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Useful Notes / Bollywood

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Bollywood is the informal name for the vast Hindi-language film industry, one of the world's largest. It's a portmanteau of "Bombay" (the former name of Mumbai, where the industry is based) and "Hollywood", first coined by a Variety journalist but wholeheartedly embraced by the local film industry and the Indian public.

Bollywood cinema, especially outside India, is seen as stylistically unique. The big thing that sets it apart is the music — almost every Bollywood film is a musical, chock-full of singing and dancing. Indeed, while in the West the music and film industries are separate things, in India they're practically the same; most popular Indian music is first made for a film. The composer, singers, and choreographers are as important to a Bollywood film as the producer and director, sometimes more so. Interestingly, unlike a Western musical film where a trained Broadway singer or dancer has to show their acting chops, Bollywood films usually feature a professional actor who's dubbed over by a professional "playback singer", kind of like what Lina Lamont insisted on in Singin' in the Rain — except the industry and public are well aware of the arrangement, and playback singers are as respected and coveted as the actors they're dubbing. Bollywood films' love for singing and dancing, even if it would be kind of incongruous with the scene, has given it a reputation in the West as a style where characters will break into song and dance at the slightest provocation, even though this wouldn't describe every Bollywood film.


One distinctive feature of Bollywood is the relative lack of variance in style and narrative. In general, the average Indian film of the 1950s would differ from one made in the 2000s only minimally, with some improvements in props, costumes, and technique but little by way of narrative. The standard Bollywood narrative still involves the "masala film" — family dramas, unrequited love, rich-girl-poor-boy romances. The main distinction in Bollywood is between urban and rural films — films for the rural market tend to be more traditional family dramas set in the Indian "heartland", whereas films for the urban market tend to focus more on younger, richer college students or urban professionals. In more recent years the number of "urban" films has grown, but deviations from the traditional narrative remain far from mainstream.


Bollywood is influenced significantly by India's censorship system. The Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is more than a rating agency; it will dictate changes and order cuts to meet censorship standards, much like in Hollywood under The Hays Code. It takes a particularly hands-on approach to films with subversive political or sexual content. But unlike the Hays Code, which was formed by Hollywood itself as a self-policing venture to forestall government interference, the CBFC is an Indian government office. Because of this, Bollywood films are generally very clean, with no nudity or graphic violence. This may also be one reason the films don't change so much; the writers know what works and don't want to risk anything further. Interestingly, the government oversight and censorship is mostly unchallenged by both the industry and the public, leading to the idea that it's really a protectionist scheme. The censorship applies equally to Hollywood imports, whether on television or released theatrically; in India, the only way to see most Western filmsnote  is to see the equivalent of a U.S. "TV edit", or else to pirate it. Western film producers therefore see little market in India, and many Western films just aren't released there, allowing Bollywood to dominate the local box office. But there's a big pirate market for Western imports in India, whose influence can be keenly felt in the many local remakes (often plagiarised) of popular American films into Bollywood films.


Bollywood is often used as a shorthand for "Indian cinema" in the rest of the world, but it really only applies to Hindi-language films. There are films in all of the many Indian Languages, each with their own "otherwoods" like "Tollywood" for Telugu cinema and "Kollywood" for Tamil cinema. Although some of these "otherwoods" can be really big in their own right, none have picked up the international notoriety of the Hindi-language Bollywood.note 

We've got a list of Bollywood Actors and Bollywood Movies, but here's a short list of particularly notable Bollywood films:

  • Neecha Nagar (1946) - Roughly based on The Lower Depths by Maxim Gorky, it is considered India's first social-realist film. Neecha Nagar is also the only Indian film to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes (then known as the "Grand Prix du Festival").
  • Mother India (1957) - Shows the poverty and precariousness of India's farmers through the tragedy of one young family.
  • Mughal-e-Azam (1960) - Grand historical epic retelling of the story of Anarkali and prince Salim.
  • Sholay (1975) - Probably the most famous film from Bollywood, featuring the infamous Gabbar Singh, a feared bandit. A retired policeman hires a couple of thieves to take him out.
  • Salaam Bombay! (1988) - A fairly dark story set in the slums of Mumbai (Bombay).
  • 3 Idiots (2008) - College slice-of-life about three friends. While mostly comedic in tone, it also criticises India's extremely competitive education system.
  • Dangal (2016) - (Loosely) based on the life of wrestlers Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari, becoming a watershed moment for sports movies in India.

Not to be confused with Bollywood Nerd, although both come from India.

Tropes common across Bollywood films in general: