Culture Film & TV

#CULTURETRIP: Exploring the Bollywood Culture

By Nisaa Hawa

Just imagine films with vibrant song and dances, culture of beauty and ethnic tradition and love so magical it’s dreamlike. Watching a Bollywood film will make you become a part of the cultural drama, as well as the passion to live, embrace life and embrace Indian ethnicity.


B-olly-wood…B-olly-wood. Let the name roll off your tongue and slip into your mind, where you visualise the extravaganza of Indian film culture. The name derives from Hollywood, and ‘B’ stems from Bombay. Bollywood films are depicted as ‘masala’ films which means spice mix. Majority of Indian films, although not all, are ‘masala’ type.

“Indianness” is a term associated with Indians praying to Gods, wearing colourful outfits, and saying “Namaste” [Hello]. That’s exactly where the traditions of India stem from, thus in 1913, when the first film was released, this “Indianness”, enriched the portrayal of Indian culture.

Indian films exist, because of the production of the first black and white film, “Raja Harishchandra”. A silent film, based on Sanskrit folktales which were picturised in 1913. A beautiful take on the mythological Indian culture where King Harsihandra is tested by Gods.

The first sound film “Alam Ara” came out in 1931, and shortly after, the first colour film arrived. Then, the Golden age of the 1970’s hit Bollywood, where they shone brighter than stars. Western traditions influenced Bollywood, and films began exploring various genres and styles; something they had never done before. They took upon unique tales of Indians, which was relatable to all if not, most of the public.

It was after the 2000’s, where Bollywood was named the ‘era of experimentation’. Films still incorporated cultural aspects but included westernisation too.

There is now an evolving genre of films such as “Udaan”, “Khosla ka Ghosla”, “Gangs Of wasseypur”, “Queen”, “Ugly”, that have changed the way Bollywood has been portrayed.

Now, out with the history and let’s dive into the films.

Plots: A typical Bollywood plot consists of corruption, angry in-laws or parents, out of this world lovers, male winning over female, and devious villains. Yet there is so much more to it than just this.

So, what’s up with the songs? : Hollywood would classify songs in films as a musical, however for Bollywood, this is a ritual. The Indian audience value songs in films. It’s what makes the perfect Bollywood film and creates a larger than life dream. These songs are not created as singles, or performed by bands but instead pre-recorded by professional singers and lip-synched by the actors in the film. Through synchronisation and graceful choreography the song is created as part of the act.

Enchanting and vibrant, the choreography incorporates Indian ethnic dancing, like classical, bhangra or ‘bollywood’ or modernised dancing, with a mix of western and Indian moves.

A Bollywood song is best described as soul-full rhythmic melody, infused with traditional instruments and summed up with harmonious singers. Punjabi, Bengali, Rajasthani, and other Indian languages are used. The melodious genre has been altered to allow diversity, giving rise to other genres such as pop, disco, Arabic, and now have quick and slow paces.

You would be interested to know that one ‘type’ of song that is a huge part of Bollywood tradition, are ‘Item’ songs. These songs are made for women to dance to highly sensual dance numbers. These include songs like ‘Chikni Chameli’, ‘Munni Badnam’ and ‘Laila’. The female actresses are empowered through a sexual dance, however, actors like Shabana Azmi have debated this out. ‘Item songs’, if one opens their ears to it, are catchy and sexy.

But never mind the type, Bollywood dancing is celebratory of beautiful culture and has to be watched/listen to at least once.

What language gives Bollywood it’s Indian touch: The Hindi language is widely spoken in Bollywood films. It was depicted, in early 1900’s that Bollywood’s main language for their films would be Hindi. However, this is where the concept of Bollywood films are mistaken. Since the growth of the cinema, Bollywood has opened up a diversity of languages, ranging from Guajarati, Punjabi, English and much more.

Cultural fashion and western influence: Since the time of Raja Harishandra, women wore sari’s, an Indian drape and other cultural outfits like anarklali’, a long flowing dress worn with a ‘dupatta’ scarf around the neck. Men, on the other hand, looked hunky-dory in Kurta’s, Angarkha, Jama and Dhoti’s, all traditional menswear. Nowadays, the classic look, is modern wear, including jeans and t-shirts. Bollywood is escaping the norm, and not shying away from change.

Famous, famous actors and actresses: So, who are they?

Well, to begin with, men and women’s roles in Indian cinema have taken drastic changes. From the compassionate, woman who blushed at the slightest touch, to women who fight for freedom and portray independent roles. Or men, from pot-belly’s and moustaches to abs and clean-shaven looks.

Some of the female actresses and change in roles include;

The graceful, dutiful beauty of Madhubala ruled the 50’s. In the 60’s-70’s sultry, modern emerged, like, Zeenat Aman, and the dutiful,  sensitive Hema Malini, Juhi Chawla,  in 70’s. The 80’s was famous for charismatic and bubbly women like Sridevi. 90’s had our head spinning with Madhuri Dixit, one of the most sensational and multitalented actresses of Bollywood. There was the emergence of Miss. World 1994, Aishwairya rai, followed by other actresses like Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee, who blended traditionalism with modernism. Today, some of the finest actresses include Deepika and Priyanka, connoted as fiery and strong women.

For men, it was a similar concept. 1940’s had women drooling over Raj Kapoor’s suave moustache, the 50s was the era of fine art acting with Dilip Kumar for instance. Rajesh Khanna in the 60s created romance with passion. By 70’s into 80’s, Amitabh Bachchan was characterised as the angry young man with films like Agneepath. Into the 90s, showcased the dominance of the Khan’s, three actors, Salman, Shahrukh, and Amir, who captured the hearts of audiences. Now, the Bollywood hero is unrestricted to style, they are lean and handsome, and work out to contain that ab-tastic body!

Do you wanna watch an Indian film?

Is the culture lost?

The culture is definitely not lost, it is experimented upon and it has kept up with a  variety of genres. However, because of the targeted audience, there has been a lack of culturally enriching films over the past few years.

So there you have it, the culture of Bollywood films, without which is incomplete, if you do not watch one.

Go ahead! Here are ten recommended culture films to watch;

Mother India (1957)~ A tale of the empowerment of mothers.

Mughal-E-Azam (1960)- The Great Akhbar’s son, Salim falls in love with a slave, the journey of the film from here is by far a reflection of ethnic acting.

Sholay(1975) ~ Two thieves in a small village become counters in the revenge of an ex-police officer whose family was were murdered.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge(1999)~ The female actress, Kajol’s, yearn for rebellion falling in love with the honest, Sharukh Khan

Lagaan (2001) ~ A small village in Victorian India stake their future on a game of cricket against British rulers.

Devdas (2002)~An Indian romantic drama film, with iconic, traditional dances. Devdas, a man who graduated from law school in London, comes back to the village to marry his childhood sweetheart. The execution henceforth of the rejection within families and the tale is beautiful.

Swades (2004) ~ A well-renowned Indian scientist returns to a village to take his grandma to America, and in the process rediscovers his roots.

Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006) ~ A comedy of a gangster albeit with a pure heart, under the oath of Mahatma Gandhi, sets out to perform righteous acts in a comical twist, with his sidekick Circuit

3 Idiots (2009) ~ A hilarious, well-executed comedy of three university students. One of the friends, Rancho disappears, and his two friends seek to find him while recalling the unique adventure of their uni life.

Taare Zameen Paar (2007) ~ A child suffering from autism, disregarded by his parents, is understood by a teacher, who raise his talents and shows that every child is special.

Extra- Ram Leela and Bajrangi Bhaijaan