Masala film

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.[1] They also tend to be musicals that include songs, often filmed in picturesque locations. The genre is named after the masala, a mixture of spices in Indian cuisine.[2] According to The Hindu, masala is the most popular genre of Indian cinema.[3] Masala films have origins in 1970s Bollywood (Hindi) films, and are most common in Bollywood and South Indian films.


The masala film was pioneered in the early 1970s by filmmaker Nasir Hussain,[4] along with screenwriter duo Salim-Javed, consisting of Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar.[5] Yaadon Ki Baarat (1973), directed by Hussain and written by Salim-Javed, has been identified as the first masala film.[6][7] Salim-Javed went on to write more successful masala films in the 1970s and 1980s.[5] A landmark for the masala film genre was Amar Akbar Anthony (1977),[8][6] directed by Manmohan Desai and written by Kader Khan. Manmohan Desai went on to successfully exploit the genre in the 1970s and 1980s.

Sholay (1975), directed by Ramesh Sippy and written by Salim-Javed, also falls under the masala genre. It is sometimes called a "Curry Western", a play on the term Spaghetti Western. A more accurate genre label is the "Dacoit Western", as it combined the conventions of Indian dacoit films such as Mother India (1957) and Gunga Jumna (1961) with that of Spaghetti Westerns. Sholay spawned a subgenre of "Dacoit Western" films in the 1970s.[9]

Masala films helped establish many leading actors as superstars in the 1970s and 1980s, such as Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajnikanth, Chiranjeevi, and Ambareesh achieved stardom in their early Bollywood career with masala movies. Since the 1990s, actors such as Salman Khan (Salim Khan's son), Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Mahesh Babu, Allu Arjun, Jr. NTR, Joseph Vijay, Saravanan Sivakumar, Dhanush, Sivakarthikeyan, Darshan, Puneeth Rajkumar, Dev, Dev, and Jeet have all tasted success in this format.

This style is used very often in Hindi (Bollywood) and South Indian films, as it helps make them appeal to a broad variety of viewers. Famous masala filmmakers include David Dhawan, Anees Bazmee, Shaji Kailas, Joshiy (Malayalam Cinema) and Farah Khan Raja Chanda, Raj Chakraborty and Rabi Kinagi in Bengali cinema; S. S. Rajamouli, Puri Jagannath, Srinu Vaitla and Boyapati Srinu in Telugu cinema; S. Shankar, Hari, AR Murugadoss, K. V. Anand, N. Lingusamy and K. S. Ravikumar in Tamil cinema; and in Kannada cinema it was V. Somashekhar and K. S. R. Das in the 1970s; K. V. Raju, A. T. Raghu and Joe Simon in the 1980s; Om Prakash Rao and Shivamani in the 1990s; and Mahesh Babu, K. Madesha and A. Harsha in the 2000s.

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,[10] due to the way the film combines "familiar raw ingredients into a feverish masala"[11] and culminates in "the romantic leads finding each other."[12] This is due to the influence of the Bollywood masala genre on the film.[13][14][15][16] According to Loveleen Tandan, Slumdog Millionaire screenwriter Simon Beaufoy "studied Salim-Javed's kind of cinema minutely."[13] 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.[17]

Aamir Khan (Nasir Hussain's nephew), who debuted as a child actor in the first masala film Yaadon Ki Baraat,[18] has been credited for redefining and modernizing the masala film with his own distinct brand of socially conscious cinema in the early 21st century.[19] His films blur the distinction between commercial masala films and realistic parallel cinema, combining the entertainment and production values of the former with the believable narratives and strong messages of the latter, earning both commercial success and critical acclaim, in India and overseas.[20]


While the masala film genre originated from Bollywood films in the 1970s, there have been several earlier influences that have shaped its conventions. 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 Jatra 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."[21]

A major foreign 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."[22]

Javed Akhtar, a pioneer of masala films, was also greatly influenced by Urdu novels by Pakistani author Ibn-e-Safi, such as the Jasoosi Dunya and Imran series of detective novels.[23] They inspired, for example, famous Bollywood characters such as Gabbar Singh in Sholay (1975) and Mogambo in Mr. India (1987).[24]

During the 1970s, commercial Bollywood masala films drew from several foreign influences, including New Hollywood, Hong Kong martial arts cinema, and Italian exploitation films.[25] Following the success of Bruce Lee films such as Enter the Dragon in India,[26] Bollywood films starting with Deewaar (1975) up until the 1990s often incorporated fight sequences inspired by 1970s martial arts films from Hong Kong cinema.[27] Rather than following the Hollywood model, Bollywood action scenes tended to follow the Hong Kong model, with an emphasis on acrobatics and stunts, and combined kung fu (as it was perceived by Indians) with Indian martial arts (particularly Indian wrestling).[28]

See also


  1. Tejaswini Gantiv (2004). Bollywood: a guidebook to popular Hindi cinema. Psychology Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-415-28854-5. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  2. Nelmes, Jill. An introduction to film studies. p. 367.
  3. "How film-maker Nasir Husain started the trend for Bollywood masala films". Hindustan Times. 30 March 2017.
  4. Chaudhuri, Diptakirti (2015-10-01). Written by Salim-Javed: The Story of Hindi Cinema’s Greatest Screenwriters. Penguin UK. ISBN 9789352140084.
  5. Kaushik Bhaumik, An Insightful Reading of Our Many Indian Identities, The Wire, 12/03/2016
  6. Chaudhuri, Diptakirti (2015-10-01). Written by Salim-Javed: The Story of Hindi Cinema’s Greatest Screenwriters. Penguin UK. p. 58. ISBN 9789352140084.
  7. Rachel Dwyer (2005). 100 Bollywood films. Lotus Collection, Roli Books. p. 14. ISBN 978-81-7436-433-3. Retrieved 6 August 2013.
  8. Teo, Stephen (2017). Eastern Westerns: Film and Genre Outside and Inside Hollywood. Taylor & Francis. p. 122. ISBN 9781317592266.
  9. 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.
  10. Scott Foundas (November 12, 2008). "Fall Film: Slumdog Millionaire: Game Show Masala". LA Weekly. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
  11. Greg Quill (January 21, 2009). "Slumdog wins hearts here". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
  12. "'Slumdog Millionaire' has an Indian co-director". The Hindu. January 11, 2009. Archived from the original on March 25, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-23.
  13. "All you need to know about Slumdog Millionaire". The Independent. 21 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-21.
  14. Lisa Tsering (January 29, 2009). "Slumdog Director Boyle Has 'Fingers Crossed' for Oscars". IndiaWest. Archived from the original on March 2, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-30.
  15. Anthony Kaufman (January 29, 2009). "DGA nominees borrow from the masters: Directors cite specific influences for their films". Variety. Retrieved 2009-01-30.
  16. "Baz Luhrmann Talks Awards and 'Moulin Rouge'".
  17. Cain, Rob (3 October 2017). "Aamir Khan's 'Secret Superstar' Could Be India's Next ₹1,000 Crore/$152M Box Office Hit". Forbes.
  18. Rangan, Baradwaj (8 January 2017). "Masala redux". The Hindu. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  19. "Secret Superstar: A moving slice of life". The Asian Age. 2 November 2017.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. Chaudhuri, Diptakirti (2015). Written by Salim-Javed: The Story of Hindi Cinema’s Greatest Screenwriters. Penguin Books. pp. 26–27. ISBN 9789352140084.
  23. "Urdu pulp fiction: Where Gabbar Singh and Mogambo came from". Daily News and Analysis. 10 July 2011. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  24. Stadtman, Todd (2015). Funky Bollywood: The Wild World of 1970s Indian Action Cinema. FAB Press. ISBN 9781903254776.
  25. Khalid Mohammed (September 15, 1979). "Bruce Lee storms Bombay once again with Return Of The Dragon". India Today. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  26. Heide, William Van der (2002). Malaysian Cinema, Asian Film: Border Crossings and National Cultures. Amsterdam University Press. ISBN 9789053565803.
  27. Morris, Meaghan; Li, Siu Leung; Chan, Stephen Ching-kiu (2005). Hong Kong Connections: Transnational Imagination in Action Cinema. Hong Kong University Press. p. 149. ISBN 9781932643190.
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