The mainstream Bombay cinema has played ever since its birth, and still does, a very crucial role in preserving, promoting and popularizing India's composite heritage in a variety of ways. In a way this contribution goes beyond preserving and promoting. Hindi cinema has also helped to create what might be called a pan-Indian culture which retains its composite character. In this sense popular Indian cinema does not just cater to a composite culture (by projecting it as a preferred and superior culture) but also creates it (by transporting regional cultural traits or patterns onto other cultural terrains with the help of its all-India network).
Here then are some of the ways in which Hindi cinema has popularized India's composite heritage.
1. By Depicting Acceptance as a Way of Life: Since its birth, inter-community tolerance within the broad cultural context has remained one of its central thematic concerns. The importance of this tolerance and its role in strengthening inter-community relationships - both at personal and social levels has been repeatedly brought out on celluloid. Placing and equating one's 'self' with 'others' - people belonging to 'other' cultural/ethnic/religious background - on a strong, humane and emotional plane has always been shown in our films as far more crucial in guiding human affairs than the narrow attitudes and hostility towards 'others'. Following are some of the important films in this direction: Khuda Ki Shaan (1931), Padosi (1941), Hum Ek Hain (1946), Aar Paar (1954), Hum Panchhi Ek Daal Ke (1957), Char Dil Char Raahein (1959), Kabuliwala (1958), Saat Hindustani (1969), Nanha Farishta (1969), Pandit Aur Pathan (1976), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Saza-e-Kalapani (1997), Ghulam-e-Mustafa (1997), Lagaan (2001), among many others.
2. Through a positive portrayal of community characters : Our composite heritage, as it has been constructed, has rested on the twin pillars of unity and harmony between/among various communities. Thus the portrayal of iconic figures from the minorities practising tolerance, compassion and goodwill and bringing comfort and solace to people and society has been an important feature of our popular cinema. Important films in this respect are: Baazi (1952, Anglo-Indian character), Garam Coat (1952, Muslim character), Boot Polish (1954, Christian character), Pyasa (1955, Muslim character), Dhool Ka Phool (1959, Muslim character), Anari (1959, Christian character), Zanjeer (1973, Pathan character), Anjuman (1986, Hindu character), Hathiyaar (1989, Muslim character), Miss Beatly's Children (1992, English missionary), Hukumat (1997, both Muslim and Christian characters), Sarfarosh (Muslim character), among many others.
Yet another important feature of such films is that the roles of community characters are often played by actors and actresses from other community. And so, in Pandit and Pathan , the role of Pandit is done by Mahmud, a Muslim and that of Pathan by Joginder, a Hindu. This is true of most (though not all) community portrayals in our films. It is interesting to note that Dilip Kumar (Yusuf Khan in real life), an iconic figure of Indian cinema, almost never played the role of a Muslim character (except in a semi-historical film Mughal-e-Azam and that of a camouflaged Muslim in Azad ) and the major roles in most of the Muslim socials made through the 1960s were played by actors like Guru Dutt, Ashok Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Pradeep Kumar and Rajesh Khanna among others.
3. Through Historical Films Exploring the Tenets of Composite culture and Tolerance : In many historical films the tenets of India's composite culture have revolved around a positive portrayal of Hindu and Muslim protagonists. Epics like Sohrab Modi's Pukar (1939), Mehboob Khan's Humayun (1945), and K. Asif's Mughal-e-Azam were forerunners of this genre. Semi-historical film musicals like Tansen (1946), Baiju Bawra (1952), Sangeet Samrat Tansen (1959), Rani Roopmati (1960) and Meera (1990) set in the medieval period can be understood for their strong presentation of Indian cultural ethos during the reign of mughal emperor Akbar with the State consciously promoting inter-community cultural assimilation in literature, music, dance and narrative theatre.