Indian Cinema In The Pre-Independence Era

Indian cinema was more than a source of entertainment in the pre-independence era. Cinema played a pivotal role in the freedom struggle.

Indian Cinema In The Pre-Independence Era
A still from Ashok Kumar's film 'Kismet' (1942) | @NafeesRehmanDr/Twitter

Beaming with pride while singing the national anthem to saluting while looking at the national flag, this is how Indians celebrated Independence Day. India has completed 75 years of independence and many freedom fighters sacrificed their lives to free India from colonial rule. We have heard or read the stories of the brave revolutionaries who fought for the freedom of our country. Moreover, the story of these heroic figures has been depicted in Indian Cinema as entertainment over the decades. But cinema was much more than a form of entertainment during the pre-independence era and played an important role in the freedom struggle before Independence.

‘Door haton aye duniya waalon, Hindustaan humaara hai'. These lyrics still manage to create a feeling of pride and enthusiasm amongst many Indians even after seven decades. This song is from the film Kismet (1942) and became a protest song during the Quit India movement. There were many films made in the pre-independence era that showcased the freedom struggle, but they were banned by the British rulers.

A silent film 'Bhakta Vidur' made in 1921 became the first film to be banned in India. The movie was based on Mahabharata's character Vidur, however, the character was reportedly portrayed as imitating Mahatma Gandhi. Bhakta Vidur was released after Rowlatt Act was passed in India. Later in 1930, British rulers banned the film Wrath as it portrayed Indian actors as leaders during the Indian independence movement. In 1938, Raithu Bidda was also banned by the British administration, for depicting the peasant uprising among the Zamindars during the British raj. Even though the colonial rulers banned these films, they had a major impact on the Indian citizens.

In 1946, filmmaker Khwaja Ahmad Abbas made 'Dharti Ke Lal', which paved the way for the social realist movement or parallel cinema in the Indian film industry. The movie was based on the Bengal famine of 1943, which killed millions of Bengali people. Moreover, it was also one of the first Indian films to gain recognition outside India as it was widely distributed in the Soviet Union (USSR). In the same year, Neecha Nagar was released, which showcased the rich and poor classes in Indian society. The movie won Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1946.

Even after Independence, these movies continued to inspire the filmmakers to create social realistic films. Critically acclaimed films like Do Bigha Zamin (1953), and Satyajit Ray's The Apu Trilogy (1955-1959) continued the parallel cinema movement in the post-independence era. The cult classics like Pyaasa, Mother India, Kaagaz Ke Phool, etc. had a social theme.

Today, Indian movies are still following the footsteps of these iconic movies. However, parallel cinema declined in the 1990s and took the form of commercial cinemas. The realism in Indian cinema is absent these days and has been replaced by mainstream films. However, the films like Dor, Udaan, Ship Of Theseus, Dhobi Ghat, and Being Cyrus among others have blurred the line between commercial cinema and parallel cinema. Even the mainstream films like Sardaar Uddham have kept the essence of the pre-independence era alive.

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