What is Bollywood — Top Examples from India’s Movie Industry

There is no film industry in the world that is more prolific than that of the Indian cinema. Each year, upwards of a thousand films are released in India. Unlike Hollywood, Indian cinema encompasses different languages from a swath of regions, the largest of which is those of the Hindi-language from what we now refer to as “Bollywood.” But what is Bollywood? Is it just the Hindi-language sector of India’s movie industry, or is it something more?

We’re going to look at the world of Indian cinema with a special focus on Bollywood, first by defining the industry, then by breaking down some actors, films and directors.

India’s movie industry is thriving
Bollywood is bigger today than ever before, but how did it rise to such incredible heights? Before we look at some key films, let’s define what Bollywood is!

What is Bollywood?
Bollywood is the Hindi-language sector of the Indian film industry. There are several other film sectors within India, such as those of South India and Tollywood, but none are as big as Bollywood.

Where is Bollywood actually located? The epicenter of Bollywood is in Mumbai (formerly Bombay).

Why is it called Bollywood? The term Bollywood is a riff on Hollywood + Bombay, much like other global film markets such as Nollywood and Chinawood.

Bollywood style is defined by expressive visuals and elaborate song and dance routines. But over the years, Bollywood has become an industry with diverse stories with global appeal.

Notable Bollywood Movies
Mother India (1957)
Pyaasa (1957)
Mughal-E-Azam (1960)
Sholay (1975)
Deewar (1975)
Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)
3 Idiots (2009)
Dangal (2016)
Pink (2016)

What is Hindi-Cinema?
So is Hindi-cinema and Bollywood the same thing? That’s tricky to actually say. In strict technical terms, yes, but it’s hard to ignore other subjective factors, such as Bollywood’s pervading association with star power, Masala films and musical numbers.

Nowadays, most film scholars refer to Hindi-cinema and Bollywood as separate entities. But if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that the sheer quantity of films in India, whether it be in the Hindi-language or otherwise, are enough to satiate even the most ardent of movie fans.

Bollywood vs. Hollywood
We’ve defined Bollywood as the Hindi-language sector of India’s movie industry, and shown a few examples of some of its most popular films, but there’s a lot more to Bollywood than just language.

Most Bollywood movies share themes, narrative structures and visual motifs. In many ways, Bollywood and Hollywood are alike, but there are some key differences that set them apart at a structural level.

Here’s an excellent video on the differences between Bollywood vs Hollywood and how they work.

Bollywood vs. Hollywood
To fully understand where Bollywood is today, we have to look back at where it started. From 1858 to 1947, India was under British rule, as such, Bollywood was heavily influenced by Western culture.

That isn’t to say that Indian film was explicitly westernized prior to 1947, because it wasn’t. In fact, there have been Indian films about the ancient sanskrit epics, The Mahabharata and the Ramayana since 1920. But it wasn’t until 1947 when Great Britain partitioned the country into India and Pakistan that the landscape of Indian cinema solidified as a whole.

Indian Cinema as Culture
The partition of India gave independence back to the people, consequently liberating the creativity of an entire culture. In response to the partition, Indian cinema exploded into a scatterplot of different directions. The Bengali film industry veered into a perspective on realism, which was made famous by writer/director Satyajit Ray.

On the other hand, Hindi-language films became popular in the mainstream, with stars such as Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar becoming major celebrities. This next video shows the lasting impact Dilip Kumar has had on India’s movie industry.

Dilip Kumar Bio • With English Subtitles
Kapoor and Kumar, among other stars of the time, were so famous that their association with a film could cause it to “sink or swim” at the box office. Just like Hollywood, Bollywood thrives on star power.

The importance of star power for Hindi-language films only continued to grow in the years following Kapoor’s and Kumar’s works. Today, many would argue that movie stars in Bollywood are more important to their film’s financial success than anywhere else, including Hollywood.