Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, a state in India, is a city of lifestyles, a potpourri of cultures, and a confluence of varied traditions, religions, real-life-stories and narratives. Life here is fast, driven and clever. With almost everyone working towards one goal or the other, there is a frantic drive to achieve, to do, to be.
A city of many shades
People from different walks of life, striving to gain a place and find prosperity here, is a definite feeling, which dawns upon an outsider in a short while. A diaspora of celebrities, socialites, hardworking professionals, news-exploring journalists, media people, business people, established and struggling actors and actresses, melodramatic and balanced performers, models, writers, lyricists, talented and popular playback singers and dancers, fashion and film photographers, makeup artists, costume designers, choreographers, folk singers and dancers, athletes, travellers, permanent dwellers, impermanent denizens, students—the famous, the ordinary in their extraordinariness—individuals from various communities and religions—the ultra rich, the rich, the poor, the middle class and many more—everyone is a part Mumbai.
Cinema unites Mumbai
But what truly brings Mumbai together, even if that union is not lucidly evident? One of the main elements which bind them is the cinema made here.
Nobody here is free from the effects of Hindi cinema, and this over-a-period-of-time formed acculturation collaborate knowingly or unknowingly, to create the magic of ‘Bollywood’—a Mumbai namesake of Hollywood.
People have no choice, but to live a fast life in Mumbai, for its pace keeps people moving, walking and running. And in the midst of this activity and channelled chaos, cinema and its associated tributaries soar, and their connection to the local palette of the city, in instances, comprising of routine life and interests, its other entertainment and information areas, such as fashion, theatre, music, folk culture, local traditions and customs, festivals and local food, even finance and education, continue to reverberate. Anything that drives the masses and the classes too, will find representation, and set its impression on what moves on screen. However, this depiction, does not necessarily always come from Mumbai life, but may even come from elsewhere. Let us take a look at the role Mumbai life plays in shaping Hindi cinema, even if, there isn’t always a direct relation.
What is trending?
Isolating Mumbai’s local life from cinema made here is not really possible, because they drive each other—either as a touch, partially, or completely. Mumbai cinema is definitely directly or indirectly a product of the many forms the local life of the city takes. To understand how local life affects or shapes cinema made in Mumbai, one could borrow from the concept of ‘trending.’ Whatever is trending in Mumbai and even elsewhere in the world, could and in several cases does affect Bollywood creations—whether it is apparent or not.
Producers, writers, directors, music directors and important participants like actors and actresses, playback singers, designers, technicians, and others, who like a team, mold motion pictures, are mostly based in Mumbai, and therefore, do get affected by local patterns happening within the city and as a cycle, form an inherent part of this evolving and moving milieu.
Mumbai as a whole, will follow leaders, be it from the world of movie-making, the political circuit, media, or from other areas, but Mumbai will also follow trends, rising in the city, from its traditional, folk or modern range of fashion, music, art and culture, social behaviour, its economic structure, organization of the city, its people, and many occurrences inside and close to the city—and these trends, may find an outlet on silver screens, in some form—as scenes, or as an indirect reference, or perhaps even occupying major space in the plot.
Such trends forever keep emerging and expanding over the skyline of Mumbai.
These trends anyway, at the very onset, arrive and arise from the local life of the city, and also from other places—a life, which is an intensely energized labyrinth of events, activities and motion-oriented developments.
And the country too, follows trends, emerging out of films, because movies reach everyone through the medium of cinema halls and television.
Local life in cinema
As an illustration, keeping the city’s impact on cinema in mind—festivals celebrated with much fanfare in Mumbai, are time and again, shown in many flicks. Local festivals, like the Ganesh Chaturthi, which is a Hindu festival commemorating the auspicious occasion of our Elephant God’s arrival or birth on earth, has been shown in many Hindi movies, as musical scenes. Some other festivals like the Navratri, Diwali, Holi, Dussehra, and festivals of various religions, which are also celebrated throughout the country, usually find suitable portrayal, every now and then.
Some folk songs and traditional music from Mumbai has clearly been an inspiration for what we see actresses dancing to. Popular heroines dressed in traditional Maharashtrian clothes, performing to upbeat ethnic music, has been a part of several commercial cinematic ventures.
Digressing from festivals and music to commutation facilities present in the city—local Mumbai trains, along with cars, autos, taxis, too, at times merge with picturesque formations on screen; their importance, and the role they play in Mumbai’s everyday existence, has many a times been shown in Hindi films. There could be varied such examples. Every nuance, every thought, every action portrayed in films, has an external or internal significance, or has been determined, in-a-flash, instantly, or indirectly by something that has happened somewhere—it could be Mumbai or somewhere else.
Hundreds of Bollywood movies are made every year in India. They are released across cities in India, and the world, mainly through the medium of multiplexes, theaters and halls, to showcase the talent of the industry’s workings. Some Hollywood ventures are also dubbed in Hindi and are shown regularly in India. To imagine India without its share of Bollywood moving-pictures would be difficult, because they are the entertainment lifeline of the country. From prominent elements to the subtler ones: script, characterization, music, location, setting, glamour, and other portions which constitute Hindi Cinema—all find a comfortable dwelling in Mumbai.
Mumbai adapts and creates
Not all films or movies created in Mumbai, clearly, have a local power in the background, because they could be inspired by a wealth of stories from different parts of India, or any part of the world.
Nevertheless, these creations-in-action are possible, because of Mumbai’s ability to adapt itself to any venture, any storyline, and to make available resources like manpower, finance and creativity to bring cinema projects to their completion.
The energy of the city, its underlying strength and the overwhelming possibilities and opportunities that the city springs up, create an environment conducive to creative and entrepreneurial work, which celluloid demands.
Mumbai air is material and movement oriented. All these aspects of Mumbai influence cinema in many ways. Mumbai is an expensive city, and to sustain oneself here means being disciplined and engendering sustained effort.
While citizens toil, entertainment keeps them hooked to a larger-than-life-perspective and gives them dreams to pursue.
So, while viewers are audience to dreams-coming-to-life on screen, they too, spin their own.
Hindi cinema affects the nation
Another important aspect of Mumbai cinema, apart from the effect of local life of the city, on shaped cinema, is the result these cinematic creations have on the city itself, and on all the states of the nation, as well. Hindi films have a massive impact on India and Indians living abroad, because watching Bollywood plots, potboilers, humming music from such films, being inspired positively or otherwise, by its narrative and what it portrays—has been and is a culture, across the country. Hindi cinema and Indians all over the world are inseparable. Overall, movies entertain, but some also, educate.
Themes of new-age love, of a freedom-loving society, also where social and moral messages are conveyed, subjects which encourage urbanization, leadership, innovation, and courage are some areas which are coming through on Indian screens these days, because that is how society is moving at present.
This reflexive need to take from the current behaviour of society, causes society to fuel cinema, and then cinema-fueling-society becomes a concurrent process.
India, in its entirety, is influenced by Hindi movies, for people find wide-ranging inspirations here, or maybe it drives their aspirations, or because it dwells in their subconscious as a way to be, and the kind of life to lead—where evil is destroyed, goals are reached, most love stories have a happy ending, protagonists acquire superpowers, lost lovers reunite in another life, and everything ultimately falls into place—at least in most cases.
Creations that the world views
The way the world views India, is also in certain ways, driven by what they see of us and our lives, on screen—melodramatic, copious, musical and over-the-top. These “beautiful musicals” and sometimes “totally bizarre creations,” are more or less, representing India inside cinema halls worldwide—although what they show may not necessarily be the only truth.
An award-winning, beautiful and popular playback singer from the Hindi film Industry, Madhushree, shares her thoughts on Mumbai’s connection with Hindi cinema. She says, “Hindi cinema is not truly a reflection of Mumbai life. There are of course films based on real life in Mumbai, but today new-age makers are vibrant and making crossover movies, which appeal to the whole world. Take for example “Chennai Express”—it is a mixture of cultures and was appreciated throughout the world.
Film music is somehow Mumbai-oriented and reaches out to young listeners, but you can still hear music in folk style, thumris and sufis. The trend is changing drastically though. Since Aashiqui 2, romantic music in modern arrangements, has come up. It is true that Hindi films affect the life of Mumbai. Stars endorse daily products we use. If you live here in Mumbai, you come across movie-stars and the general public like to behave like them.
Films are scripts created by creative teams, and one can be inspired by daily life and happenings, but the same teams are also inspired by Hollywood or other cinemas of the world. The world may even see India through the eyes of Hindi cinema. Also, films are made for commercial purposes and if scripts educate besides entertaining, then it is superb. However, it is not a good idea to put rules on creative people for educational purposes, though the Government is supporting educational films and giving producers, tax benefits, as for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Rang de Basanti, which had my song Tu bin bataye.”
Vikram Bawa, an established Mumbai based Fashion and Advertising Photographer, has some excellent insights on Hindi Cinema. He shares, “Mumbai, being the financial and film capital of the country, has many layers of economics and culture, and as such, you will find stories of struggle, hope, love, treachery and a myriad of emotions waiting to be captured and put on celluloid.
These films absolutely affect local life in India. The film industry and the movies are a record of trends and changes that our culture is undergoing. And movies are an escape from the daily mundane life that most Indians have. Movies are taken as gospel, and the feel and look of the films and the stars are what most Indians emulate and aspire to reach. As a result, the nature of public in India is emulated by and guided at the same time by the movies.
Well, the world in parts still thinks that we are a society, not much evolved on a humanitarian level and, unfortunately, not too many movies help in changing the perspective. Movies I believe are a source of entertainment in our country, and very centric to our culture. A few movies educate, too.
I am a selective watcher of Hindi movies at the theatre, but at home I watch most entertaining films. I remember ‘Queen,’ which was a well-made movie, with a subtle message that life doesn’t end for a woman when relationships or marriages go sour before or even post marriage. Then there is ‘Vicky Donor,’ because making a fun-movie on a taboo subject is extremely difficult.”
Mumbai is where Bollywood films are conceived, produced and brought to their culmination. This cinema catering to the entire nation and the world is in several cases and examples, definitely driven by local life in parts—and this local life encompasses a whole lot, and to experience it by living it, would be one very thrilling experience, and will lead to more revelations for any world-cinema admirer.