The global footprint of Indian cinema is vast and continues to expand with each passing decade. Indian films have a large fan following all over the world and it is not a development of recent times. This fame and acceptance of Indian films around the world has been a trend started by the founding fathers of Indian cinema. Hindi films started making inroads into countries like Russia, China, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia from the 1940’s. Films also started representing India across international forums and festivals. There was always a market, albeit small, for Hindi cinema abroad. But with the passing years and quality of Hindi films, Indian cinema is not obscure to the west  and enjoys an almost iconic status across the world.

When we speak about the impact and popularity of Indian cinema two names that cannot be missed are: ‘Raj Kapoor’ and ‘Mother India’. The eternal showman of Indian cinema and the landmark film are instrumental in widening India’s international presence. Their popularity took cinema to an all new level making them epitomes that are revered even today.

In the 100th year of Indian cinema, we take a look at these milestones and their role in taking Indian films on the global map.

Nargis and Raj Kapoor in Awaara

Nargis and Raj Kapoor in Awaara

Raj Kapoor started his acting career at the tender age of eleven with the film Inquilab. His big acting break came in 1947 with Neel Kamal post which he also ventured into filmmaking with his debut film Aag. It was in 1949 that he won major acclaim as an actor with the hit film Andaz. He went on to make and star in several other blockbuster films which included Awaara, Shree 420, Chori Chori, Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai, Sangam and so on. His films like Awaara and Shree 420 acquired national and global recognition including a tremendous fan base in Russia, then USSR.

The connection he established with the Russians has been unbreakable till date. Awara has been amongst the first major instances of the international influence of Hindi cinema. It was the hope and optimism showcased in the film that won the hearts of the Russians who were then reeling under the after effects of World War II. Awara Hoon was hummed by the children and even the leaders of Soviet Russia. Even today, no talk about India and Russia is complete without which became Indian cinema’s first big cross-over venture. Raj Kapoor continues to be loved in Russia and Bollywood inspires and entertains Russians till date.

Amongst Raj Kapoor’s other international accolades is a two-time nomination for the Palme d’Or grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his films Awaara (1951) and Boot Polish (1954). His performance in Awaara was ranked as one of the top ten greatest performances of all time by Time magazine. The maestro’s films soared not only in the traditional markets of Asia, Middle East and Africa, but were commercial successes in Eastern Europe and China too, attracting worldwide audiences.

Nargis with Sunil Dutt and Rajendra Kumar in Mother India

Nargis with Sunil Dutt and Rajendra Kumar in Mother India

While Raj Kapoor truly opened the doors for Hindi cinema in the international markets, the 1957 film Mother India became a turning point in world cinema. The epic Hindi drama directed by Mehboob Khan starred Nargis, Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar, and Raaj Kumar. It revolves around the struggles of a village woman who is poverty stricken and has to raise her sons and fight for survival. It is set against the social and economic backdrop of post-independence India in an agrarian society where land lords dominated the life of the peasants. The realistic depiction of this tender subject and the nationalist message it conveyed, made Mother India a benchmark in Hindi Cinema.

Mother India became India’s first submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1958, where it made the shortlist and can be regarded as one of the first films that raised the pedestal on Indian cinema internationally. Nargis also became the first Indian to win the Best Actress prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic. This magnum opus drew the world’s attention towards India and showcased the making of a nation which was culturally rich, where the attitude of the people was changing and the way working towards putting India in the global arena.

The film was dubbed in several European languages including Spanish, French and Russian. In Spain, the film reportedly screened in the theater for months and also did substantial business in Greece, Russia etc. It did not fare very well in Paris, but drew viewership in French colonies. The film acquired acclaim in Latin American countries, Middle East, North Africa and so on. Mother India is truly one of the best films ever made in India and truly deserving of the global acclaim it has acquired.

These two landmarks carved a niche for Indian films in world cinema. Today the Hindi film industry is amongst the largest and most diverse in the entire world. India is the largest producers of films in the world.  We have acquired not just a global fan following but also evolved in our films. This recognition is truly attributed to stalwarts like Raj Kapoor and films like Mother India. They truly marked the Golden Age of Indian cinema.