Paradigm Shift in Indian Cinema : Changing Face of Bollywood

Akshatha Bhat C.H*
Dr. Waheeda Sultana **


India has the largest film producing industry in the world and its cinema is leveling up to the international standard. Many people irrespective of their ethnicity watch Bollywood films in many parts of the world. In the last few years, the Hindi film industry has made a paradigm shift from producing commercial potboilers to making sensible films that are characterized by bold experimentation’s in techniques, themes and story line. This change of Hindi cinema is quite evident in the fresh Hindi movies that have recently hit the screen and also in the upcoming Bollywood movies.

The difference between commercial and parallel cinema has become blurred. The current Bollywood movies being released depict real problems and are well directed, edited and cinematographed. The present directors have been making movies on the story line of a common man. A lot of talented directors are leaving an impact on the audience selection by their excellent movies.

This paper highlights the recent trends in Bollywood cinema. It speaks about the paradigm shift and the factors responsible for it in Bollywood. The paper is based on the descriptive research methodology which involves observing and describing some of the major trends in films and explains their impact on Bollywood.

India is one of the largest producers of films in the world. Indian films are quite popular in South East Asia, the Middle East and even in Russia. There are many centers of film-making in India like Bombay (Mumbai), Calcutta (Kolkata), Madras (Chennai), etc. But Bombay is still the biggest film production centre. Films in India are made in Hindi and many regional languages. During the last 35 years the film industry has made great progress. Thousands of persons are employed at various stages of making films and exhibiting them all over the country. In reality, film making has become a highly organized and developed industry. A film is the finished product of the labors of a host of artists and technicians. It is, indeed, a symphony of co-operative efforts. Actors, directors, art and dance directors, music directors, playback singers, script writers, lyricists, cameramen, sound-men, editors-all have to work together under the leadership of a producer for a common object.

There was an era of classic movies where the producers and directors used to spend their lives on making a good movie. Those were the real kind of movies where the audience could connect with them even today – with their characters, stories, ever-green songs (even lyrics) and the human traits that old movies dealt with. For instance, the films directed by Raj Kapoor like “Awaara, Shree 420, Chori Chori, Mehboob Khan’s Mother India and Madhumati by Bimal Roy” were made during 50’s and their themes are relevant even today.

However, as the time changed, the trends have had to keep pace with the new developments and changing styles of the related genre of the movie goers. Previously, there used to be concise professionalism in terms of the content of the movie. Today, the cinema world is entangled in various external intricacies of the film making and not just constrained to professionalism.

Bollywood is the informal term popularly used for the Hindi-language film industry in Mumabi (Bombay). Bollywood cinema celebrated its centennial year by breaking away from its ‘formulaic’ film narration pattern during the 1990’s. Throughout the 1990’s, various forces combined together to give a new economic and cultural sensibility to the films, different from the foregone era. The latest generation of filmmakers began the trend of patronizing Indian tradition and heritage (Indianness) for ‘global consumption’. The present day worldwide popularity of the Hindi popular cinema has coincided with ‘the new cool in international cinema’ (Banker, 2001:7).

In 1998, the government of India granted Bollywood the status of an industry considering the huge sums of money invested in it and returns that the films brought from their international market. The sudden change in Bollywood was caused mainly due to the liberalization of the Indian economy and that of the world from the shackles of socialist principles. With lesser restrictions and increased funding, popular cinema witnessed a major expansion. ‘Invasion’ of the satellite television that was at first perceived as a threat, later enabled convergence of the two most popular forms of mass communication in India-cable television and films. The turnover has been beneficial for both. Globalization exposed the Indian middle class to international markets and cultures. Thus the commercialism made Bollywood compete with the most successful film industry of all times-Hollywood.

Current trends in Bollywood

Some major changes took place at the turn of the century when Indian popular cinema acquired the status of an industry. After that the Indian film industry has developed in new directions. One such change was a more intense interplay between the global and the regional film industry which took place during the 1990’s. Today, every single function and activity related to the Indian film business is becoming well defined and systematized, be it the retail infrastructure, financial aspect, marketing or distribution.

In almost five years, the industry has shed five decades of baggage and has once again become an organised business. This is a new Indian film industry (Kohli-Khandekar 2006). Film producers are interested in creating serious corporate structures and Indian as well as foreign business is pouring money into the cinema. A wall of money is descending on Bollywood and there is a huge bubble building up (Desai 2004). Bollywood produces more than one thousand movies a year, making it the biggest movie industry in the world. The studios have gone global and the earnings of many movies in not so distant past were higher abroad than in India. Indian films have been in the top ten lists of movies in the UK and USA.

Bollywood films have become a big business and a very costly affair so that people having big financial resources only can afford to invest enormous amounts of money in the films. It is very difficult for a purposeful producer or director having meager financial resources to enter the film-making business. The latest trend is to make films with many big stars like “Kabhi alvida na kehna , Om shanti Om, Guzarish, Aarakshan, Ra-one etc” the cost of each of which runs into several crores of rupees. There is no doubt that young producers during the last few years have tried to produce low budget films with experimental themes. But how many such films become commercially successful is a very difficult to judge. The government has established the Films Finance Corporation to extend help to the producers to make the low budget films with high aesthetic sense, but these films have failed to make the desirable impact on the film industry in Bombay and other parts of the country.

The star system in the film industry is a new practice in Bollywood. Under this system the big stars are too much pampered and given the pride of place. They are paid huge amounts of black money for their roles. The character actors, who play an important role in the making of the films, are given a raw deal.

The major trend in the Bollywood films is that instead of making original films, generally the film producers try to imitate the films produced by Hollywood. Such films are not the true representatives of Indian culture and society. A recent trend has become a fashion. It must show semi-nude and exciting female postures. These scenes are shown to titillate the sex instinct of the audience which is highly objectionable. Showing of item dance, kissing, nude scenes have become a must for every formula-film whether these are required or not. These scenes are very humiliating for the female audience. The government has recently taken some effective measures to ban certain films showing highly provocative sex scenes. It has also placed certain restrictions on the showing of violence and murder in the films. But still there are many films like Murder directed by Anurag Basu and Murder 2 directed by Mohit Suri which are full of nude scenes and have been released without ‘A’ certificate.

Another recent trend in the films is showing brutal violence, murders and crime-packed scenes. Such films have a very bad impact on the younger generation especially the student community. The young boys and girls learn many criminal traits like gambling, smuggling, pick-pocketing and murder from these films in which violence and crime are given prominence.

It is interesting to note that several producers and directors are remaking the old classic movies that were highly successful in their times. These movies include Umrao Jaan, a remake of the timeless classic Umrao Jaan. Don, a remake of the old Amitabh Bachchan movie also named Don. Agneepath remake of the 1990 film of the same name.

One more trend seen in the Hindi film industry is production of a lot of movies annually by certain production houses. In fact, there is an emerging trend towards co-productions as well. The foreign uptake of latest Hindi movies has increased and the number of foreign prints has multiplied for big-budget Hindi films. A huge number of the Indians who are now living abroad crave for Hindi movies and it is predicted that soon Hindi movies will be competing with the Hollywood flicks in international markets.

Recent tendencies have shown an increasing regression of Bollywood towards trivial and superficial cinema. Indian movie-goers want something that will whisk them away to a magical world for the period of three hours and help them live their fantasies virtually. They do not want to see gritty movies that show life as it is because they see that every day. For instance, recently released horror films like ‘Ghost’ written and directed by Pooja Jatinder Bedi and ‘Fired’ by Rahul Bose.

Edutainment films

And emerging trend in Bollywood is the edutainment cinema. Many Bollywood films are offering both entertainment and education. As art films lack audience, this new style of Bollywood has encouraged many directors who want to make films based on social themes but are scared of thin audience.

Social messages are a typical character of the latest Hindi movies. There are movies that portray consequences of the reservation system. The best example of this is Arakshan directed by Prakash Jha. It is a social film based on the quota policy of the government of India. Like other Bollywood films it too has romantic scenes and rocking music, but it is different due to its theme of social cause. There are other films which throw light on honor killings and take on the hypocritical political system of the country. The problems and life issues of an ordinary man has become the common subject of such films. The best example is A Wednesday directed by Neeraj Pandey, which is based on the concept of ‘common man’. The film is inspired by the 11 July 2006 Mumbai train bombings and its impact on the common man.

Another film made on similar lines is Shyam Benegal’s Well Done Abba. The film has been narrated in a comic and ironic vein. It is a political satire that veers from the farcical to the often witty and sharp but largely ironic comedy without losing sight of its central theme that deals with the many development projects that the government has initiated which frequently get hijacked by systemic corruption.

Peepli Live by Anusha Rizvi focuses on the poorest of the poor in India. This film not only highlights the plight of a farmer in a tiny corner of a giant country, but also throws light on the varied people who exploit the situation to their advantage, right from the politicians to the bureaucrats to the television reporters to the local people.  This film makes a scathing attack on the functioning of media in India and how media persons, depicted as vultures, generally stoop to the lowest levels to increase the ratings of their television channel/show. Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots upholds the drawbacks in the current education system of our country. The film has all the commercial features with a social ‘message’.

Several other edutainment films have been released in Bollywood. Page 3 directed by Madhur Bhandarkar takes a candid look into the lives of celebrities and stars that adorn the third page of newspapers. Fashion directed by the same director reveals the good and bad of fashion world. Raajneethi directed by Prakash Jha gives an overview of the Indian political system. It is a human drama, a complex game that people indulge in to achieve power and how this greed envelopes them and transforms them into ruthless and conniving humans. Delhi-6 made by Rakhyesh Omprakash Mehra deals with the ever going Hindu-Muslim problems. Kahani directed by Sujoy Ghosh is a complete female-centric movie. It tells the story of a pregnant woman who comes from London to Kolkata in search of her missing husband. Unlike art films these films satisfy the entertainment hunger of ordinary audience and at the same time communicate the ‘message’. These films are targeted at the metropolitan viewers and are doing well even at box office.

Technological advancement

Influenced by the Hollywood movies like Transformers and X-man, Bollywood film directors have now started looking for advanced technologies in their cinema to catch the global audience. Parminder Singh Chadda, chief of Film Technology & Color Science – India, says that there has been a rapid progression over the last 4-5 years and almost 90 per cent of film-making processes have gone digital, including digital image capturing, title sequencing, colorization, visual effects and digital intermediate. Film-makers have started to use the latest technology and digital cameras, such as Arri Alexa, a still camera with HD and 3D shooting options. Some films are shot entirely using such cameras and the latest techniques, while others use it partially or for some scenes. Bollywood film-makers are not just focusing on the shooting equipment and techniques, but pay a lot attention to films post-production.

3D films have given a new dimension to the Bollywood. Recently released Ra-One directed by Anubhav Sinha has used the most advanced computer graphics and thrilling aerial photography ever seen in India. Almost 23 cameras were used to shoot a special scene of replica train.  We can see the inclusion of several visual effects techniques being incorporated in the production of Ra-One. This film proves that India can match the western technology. Drona, Love Story-2050 and Krrish are some other films which focus on advanced technology.

S Shanker’s Robot has mind-boggling special effects and the film has won an award for its cutting edge technology. This is the first Indian film to use Stan Winston Studio’s animatronics technology that was earlier used in films like Jurassic Park, Iron Man, and the Terminator Series. Robot is a sci-fi emotional movie which involves the use of advanced science of animatronics and visual FX, shortly termed as VFX. The movie required an unobtrusive VFX of over 2000 shots that add up to around 60 scenes in the film. An Indian technocrat named V.Srinivas handled the entire film visual effects as a VFX supervisor. A lot of techniques were used in this movie to reach international standards like pre-production with detailed pre-visualization and animatronics

This film has used a unique technology, the Doom Light Stage Scanning, for the detail high resolution CGI Face. Motion graphics and head up displays in the film have been minor parts which were taken care in detail to reveal the story and give a science fiction texture to the visuals.

Glamour, Sex and Kissing

Glamour, sex and kissing scenes have always been a cause of debate and controversy in India. In the early silent era of Indian ‘bioscope’ the majority of the films were based on mythological, historical and social themes. The film makers knew the pulse of the audience and knew how to attract the masses so as to make their film commercially viable. There was not much problem during those days in inclusion of sex, glamour and kissing scenes. But now glamour has become a part and parcel of the Hindi cinema without which a director can’t make a film.

From two flowers bobbing together to lip-locking, Hindi films have come of age. Films like Love Aaj Kal and Kites have the lead pairs sharing passionate kisses on screen, but they are just following the examples set by flicks like Hum Tum, Jab We Met, Dev D and Kambakkht Ishq. Ketan Mehta’s much-awaited bilingual Rang Rasiya became popular for its kissing sequences and sensuous scenes between Randeep Hooda and Nandana Sen.

When girls began exposing on the screen, there was much hue and cry. But today it has become absolutely normal to depict such scenes in films. Today’s heroines treat the exposure scenes very professionally, totally unconcerned about what other people might think. They take it as a normal shot. Morality in Hindi cinema is changing very fast. The present era of Bollywood has become an era of glamour, sex, kiss and action. Glamour plays a significant role in a heroine’s career.

Action trend

Action film is a genre where one or more heroes are thrust into a series of challenges that require physical feats, extended fights and frentic chases. Almost every movie today has an obligatory fight scene between the good and the bad.  The number of action films in Bollywood is increasing day by day. Shah Rukh Khan who has always been popular as the eternal romantic in Bollywood has been seen as an action hero in 2011. Both his releases this year – Ra.One and Don 2 are action-packed entertainers. Salmaan Khan’s Wanted, Bodyguard and Dabung are treated as the best action films in Bollywood. The film Singham starring Ajay Devgan is receiving appreciations for its energetic stunt shots. Director Rohith Shetty has spent around 50 crore rupees to shoot this action film.

Changing trend in music

Bollywood films are generally musicals and are expected to contain catchy music in the form of song-and-dance numbers woven into the script. A film’s success often depends on the quality of such musical numbers.  Indeed, a film’s music is often released before the movie itself and helps swell the audience. The styles, trend and choice of Bollywood songs keep on changing with the changing generation but many astounding singers still exist in the industry because of the inexpressible contribution they have made. Bollywood music is, was and will be ever- changing because it can never be set within a particular boundary or limited in its creativity.

Directors have also realized the connection between good music and box office success. Music in Indian cinema has gained prominence. Details of the background score is of international value. The promos and teasers prior to release of a movie are slotted with television channels to attract the masses and spike their curiosity. Indian film makers enjoy the source from foreign flicks, though Indianising the concepts is an expert’s job.

Bollywood music has been a mixture of all the elements of music with trends that kept on changing with each decade. The 1950’s was the period when the industry experienced the grandeur of the thumris and classical, ear-soothing masterpieces, the mesmerizing creations by prodigies like Naushad. Be it ‘mohe panghat pe nandlal’ or ‘piya tose naina lage re’, the enchanting music with Indian harmonies allured the listeners. The mellifluous voices behind these euphonious tracks like Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar and Geeta Datt made the difference.

Later, versatile singers like Kishore Kumar, Mukesh and Mohammed Rafi ruled the Bollywood music industry for three decades.Then came the era of the RETRO songs, ‘Piya tu ab toh aja’,’ ye mera dil’ where Asha Bhosle made the listeners groove to the beats of her charismatic numbers. These songs are relished by the youth as well. Next came the DISCO phase, with Mithun Chakraborty and Bappi Lahiri.

Now is the period of immensely talented singers like Shreya Ghoshal, Sonu Nigam and Sunidhi Chauhan. This generation has seen every genre of music, be it qawwali, sufi, disco or spiritual. But something that perturbs most is the adulteration of the basic Indian essence of music which has ruined the sanctity of the culture. People have a penchant for songs with ludicrous lyrics and exasperating music like Tinku Jiya, Dum Maro Dum.

Technology has made it all the more easier to record, compose, edit and produce music. As compared to the tedious and laborious work that people at earlier times had to undergo to bring out just one song, today’s scenario gives many added advantages. Computers, hi-end softwares, digital musical instruments that play almost any note of any musical instrument that is required, it’s all becoming more and more compact. Though the quality is becoming better and better day by day, the naturalness of the tone is losing its value.


Change is the course of nature and a weapon of time. As the society tends to transform according to human convenience, cinema continues to mirror and sometimes judge its course. It won’t be an exaggeration to state that cinema sometimes gives a peep into our future. Cinema is no longer a mere means of entertainment. It projects a possible life and it captures dreams.

From Mother India to Ra-One, Bollywood has seen a world of change. From black and white to color and from mute to Dolby Digital, the change has been immense and unimaginable. A variety of characters, a plethora of stories and a range of music have adorned the silver screen. With the development of technology, the quantity and quality of the films have significantly improved over the years. Modernization and globalization have also played a part in shaping Bollywood films into what they are today. Although many features in the films have changed with time to sustain and increase its mass appeal, the feature of song and dance sequences never seems to cease. And in fact, it is through this feature that Bollywood films have managed to carve out an identity of their own, apart from the common notion that they are rip-offs of Hollywood movies. And it is also this distinctive feature that has also contributed to the increasing international viewership of Bollywood films. At the rate that Bollywood films are being produced and developing, it would be no surprise that more award-winning films will soon come Bollywood’s way.


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