Mumbai, India’s entertainment capital and home to Bollywood, is one of the most prolific centers of film production in the world. Yet there are so many misconceptions about the industry in the minds of even hardcore cinephiles that before describing what is Bollywood, it becomes an imperative to describe what is not Bollywood.
Bollywood is not a name for the Indian filmmaking industry; it is a name for the country’s Hindi film industry. Films are made in various other languages in India, and each language’s industry carries its own name (such as “Tollywood” and “Kollywood”).
Claims are often made that Bollywood is the biggest filmmaking industry in the world, which is incorrect. The Indian film industry is the biggest in the world, with the American counterpart placing third — behind Nollywood, Nigeria’s equivalent. According to India’s censor board, more than 1600 films were produced in the country in 2012. Even in India, Bollywood is not the biggest industry in terms of output. Last year, more films were produced in Tamil (262) and Telugu (256) than in Hindi (221).
Nevertheless, when it comes to global presence, box-office sales and far-reaching influence, Bollywood’s might exceeds that of India’s other film industries, and Mumbai’s of other cities. To understand the true scale of this dominance, it is useful to look at the past and present of Mumbai.
Mumbai has long been one of India’s foremost centers for arts and culture, being one of the biggest sites of the country’s theater scene in the 19th and early-20th centuries. However, the reach of theater was limited in India in that era, and still is. The limited mobility of the performers — and their acts with them — ensured theater was never a mass phenomenon. Literature was handicapped in trying to penetrate the populace too; the high rate of illiteracy combined with segmentation of the few literates into different languages meant it was hard for a book or novel to serve as a binding fabric.
Thus, cinema — not bound by the constraints of mobility or literacy — reached and satisfied the Indian public in a way no prior medium had. From that time to today, cinema has been the most popular platform of mass media in the country.