The Indian Film Industry Past and Present (And How to Get a Job in It!)

The Indian Film Industry Past and Present (And How to Get a Job in It!)

Today we’re going to take a look at the Indian film industry — a large and expanding industry producing an enormous variety of high-quality movies. In this multi-part article, we’ll take a look at the following topics:

  1. The history of the Indian film industry
  2. The different Indian film regions
  3. How to become a filmmaker in India
  4. How to become a film editor in India

Feel free to jump to any section that is of particular interest to you!

History of Movie Making in India

It is popularly believed that the very first full-length Indian motion picture was a silent film by the legendary filmmaker Dadasaheb Phalke, called “Raja Harishchandra”, in the year 1913. That is why, last year, the centenary celebrations of the Indian film industry were held.

However, recent research shows that this history goes even further back – to 1899, when a little known photographer called H.S.Bhatavdekar made short film on a wrestling match in Bombay. Opinions differ on who was the first Indian filmmaker – was it Phalke or Bhatavdekar ?

But regardless, the story of Indian film making has been one of relentless success.

Stunning and Glorious Success

It is estimated that the Indian film industry produces as many as 1,250 films each year, made in 27 different languages. This is thrice the number produced by Hollywood – albeit nowhere near the global reach, soft power and incredible financial clout of Hollywood. Bollywood still has a long way to go in its quest to be the entertainment capital of the world, but is making rapid strides in that direction, nonetheless.

Bollywood films are highly popular worldwide, and are shown in multiplexes in almost every major city in the world – producing a total estimated gate receipts of just over $2 billion, which is estimated to grow to $3 billion by 2016.

The Early Years

After Dadasaheb Phalke’s breakthrough film, many more Indians took to film making, producing movies that mirrored the sensibilities of a people still under the rule of the British empire. The films were mostly based on Hindu mythological stories, and tickets were very reasonably priced – less than a cent in today’s terms. This led to a rapid growth in popularity of full-length motion pictures as a popular medium for entertainment.

The Bollywood Phenomenon

“Bollywood”, as we understand it today, began only after India’s independence in 1947, with the migration of several hundred thousand Hindu Punjabis from the newly created nation of Pakistan, into Bombay. The early Punjabis, who literally built Bollywood, were penniless, but full of great dreams.

Filmmakers like Prithviraj Kapoor, and his more famous son Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt – the tragic filmmaker behind critically acclaimed commercial flops such as Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool, Mehboob Khan, who directed the greatest Indian film ever made, Mother India – laid the foundation of the Hindi film industry and set it up for the stunning success that followed.

Mother India
A scene from Mother India (1957) directed by Mehboob Khan

Star Power

Bollywood is nothing without its stars – who are hero-worshiped all over the country – and men like Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor were the original Bollywood superstars, followed by Rajesh Khanna and the world famous Amitabh Bachchan. Last 20 years have seen the rise of the phenomenal trio of Khans – Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir, who have defined Bollywood as we know it today.

The Multiplex Factor

The biggest thing to have happened to Bollywood recently, has been the multiplex. Symbols of India’s rising economic power, several hundred multiplexes have sprung up all over the country, offering a safe and comfortable option for watching movies for the entire family.

With tickets priced 10 times higher than those offered by the traditional single screen theaters, multiplexes have resulted in a tremendous spurt in revenues for India’s film industry – making the business of movie making consistently profitable, even in times of national economic slowdowns.

As they say in India, a poor filmmaker is a rare filmmaker!

Diversity of the Indian Film Industry (It’s More Than Just Bollywood)

Contrary to public perception, Hindi is not the only language spoken in India, and Bollywood is not India’s only film industry. As a matter of fact, last year saw 1,250 movies made in India, and a vast majority of them had nothing whatsoever to do with Bollywood!

India’s Regional Film Industries

India is a huge multilingual country, with as many as 27 popular languages and dialects, and with each major language having a state or a province of its own. With a majority of Indians being absolutely crazy about movies, it is only to be expected for each region in India to have its own film industry. We discuss the four most popular regional film industries in India – that are so not Bollywood, thank you very much!

1.Tamil Film Industry

Based in the city of Chennai, featuring films made in the Tamil language, the Tamil film industry enjoys great clout in Indian cinema. The very first full-length Tamil film was a silent movie, Keechaka Vadham, made in 1916. The first talkie made in Tamil was the phenomenally successful Kalidas (1931).

Since then, buoyed by a film crazy public and a huge Tamil diaspora, spread all over the world, Tamil cinema has gone from strength to strength. No write-up on Tamil cinema is complete without a reference to the legendary superstar of  the Tamil film industry, the incredible Rajnikanth. Rajnikanth is a larger than life figure, and almost a demigod to tens of millions of Tamilians all over the world. His movies transcend cinema and are cultural and national events.

Most Rajnikanth movies are over-the-top, flashy, fun and really make no sense whatsoever!!

2.Telugu Film Industry

In terms of revenues generated, and the sheer number of movies made, the Telugu film industry is the second biggest in India after Bollywood. The state of Andhra Pradesh, where Telugu movies are made, is known for its craze for cinema, and has the most cinema halls in India, 2809 out of a total Indian strength of 10,167.

The most popular star of Telugu cinema has been the late N.T.Rama Rao, so popular that he beat India’s grand old political party, the Congress, to set up the government in Andhra Pradesh, by a huge popular mandate. Recent popular stars in Telugu cinema include Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna and the young Ravi Teja.

The Ramoji Film City, located in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, is said to be the largest film production facility in the world.

Ramoji Film City
A movie set in Ramoji Film City

3.Kannada Film Industry

Based in Bangalore and catering to people speaking the Kannada language, the Kannada film industry, while not as big as its Tamil and Telugu counterparts, is still very popular. This industry boasts of some of the most critically acclaimed filmmakers in India such as Girish Kasaravalli, P. Sheshadri, Girish Karnad and Puttanna Kanagal.

The greatest star of Kannada cinema has been the late Rajkumar, who lorded over this industry for several decades before his death.

4.Bengali Film Industry

The Bengali film industry, based in the city of Kolkata (earlier known as Calcutta), is much more famous for its past than for its present. The present state of this industry has been quite terrible, with the quality of movies made rather horrible. This is sad because in the past, Bengali cinema gave us one of the greatest filmmakers in the world – Satyajit Ray, who made movies that won great critical acclaim all over the world such as Pather Panchali (1955), Aparojito (1956) and Charulatha (1964).

Ray was presented with an honorary Oscar by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, for outstanding lifetime achievement in film making, just before his death in 1992.

How To Be A Filmmaker In India?

The film industry in India has a reputation for widespread nepotism, where the easiest way to get a break as a filmmaker is to be a family member or a friend of some powerful producer or  popular actor. So if you are a young person in India, with dreams of becoming a top filmmaker someday, and have no family connections in the industry or any real money to speak of – should you be disheartened, and give up all hope?

Our answer is an unequivocal NO. There are many just like you who have made it big in the Indian film industry – powered by nothing but their talent, determination, hard work and of course, a bit of luck.

We have prepared a short guideline that might help you get your first break in the Indian film industry, and then, perhaps go on to be the top filmmaker that you have always dreamed of becoming. Read on.

Step 1. Watch every movie that you can get hold of

To be a filmmaker, you shall need to watch the DVDs of as many movies as possible, from all countries and all eras. The idea is to learn as much as possible from the techniques used by the great filmmakers of the world, to see how the director develops a story, presents a scene, makes use of the camera angles and so on. Get a note pad, and make an analysis of every movie that you watch. Also watch a few poorly made movies once in a while, to get an idea of what you shouldn’t be doing as a filmmaker.

Step 2.  Join a film institute

If you are really serious about becoming a filmmaker, then it’s important that you gain formal training in the profession by joining a top film institute, and learn the various aspects of film making – directing, editing, cinematography, sound editing, screenplay and so on. Film schools will give you access to the expensive equipment (cameras, sound equipment, lights, etc) that would otherwise be difficult to practice with.

Some of the best film institutes in India are:

  • Whistling Woods International: School of Filmmaking – Mumbai
  • Film and Television Institute of India – Pune
  • Craft Film School – Delhi
Whistling Woods International
A view of the campus at Whistling Woods in Mumbai

Step 3. On the job training

Offer any help you can give to a film production unit shooting a film or a television soap. Offer to be an assistant director at nominal pay, or even as a unit hand. Help out in any way possible. Nothing beats actual experience in movie making. Get a first hand knowledge of how movies are actually made. Should hold you in good stead later.

Step 4. Be ready to do any job in film making

For this, you shall need to swallow your ego – as getting a job as a director just months after graduating from film institute is impossible, unless you have a dad who is a big time producer, or a studio head. So, be ready to work in any job that you get – assistant director, editor, lyricist, choreographer, cinematographer, set designer, costume designer, sound editor or even as an extra.

Step 5. Keep learning the trade

Keep learning, keep perfecting your craft, keep grabbing every opportunity that you get, and build great working relationships with other talented people in the profession. Hope for a bit of luck. Getting a break as a filmmaker is a matter of time – just keep persevering, and never give up.


If movies don’t work out, you should always consider other great opportunities such as a documentary filmmaker, independent short filmmaker, wildlife filmmaker and so on.

How to Become a Film Editor in India

Film editing in India is the same as film editing in the US or in any other country – cutting video and audio footage, and assembling the same in a seamless way that compliments the director’s work, and makes it even better.

Film editing can be a lucrative career. A starting film editor salary in India can be as high as 900,000 Rupees per year and senior film editors command even higher salaries.Some of the top Indian film editors earn as much as 40 Lakhs per film, or $73,800 USD.

If it is your ambition to be a top film editor, we present a short guide which might help you in your quest.

Step 1.  Watch a lot of movies

And analyze them at length, with a note pad in hand. Note the pacing of scenes, the timing, how long  a scene lasts, before it’s seamlessly succeeded by the next scene in the sequence. Also note the background music and sound – how loud are they, and how do they relate to the scenes being played out.

Step 2. Take film editing classes

Nothing beats advanced training in film editing, especially considering the specialized software skills that you shall need to master to be a film editor. Our advice – either join a great film institute, which has a comprehensive course in film editing (although this can be very expensive) or sign up for online training courses to learn film editing from your home (Film Editing Pro will be opening its own online courses in the coming months).

Step 3. Offer your editing services for free

Many movies and television soaps in India, especially in regional languages, operate at very low budgets. Most regional language film producers would gladly have a trained film editor like you, even one without much experience, as their official film editing expert, especially if you agree to work for free, or for a nominal pay.

In film editing, nothing is more valuable than real experience in real projects. Collect as much experience in low budget productions as you can possibly get.

Step 4. Move to Mumbai

If you are an aspiring film editor in India, Mumbai is the place where you should be. All the best movies are made in Mumbai, most of the talented and creative people in India are already in Mumbai. You should be there too. Besides, most of the money in this business is in Mumbai.

Step 5. Get any job in film making that you can grab hold of

After graduating from the film institute, it will be almost impossible for you to land a job as a film editor in a top Bollywood production straight away. Settle for a lower position and bide your time. Patience is the key here, and it is important that you don’t let your pride get the better of you.

Step 6. Prepare a fantastic portfolio

Build a great portfolio with all of your work, that showcases exactly how talented you are. Now, if you are just out of film institute, building a portfolio without much access to video footage from real projects is hard, but can be managed.

There are are plenty of websites on the internet that offer raw video footage for free (check out, for instance.) Or you could make use of DVDs from really old movies to get some great footage.

Make the best use of the footage, to create a great portfolio. Perhaps you might get a chance to impress a top producer or director – keep your portfolio handy.

Bollywood Dance
A dance scene from Devdas (2002 India) Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Step 7. Build relationships

Bollywood is all about relationships. Those who know the right people in the right positions and have the right connections rise much faster than those who don’t. Build great working relationships with other talented professionals in the industry – especially with those in positions of power.

Step 8. Never compromise on the software

Nothing is more important to a film editor in the practice of his or her trade than great editing software. If you are working for a production with a reasonable budget, grab hold of the very best film editing software such as Final Cut, Avid, Adobe Premier Pro or Sony Vegas Pro.

But if you are working for a low budget production, you can always do with free film editing software such as the excellent free video editing software — Lightworks — which by the way, was the editing software used in The King’s SpeechHugo and Mission Impossible.

How do you get them? Just download them from the internet.

Step 9. Get a powerful laptop

Until only a few years ago, film editing required massive, dedicated, highly expensive workstations. But these days, laptops have become so powerful that they have democratized the process of film editing, making it accessible to everyone. Buy a laptop with a powerful CPU, GPU, reasonable storage and with plenty of RAM, fully capable of running the film editing software that we talked about.

While the Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display would be a more expensive option, costing you a little more than 200,000 Rupees, you may always go for the much cheaper Dell XPS 15, that costs between 95,000 to 110,000 Rupees, and suits your needs perfectly. Or, you could try the HP Zbook 17 Mobile Workstation – slightly more expensive than Dell XPS at 130,000 Rupees, but ideal for the needs of a top notch film editor.


Just keep trying and never give up. There are no hard and fast rules for becoming a top film editor. You just need to keep working hard, be confident in your abilities, and hope for some luck to go your way.

Wrap Up

Do you have any questions about getting a job? Do you currently work in the Indian film industry? We’d love to hear your questions and experiences.

Please discuss in the comments below and share this post with a friend!

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8 Responses to The Indian Film Industry Past and Present (And How to Get a Job in It!)

  1. Have a positive and enthusiastic attitude, no matter how menial a task may seem. Many graduates think that being a runner and making the tea is beneath them, but this is the best way to get your foot in the door.

  2. Dear Sir,

    Which Editing software compulsory learn to be a film editor?

    And on Which topics should give on much more focused?

  3. Hello Sir,
    I know the basic video editing,but from where should I learn advanced editing, like Vfx! YouTube is the best option or Any video editing classes?

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