Parul Kapur Hinzen

The Golden Age of Indian Cinema

One of the twin protagonists of Inside the Mirror, Kamlesh Malhotra, a young woman reaching adulthood in the early ’50s, is besotted with the movies like millions of Indians of her generation. Film made its debut in colonial Bombay in July 1896, when agents of the Lumiere brothers exhibited shorts of French bathers and factory workers to a fascinated elite. In 1913, Dadasaheb Phalke released the first Indian feature film, Raja Harishchandra, about a mythological king, laying the foundation for the world’s largest movie industry. Cinematic narratives became a natural extension of the storytelling impulses of a civilization shaped by the innumerable legends of gods and kings. By the 1930s, thousand-seat Art Deco movie palaces sealed Bombay’s aura of modern glamour.

A dynamic confluence of charismatic screen couples, soulful playback singers, and brilliant directors like Guru Dutt and Bimal Roy, ushered in India’s golden era of moviemaking in the 1950s. Cinema scaled Indian storytelling down from the epic to the intimate, focusing on character and relationships, especially between lovers. The fluctuating emotions at the core of romantic encounters were expressed through a mixture of drama, song and dance, rooted in both classical Sanskrit dramaturgy and folk theater.

These enchanted film romances expose the rich sensuality simmering beneath the surface decorum of Indian society. Perhaps no other national cinema comes so close to capturing the tenderness, urgency and joy of desire because few cultures have been as fiercely repressive of sexuality as India. Although other genres of films were made—Chaplinesque Raj Kapoor comedies, tragic tales of artists and poets, and movies like Do Bigha Zamin with strong social messages—ultimately, in mid-century India, when the future of almost every young Indian man and woman was decided by an arranged marriage, there were romances on the silver screen, potent with suppressed erotic sentiment, giving a tradition-bound society the space to discover the depth of its passions.

Below are a few excerpts of songs from popular Hindi movies of this golden era.


Film: Howrah Bridge (1958). Starring Madhubala and Ashok Kumar. Directed by Shakti Samanta.



Film: Anarkali (1953)  Starring Bina Rai and Pradeep Kumar. Directed by Nandlal Jaswantlal.



Film: Aar Paar (1954) - Starring Guru Dutt and Shyama. Directed by Guru Dutt. 



Film: Amar  (1954) Starring Madhubala and Dilip Kumar.  Directed by Mehboob Khan.



Film: C.I.D. (1956) Starring Johnny Walker, Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman. Directed by Raj Khosla, produced by Guru Dutt. 





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