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Hindi Films 1950s – 2000 and the Emerging Trends – A Sociological Perspective

June 23, 2016 | By

An exploration of Hindi mainstream cinema from the post-Independence era till today, chronicling the most significant trends.

Art in plurality of forms whether painting, photography or motion picture, unfolds the vast ocean of human experiences and have been a perennial source of joy and entertainment. Human experiences weaved into stories, art, folk songs emanate into ‘life’ in modern days through the medium of motion pictures, more popularly known as cinema or films.


‘Do Bigha Zamin’ is an immortal creation depicting the society at the cross roads of modernization.

In post-colonial India, the art and craft of film production increased manifold. Cinema in India is next to sports in generating craze and hype and Indians have been mesmerized by it. It is a form of entertainment coupled with glamour and glitz and generates substantial revenue. According to Arnold Hauser, ‘Cinema signifies the first attempt since the beginning of our modern individualistic civilization to produce art for a mass public’.{1}

The origin of cinema dates back to the nineteenth century. The film era began in India on 17th July 1896.{2} Yet for all practical purposes, cinema is a twentieth century phenomenon – one that has revolutionized the concept and framework of human expression and communication.{3} And since its inception in 1912, the Indian film industry has produced more than 65,000 films, nearly 1,500 of them in the silent era and the rest in more than 30 different languages and dialects since 1931.{4} There has been a meteoric rise in production of films with Bombay (now Mumbai) being the nerve-centre of Hindi films.

The post independent epoch of 1950s was plagued with myriads of social problems of which poverty occupies a pivotal place. Naturally, the mainstream Hindi films reflected problems of the then contemporary society. These films were cautious critiques of obvious social evils, each film specifically addressing a social problem or an aspect of social inequality.

Films directed by Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, and Raj Kapoor narrated the plaintive account of human poverty.  Do Bigha Zamin is an immortal creation depicting the society at the cross roads of modernization. Films revolve around the rural-urban migration, cemented by the common thread of poverty and deprivation such as Shree 420, Boot Polish, Awara etc. Artistic visions are brilliantly realized in films such as Pyaasa, Madhumati, Kaagaz ke Phool.

Waqt ne kiya (Kaagaz ke Phool, 1960) – SD Burman / Kaifi Azmi / Geeta Dutt

The ’50s decade will be remembered for Mehboob Khan’s magnum opus Mother India. The film released in 1957 created a larger than life portrait of an Indian woman. The film is a three hour saga of Radha, an archetypal Indian widow and her struggles and sacrifices in life, enacted by Nargis Dutt. Her performance in Mother India as a rural woman whose husband abandons her and the family while she is pregnant and already has three children was unbelievably powerful. From a newly married bride to a very old dowager, she becomes the most respected person in the village, a role in contrast with every other role she had done in a RK banner film.{5}

Mother India poster (Pic: Google Image Search)

Mother India poster (Pic: Google Image Search)

The central theme was that of a mother who can defy her own flesh and blood to restore self-respect to a young village girl, touched the sentiments of every sensitive human being. It created an ‘ideal’ image of a woman, who is ready to sacrifice her own deviant son at the altar of human values. The only film which can be paralleled to Nargis Dutt’s immortal acting in Mother India is perhaps Meena Kumari’s performance in Sahib, Bibi and Ghulam.

The black and white era produced films which had excellent script, brilliant photography and the music touched the core of our hearts. The black and white era of the ’50s tardily paved the way for the multi-colour era of the sixties.

Even though the central social themes of the ’50s were still dominant, the haunting political problems of the Indian society got reflected in the films of the ’60s. The Chinese invasion in 1962, the Indo-Pak war of 1965, rocked the Indian socio-political scenario. The haunting problems of the war, the dual projection of human rage and vulnerability were well depicted in Chetan Anand’s Haqueeqat.

One of the defining films of that decade was Vijay Anand’s Guide, based on the novel ‘The Guide’ by R.K.Narayan. This romantic-drama film was much ahead of its time in showing an extra-marital relationship on screen. The story revolves around a tourist guide meeting an unhappy married woman whose passion lies in dance. With his motivation she becomes a successful dancer but success corrupts the tourist guide. The film offers multiple perspectives within the same character – that of Rosie (enacted by Waheeda Rehman), the wife-turned-lover-turned-danseuse, though she is not the central character in the film. The film successfully depicts the crude human nature of lust, love, fascination, glamour, greed, possession, jealousy. Late 1960s films had melodramatic plot, choreographed classical and western dance, and comedy and humour along with romance as their themes.

Piya tose naina laage re ~ (Guide, 1965) SD Burman / Shailendra / Lata Mangeshkar

Films such as Anand, Safar, Aradhana, Korakagaz, Aandhi, Hare Ram Hare Krishna in the ’70s created ripples in the minds of the audience. At the same time the concept of ‘love’ crossing the barriers of caste, creed, religion, predominated many Hindi films such as Julie, Bobby, etc. The political scenario of the times such as the Naxalite movement, the Emergency, the resultant social and cultural transformations, the preference for parallel cinema or new wave cinema with a strong projection of political ideology and social commitment inscribed in the cinematic language.{6}

The decade witnessed action packed films such as Zanjeer, Deewar and Trishul. These films depicted the hero who denounces the appeasement policy, launches a crusade single handedly against a stale, corrupt, socio-political-economic system and accepts the path of strife to create an ambience of fresh air in society. The decade will be remembered most for Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay. The storyline is simple, yet heart rendering. Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru (Dharmendra), two small time crooks are hired by a retired police officer named Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar) to help nab Gabbar Singh, a notorious dacoit, who had spread havoc in the village of Ramgarh. The salient features of this film include friendship of Jai and Veeru, subtle love between Jai and Radha (Jaya Bhaduri), raw depiction of violence, a brutal and brilliant portrayal of Gabbar by Amjad Khan.

Gabbar Singh’s dramatic introduction ~ (Guide, 1975)

From the mid-’70s films became increasingly more rough, rugged, and shorn of humanity and tenderness. Violence, murder and steamy scenes began to form the staple of the Indian cinema.{7} At the same time the growth of art film along with commercially successful films changed the entire vocabulary of film making.

The noted films of ’80s were Naam, Sagar, Chandni, Ram Teri Ganga Maili, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Lamhe. Ram Teri Ganga Maili, released in 1985, is Raj Kapoor’s last film as director. The film revolves around a helpless Ganga and her baby’s journey from the village to the city in search of her lover. On her path she is exploited by men who force her to work in a brothel. Even though the story, script and the music was good, the film created controversy because of Mandakini’s bold scenes of breast feeding and bathing in a white transparent sari.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (Pic: Yashraj Films)

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (Pic: Yashraj Films)

The decade of ’90s witnessed emergence of satellite channels, cable network offering multiple channels round-the-clock. The ’90s saw Aamir Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan reaching stardom. The most successful film of this decade was Dilwale Dulhahiya Le Jayange. The storyline revolves around Raj and Simran (enacted by Shahrukh Khan and Kajol), two young non-resident Indians who meet on Eurail and unknowingly fall in love during vacation in Europe. Raj is shattered to learn that she is already engaged. He follows Simran to India in order to win her and her strict father’s heart. The film deals with how western modernity confronts patriarchal family structure and feudal ethos, where women merely exist as wife, mother and daughter.

In this period the nexus between the film industry and the black economy generated by the underworld became stronger and multifarious. A significant portion of the unreported income generated in activities like the real estate transactions and the share market found its way to the film industry. Gradually this process gave rise to an industry-underworld nexus, with the growing participation of people involved in the hawala, financial scams, gold smuggling, drug trafficking and illegal arms trade. All this was revealed in the ’90s, through a series of dramatic events ranging from the murder of Gulshan Kumar, to the arrest of Sanjay Dutt and Bharat Shah.{8}

Some of the emerging trends of the twenty-first century are –

  • For a long period of time love, separation, reunion, finally happy ending, were the stereotypical phases of Hindi films. Romantic films whether comic, humour or tragedy lost their overwhelming popularity. Love triangles from ’60s to ’80s were replaced by real life inspired films such as Neerja, Sarabjit New films having social relevance have emerged such as Tare Zameen Par and Piku.
  • In a patriarchal society women are conditioned to believe that they are lesser than men and so can be dominated, suppressed and controlled by their male counterparts – father, husband, brother and son. The unequal power equation between men and women is largely sourced back to the social, cultural historical conditioning of men and women.{9}  Such stereotyped images of woman drawn from family and other institutions have been transcended on-screen. Films such as Fashion, Queen, Mardani have debunked the notion of stereotyped heroine and given the female characters portrayed on-screen a voice, an agency in the films, which are mostly male-centric in nature and content.
  • There has been a revival of both elite and sub-altern period drama such as Jodha Akbar, Baji Rao Mastani, Mangal Pandey, Lagaan.
  • Earlier films such as Sangam, An Evening in Paris, Love in Tokyo, Around the World were shot in foreign locales. The trend to shoot films abroad escalated from late ’80s and the trend continues till date. Not only are films shot at U.S., U.K., Europe, Australia, but also in places such as Mauritius, Seychelles, and South Asian countries.
  • Twenty-first century is the age of bio-pics. Films such as Mary Kom, Dhoni, Azhar are all based on the biographies of the real life sport stars. The theme of sports blended with the spirit of nationalism and patriotism have been portrayed in films such as Lagan, Chak De India, Bhaag Milka Bhaag.

    Priyanka Chopra as Mary Kom (Pic: Mary Kom movie still)

    Priyanka Chopra as Mary Kom (Pic: Mary Kom movie still)

  • There has been revival of joint family ethos and values in films such as Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam.
  • The dark, murky, underworld has been a primordial theme ever since Shakti Samanta made China Town in the ’50s. Bombay, due to industrialization and proximity to port has always been the hotbed of crime and criminal activities. Till the ’70s Haji Mastan played a very important role and after release from the jail post-emergency era, got himself engaged in film production. But from the mid-’80s Dawood Hasan Ibrahim Kaskar and his D-Gang became the uncrowned king of the Mumbai underworld. The dark underworld of crime is stripped off in films such as Satya, Vaastav, Company, Gangster, Once upon a time in Mumbai. Films are being made on noted sandalwood smuggler Veerapan as well as on Charles Shobraj named Main aur Charles.
  • Earlier cinema being the mirror of the society reflected the sharp distinction between the world of virtues and vices. The character enacted by hero/heroine and the ‘other’ vamp-symbolized the epitome of virtues and vices respectively. Nadira, Helen, Bindu, Sashi Kala were vamps in reel life. But such stereotyped vamps have been replaced by ‘item’ girls performed by mainstreamed heroines.
  • In the field of acting the Khans – Shahrukh, Aamir, Salman reign, whereas in film production Bhatts, Johars, Chopras rule the roost. Actors have started their own production houses such as Shahrukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment. Leading actors now have a stake in the profit of the business.
  • Till ’70s Bengalis played a pivotal role in every sphere of film making. Himangshu Roy and Devika Rani established the Bombay Talkies. The contribution of Bombay Talkies to the Hindu film industry is enormous. Along with film production, new Indian artists were trained here including Ashok Kumar, Kishore Sahu, Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas and others who became famous later on.{10} The Ganguly brothers Ashok and Kishore Kumar played a very important role as actor and singer respectively in Hindi films. Another prominent Bengali Sashadhar Mukherjee founded the Filmalaya studios. Hemant Mukherjee, Manna Dey became successful in the field of music.

Babu samjho ishaare – the three Ganguly brother Ashok, Kishore and Anoop Kumar in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)

  • In the ’70s Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee and Basu Bhattacharya directed some of the most memorable Hindi films. Sharmila Tagore, Jaya Bhaduri, Mousumi Chatterjee and Raakhee Gulzar were the leading ladies of the Hindi film industry at that time. But during the subsequent era there was a lull. However in recent times Bengalis have reemerged in the field of direction, acting and music. Sujoy Ghosh, Shoojit Sirkar have delivered hit movies such as Kahani, Piku respectively. Abhijit, Kumar Sanu, Shreya Ghoshal have done well as singers. Pritam as music director have excelled. Heroines such as Konkana Sen Sharma, Bipasha Basu, Sushmita Sen, Rani Mukherjee have delivered box office hits.
  • Non-resident Indians such as Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair have made films targeting the Indian audience at home as well as the diaspora settled all around the globe.
  • The growth of queer content in mainstream Hindi cinema is getting more visibility than before in films such as Dostana, Page3, Life in a Metro. Aligarh, probably is one of the best films depicting Indian gay experiences
  • With the introduction of liberalized economy in the ’90s, consumer society developed. Small screen cinema with a fixed 12-3-6-9 schedule of film shows is waning in metropolitan cities. Multiplex with multi-screen facilities, state-of-the-art-technology, ergonomic seating arrangements, have emerged mostly in shopping complexes along with food courts, cafes, bar-cum-restaurants and video game parlours. The moot idea is not only watching a film but enjoying all modes of entertainment. Watching films in multiplexes adds a touch of exclusivity, separating the elite from the commoners and enhances the social status.

We can expect that the mainstream Hindi films in the coming years will respond to these dynamics and experiment with new ideas for a meaningful and entertaining cinema of the future.


  1. Arnold Hauser, Social History of Art, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, Vol.4, 1972, p.237.
  2. Someswar Bhowmik, Behind the Glitz. Exploring An Enigma Called Indian Film Industry, Kolkata: Thema, 2008, p.35
  3. ibid, p.13.
  4. ibid, p.7.
  5. Shoma A. Chatterjee, Suchitra Sen. The Legend and the Enigma, Noida: HarperCollins Publishers India, 2015, p.73.
  6. Sanjukta Dasgupta, As inscrutable as the Sphinx and Mona Lisa, The Statesman, 21st February 2016.
  7. Someswar Bhowmik, Behind the Glitz. Exploring An Enigma Called Indian Film Industry, p.89.
  8. Krishnakumar and Quaied, ‘Fatal Attraction’, The Week, Kochi, 21st January 2001.
  9. Shoma A. Chatterjee, Suchitra Sen. The Legend and the Enigma, p.42.
  10. Chitra Deb. Women Of The Tagore Household. (Translated by Smita Chowdhury and Soma Roy), Gurgaon: Penguin Books, 2010, p.447.

The opinions shared by the writer is her personal opinion and does not reflect the opinion of Silhouette Magazine. The writer is solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.

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Tumpa Mukherjee is an Assistant Professor in Sociology, Women’s Christian College, Kolkata. An alumnus of Presidency College, University of Calcutta and Jadavpur University, she completed her doctoral studies on Women in Police in India. Her areas of research interest are Gender Studies, Police and Prison Studies. She is invited to deliver lectures at different Government institutes including the police academies. Her book Community Policing in India: A Sociological Perspective was published by Progressive Publishers, Kolkata in 2006. She also co-edited a book Indian Prisons: Towards Reformation, Rehabilitation and Resocialisation published by Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi, in 2014.
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