Tollywood – The Rise, Fall and Reemergence of Bangla Cinema in India

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The Bangla cinema industry in India is more commonly known as Tollywood, from the words Tollygunge and Hollywood. Tollygunge is an area in Kolkata, West Bengal in India where most of the Bangla film studios are based. In fact, Tollywood is the first Hollywood-inspired name, preceding the more popular Mumbai-based Bollywood.

The first Bangla-made feature was a silent movie called Bilwamangal, produced by the Madan Theatre Company in Calcutta, with Hiralal Sen credited as one of the first directors of Bangla films in India.

The “talking films” started to bloom in the 1930s, with most of them made in Urdu or Persian to accommodate the demands of the market. It didn’t take long for Bangla talking films or talkies to get made, with the production of the film Jamai Shasthi, a short film released in April of 1931. A few months later, the first full length Bangla feature film was released. Dena Paona premiered on December 1931 at the Chitra Cinema Hall in Calcutta.

The Golden Era of Bangla Natok happened from 1952 to 1975. This era was marked by prominent Bangla filmmakers producing their most critically acclaimed works and becoming influential not just India but throughout the whole world. Perhaps the most important figure during this time was the prolific director Satyajit Ray. Due to classics such as The Apu Trilogy, he received numerous awards and distinctions all over the world, including the Academy Honorary Award, India’s Bharat Ratna, and France’s Legion of Honor. He paved the way for other Bangla filmmakers to reach a global audience.

The Bangla film industry went through a decline starting in the 1980s when Hindi films became more popular. Up to the end of the 20th century, it was struggling due to the insufficient distribution infrastructure.

Today, there seems to be a conscious effort among new directors to produce not just films in the Bangla language but those that show a distinct Bangla atmosphere.

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