BOMBAY, INDIA — * Bombay's on-again off-again recovery from the Hindu-Muslim violence of 1993 is most evident in the film industry, where complex themes and anti-heroes are making their debuts.
Film critics say the new maturity reflects the fear, even despair, many Indians feel after the riots. An industry built on frothy romances and musicals with cardboard characters is coming of age.
Muslim actors, ostracized for the first time during the riots, are finding tolerance and stardom again. Hindu zealots have turned from whipping up anti-Muslim hatred to such tamer pastimes as fighting sexy lyrics in movie songs.
``The film industry has emerged from last year's crippling crisis with several riveting smash hits that have turned traditional Indian themes on their head,'' says Iqbal Masud, a leading film critic in Bombay. ``As Bombay tries to recover fully, scriptwriters are taking its pulse for the first time. They deserve credit for that.''
Bombay's movie industry, the world's largest and nuttiest, churns out more than 800 features a year in Hindi and other Indian languages. Most have stereotypical heroes and villains, stylized violence, and happy endings.
India has strict, but sometimes odd, censorship rules. Only recently have performers been allowed to kiss on screen, for example, but for years dances have been used to show close-ups of partially clad women.
In a nation afflicted with poverty, the films attract about 5 billion paying customers a year, four times the number who saw the 450 feature films released in the United States in 1993.
Even though Bombay, like Hollywood, has been hurt by video piracy and cable television, India's dream factory - known as Bollywood - remained in full production until the riots in January 1993. The violence killed 800 people, most of them Muslims, and closed the city for weeks.
The past year has been free of major riots, but tension between Hindus and Muslims remains high in some parts of India.
Amid all this turmoil, several movies have been made with unconventional plots and characters. Although they do not deal with communal violence or politics, Hindi films such as ``The Gambler,'' ``Anti-Hero,'' and ``Fear'' focus on deeply confused, troubled people.