Indians can never function without a little punch of masala in their cuisine, and this trait extends to their taste in cinema as well.

Indian Cinema is well recognised for its much-celebrated genre labelled as the ‘Masala Movies’. This particular genre, vaguely introduced during the 1960s, is distinguished by its feature of making an amalgamation of various emotions, themes and sub-genres in one movie altogether. Masala movies as a genre of filmmaking reached its peak by the 80s and made a substantial stamp that revolutionized the way the world looked at Indian cinema. These films saw a tremendous growth in terms of leaving an imprint in the history of World Cinema. At the outset, this was done to cater to the distinctive expectation of the audience (much like the mix of different spices altogether to create a “masala” in food, to enhance its taste).

In precision, the Masala movies collaborate item numbers, choreographed fights, star cast and a storyline that centres around a good amount of drama that moves the audiences to either dance to the beats or to follow a particular trend; of which both are deliberate insertions. There’s a reason why they are also known as formula films. We cannot discredit filmmakers like Manmohan Desai, Ramesh Sippy, Prakash Mehra, Feroz Khan, Farah Khan, Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, Rohit Shetty as well huge banners like Dharma Productions and Yash Raj Films, who have all made tremendous contributions to this field. This branch of filmmaking is extremely popular and is almost synonymous with the “commercial” films that exist, though not the same.

If we delve deeper into explaining what Masala films mean, we could explain it by stating that it is a good blend of all the sub-genres. These sub-genres include romance, drama, tragedy, comedy, action or even a message-oriented film. These styles are then mixed to give a commercially viable outcome. It’s no wonder why Bollywood, in the international stages, is noted for films like ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’, ‘Sholay’, ‘Pakeezah’, ‘Dabangg’, and so on.

If we branch out at the surface to explain the whole phenomenon of Masala films, it will help us understand that Indian cinema is not incomprehensible without it, but we need to understand the context of its existence. They are helmed particularly for the Indian masses; for them to correlate and enjoy. It will be justified if we say that Masala films are “uniquely” Indian.
Even though there has been a sharp rise in what we know as indie cinema, Masala films are here to stay, and here’s why.

The other side of the coin

Masala movies combine the tragic situations of the characters along with humour to impact and influence the audiences. The tragic scenes are made with the intention to move the audiences to tears. However, subtle humour in various scenes makes them laugh as well. The underlying purpose of the films is to help the audiences discover a ray of hope and humour in life’s most tragic situations. In Rohit Shetty’s ‘Golmaal’ series, sequences of being parentless and the hardships of survival become the source of humour in the film. In ‘3 Idiots’, the film through its narrative allows the poor to dream, as long as you believe in it.

Reality escape

The power of being able to reach out to the masses and cater to their need for pure entertainment is solely possessed by the Masala movies. The popularity and personal connect of this genre over the “serious” movies of Bollywood is unquestionable. It becomes an easy escape from the difficult lifestyle of the contemporary times. The fact that movies like ‘Baaghi 2’, ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’, do better than ‘Mukkabaaz’ in the box office is an evidence to this. This characteristic of Masala genre becomes an advantage for the directors and for the earnings of production houses.

Mixture: Once and for all

The genre literally justifies its meaning by mixing all other genres of Bollywood such as comedy, romance, action, humour and tragedy in one movie. Isn’t that an uncanny semblance to the masala mix of the Indian cuisine? The popularity of Masala films lies in its diversity and combinations, one which satiates the expectations of all the audiences, once and for all. Here’s an answer to why ‘Sholay’, even after 40 years of its release, still remains a cult classic.

Light-hearted awareness

It would be wrong to neglect the vision of Masala films considering their responsibility to teach, being an art medium. Since it appeals to a larger audience, the films have a tremendous impact on the lives of millions of people. Masala movies present the issue at hand through their nontraditional and easy approach. The satire and humour communicate and help portray the large complicated issues in relaxed mannerisms. Recent films like ‘Pad Man’ and ‘Secret Superstar’ touched sensitive subjects and made people aware about menstruation and sanitary pads, and about gender equality and domestic violence respectively.

Family, Relatives and Get-Togethers

Aren’t Indians about their family and their extended family members? Masala films are mostly films that the Indian audiences enjoy watching with their families. It also answers why Masala films are uniquely Indian. Since films occupy so much of a space in Indian culture, it even bridges the communication differences and the relative isolation between friends and families. Masala films occupy an unusual place in the lives of most Indian families. 

Masala movies may not be a darling to the film critics and most would even argue that these films carry suggestive songs, outlandish comedy, expensive location, melodramatic narratives and overacting plunging in heaps. Movie fanatics may diligently argue that Masala films accurately conflate and sabotage content-driven cinema. However, there’s a reason they’re so popular with the audiences. The mix or the masala may not particularly be all that bad, and given the right ingredients, in the right amount, the Masala films have the potential to create a classic in every sense of the word. Though not in all regards, given the right storyline, excluding the sexism and misogynistic approach, immersion in these waters could account for an enjoyable experience indeed.
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