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The Indian film industry is the largest in the world (1200 movies were released in the year 2002). India also features the cheapest cost of tickets in the world (the average ticket cost only 20 US cents), and the biggest movie studio in the world, Ramoji Film City [citation needed]. The industry is supported mainly by the vast cinemagoing Indian public, although Indian films have been gaining increasing popularity in the rest of the world — especially in countries with large numbers of expatriate Indians.

Regional film industries

India is a large country where many languages are spoken. Each of the larger languages supports its own film industry: Urdu/Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam.

  • The Hindi/Urdu film industry, based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), is called 'Bollywood' (a melding of Hollywood and Bombay).
  • The Marathi film industry is based in Mumbai & Pune.
  • The Tamil film industry is based in the Kodambakkam area of Chennai, South India, and hence is sometimes called 'Kollywood'.
  • 'Tollywood' is a metonym for the Bengali film industry, long centered in the Tollygunge district of Kolkata (Calcutta). The Bengali industry is notable for having nurtured the director Satyajit Ray, an internationally renowned filmmaker and a winner of many awards, among them the Bharat Ratna (India's highest civilian award), the Legion d'honneur (France), and the Lifetime achievement Academy Award.
  • The Kannada film industry, based in Karnataka State, is sometimes called 'Sandalwood', as Karnataka is known for its sandalwood; however, this term does not seem to be in widespread use.
  • The Telugu film industry (sometimes called Tollywood) is based in Andhra Pradesh's capital city, Hyderabad.
  • The Malayalam film industry is based in Kerala.

The Bollywood industry is usually the largest in terms of films produced and box office receipts. Many workers in other regional industries, once their talent and popularity is established, move on to work in other film industries, nationally as well as internationally. For example, A.R. Rahman, one of the best known film music composers in Indian cinema, started his career in Tamil cinema in Chennai but has since undertaken ventures in other spheres, including international film and theatre. Similarly, films that succeed in one language are often remade or dubbed in others. Films like Padosan and Roja, for example, were re-made or dubbed from their original Bengali and Tamil versions respectively, into Hindi.

Conventions of commercial films

The principal difference between American and Indian commercial cinema, is that Indian film 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, with an intermission. They tend to be melodramatic and sentimental, but may also feature romance, comedy, action, suspense, and other generic elements.

Art cinema

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 Neo-Realism 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, and Mani Ratnam have achieved box-office hits whilst balancing elements of art and popular cinema. Such films include Nayagan and Kannathil Muthamittal.

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

Today, Indian cinema is becoming increasingly Westernized. This trend is strongest in Bollywood, which is importing Western actors (such as Rachel Shelley in Lagaan), trying to meet Western production standards, filming overseas, and incorporating more and more English in movie dialogue. Bollywood is also making hit films like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Kal Ho Na Ho that deal with the overseas Indian 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 film-makers like Gurinder Chadha (Bride and Prejudice) and Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding). Both Chadha and Nair are of Indian origin but resident in the West, 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.

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 filmi 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 like the director Manoj Night Shyamalan. Indian actors like Aishwarya Rai are getting good roles in Western films.


Indian films bring export income and foreign prestige to India. In turn, the Indian government gives the Dadasaheb Phalke Award annually as a recognition of a lifetime contribution to Indian cinema. The award is in memory of Dadasaheb Phalke, considered the father of Indian cinema.

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