Bollywood is the informal name for the Hindi film industry based in the sub-continent of India although, unlike its American counterpart Hollywood, it has no central geographical location. The name is often used as a generic term to describe all Indian movies but, essentially, refers only to those films produced in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). Contrary to popular belief, the name was not directly derived from ‘Hollywood’ but from the early-Thirties Indian film industry Tollywood, based in Tollygunge, Calcutta. The name Tollywood, of course,was derived from the Hollywood name.
Many Bollywood films are unashamedly escapist,melodramatic in style and usually involve illicit love affairs, family feuds,weddings and, always, a funeral. Its Golden Age was from the late Forties to the Sixties, the time immediately following India’s independence. Many of the most critically acclaimed Bollywood films of all time were produced during this period. Examples include the Guru Dutt films Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and the Raj Kapoor films Awaara (1951) and Shree 420 (1955). These films expressed social themes often dealing with working-class urban life in India; Awaara presented the city as both a nightmare and a dream, while Pyaasa critiqued the unreality of city life.
One of the most popular stock characters in Hindi films is the ‘hooker with the heart of gold’ (also known as the ‘tart with a heart’). Originally derived from biblical stories (Mary Magdalen) or from the ancient Indian tradition of Sanskrit drama, this character can also be found in Hollywood movies (Julia Roberts in PrettyWoman) and especially in British soap operas – Elsie Tanner and Bet Lynch (of Coronation Street) and Kat Slater (of EastEnders) being well known examples of the character-type.The tragic 1955 movie Devdas (directed by Bimal Roy) is a typical example of a Hindi film including this character. Calcutta prostitute Chandramukhi and the eponymous Devdas, a high-caste Brahmin, become romantically involved, but the relationship does not save Devdas from a tragic end. Three songs from Devdas are included in our compilation: ‘Jise Tu Kabool Karle’, ‘Woh Na Aayenge Polat Kar’ and ‘O Albele Panchhi’.
Bollywood films are mostly musicals and are expected to include catchy music in the form of song-and-dance numbers woven into the script.A film’s success often depends on the quality of such musical numbers. Indeed, a film’s music is often released before the movie, and this helps generate popular interest in much the same way as cinematic trailers. The songs from Bollywood movies are generally pre-recorded by professional singers,with actors lip-synching the words to the song on-screen, often while dancing. This is a practice derived from the early days of Hollywood where silent film stars often had to be dubbed because their voices weren’t up to the task – this formed the central plot of Singing In The Rain (1952). Known as playback singers, the professional musicians who provided the music often became stars in their own right, in some cases more famous than the film actors themselves.
Pre-eminent among Bollywood musicians is celebrated playback singer Lata Mangeshkar,who was born in 1929 in the central Indian province of Madhya Pradesh; she features on no less than twenty-two of the tracks on our compilation. Her earliest roles in Hindi films were in the early Forties when she was just thirteen. Following the partition of India in 1947, she migrated with her family to newly formed Pakistan where she received a formal Indian classical music education.
Lata developed her own individual style of singing.Although many Bollywood films are in Urdu, she was not a native speaker and had to receive tuition in the language.Many believe this contributed to her characteristic singing style. Her career has spanned more than seven decades and she has recorded songs for more than a thousand Hindi movies in over thirty-six Indian dialects.At one time, she featured in the Guinness Book Of Records as having made the greatest number of recordings by anyone in music history. She claimed she had made over twenty five thousand, and in 2011 Lata’s record was officially passed by her younger sister Asha Bhosle. Such was the fame of Lata Mangeshkar that it has often eclipsed other playback singers with no less illustrious careers. Geeta Dutt, for instance, recorded over 1,200 songs for Bollywood movies in her much shorter career – she died at the early age of 41 in 1972. She was born Geeta Chowdhuri and made her first recordings at the age of 16. Geeta married director Guru Dutt who produced many of the films she provided the music for, including Gauri (1957), the first Cinemascope Bollywood film. Shamshad Begum was another celebrated playback singer. Listen for her distinctive voice on ‘Ek Do Teen Aaja Mausam Hai Rangeen’ from Awaara.
Whether this is your first foray into Bollywood music or whether you have long been captivated by its magic, there is something to delight and entrance in this compilation.
Sleeve notes by Brian Parks