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Bollywood!: 1930s-1960s

This guide introduces you to some of the library's resources on Bollywood cinema.

1930s-1960s: A Period of Great Creativity

The 1930s to the 1960s were a period of great creativity for Bollywood, as for other Indian cinematic traditions. The time period saw the emergence of themes and stylistic elements that have continued to characterize Bollywood films. The melodramatic Anarkali (1953) concerned the Mughal emperor Jahangir’s love for a commoner, Anarkali. Following Indian independence in 1947, films took up the task of imagining the Indian nation, exploring questions of national identity, modernity, urbanization, and social injustice.

The films often presented clear moral messages. The critique of a “modern” way of life, often treated as synoymous with a Western lifestyle, is an aspect of Bollywood cinema that has endured till the present. Mother India (1957) emphasized the theme of the Indian nation as a self-sacrificing mother. The Charlie Chaplin-influenced Shree 420 (1955) [Mr. 420] showed the corrupting influence of the money-obsessed world of Bombay on a poor rural migrant to the city. The film was a success in the Soviet Union as well as in India. The city as the site of a seductive but dangerous modernity is also reflected in Howrah Bridge (1958), a murder mystery set in the city of Calcutta. Screened at Cannes in 1960, Sujata (1959), the story of an “untouchable” woman offered a trenchant criticism of the ills of the caste system.

Text by Professor Rohit Chopra, Department of Communication, SCU