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Masala films of Indian cinema are those that mix genres in one work. Typically these films freely mix action, comedy, romance, and drama or melodrama. They tend to be musicals that include songs filmed in picturesque locations. The genre is named after the masala, a mixture of spices in Indian cuisine. According to The Hindu, masala is the most popular genre of Indian cinema.
The origin of this genre is generally credited to the filmmaker Manmohan Desai and screenwriter duo Salim-Javed who very successfully exploited the genre in the 1970s and 1980s. It helped establish many leading actors as superstars such as Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajnikanth, Chiranjeevi, Mithun Chakrabarty, actress Sridevi received stardom in her early Bollywood career with Masala movies and more recently, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Joseph Vijay and Surya Sivakumar, Ajith Kumar. This style is used very often in Hindi and South Indian films as it helps make them appeal to a broad variety of viewers. Famous masala filmmakers include Salim-Javed, David Dhawan, Anees Bazmee and Farah Khan in Hindi cinema, and S.S. Rajamouli, Puri Jagannath in Telugu cinema and Upendra, Yogaraj Bhat and Duniya Soori in Kannada cinema and S. Shankar, Hari and K. S. Ravikumar in Tamil cinema. The "Curry Western" trend that began with Sholay (1975) also falls under the masala genre. Curry Western is a play on the term Spaghetti Western.
Beyond Indian cinema, Danny Boyle's Academy Award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire (2008), based on Vikas Swarup's Boeke Prize winning novel Q & A (2005), has been described by several reviewers as a "masala" movie, due to the way the film combines "familiar raw ingredients into a feverish masala" and culminates in "the romantic leads finding each other." This is due to the influence of the Bollywood masala genre on the film. The influence of Bollywood masala films can also be seen in Western musical films. Baz Luhrmann stated that his successful musical film Moulin Rouge! (2001) was directly inspired by Bollywood musicals.
While the masala film genre originated with Manmohan Desai in the 1970s, there have been several earlier influences that have shaped its conventions. The first was the ancient Indian epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana which have exerted a profound influence on the thought and imagination of Indian popular cinema, particularly in its narratives. Examples of this influence include the techniques of a side story, back-story and story within a story. Indian popular films often have plots that branch off into sub-plots; such narrative dispersals can clearly be seen in the 1993 films Khalnayak and Gardish. The second influence was the impact of ancient Sanskrit drama, with its highly stylized nature and emphasis on spectacle, where music, dance and gesture combined "to create a vibrant artistic unit with dance and mime being central to the dramatic experience." Sanskrit dramas were known as natya, derived from the root word nrit (dance), characterizing them as spectacular dance-dramas which has continued in Indian cinema. The third influence was the traditional folk theatre of India, which became popular from around the 10th century with the decline of Sanskrit theatre. These regional traditions include the Yatra of Bengal, the Ramlila of Uttar Pradesh, and the Terukkuttu of Tamil Nadu. The fourth influence was Parsi theatre, which "blended realism and fantasy, music and dance, narrative and spectacle, earthy dialogue and ingenuity of stage presentation, integrating them into a dramatic discourse of melodrama. The Parsi plays contained crude humour, melodious songs and music, sensationalism and dazzling stagecraft."
The final influence was Hollywood, where musicals were popular from the 1920s to the 1950s, though Indian filmmakers departed from their Hollywood counterparts in several ways. "For example, the Hollywood musicals had as their plot the world of entertainment itself. Indian filmmakers, while enhancing the elements of fantasy so pervasive in Indian popular films, used song and music as a natural mode of articulation in a given situation in their films. There is a strong Indian tradition of narrating mythology, history, fairy stories and so on through song and dance." In addition, "whereas Hollywood filmmakers strove to conceal the constructed nature of their work so that the realistic narrative was wholly dominant, Indian filmmakers made no attempt to conceal the fact that what was shown on the screen was a creation, an illusion, a fiction. However, they demonstrated how this creation intersected with people's day to day lives in complex and interesting ways."
- Tejaswini Gantiv (2004). Bollywood: a guidebook to popular Hindi cinema. Psychology Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-415-28854-5. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
- Nelmes, Jill. An introduction to film studies. p. 367.
- *Masala v. Genre - The Hindu
- Sudhish Kamath (January 17, 2009). "The great Indian dream: Why “Slumdog Millionaire”, a film made in India, draws crowds in New York". The Hindu. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
- Scott Foundas (November 12, 2008). "Fall Film: Slumdog Millionaire: Game Show Masala". LA Weekly. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
- Greg Quill (January 21, 2009). "Slumdog wins hearts here". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
- "'Slumdog Millionaire' has an Indian co-director". The Hindu. January 11, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-23.
- "All you need to know about Slumdog Millionaire". The Independent. 21 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-21.
- Lisa Tsering (January 29, 2009). "‘Slumdog’ Director Boyle Has ‘Fingers Crossed’ for Oscars". IndiaWest. Retrieved 2009-01-30.
- Anthony Kaufman (January 29, 2009). "DGA nominees borrow from the masters: Directors cite specific influences for their films". Variety. Retrieved 2009-01-30.
- "Baz Luhrmann Talks Awards and "Moulin Rouge"".
- K. Moti Gokulsing, K. Gokulsing, Wimal Dissanayake (2004). Indian Popular Cinema: A Narrative of Cultural Change. Trentham Books. p. 98. ISBN 1-85856-329-1.
- K. Moti Gokulsing, K. Gokulsing, Wimal Dissanayake (2004). Indian Popular Cinema: A Narrative of Cultural Change. Trentham Books. pp. 98–99. ISBN 1-85856-329-1.