s all just wood and glass wool and long bamboo canes to support the facades.

Where a shooting was going on, the guards were vigilant. But in some others places I was able to sneak in and walk around. Even though I was aware of the structure, I often thought everything were in fact for real. Then I touched a wall to assure myself it wasn’t. But a moment later I again fell for the illusion.

face city

This area, which is the heart of the world’s biggest film industry, is also home to the acting school Whistling Wood’s. There I found three students who explained to me how important movie stars are – not only for them, but for their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, grandparents and great-grandparent. A 19-year-old girl told me: Whereas acters are looked up to all over the world, and everywhere they function as role models, here in India they are gods.

rich and poor


Whereever you go, they are part of your life, another student explains: Lines from the movies are used by everyone, billboard and poster feature the actors, promoting cement as well as estate agencies and government schemes, and whatever the stars wear in a movie becomes the trend of the season.

“No matter where you are in this country, you can always strike up a conversation with anyone, often with just two words, or even one – Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikath,” says a film critic.

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