SHEELA (1987)
Page 1: A Brief Introduction to Bollywood

Most people think that the term Bollywood refers to "Indian cinema" generally.  Technically, the name is applied to only one of India's numerous regional film industries, albeit, the largest.  The Indian Constitution recognises 23 official languages that are split into two main linguistic families - Indo-Aryan, spoken by 74% of the population, and Dravidian, spoken by about 24%.  This linguistic diversity has resulted in an assorted array of localised film industries catering to the regional populations in states like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Bengal, Kerala, and Karnataka, to name just a few.  The Bollywood industry, centred on Mumbai (previously Bombay) on the west coast, is more commonly referred to as "Hindi cinema", and targets the Hindustani speaking populations of the northern, central, and northwestern regions of the country.  Hindustani is a linguistic substratum that comprises both the 790 million Hindi speakers and 160 million Urdu speakers of the north, including Pakistan.  However, the popularity of Bollywood films is not limited to the northern part of the country.  The quality and sophistication of the films of Mumbai intrigue all levels of India society in all localities.  Additionally, Bollywood films are a strong part of the culture in places with sizeable Indian populations like Africa, Fiji, South-East Asia, the Middle East, and also among the Indians living in the UK, Canada, Australia and the US.  The Indian film industry, which services a nation with a population of 1.1 billion, produces the highest number of films, and sells the highest number of cinema tickets, of any nation, and Bollywood is its powerhouse.

From the point of view of the average Westerner Bollywood films are "musicals" because they have songs and dances in them.  However, Indian cinema goers expect Bollywood films to have certain elements, only one of which is catchy song and dance numbers.
The films comprise so many other essential ingredients, they are referred to as "masala movies", after a Hindi word for a spice mixture.  The plots have tended to be highly melodramatic, frequently employing formulaic themes such as star-crossed lovers and angry parents, love triangles, family ties, sacrifice, corrupt politicians, kidnappers, conniving villains, courtesans with hearts of gold, long-lost relatives and siblings separated by fate, dramatic reversals of fortune, and convenient coincidences.  Indian audiences expect full value for money, and good entertainment is referred to as paisa vasool, literally "money's worth".  They look forward to a three hour extravaganza with an intermission, accompanied by a hearty dose of drama, intrigue, comedy, romance and dare-devil thrills.  Anything less is considered a "rip off", and not paisa vasool.  Some filmakers have always attempted to make more "artistic" films tackling themes such as poverty, the repession of women, and the injustices of the caste system, but these have undoubtedly been box office failures in their homeland.
The first silent film made in India, Raja Harischandra, released in 1913 was directed by Dadasaheb Phalke, generally referred to as the father of Indian film.  By the 1930s the industry was making 200 films per year.  The first sound film, Alam Ara (1931), byArdeshir Irani, was a huge hit.  Colour was introduced in the 1950s and lavish romantic musicals and melodramas became the standard.  In the 1960s and 70s romance movies and action films rose to prominence. One of these films, Sholay (1975) (above), became one of the biggest blockbusters in the history of Indian cinema and is the nation's highest grossing film.  In the late 70s and 80s romantic confections were displaced by gritty, violent films about gangsters and bandits featuring superstars like Amitabh Bachan.   In the early 1990s the pendulum swung back to more family-focused films again.  Lagaan (2001), a charming film about a novice cricket team of villagers challenging the British won many awards and received international acclaim.

Censorship was always an issue in India, a deeply conservative and religious society.  There is almost no nudity in Indian films and such scenes are classified as obscene in the Constitution of India and are usually removed by the Indian Censor Board.  Lip to lip kissing was extremely rare in Indian films until comparatively recently.  Interestingly, when dance was introduded into film it it was used as a symbolic representation for sexual abandon and forbidden liasons.  The censorship board unhesitatingly allowed highly suggestive dance scenes principally because it was presented through the medium of dance.  Classical dance in India sprang from a revered tradition in Hindu temples and that respect and tolerence was extended to dance in film (Wikipedia).

Lastly, plagiarism of Western films is another recurrent issue.  The constraints of rushed productions and small budgets in an industry as prolific as Bollywood has resulted in copious borrowing from Hollywood.  Bollywood, like a lot of countries, had a long tradition of making their own unauthorised versions of Tarzan films like Toofani Tarzan (1937) and Thozan (1959).  One company, Sargaam Chittra Ltd, produced ten unsanctioned Tarzan films between 1963 and 1965, mostly for the Nigerian market.  The first four - Rocket Tarzan, Tarzan and Delilah; Tarzan and King Kong; and Tarzan Comes to Delhi (right) - starred an Indian wrestler named Darasingh.  He was later replaced by a younger actor named Azad for films like Tarzan and Cleopatra, Tarzan and the Gorilla, Tarzan's Beloved and Tarzan and Captain Kishore.  Burroughs Inc., who holds the Tarzan copyright, managed to suppress many of these, but not all (Essoe).

Bollywood has also frequently produced their own versions of other American Films.  Akele Hum Akele Tum (1995), was a version of the Dustin Hoffman film, Kramer vs Kramer (1979).  Main Aisa Hi Hoon (2005), is alleged to be an Indian version of I Am Sam (2001), the Sean Penn/Michelle Pfiefer film about a man with a developmental disability.  Kaante (2002) (left), is promoted as "a delerious Bollywood reimagining of Reservoir Dogs"(1992).  The list goes on and on (Wikipedia).

 It is not surprising, therefore, that Bollywood decided to make a version of the 1984 Tanya Roberts Sheena film, discussed elsewhere in detail on this site (see link).  Columbia Pictures had no involvement.

Wikipedia articles on Bollywood and Bollywood Films and Plagiarism
Tarzan of the Movies by Gabe Essoe, 1968, The Citadel Press
• The Sholay poster was pilfered from an eBay auction item
• The Tarzan Comes To Delhi poster is from my DVD of this film
• The Kaante poster was pilfered from an eBay auction item

• To obtain a copy of Sheela (1987) - pray hard, it is near impossible to find

SHEENA © is the property of Sony Pictures Corporation
This independent, non-profit, fan-based analysis of the Sheena material is copyright © 2006 Paul Wickham