Movies are a source of fun for many and a source of inspiration for few. But, to me it is one of the best indicators of the society on a given period. It is one of the best voting mechanisms where millions of voters around the world pay to vote for a concept, an idea and an art. In an individual sense, tell me the movies a person watches, and you can tell the character of a person. Well not exactly. If you take an individual movie there might be a lot of deviation due to the personal qualities of the actors, director etc. But, if you take a list of movies over a huge sample set in an era those personal qualities could get flattened out and what emerges out is a picture that speaks of those who lived that era, their tastes and their mentality and even their history and demographics.
Conversely, movies of a particular era shape the thinking, style & culture of an era. Thus, there is a heavy correlation between movies of a particular era and the contemporary society. Why Americans loved War movies during 40's and 50's (including the all time top - Casablanca), why they loved science fiction in 80s (Terminator, Back to the future) or fantasies in 2000's (LOTR, Harry potter due to a greater purchasing power of teenagers and young adults), why Indians loved religious movies till 50's and romantic movies in the 90s reflect the contemporary society and demographics (in the last case due to the greater power of teenagers and young men). For the purposes of this paper, I would like to take the two of the biggest film industries in the world - Hollywood & Bollywood (Hindi) along with a regional film industry in India - Kollywood. There is a strange correlation between the first and last, while the middle one seems to have a converse relationship.
Late 60s to 70s represent a new era in American and world society. It is the start of the baby boomer generation (people who came after the war had more number of kids and started building up the society) and the presence of so many youngsters started influencing the music and movie industries. Elvis, the Beetles and dozens of other pop, rock music guys changed the total atmosphere of the soft & serene western music. Counter culture develop and hippy became fashionable. In a lot of ways, the movies reflect this contrary & counter culture. While the preceding era had some stunning concept movies like Casablanca, Citizen Cane, Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mocking Bird, this era was famous for its darker movies closing on underworld and darker human aspects - movies like Godfather (1972) & its sequel (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979), Taxi Driver (1976), or even the dark humor M*A*S*H (1970) defined the tradition. Later in the era, new generation of movies started to sprout reflecting the scientific advancements of the era that led to the 1980s style. Some of the samples in the category include the Star War & Start Trek series of movies.
While, Hollywood film industry was limiting in its dark hits, Hindi film industry was in its peak with its lively bright movies. It defined one of the greatest era, with the new booming generation of actors that broke the tradition from the past. Amitabh Bachan, Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna, Zeenat Amman and the young Kapoors took over the rein of the old Hindi cinema and brought life to it. All time hits like Sholay (1975), Andaz (1971), Aradhana (1969), Bobby (1973), Don (1978) & Dewar (1975) appeared in this period and Hindi songs showed a marked difference. Inspired by their western counterparts and some original scores, Hindi films stunned Indian cinema (and most parts of West Asia) with their songs. And a lot of people believe that Hindi Cinema never ever reached back its zenith as that era.
While Hindi movies were reveling in its great heights, the southern film industry of Kollywood, followed the tradition of Hollywood. While, its 1950s & 60s movies produced a great style and bright concepts, the 70s era was a peak for darker concepts. Actors like Rajni Kanth, Kamal Hasan began their career with darker and psycho concept based movies directed by Balachandar. Movies questioned the individual relationships and pondered deep on concepts like love, family, etc. And a few movies were remade from Hindi film industry and the music quality was going down.
The 1980s was a markedly different style in that it was subdued and the movies were light. The movies and people still showed the reminiscences of Beetles-Boney M culture that reflected in their trousers, their hair-styles and even the back ground music of the movies. 1980s in Hollywood followed the late 70s scientific era with its own good movies like Terminator (1984), Back to the Future (1985), ET & the most of the Star Wars & Star Trek series. Except for these occasional hits, this era is almost forgettable from a collector's perspective.
Hindi & Tamil movies in the era continued their bright nature movies and brought more comedy into the system. Tamil film industry particularly brought its peak in humor with all the major actors bringing their own variety. Rajnikanth with his Thillu Mullu (1981) and Guru Shishyan (1988) was in his highs only to be beaten by Kamal Hassan bringing his best humor performances in Aboorva Sagodarargal (1988), Pesum Padam (1988) and Michael Madana Kama Rajan (1990). But, in terms of concept and magnificence this era was a passable one for all these film industries.
90s marked a significant and the greatest era for the Hollywood industry. It brought the greatest concept movies like Swashank Redemption (1994), Shindler's list (1993), Forrest Gump (1994), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Cast Away (2000), Braveheart (1994) & late in the era movies like The Matrix (1999), Gladiator (2000) & A Beautiful mind (2001) - extending into the millennium. Some of the all time block blasters like Jurassic Park (1993), Titanic (1997) crowned while interesting action movies like Speed (1994), Mission Impossible (1996), MIB (1997), T2:Judgement Day(1991), True Lies (1994), The Mummy (1999), Charlies Angels (2000) and total humor like The Mask (1994) & There's Something About Mary (1998). The extraordinary variety, stunning concepts, crowning actors (Cruise, Hanks, Crowe & Schwarzenegger) and directors marked this greatest era for Hollywood film industry.
While, Hollywood was peaking, Hindi industry was almost tanking. It was a bare shadow of its earlier past after the great actors & music directors left. The movie industry now started focusing purely on romance & family centric movies. Some the greatest in this era include Hum Apke Hein Kaun (1994), DDLJ (1995), KKHH (1998) & KKKG (2000) and they were all romantic movies. There were not many concept movies or awe-inspiring block busters.
While Hindi was tanking, Tamil cinema rose to its peak just like Hollywood, in its own style. The humor of 80s were given way to concept, action and block buster movies. Director Shankar produced three of the all time greatest concept movies in Tamil - Gentleman (1993), Indian (1996) and Mudalvan (1999) followed by Mani Rathnam's Roja (1993), Alai Payude (2000) & Bombay (1995). Actor Rajni Kanth produced two of his sensational movies Dalapathy (1991) and Badshah (1994), while Kamal Hassan produced 3 great movies in a sequence of 4 years that were nominated for Oscar foreign film official entry from India, including Devar magan (1992), Kurudi Punal (1995) & Indian (1996) and then later for Hey Ram (2000), apart from his great action in the remake of "Mrs. Doubtfire" in Hindi & Tamil. From the middle of decade, an upcoming actor Vijay produced some of the best romantic movies like Poove Unakaga (1995), Kadaluku Mariyadai (1997) and Tullada Manamum Tullum (2000). The movies were also in spectacular style, color and awe-inspiring settings like those of Kadal Desam (1996), Minsara Kanavu (1997) & Jeans (1998). Inspired by the scores of the great music director A. R. Rahman and some great concepts, Tamil cinema for the first and only time dominated the Indian film industry and dozens of its music and movies were remade in Hindi and other languages.
Current Era (2000-2007)
Current era starting from the millennium marks a considerable difference to the earlier era for Hollywood. The rise of technology and teenage kids gave way to immature teenage fantasy movies to take center stage in this era. Movies totally divorced from reality like Lord of the Rings series, Harry Potter series, Charlie & the chocolate factory and slightly more sensible Spider Man series & Pirates of the Caribbean started to dominate the era. While the sequels for Mission Impossible, X-Men, Terminator and film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code were totally disappointing, movies like Crash could have been made better though it stood out a lone concept movie of the era. Though, we are just halfway through the era, it has already started to tank and the quality of movies have reached the nadir with directors focusing on teenagers & immature young adults to produce their blockbusters. Samples like Lady in the Water (2006) showed how worse a movie could be made.
The Tamil movie industry in its marked correlation with Hollywood is also digging its grave in a stark contrast to the earlier decade. Totally rubbish new heroes and actresses who know the least of acting started to dominate an era of imbecility and stupidity. The occasional concept movies like Autograph (2004), romance like Roja Kootam (2003) and action like Ghilli (2004) have yet to cause a considerable shift in the era. Great actors like Rajni kanth, Kamal Hassan, Vijay and legendary directors like Shankar have rubbished themselves with some utter senseless moves in the era.
While both Hollywood & Kollywood have totally fallen off, the silver lining is seen from the rise of Bollywood, in its greatest era. While the earlier era were pure romantic movies and cheap thrills focusing on the local audience, Bollywood of the current era rose to satisfy the intellectual aspirations of educated guys both in India and abroad. As an example three great movies of Hindi history - Black (2005), Paheli (2005) & Swades (2004) competed for Oscar entry last year, just like what happened in 1994 in Hollywood - a virtual clash of the Titans. Swades was one of the most perfect movies ever made in Hindi should rub shoulders with the likes of Shwashank Redemption & Casa Blanca, led the pack though it was surprisingly let down by its audience. However, two of the other greatest movies that were also made in the era - Laggan (2001) and Rang de Basanti (2006) got great approval from the audience and showed how good movies could be made. The humor mixed concept movies like Munnabhai series (2004 & 2006), Salam Namaste (2005) & Dil Chahta Hai (2001) showed the new face of Hindi cinema with its dazzling colors. Some cool block busters like Dhoom (2004), Loc:Kargil (2003), Banty Aur Babli (2005), Don (2006) and soft romantics like Veer Zaara (2004), Parineeta (2005) gave color while Fanaa (2006) was a letdown - though well made, was illegal in its concept.