Introduction: India, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, eastern Vietnam, Malaya, Java, Bali, Sumatra, Borneo, Indonesian islands, Philippines and Taiwan are South East Asian countries, who are well known for their astounding theatrical activities. Countries in South Asia, are home to people of many races, and hundreds of different dialects. The cultural diversity is so immense, than those noticed in western countries. A great level of intermixing between cultures of different south Asian countries is another characteristic feature of these regions. For example, Singapore is a home to four major cultures: Chinese, Malays, Tamil and the English. Likewise countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Srilanka have shared political and cultural histories. Because of this, it is impossible to define and hard to place, the evolution of early theatrical art in these regions into the genera of present day cinema. Cinema is the most popular communication medium in South Asia. It occupies an important place in the lives of people. It is also an important medium through which the concept of modernity, was introduced into South Asian culture.
Films reflects the social concerns of a country, and also communicates the creative and artistic expression of its people, within the limits of socio-economic restrictions. Unlike in the west; social and cultural restriction are high in south Asian films. Homosexuality, teenage groups, affairs, gender identity and religious identity are sensitive topics and are often regarded as taboo by many film makers. Rising population and arrival of satellite TV channels, increased the appetite for cinema in South Asia. This along with the advent of internet era and globalization, catapulted it development to bigger heights.
Japanese movies were the first to become famous in the west, during the 1950s. However their numbers were few and it was only in the 1980’s that Asian films gained wider popularity with the westerners. Most of these films were from countries like China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. Many of the themes like: nationalism, colonialism and modernization depicted in these film from these countries were interrelated. Films were predominantly conceptual. As the film industry began to evolve, themes between these countries, became more independent. South Asia has always taken lead from the development of new technologies in the west to evolve its own film industry. Nevertheless their creativity in art, is unique and most of its scripts are original. (Google Books)
These days’ Asian films have begun to receive wide attention from foreign audience, film critics, cinema scholars and specialists of cultural studies. Cinema is a peephole into a nation’s history and culture. With globalization, the cultures of many Asian countries are becoming interlinked with that of the west, and thus the themes of current generation films, are more convoluted and fail to depict the original culture of the country. In this article, I have discussed Asian cinema, with more focus on Indian cinema, as it the largest film producer in the world.
1. King of Cinema: Movies of India
Indian film industry is one of the oldest in the world. The first film to be screened in India was, a western movie; “wonders of the world”, in the year 1896. “Rajah Harishchandra” directed by Dadasaheb Phalke, is the first Indian movie and was screened in 1913. This film was a huge commercially success, and marked the beginning of Indian cinema. During the 1920’s, Madras was the epicenter of film activities. Successful actors of this period had commanding voice, singing skill and musical knowledge. Films released during these times, were mostly historical and based on traditional and scriptural characters. The success of these film was largely based on its musical scores. By 1940’s the social and political atmosphere of India changed. The country was ravaged by World War II and freedom struggle. Films released during this time, were based on patriotic and political themes. More bold themes were filmed during this time. Music and songs remained an important way of communicating feelings in Indian Cinema. The most unforgettable melodies of Hindi film industry were created during the 1950’s. (Newsonair.nic.in)
Bollywood is the eponym of American Hollywood. It refers to the Hindi film industry in India, with its epicenter in Bombay (Mumbai). Hindi is the most common language of India. Kollywood and Tollywood refers to Tamil and Telugu film Industry, both of which are, other important languages in India. The most creative and original scripts in Indian films could be seen in Mollywood, which refers to the Malayalam film industry; which is yet another language in the country. The period between 1950s to 1960s, is called the Golden Age of Indian films, as the most classic films of all times were made during this period. (Newsonair.nic.in)
In the 1970’s there was a complete change of structure in Indian cinema. Modern themes entered the industry. There was a noticeable change in the film’s narrative and contents. Films had less story value, and were made mostly for entertainment and fun. This was the era of Indian commercial films. Majority of the films produced during this time, were globally successful and introduced Bollywood to a larger world of international cinema. The advent of women in movies took place during the 1980’s. More women directors, producers entered the industry. Romantic, action, comedy and thrillers films dominated the 1990’s. (Newsonair.nic.in)
With the advent of new age filming and technologies, many Indian movies are made keeping in mind the Hollywood standards. Improved marketing skills and global themes, has contributed in making Bollywood movies a global success. Global Indian diaspora along with western fans, are behind the success of these film in International market. Though the concept of moving pictures was introduced in the west, today, India has the largest film industry in the world. Despite the wide cultural diversity, the country has created a cinema industry that is on par with the standards of many Hollywood movies.
Movies in Nepal: Little but Delicate
Unlike that of Indian cinema, Nepali film industry lacks a luminous past. Though many of their movies were not internationally successful, few new generation movies did leave a strong mark in its audience. Most of the cinemagoers in Nepal, prefer to see large budget Hindi and Bollywood movies, when compared to the small budget Nepali movies. The dominance of Bollywood, has adversely affected the growth of Nepali film industry. The quality of Nepali movie is poor and yet to reach on par with international standards. (Boss Nepal)
Most Nepali movies adopt the filmmaking style followed by Bollywood. Songs are important part of these cinema. The city of Kathmandu is the center of activity of Nepali cinema. Satya Harishchandra is the first Nepali movie and was screened in 1951. However this movie was filmed in India and thus not authentically a Nepali movie. The first Nepali movie that was filmed and produced in Nepal is Amma. The poor economic background of the country is one reason, why the film industry could not compete with that in India. (Boss Nepal)
The period from 1970-1980, saw a fast pacing development in Nepali industry. Many good films like Mann Ko Bandh, Kumari, Sindoor and Jeevan Rekha were released during this period. Maoist revolution, which occurred after this period, ruined the development of Nepali film industry. The quality of the films and their numbers went down. As film production stopped, film makers left the country to search for jobs elsewhere. When Maoists entered mainstream politics, in 2006, the industry began to grow again, but it is still far behind Bollywood and Hollywood. In spite of this, good subjects and presentation skills seen in Nepali movies like Loot, Apabad and Highway, gives some hope to the country’s future in cinema. (Boss Nepal)
Subtitle 3: Similar or Different? Movies from Pakistan and Bangladesh
Islam is the dominant religion of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Though, economic condition in these countries is not strong enough to support a film industry, both countries felt that setting up an indigenous film industry will prevent the influence of Indian films on its population. Though Islam forbids its followers from watching cinema, a significant number of people in Pakistan and Bangladesh are cinemagoers. The administrators are particularly concerned about their citizens imbibing foreign culture through the films entering the country from outside.
Film production center in Pakistan is relatively new and was established during 1947 in Lahore. It is nicknamed as Lollywood. Pakistani people prefer to see Bollywood movies over Pakistani movies, and this is causing the decline of Lollywood. While India produces thousands of movies a year, Pakistani movie production is restricted to an average of 20 per year. Lack of talented film makers and investors add to the struggle for survival. In early Pakistani movies, men played the role of women, as cultural norms prevented women from acting, singing and dancing. Today majority of the good script writers, directors, producers, actor and models in Pakistan are women. The change in these trends, reflect the changing attitude of the society. (Mazhar.dk)
Films from Pakistan and Bangladesh reflect their cultural and religious identity. Film industries of Bangladesh is concentrated in the city of Dhaka. Films released during 1950’s were more focused on cultural themes, and towards the 1960’s themes were based on national concepts like freedom, patriotism, religion and similar identities. However, present generation of films in Bangladesh are more liberal, addressing various aspects of social revolutions. Most of the Bangladeshi and Pakistani films, find difficulty in competing with Indian and Hollywood movies. Without proper nurturing of talents and skills, it is likely that these industry will become extinct in the near future. (BBC News)
South Asian Cinema and Rest of the World: Many Bollywood movies are world famous. Its frivolous story line, lavish dance sequences, dream like setting, filmy romance, superstars are liked by many international audience. The effect of seeing a Bollywood movie is quite different from watching a Hollywood movie. The financial power of Bollywood is sometimes unfathomable and the quality of movie is often on par with Hollywood films. Bollywood is also blessed with a lot of talented people. All Hindi cinemas are not made in Bollywood, but most of the mainstream Hindi cinemas are from Bollywood. The term Bollywood is given to the industry, as it is based in Bombay. The word Bollywood is so world famous that is was included in Oxford dictionary.
Bollywood movies have fans across the globe: United Kingdom, Russia, China, Japan, Middle East, South Africa, African and United states. Hindi film Avaara (meaning vagabond) released in 1951, was a massive hit among international audience of that time. The next greater wave of interest in Indian cinema, occurred during 1900. With the advent of cultural globalization, people can have quick and easy access to the mass media and cinemas of other nations. These days Bollywood movies are screened in Multiplex Theaters across the world. Most of the films are loved for their music and dance sequel, rather than their storyline. Further, the Indian culture of large family, excessively emotional love, creates inquisitiveness and interest in foreign audience. (Mail Online)
In the early days of Indian cinema, Hindi films were brought by merchants, from Mumbai, and screened in their respected villages. By 1940s, film producers began to distribute film through companies that are involved in national and international film distribution. Most of the Bollywood movies, were distributed by Gujarathis and Sindhis owned distribution firms, to the Indian diaspora across the globe. Gujarathis and Sindhis are among the most business minded people in India. During 1950s, Indian films were screened during, off peak times, for the Asian audience in UK. (Google Books)
The role played by language in Asian Cinema, is quite different from that of Hollywood movies. Language is a very important expression for defining the constitution, and for communicating the experience, the film intends to offer its audience. This is particularly essential for the digressive and nonlinear mode of narrative adopted by Asian films, when compared to Hollywood narratives, which follow a linear development. Dialogues plays a crucial role in South Asian cinema. Early Indian superstars like: Shivaji Ganeshan in Parashathi (1946) and Amjad Khan in Sholay (1975): were successful solely on the basis of their dialogues delivery and declamation (Forbesindia.com). With globalization, changing trends and modernization, such dialogue oriented films have reduced in South Asia and the audience have become more open to Hollywood like trends. (Google Books)
Influence of religion in Asian Cinema: Film makers in India, have been the unofficial representatives of Indian culture, abroad. While the country is divided by religion, Indian films picturize secularism and help in uniting its citizen. In a country like India, where people are divided and discriminated in the name of religion and oppressed in the name of caste, films brings hope, by featuring modern views of equality, liberty and freedom. Films have played an important role in molding the character of the nation. Though the country is well known for it’s subjugate attitude towards women, modern films picturize free independent women and women being respected in the society. This is because Indian films are now forced to work on concepts and culture that are internationally accepted. (Bengal)
These days, religion oriented films are rare in mainstream cinema. Secular topics and subjects of contemporary nature are encouraged by the audience and film makers. Hindu, Muslims and Christians are the major religious communities in India and their culture is represented in many Indian film. For example in films like Parosi and Hamrahi; the story is about twins who are separated and raised by parents of different religion and towards the end of the movie, both the brothers unite. Cinema has played an important role in reducing social tension associated with religious insecurity in the country. (Kumar)
Conclusion: Cinema need not necessary depict the cultural reality of a country. Cinema is often a commercial medium, in which an imaginary environment and culture is constructed to serve the plot. Most commercial films are made for entertainment purposes, keeping in mind the taste of its national and international audience. Therefore it may be difficult for cinema, as a medium, to depict the rich diversity that exist within a culture. India as a country encourages films that promote national integrity. Bollywood picturizing standards are now on par with Hollywood standards. Wonderful music and colorful characters in Bollywood movies are liked by many global audience. Most of the Bollywood films released these days, are shot at international location and are based on scripts that have global appeal. (‘Bollywood’s India: Hindi Cinema as a Guide to Contemporary Cinema’)
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