Movies as we know them now are a result of a constant change in technology and creativity over decades. From the very inception of a moving image to today’s special effects that can transport you to any fantasy world, Indian cinema has come a long way. In this week’s #BigStory we explore and revisit some of the important chapters of Indian cinema that are like bookmarks in the history of film making. We also speak to experts from the industry – actors, directors, special effect technicians to get their perspective on the journey of cinema through this transition.
The beginning of cinema
The great legend Mahadev Patwardhan discovered the art of cinemas in 1885 while the era of films began with Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar aka Save Dada’s first short film on wrestling. He was the first one to make a motion picture in Indian cinemas as he was one of the first witnesses to the Lumiere Brothers film that premiered in Mumbai. Hmm… now we know from where the inspirations to make movies came from. After which he brought a camera and a projector and started his film journey by making films based on day to day life. Interestingly, his film “The Wrestlers” was shot during a wrestling match that took place in Mumbai and was the first film to be shot by an Indian. Or we can say, the roots of making realistic films go back in this era as Save Dada’s films were mostly based on reality.
The Silent Era – 1900-1930
The early three decades were considered as social protests in the history of Indian cinema as only three big banners namely, Kohinoor films, Prabhat Talkies, Bombay Talkies and New Theatres to name a few ventured into making silent films based on Indian mythology and social issues. Films like ‘Balika Vadhu’, ‘Mahabharta’, Ramayana’, ‘Krishna Sudama’. Vichitra Gutika were made. Accordingly, the first ever Indian silent film was produced and directed by the iconic filmmaker Dadasaheb Phalke. Yes, we are mentioning the very famous and most talked about movie of Indian cinema, ‘Raja Harishchandra’. Back in the silent era, due to the lack of sound and music, actors need to put more efforts in acting as that was the only means to express and tell their story to the audience, phew! tough, wasn’t that? The film was a commercial success and paved the way for everything that makes up Indian cinema today.
The beginning of talkie films
The year 1931 was considered as an experimental era for Indian cinemas with the release of India’s first ever sound (talkie) film, ‘Alam Ara’ by Ardeshir Irani. The film took months to be made and had around 7 songs. By 1934, the “talkies” had taken over the screens. In the year 1939, ‘Pukar’ was one of the first to use larger than life, spectacular sets and it was also Kamal Amrohi’s first film as a scriptwriter. While 1931 saw its first talkie film, technology was progressing simultaneously with yet another movie achieving a milestone. The year saw the film ‘Apradhi, directed by Debaki Bose, which was the first film shot using artificial lights. Actor, writer, director, producer, Pramathesh Chandra Barua who played the main lead in the film had observed the production techniques in a London studio and bought lighting equipment in the studio which was used for the film. P.C Barua, not only introduced this new light technique in Indian cinemas but also used cinematic liberty for the first time with his film, ‘Roop Lekha’ in the year 1934. The film saw the first flashback scenes of Bollywood. Isn’t that great?. Flashbacks are indeed an important part of story-telling these days.
Filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar who is known for his socially relevant and hard-hitting films shared his views on evolving techniques in Bollywood, he expressed, ” With evolving technology, films have also changed. From silent films with live music to now 3D and 4D, we have come a long way. We never know what future holds but change is the only constant so with everything else changing, films will also reflect those changes. Every new technology will help create new innovations and perhaps make the experience better.
From Black- and-white films to colour
The first color film of India is considered as ‘Kisan Kanya’ that was released in the year 1937 and was made by Modi B Gidwani and Produced under the banner Imperial Pictures by Ardeshir Irani . However, due to lack of technology, the film didn’t appeal to the masses. The year 1937 also saw Bollywood’s first film with special effects. All thanks to Babubhai Mestry, who was known as India’s Father of Trick photography and special effects Director. After starting his career as an assistant art director for 1933’s ‘Haatim Tai’, he used some innovative technique to create some special effects on the screen for the movie ‘Khwaab Ki Duniya’ which released in 1937, where he used dim light and black curtains as the background on which objects were given the illusion of movement with the help of a black thread. Simply superb!
Gradually, with the projectors, makers started experimenting with adding projection backgrounds to show the needed scenes. The technique was widely used for moving car sequences, just like we all saw Madhubala driving a car in the movie, ‘Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi’. The technique was used in films like ‘Naya Daur’, ‘Awaara’, ‘Shree 420’ to name a few.
The era starting from 1950 was considered as a golden era with a lot of films made in technicolor. This was the time when technicolor was introduced in Indian cinemas. However, the topic of which was the first Bollywood film to be produced in Technicolor is debatable. Some say, it is Dilip Kumar starrer ‘Aan’, while some say, the old classic, ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’ by Sohrab Modi is the first Technicolor film. However, the answer really doesn’t make a difference now as Indian cinemas have really evolved over the years and are reaching heights. This was followed by some of the biggest successful films of Bollywood like V. Shantaram’s ‘Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje’, ‘ Navrang’. The elephant that comes out of lord Ganesha’s statue in the middle of the song, ‘Are Jaare Hatt Natkhatt…’ was the result of the developed technology during that era. The vast sets and colorful backdrops were considered as a magnificent work of the time. Then came the Eastman Color era and Fujicolor. This new technology offered the quality as well as the affordability to the producers. This change was like adding a new feather to the evolution of the technology used in Indian cinemas.
Sachin Pilgaonkar needs no introduction. He is one of the living legends of the tinsel town and has been contributing to the world of cinema almost for five decades now. Talking to him was just like experiencing all the eras through a single phone call. Here’s what he shared, ” It is very evident and of course technology has evolved over the years and it has changed for the better. One thing is definite that change is the only permanent thing in the world and the film industry and technology is a part of this world. And I feel fortunate to be a witness to major changes and revolutions in our industry. I mean, I did not work in the silent films era but I started working when it was only black and white. First time I faced the camera was in 1962 and in 1963 my film was released when the Indian film industry had completed 50 years. And I remember the camera which was used then was a camera called Debrie, isko uthaneke liye kam se kam 10 log lagte the, it was that heavy. Along with Debrie there also came the camera called Micheal and on that camera I shot the remaining part of my first film, ‘Ha Majha Marg Ekla’. There were no zooming options in Micheal then, the camera only used block and prime lenses.”
“Then came the Arriflex 2 camera, which was very light in terms of weight. So it went easier for the people to handle the camera and in that camera there were also zoom lenses which were absent in the earlier cameras. After which Arri 3 came in and this camera had two pins instead of one, so this time with the advancement of the technology, the clarity also got enhanced. Then came Arri 4 which though had all the advanced technologies in build had a problem with audio, which was never the case with Micheal camera. So whenever we shot with a Micheal camera, we never dubbed, it used sync sound, which was the original way of shooting. The film, ‘Mughal E Azaam’ is also not dubbed despite shooting indoors and the quality of mike on which it was recorded it used to be super class. There were huge mikes with huge tripods. Earlier these cameras were used to film songs and action sequences but slowly and gradually, the entire movie was shot on the camera and this is when DUBBING started in the industry. In my film, ‘Geet Gaata Chal’ and ‘Balika Badhu’, we didn’t had dubbing but ‘Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se’ we dubbed due to the use of Arri cameras as it had those noises. Then came a big revolution from black and white to colour and initially, there was the thing when on climax of the film was in colour, which was titled as ‘partly colour. ‘Mughal E Azaam’ is the example. While the film was in the making, the colour technology had come in so Asif Sahab took this decision of making the climax of the film in colour as they felt such a big movie should not miss out on this technology. The first Hindi film as per my knowledge which came in Colour was ‘Aan’. It was shot in 16 MM and the negative was then blown up to 35 MM. So I have seen all the phases from Micheal cameras to Arri and from Arri to Arri 2, 3, 4, 5, then audios, sync sound to dubbing and then black and white to colour, from colour to 16 MM. Then I acted in a film called, ‘Sholay’, which was shown in 70 MM film in Minarva cinema, which was again a big revolution. Gradually, the change from Analog to celluloid then digital happened over the years. But again, I would say, technicalities do not make a film, they are just machines, there should be life in it. What works ultimately in films is the life and the connection with the audiences. So in that life, one needs to concentrate on.”
Anees Bazmee, who is currently shooting for ‘Bhool Bhulaiya 2’ said, “Technology has done amazing things to every field so how can cinema not benefit from it. Look at camera power, lens power, track n trolly, drones, go pros, car rigs, lighting equipment, tripods etc…all have grown to their magnificent strength giving a fantastic cinematic experience. VFX and CGI are two such components of technology which has dramatically changed how we shoot, edit and compose our scenes.They have given a lot of ease and flamboyance to filmmakers. What They can do now, filmmakers couldn’t have even dreamt just 10 years back. A different world can be recreated with just a green background. Audiences can be transported to mars, galaxies, deep sea, huge mountains, prehistoric eras, forts etc. Audiences love it and so do filmmakers, including me. We are using a lot of technology in Bhool Bhulaiya 2. But it should be limited to function as a MEANS and not the END. I mean it should remain as a tool and not become character itself. Humans are controlled by emotions not VFX and CGI. Humans need to have that connection with humans and cinema is essential a Human journey not a technological joy ride.
Time to wear tinted glasses
The first 3D film was introduced in Indian cinemas with the film ‘Chhota Chetan’ in the year 1984. Later, dozens of films were made with this technology. Films like ‘Haunted 3D’, ‘Ra.one’, ABCD, ABCD 2, ‘Creature 3D’ are some of the films that were made using the 3D and 4D advanced technology. Not just new films but an old classic like ‘Sholay’ was remade using this technique. However, Bollywood didn’t experiment this technique much and the technique was used only in some handful of movies.
Rajniesh Duggall, who acted in 3D films and also has worked on a few projects that used huge VFX has his own stance on evolution. He said, ” Over the years in Bollywood or even in other industries, wherever films are made or content is being made, they have really evolved. From silent films to getting into VFX, slowly the evolution has happened and now the VFX and the way effects are done are gone to some another level. Even if someone has to show Paris and New York, but if the actors or other people don’t have the dates to go, we can very easily cheat and shoot it on Croma and show it. So a lot of time gets saved but then again if time is saved, then money has to be spent. So certain things are live and that effect can never come through VFX. In fact those real things, live locations really help actors, I would say because the print is different. At the same time, acting with croma is also a good thing though, because you have to use your creativity as an actor. I remember when I was shooting for ‘Aarambh’, we shot a lot of green and the production and direction team already had an idea on how they were going to shoot. Even when I did ‘Shrimad Bhagwat’, the entire thing was shot on croma. The only thing that we had in real life was Krishna ji ka jhula, on which I am sitting. Otherwise the tree and the Vrindavan garden around me was all croma. During the shoot you have to imagine that you are sitting on a tree with peacocks flying around, the sound of water falls, ducks roaming around (laughs) and you to do your scene. So that is another task also it is the name of the game. But again people need visual treats. ‘Baahubali’. Ra.One’ are prime examples. ‘Ra.One’ created a super hero kind of film while ‘Baahubali’ created fantasy films and these movies had visuals which were never seen before in Bollywood and now ‘RRR’ is being made, so I am sure they will go to some other level.
“The only thing which I really feel is not raised globally is Animation which is also slowly reaching there. Because animators are Indians. Most of the technicians working on the films are outsourced from India. So I just wonder, why our animation is not up to that level. Talking about 3D, then I was part of the first 3D film of Bollywood, ‘Dangerous Ishq’. As it was out and out 100 percent 3D film. Before that Vikram Bhatt made ‘Haunted 3D’ but again that was a mix, it was not frame to frame 3D film, So ‘Dangerous Ishq’ is the actual first 3D film in Bollywood,” he concluded.
Introduction of VFX (Visual effects) to films and its evolution
As we mentioned in our introductory paragraph that the history of VFX is rooted back in the silent film era. While Hollywood was experimenting with the VFX technology, India too followed them and Dada Saheb Phalke’s silent movie ‘Kaliamardhan’ in the year 1919 is one such example as the visual effect technology was used back then. Though with little knowledge and technology of special effects, it was not used often in cinemas. The technology was then welcomed by the South film industry with their films like ‘Pathala Bhairavi’ and ‘Maya Bazaar’ that hold a great spot in indian films even today. With the introduction of computer graphics, the first Indian film which was made using the technology in the early 80s was ‘Gentleman’. Tamil cinema did films like ‘Kaadhalan’, ‘Jeans;’ ‘Indian’ and ‘Mudhalvan’ by S. Shankar later. We can rightly say that the South Industry introduced this technology way before Bollywood could experiment with it. The first Bollywood film to experiment with VFX was Ajay Devgn and Kajol starrer, ‘Pyaar Toh Hona Hi Tha’ and the earliest film to use heavy VFX shots was Priyanka Chopra and Harman Baweja’s ‘Love Story 2050’ in 2008, that had around more than 500 VFX shots.
Harman Baweja, who made his acting debut opposite Priyanka Chopra in ‘Love Story 2050’ likes to try hands on technology while making films, he said, “The mainstream film industry is constructed by budgets and now, probably the last two years now, we are opening up to a global audience. Again I would say the budget that mainstream Hollywood films have are nowhere close to what we get here in Bollywood. So doing Love Story 2050, was the biggest challenge, as the film had very high VFX. So while we got a lot of support from a few international studios, one of them were the guys who did ‘Lord Of The Rings’. Even they were happy knowing that India is keen on creating something in the field. And there was one known studio from India, who helped. In Love Story 2050, that was made back in 2008, had almost four to five hundred VFX shots, which was unheard of back in the time. I don’t know whether so many shots are done by anyone even today. But again it was a collaborative effort. We went around the world as a team from Australia came down to India for Animatology and another team from Australia working for VFX, again Prime Focus was the spine of the VFX, so it was indeed a collaborative effort. Again, my dad travelled everywhere, literally from New Zealand, Australia to Los Angeles and everything in between. So when you set out to push something a lot you list a lot because you know how it is going to pan out and I think, we all know the film didn’t do well particularly at the box office but it did set a few benchmark mark in terms of quality and also gave a confidence to the industry that this kind of films can be done here as well. But I am sure if the film would have done great, it would have pushed the VFX in the country to some other level. But now techniques are so advanced that people don’t even understand sometimes that a VFX is being used in a film. Now people are more aware, the directors are more aware about the technique.“
“We recently did an Animation film called ‘Chaar Sahibzaade’, we did motion capture for that. We also did another Animation film which is yet to release. I think I have always pushed the boundaries in terms of technology. I would also like to share a trivia here that our film, ‘Qayamat’ 2003 with Ajay Devgn was the film that used DI technology for the first time in Bollywood. It was used to grade the film.”
Later on, Bollywood mastered the art of VFX. With films like ‘Padmaavat’, ‘Chennai Express’, ‘Housefull 4’, ‘ Fan’, ‘Jodha Akbar’, ‘Bajirao Mastani’, ‘Tanhaji’ , ‘Krissh’, ‘Koi Mil Gaya, ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’, ‘Bahubali’ series and many more films.
Ketan Yadav— Visual effects supervisor, who has worked on some noteworthy films like ‘Ra.One’, ‘Fan’ and ‘Zero’ to name a few said, “The technology has developed immensely. Technically if you say right from the back projections, when there were no croma (the green screen) then, actors used to act in the front with the back projection happening in the back ground. So right from the back projection till the virtual production today, which is nothing but the modern version of back projection, things have evolved a lot. From the Analog cameras, the 16 MM cameras, to colour cameras and from celluloid films to the digital cameras, Bollywood has progressed a lot. As far as the VFX department is concerned, initially nobody heard about croma but with huge VFX films like ‘Raavan’, ‘Krrish’, ‘Fan’, ‘Zero’ these were never possible, without the use of VFX. Not just that Bollywood is now using specialised equipment like motion control, techno dollys or the bolds, it’s a huge technological marvel in terms of using those high end equipment. We use the same latest equipment, the same one that is used world wide. So it is not that we are lagging in technology. The latest cameras are available and motion control rigs are available in India and everything that is latest is now available here. So now we are on the same page with Hollywood in terms of technology. It is like we are in neck to neck with the world when it comes to technology in filmmaking.”
Putting more light on the evolution part, the expert goes on, “Going back to the era when there were no VFXs, no special effects, no post production, if double roles had to be done then, they used to shoot the same scene twice. Like they used to cover one part of the film and expose only half of the film and then they would expose the other half film and cover the other one, so that is how the double role was created on screen. Next if something with live effect has to be shown for example if an arrow has to go and hit someone, they would put an arrow on the screen and things were done while shooting and as and when story telling got evolved and the makers started touching up on bigger topics, they started developing these techniques. After live effects then came the cameras, Arriflex 435 and then many other companies came up with their high tech cameras that added more to the quality of the film. Then slow motions came into place. Then for a long time, there were developed equipment like Jimmy jib, Panther Dollys, different kinds of rigs, so those things started developing, light started getting better and better. Then came the digital cameras, when the film analog cameras were all shelved out. Then the post production came where grading started happening, where we used to color correct the films before they were released. So these advancements kept happening. But again the major ones if you see are silent films to talkie, and black and white films to colour, then came the sound, music, live effects then came the digital era, 3D era and of course now its all VFX, post production and digitizations.”
Filmmaker Anand Gandhi who is closely associated with ‘Tumbbad’ shared, “Good art is inseparable from good craft, you cannot imagine a true expression of the mind of an artist, a story teller, without the facility of extremely precise and most advantageous craft available and that we have to look at the best that our peers have achieved over the globe. In cinemas of the world, our peers have achieved such great height in their craft. For decades we have seen our peers in the west the world, deployed technologies available to them towards manifesting their ideas and creating kinds of stories and telling them in the best possible way and I think, we are finally arriving at a point, where we are learning to use and deploy technologies that we have at our disposals towards creating the cinema of excellence and it was long due it was required and I am glad that it’s beginning to happen.”
These days in order to show appealing visuals, makers use multiple out of the box ideas and techniques in most of their films and we are sure this development has no end and will continue in the long run to entertain the masses in a more spectacular way. So all we can say is, long way to go!