The cinema is an explosion of my love for reality - Pier Paolo Pasolini

The best film musicals are those that leave you on a high after you have watched it and gives a new feeling every single time you do. Bollywood film musicals are a great a source of entertainment for those who love a good song and dance sequence and lots of amped up drama. If you are a movie buff, of any age, you would know what this means.

Film musicals have come a long way from the days of The Wizard of Oz and Grease. It is not just about weaving a story on screen through music and dance, but so much more than that with the technical aspects enhancing the whole movie-watching experience. Every year, commercial Bollywood movies are made, of which film musicals in India still remain a hot favorite. 

If you are someone who eagerly wait for new movie releases every month, take a tour down memory lane to discover some of the greatest film musicals of all times. 

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What are Film Musicals?

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Film musicals are a great way to dramatize every detail of the story.

film musical, unlike a book musical or concept musical, is simply a motion picture with a plot or storyline that has a lot of musical numbers. It is essentially American in nature and origin, but film musicals in India, Japan, Italy, and the UK are also pretty famous and popular. In fact, their contribution is pretty significant to the popularity of this type of musical.

Here's a quick trivia for you: The Jazz Singer was the first film musical ever made. Starring Al Jolson, it was released in 1927 and also marked the beginning of the sound era of motion pictures. This was quickly followed by tons of other musicals quickly created and produced in succession to benefit from the huge success of The Jazz Singer. One such film musical deserves special mention here- The Broadway Melody, that won an Academy Award for the best motion picture in 1929.

It was the stage musical that paved the way for film musicals being directed, even by the famous ones. There was a time when every director in Hollywood or every star would be part of one or more such musical films in a year. And fans would eagerly wait for their release, thereby amplifying its popularity. What really helped in magnifying this was the emergence of sound film technology. 

Difference Between Film Musical and Stage Musical

There is one underlying and practical difference between these two genres of musicals. The use of lavish background scenery and breathtaking locales became the USP of musical films. This was obviously not possible in theater and on stage. But even in a film musical, you will find elements that are similar to those used in theatre or stage musicals. If you look closely, you will often find performers treating their song and dance numbers as if they were performing live on stage, in front of an audience. Only in the case of film musicals, you have to imagine the camera to be your audience.

Indian Film Musicals

Bollywood is very popular everywhere in India.
Bollywood has added its own flavor to Indian film musicals.

Indian cinema has stood the test of time when it comes to film musicals. Bollywood film musicals are almost unanimously musicals. Other film industries in India like the Tamil film industry or the South Indian film industry at large or even the Bengali film industry shell out new film musicals throughout the year.

But you'd be surprised to know that despite every Indian film being almost a musical film, the first formal film musical was released only in 2009 and was directed by Anurag Kashyap. This was followed by a short lull of about a decade before director Anurag Basu made Jagga Jasoos in 2017.

Indian film musicals can be traced back to traditional musical theatre. The roots of Bollywood film musicals can be found in classical Indian stage musicals, or Sanskrit drama, or even Parsi theater. You will often find an amalgamation of traditional Indian musical theatre and early Hollywood musicals in the film musicals in India. The latter was also heavily influence by Urdu literature and the Arabian Nights. 

There was a slight lull and stagnation in Indian film musicals in the 1980's which quickly picked up again in the 1990's with the emergence of the family romances trend. This decade was marked by beautifully made film musicals in India like Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, and Dil To Pagal Hai, to name a few. You would have heard these songs on every radio channel and jukeboxes.

The Evolution of Bollywood Film Musicals

Bollywood sign
Bollywood movies are great source of cultural learning and not just entertainment | Source: VisualHunt

Cinema is a matter of what's in the frame and what's out - Martin Scorsese

The best Indian movies are not film musicals or revues. Or rather the most critically acclaimed movies in India do not have your regular song and dance routine. The Indian film industry is one of the oldest in the world. Older than the first musical made in the West. The first Indian film to be screened publicly was in 1913 and its director, Dadasaheb Phalke, is now hailed as the Father of Modern Indian Cinema. You will even find a prestigious award instituted in his name for outstanding contribution to the field of cinema. You'd be surprised to know that during Dadasaheb's era, it was unusual for women to work in cinema and was even considered as outrageous and a challenge to female modesty.

Bollywood music and songs are what sets the industry apart from the rest of the world. But did you know that the concept of studios only emerged in the early 1930's. It was most successfully pioneered and put to test in film musicals like Devdas and Tukaram, which became runaway hits. Some even managed to break Broadway records. People of every age flocked the cinema halls to catch a glimpse of these overnight stars.

And then came the revolution in Indian cinema under the influence of some eminent Bengali filmmakers, and stalwarts. Names like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, and Ritwik Ghatak started to grab the headlines for giving a new face to the concept of movies and not just Indian cinema. This also turned the tide against your standard commercial movie.

Fast forward to the 90's and you will find the emergence of animated musicals based on Disney books and stories. They became hugely popular not just with children but with people of all ages taking an interest to catch these musicals at the theatre.

Most Acclaimed Film Musicals in India

Theater
Movie-goers are missing the experience of watching musicals at a theatre post-Covid | Source: Freepik

If you love films and music, then film musicals must be close to your heart. So, here is a list of the most popular Bollywood film musicals for the movie-buff and song-lover in you:

Rockstar

Rock or film musical? This is a movie that is close to many hearts and not just to the movie-lovers. Directed by Imtiaz Ali, and featuring stars like Ranbir Kapoor and Nargis Fakhri, the story revolves around the life-changing journey of an aspiring musician, Janardan, who finds his true calling when the love of his life breaks his heart to marry off someone else. This movie is the transformational journey of Janardan and how he becomes Jordan, the heartthrob of millions.

Rock On!!

Another popular film musical that caught the country in a grip of euphoria. The movie tells the story of the life-altering journeys of four friends, played by Farhan Akhtar in the lead and strikes an instant chord in your heart with its relatable intricacies of friendship, relationships, and dreams. The film went on to win many awards, but it was the music of the movie that still resonated with millions of fans.

Abhimaan

A huge blockbuster from one of the best storytellers and directors in Indian cinema, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, the film tells the story of love and ego that bind a marriage together. With Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan in the lead roles, it is sure to leave you teary-eyed and a little thankful after you have watched the movie.

Sur- The Melody of Life

One of the best and probably the most subtle film musical in Indian cinema that explores the intricacies of love and passion for music. Played by singer-actor Lucky Ali, the music and the songs by M.M. Kreem are nothing short of masterpieces that keep lingering on in your heart and make you want to watch this film again and again.

Film musicals are thus a great source of entertainment and a rich repository of Indian culture too. You are surely missing out on something beautiful if you are still not taking out time to catch your first of many Indian film musicals.

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Pragnajyoti

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