Music and Dance in Indian Films in Term Paper

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Music and Dance in Indian Films

In sheer quantity, INDIA produces more movies than any other country in the world-over 900 feature-length films in at least 16 languages, according to a recent industry survey. This productivity is explained by several factors: the size of the Indian audience, low literacy rates, the limited diffusion of television in India, and well-developed export markets in both hemispheres. (

In its historical development, India's film industry paralleled that of the West. Dadasaheb Phalke's Raja Harishchandra, the first silent film for popular consumption, appeared in 1913; Alam Ara, the first "talkie," was released in 1931. But the Indian cinema derived its unique flavor from the older Indian musical theater-particularly from the Urdu poetic dramas of the late nineteenth century. The influence of this tradition ensured that Indian movies would favor mythological or legendary-historical stories, that their dialogue would carry an Urdu flavor even in languages other than Urdu, and that every film would be a musical.

Indeed, the Indian popular music industry is entirely an outgrowth of the film industry. Each new movie generates a soundtrack album, and the success of a film is largely dependent upon the success of its songs. Although in the 1930s the actors "lip-synched" their own songs, a corps of professional "playback" singers eventually emerged whose voices were dubbed in for the musical sequences but who seldom appeared on screen. For over four decades leading playback singer has been Lata Mangeshkar.

The primary center of film production, from well before the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, has been Bombay, where the Indian film industry began. Bombay owes its pre- eminence partly to the fact that the majority of films produced there are in Hindi-Urdu, the language understood by the largest segment of the Indian subcontinent. And almost from the dawn of the Indian cinema, Bombay-sometimes referred to in this context as "Bollywood"-has reverberated with gossip about the scandals and behind-the-scenes intrigue associated with the film industry and its stars. (National Identity in Indian Popular Cinema 1947-1987 (Texas Film Studies) by Sumita S. Chakravarty Univ of Texas Pr; (December 1993))

Because Indian films are made predominantly for semi-literate audiences, they contain numerous action scenes (fights), elaborate song and dance sequences, a fair dose of slapstick comedy, and an obligatory love story.

The plot of each three-hour-plus saga runs according to a predictable formula: two young lovers find their chances of marriage threatened by a nefarious villain or a seemingly insurmountable social barrier, but after several songs, a long car chase, and a cliff-hanging fight, all obstacles are suddenly removed just in time for a whirlwind wedding under "The End." Representative are last year's Khalnayak ("Villain"), whose hit song "Choli ke piche kya hai?" ("What's under the bodice?") sparked controversy even in the United States, and this year's overblown but tuneful epic, 1942: A Love Story. (Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema by Ashish Rajadhyaksha (Editor), Paul Willemen (Editor) British Film Inst; Revised edition (September 1999))

Nevertheless, although the quality of Indian movies has suffered somewhat in the race for quantity, several directors and producers have created memorable films. These films fall into two general categories. The first, the so-called classics, are mainstream commercial films distinguished by high-quality acting, plots, and songs. The individual responsible for perhaps the greatest number of such classics is Raj Kapoor. Beginning in the late 1940s, Raj Kapoor starred in and/or directed a long series of hit films with particularly fine music. His usual on-screen persona was that of a Chaplinesque tramp whose vulnerability became familiar to viewers far beyond the borders of India. (Cinema of Interruptions: Action Genres in Contemporary Indian Cinema by Lalitha Gopalan British Film Inst; (July 1, 2002))

His greatest successes were Awara ("The Vagabond"), Bobby, and Mera Naam Joker ("My Name Is Joker"), a joint Indian-Russian project. One of Raj Kapoor's best roles as an actor was that of the humble cart driver in Teesri Qasam ("The Third Vow"), based on a short novel by the renowned Hindi writer Phanishwar Nath. Other classics inspired by India's literary works are Mughal-e-Azm, based on the Urdu semi-poetic drama Anarkali by Imtiyaz Ali Taj, and Umrao Jaan, a delightful film version of the first true novel in Urdu, Mirza Hadi Ruswa's fictionalized biography of a renowned Lucknow courtesan.

The second category comprises the so-called off-beat films, which avoid mainstream formulas and focus on deeper artistic and social concerns. In this genre, the leading director is the late Satyajit Ray, who from the 1950s adopted the techniques of European directors such as Renoir and De Sica to create lyrical, yet realistic masterpieces for the Bengali cinema, including the Apu Trilogy. In 1992, shortly before his death, Ray received an Oscar Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Another off-beat director of high-quality films is Shyam Benegal. Benegal's films are realistic, moving, and sometimes disturbing explorations of social issues ranging from the exploitation of peasants to the problems facing Indian women. Benegal's films often contain provocative indictments of the wealthy classes. One of his greatest works, Junoon ("Obsession"), based on Ruskin Bond's novel A Flight of Pigeons, concerns the social upheaval brought about by the 1857 anti-British Mutiny. (Bollywood: Popular Indian Cinema by Lalit Mohan Joshi (Editor), Lait Joshi Dakini Books, Inc.; (September 15, 2002))

In recent years, the expatriate Indian community has ventured into film-making. Notable among the new directors is Mira Nair, whose Mississippi Masala and Salaam Bombay have gained much popularity in the United States.

The name Mira Nair also evokes memories of Monsoon Wedding, This film is a love song to the city of Delhi and a portrait of modern, cosmopolitan India. Two-thirds of MONSOON WEDDING was shot in an affluent farm-house on the city's outskirts, the rest in locations in both the old and new cities: the exteriors of old Mughal Delhi and the gaudy charm of the wedding sari-shops of Karol Bagh juxtaposed with the chic ateliers of the city's established designer culture and its posh corporate world. The filmmakers use the mobility and economy of a hand-held camera, capturing subtle, expressive performances from a huge ensemble cast.

The film is filled with music, including ghazals (traditional love songs), modern Indian pop, jazz and bhangra (Punjabi folk/pop) music, all of which help to capture the varied and joyful sounds of a Punjabi wedding. The music and dance of old and new-style Bollywood is a constant presence in Indian life. MONSOON WEDDING echoes this Bollywood spirit with its vibrant score and with Ayesha's climactic dance number the night before the wedding. MONSOON WEDDING is a celebration of the sensual pleasures of cinema, of love at any age-anytime, and of the importance of family. It also pays affectionate tribute to a city where weighty tradition collides daily with global culture and the dot-com age, yielding an unusual and melodious harmony

Another recent film, Lonely in America, portrays the tragicomic experiences of a new immigrant from India in New York City. It is to be hoped that other new directors, both in India and abroad, will follow the examples of Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal, Raj Kapoor, and Mira Nair to continue the tradition of quality Indian cinema

With a huge market and low levels of literacy, the Indian "film industry" concentrates on absurd action films, over-the-top melodramas, grossly overacted soap operas, loud and witless comedies. Whatever the genre, these films are really only an excuse to present a series of song sequences.Whether it's a comedy or a drama, adventure or love story, every few minutes the action will stop, the cast range themselves across the screen and everyone break into a song sequence.

India has a long heritage of varied and sophisticated song and dance. But the modern Indian cinema (and television) rarely shows authentic Indian dance.Instead, overweight matinee idols accompanied by nubile young ladies do interminable impressions of the type of American-inspired teeny-bopper show-dancing seen on Johnny Young's Young Talent Time.As the perceptive Oxford Companion To Film notes, "Traditionally, Indian drama has always incorporated dance and music, and the origin of the popular Indian film can be linked with the now virtually extinct folk-music dramas of the 19th century."The commercial necessity of building a film round a collection of songs has clearly been instrumental in preventing the development of the popular cinema beyond its present frivolous state.

Neither creating a coherent imaginative world of its own nor reflecting the social reality of India, the popular Indian film creates a limbo of song and dance, of sentiment and melodrama, which is comfortably flattering to the wealthy among the audience, seductively escapist for the poor."

Dance as a way of telling a story has got a long tradition in India. Music and dance were always a part of Sanskrit theater. This tradition has been continued in Indian cinema. Older films featured classical dance styles and sometimes even Oriental dancers. In modern productions a very special style has developed which is primarily entertaining and can decide about the success of a film.

I would call it a mixture of baladi,…[continue]

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