In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Popular Hindi Cinema

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Introductions
  • Encyclopedias, Bibliographies, and Reference Works
  • Biographies
  • Foundational Texts
  • Journals and Special Issues
  • Film Theory and Popular Hindi Cinema
  • Production and Industry
  • Globalization, Hindi Cinema, and Bollywood
  • Studies of Individual Films

Cinema and Media Studies Popular Hindi Cinema
Gohar Siddiqui
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 November 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0193


Popular Hindi cinema enjoys mass appeal in a multilingual and multicultural country such as India. It also happens to be one of the few mainstream film industries that has held its own against Hollywood’s global hegemony and is popular transnationally as well. While Hindi cinema is based in Bombay, where the first moving picture was shown and where the first film was shot in India, it was not the only city where film studios were established. Even now, regional cinemas (like Tamil cinema, Telugu cinema, etc.) are thriving. Popular Hindi cinema, however, is distinctive from other regional cinemas because of its hegemony within India and often borrows indiscriminately from them. Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema, by Tejaswini Ganti, argues that the choice of Hindi for the cinema produced by the Bombay- based studios was based on the fact that Hindi was spoken by the largest section of the Indian population; it was this disassociation of the language from any regional identification that imbued this cinema with a more “national” character (p. 11). Indeed, the development of the industry alongside the newly independent state since the 1950s adds another dimension to its participation in the national imaginary. The influence of the Indian Progressive Theater Association (IPTA) and the Progressive Writer’s Association (PWA) that launched left-wing anti-imperialist movements in India can especially be seen in Indian New Wave cinema but also in Indian popular cinema of the 1950s. The films of the 1950s provide some of the most incisive critiques of the nation.

Hindi cinema maintains a connection to the popular in terms of its address, reception, and aesthetics and has undergone significant historical and industrial changes. The first talkie was produced in 1931 in India. In 1947, India became independent; the following post-independence cinema included Nehru’s vision of the nation’s modernization. Films made during the Emergency period in the 1970s reflect the critique of state and institutions and then the impact of women’s movements in the 1980s is visible on the Avenging Women film genre. New technologies like videocassettes in the 1980s, entry of satellite TV and cable, liberalization of the economy resulted in ideological shifts mapped on to newer genres like the “family film” in the 1990s. In the late 1990s, the industry was given corporate status, which influenced its production and exhibition, which then impacted the target markets and the film form. This is the period that saw the rise of films that are understood as belonging to categories like “hatke” cinema, multiplex films, and “New Bollywood.”

Scholarship on popular Hindi cinema encompasses these socio-historical changes that impact film production, narrative, and film forms. It also grapples with questions of censorship and gender and sexuality, as well as being attendant to theoretical paradigms. As will be evident from this article, some books discussing Indian cinema focus on Hindi cinema whereas others equate popular Hindi cinema with the term “Bollywood.” While works that provide Hindi cinema history going back to the silent era, or a discussion of Hindi cinema alongside other regional cinemas, are included here, those discussing, for example, the middle cinema of Shyam Benegal fall outside the scope of this article. Economics of production and industry, reception, and even aesthetics mark India’s art cinema as distinct from the box-office-driven popular cinema.

General Overviews and Introductions

The sources annotated here serve as good introductions to popular Hindi cinema and would be useful in the undergraduate classroom as well as to someone just beginning research in this area. Booth 1995, Lutgendorf 2006, and Thomas 1985 (cited under Foundational Texts) explain the narrative form, conventions, and genres of Hindi cinema. The two collections by Dissanayake and Gokulsing can be assigned as textbooks—one is a cultural account (Dissanayake and Gokulsing 2004), the other (Dissanayake and Gokulsing 2012) introduces various terms and concepts necessary for an understanding of Hindi cinema. Ganti 2013 provides necessary background about the industry including production, distribution, exhibition, and reception. Gopalan’s book is extremely useful for the classroom, as each chapter is devoted to a critical and contextual analysis of one film each. The Wallflower book on Bollywood (Varia 2012) and Nandy also function as a good introduction, especially to Hindi cinema prior to 1990. (Also see Thomas 1985, cited under Foundational Texts and Mehta 2013, cited under Music, Song, and Dance).

  • Booth, Gregory D. “Traditional Content and Narrative Structure in Hindi Commercial Cinema.” Asian Folklore Studies 54.2 (1995): 169–190.

    DOI: 10.2307/1178940

    Rejecting the view of Hindi cinema as an inferior copy of Hollywood, this seminal article by Gregory Booth points to the multiple influences drawing from folk traditions that impact Hindi cinema.

  • Dissanayake, Wimal, and K. Moti Gokulsing. Indian Popular Cinema. Stoke-on-Trent, UK: Trentham, 2004.

    The second edition of this collection provides sociocultural background to popular Hindi cinema and is useful for undergraduates. It covers contexts pertaining to history, culture, religion, caste, gender, and political changes. It includes impacts of globalization on the industry and its films as well.

  • Dissanayake, Wimal, and K. Moti Gokulsing. From Aan to Lagaan and Beyond: A Guide to the Study of Indian Cinema. Stoke-on-Trent, UK: Trentham, 2012.

    A text focused on pedagogy and designed for the undergraduate classroom. Includes comprehensive, simply written, introductory material necessary for an understanding of Hindi cinema—chapters on film production, history, theoretical approaches, diasporic filmmakers, extracts on people from the industry, and on corporatization of Hindi cinema.

  • Ganti, Tejaswini. Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema. New York: Routledge, 2013.

    This updated second edition of the guidebook covers the formation and development of Hindi cinema from the 1930s onward, including recent transformations like granting of industry status in the 1990s, changes in distribution practices, and rise of multiplexes. Also includes chapters on narrative style and genre.

  • Gopalan, Lalitha, ed. The Cinema of India. London and New York: Wallflower, 2009.

    Contains entries on twenty-four Indian films, including eleven Hindi films, by noted scholars in the field of Indian film studies. The strengths of this work lie in the impressive introduction by Lalitha Gopalan and the individual film-based essays. It can be paired with a complimentary text that provides historical, industrial, and theoretical background for the classroom.

  • Lutgendorf, Philip. “Is There an Indian Way of Filmmaking?” International Journal of Hindu Studies 10.3 (2006): 227–256.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11407-007-9031-y

    A good compliment to other introductions such as Booth 1995 and Thomas 1985 (cited under Foundational Texts), this article describes the various forms and genres in Hindi cinema. Also explains important terms used in Hindi film scholarship like masala (the mixture of elements such as action, romance, song and dance, etc.) and darsana (borrowed from Hinduism, the term indicates the moment when a devotee beholds or gets a glimpse of the deity. Here, Lutgendorf theorizes it in terms of a mutual gaze between the viewer and the viewed).

  • Nandy, Ashis, ed. The Secret Politics of Our Desires: Innocence, Culpability, and Indian Popular Cinema. London and New York: Zed Books, 1998.

    This collection of articles addresses concerns relevant to Hindi film studies prior to the works about globalization. Focusing on the relationship between politics, modernity, and Indian cinema, the anthology covers discussion of Raj Kapoor films and the films of Amitabh Bachchan, among others.

  • Varia, Kush. Bollywood, Glamour and Gossip. London and New York: Wallflower, 2012.

    As an introduction to Bollywood, this book skillfully orients the reader with the basics of popular Hindi cinema—genealogy from the epics, form and narrative structure, and reception. Also presents case studies of three films, namely, Shree 420 (1955), Sholay (1975), and Nagin (1976).

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