It would be remiss of the BBC not to shine a spotlight on one of the world’s largest film industries as part of their India Season – which is set to take an insightful look at the cultural diversity and splendour of the subcontinent – and film-loving comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar, OBE, duly obliges with a retrospective 90-minute documentary on the past one hundred years of Bollywood.
Tracing the course of his personal relationship with Indian film, which began with weekly family visits to cinemas in Southall, Bhaskar charts the rise of the all-singing, all-dancing, not necessarily all-action medium from its humble beginnings during the silent era, through the diversification of ‘parallel cinema’, to an embrace of modern day technology in films such as S. S. Rajamouli’s colossal, CGI-heavy epic Baahubali.
The pre-eminence of either Bollywood or Hollywood on the world stage is a point for debate depending on which side of the fence you sit but the meteoric rise of Mumbai as the epicentre of both cinematic enterprise and the nation’s global economic ambition is unquestionable. From here, Bhaskar travels across India interviewing screenwriters, critics, actors, producers and directors on a journey that will lead him back to London, the reach and influence of Bollywood now spreading to wherever immigrants with Indian heritage – like the presenter himself – have settled around the world.
One of the most intriguing moments of Bhaskar’s doc is conversation with Asha Bhosle, a “playback” singer who has the most recorded voice in history. Even in her 80s she retains the dulcet tones which covered over the cracks of less gifted vocalists over years and years of film: 12,000 songs and counting. Extraordinary.
The films covered by Bhaskar, emblematic of the time and place they were made, are as diverse as they are plentfiul: Gods and goddesses, colonialism, love stories, poverty, community, the changing representation of women and sexuality, and even superheroes. Bollywood has something for everyone and continues to go from strength to strength but importantly retains the one vital ingredient which has characterised its now rich history since the very beginning – hope.
Bollywood and Beyond: A Century of Indian Cinema, is broadcast on BBC Four at 21.00.