70 iconic films of Indian cinema
Indian cinematic history is far older than independent India. In the 70 years of independence, Indian films have traversed their own journey—from individually funded, high-risk ventures to a systematic industry with an audience across the world. Nearly 2,000 films made in around 20 languages every year make India the world’s largest film-producing nation. Here’s a list of 70 iconic Indian films:
ALAM ARA (1931): If Bollywood is, at its core, song-and-dance cinema, then its starting point is Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara (1931). India’s first talkie (and a musical), it starred Prithviraj Kapoor and Zubeida, and featured seven songs.
MAHAL (1949): Kamal Amrohi’s gothic romance is remembered today for the stunning presence of Madhubala, its cinematography and for introducing Lata Mangeshkar.
AWARA (1951): Arguably Raj Kapoor’s finest film, this is one of Indian cinema’s greatest exports, loved in China, Russia and Turkey.
DO BIGHA ZAMIN (1953): Bimal Roy’s socialist drama was an early flag-bearer of the parallel cinema movement and remains unforgettable for initiating the neo-realist trend that countered mainstream commercial movies.
SHYAMCHI AAI (1953): This legendary Marathi film, a mother-son story, was the first movie to win the President’s Gold Medal for the All India Best Feature Film at the National Film Awards.
NAGIN (1954): This tribal tale starring Vyjayanthimala was India’s first musical blockbuster. Composer Hemanta Mukherjee’s immortal melodies include Man Dole Mera Tan Dole, Jadugar Saiyan and Sun Ri Sakhi, among others.
PATHER PANCHALI (1955): Satyajit Ray’s Bengali drama changed the face of not just regional but Indian cinema. Often hailed as the greatest film ever made in the country, it brought in a parallel cinema movement that justified the unmatched international recognition the movie received.
PYAASA (1957): Guru Dutt’s classic tale of an artiste’s struggle was acclaimed for both its storytelling and technical bravura. S.D. Burman’s music aided the layered narrative.
DO ANKHEN BARAH HAATH (1957): The V. Shantaram classic was based on a real-life, open-prison experiment that triggered jail reforms across the country.
MOTHER INDIA (1957): Mehboob Khan’s epic was the first Indian nominee for an Academy Award in the best foreign language film category. It also set the template for the portrayal of movie mothers in the coming decades.
MAYA BAZAAR (1957): The epic fantasy film directed by Kadiri Venkata Reddy, based on the Mahabharat, greatly upped the technical quotient for its time and also became the first Telugu movie to be remastered and coloured in 2010.
MADHUMATI (1958): Bimal Roy’s Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala-starrer was one of the earliest Indian films to tackle reincarnation as a theme. The musical blockbuster spawned more credited and uncredited remakes than one can keep count of.
KAGAZ KE PHOOL (1959): Guru Dutt’s semi-autobiographical film was a commercial failure, but is regarded today as one of the great tragic melodramas of Indian cinema.
MEGHE DHAKA TARA (1960): Ritwik Ghatak’s Partition saga has acquired cult status over the years for its depiction of the struggle of a fractured middle-class family, its visual themes and incredible portrayal of loss.
MUGHAL-E-AZAM (1960): K. Asif’s epic took more than a decade to make thanks to delays caused by the insurmountably grand vision of its maker. The cult romance made Rs6 crore on release, which adjusted for inflation, is equivalent to more than Rs1,300 crore today.
GUNGA JUMNA (1961): The film produced by actor Dilip Kumar was possibly the first mainstream Indian film to have the lead actor on the wrong side of the law and inspired many good brother-bad brother movies.
BANDINI (1963): Bimal Roy’s film was a dark masterpiece of tangled emotions, with fine performances by Nutan and Dharmendra, and S.D. Burman’s haunting songs including Mora Gora Ang Laile and O Mere Majhi.
HAQEEQAT (1964): One of the finest Indian war films, Chetan Anand’s movie, starring Dharmendra and Balraj Sahni, is set against the backdrop of the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962.
CHARULATA (1964): Satyajit Ray adapted Rabindranath Tagore’s story of a lonely housewife (played by Madhabi Mukherjee) with his customary sensitivity and eye for telling detail.
CHEMMEEN (1965): This beautifully shot 1965 film, one of the classics of Malayalam cinema, tackled the difficult subject of an inter-religious affair. It was screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
GUIDE (1965): The Vijay Anand film based on R.K. Narayan’s novel fuses love, heartbreak and penance together in a way few could have managed.
WAQT (1965): Yash Chopra’s lavish drama was the first Bollywood multi-starrer and introduced the lost-and-found formula of a family being separated at the beginning only to be reunited at the end. It was one of the most successful films of its time.
ENGA VEETTU PILLAI (1965): This M.G. Ramachandranstarrer was an example of the socially conscious image south Indian actors were cultivating in their films at the time. It spawned a massively successful Hindi version starring Dilip Kumar titled Ram Aur Shyam.
TEESRI MANZIL (1966): One of Vijay Anand’s most engaging thrillers, Teesri Manzil is chiefly remembered for Shammi Kapoor and Asha Parekh cutting loose to some of R.D. Burman’s biggest hit songs.
I AM 20 (1967): An astonishing short film made by S.N.S. Sastry for Films Division in 1967, I Am 20, which interviews those born on Independence Day in 1947 to know their hopes, ambitions, fears and frustrations, has been rediscovered in recent years and recognized for the innovative little gem it is.
INDIA ’67 (1968): S. Sukhdev’s documentary, made for Films Division, is an evocative, wide-ranging look at a day in the life of India, consisting of a silent montage of shots from across the country.
USKI ROTI (1969): The Mani Kaul film marked a seminal moment in India’s new wave cinema movement. The striking visual design and minimalist approach make for Hindi cinema’s equivalent of Pather Panchali.
BHUVAN SHOME (1969): One of the central films of the Indian new wave, Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome is a playfully inventive comic tale of an uptight civil servant and his misadventures in a Gujarati village.
HEER RAANJHA (1970): Chetan Anand’s romantic film played out entirely in verse, including its spoken dialogue. Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi, who wrote the verse dialogue, pulled off a remarkable feat.
PAKEEZAH (1972): Like Mughal-e-Azam, Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah was another epic production that reached the screen more than a decade after it was initially conceived. Most people tend to focus on “Tragedy Queen” Meena Kumari’s final performance, but the cinematography (by Josef Wirsching and several others), Ghulam Mohammed and Naushad’s music, and the exquisitely detailed art design were just as exceptional.
ANKUR (1974): Shyam Benegal’s directorial debut took on everything from alcoholism to casteism to sexual desire in one powerful narrative. The National Award-winning film established lead actor Shabana Azmi as the face of parallel cinema.
SWAYAMVARAM (1974): Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s directorial debut pioneered the new wave film movement in Malayalam cinema and was also one of the first films in the language to use synchronized sound and outdoor locales.
SHOLAY (1975): Panned by critics and rejected by the trade initially, Ramesh Sippy’s cult classic is everything Bollywood folklore is symbolic of—action, drama, revenge, romance, comedy and chart-busting music. More than 40 years later, its success and impact remain unmatched.
GHATASHRADDHA (1977): The Girish Kasaravalli-directed film marked the advent of Kannada films into India’s new-age cinema movement. The National Award winner took on excommunication in an aristocratic Brahmin society.
AMAR AKBAR ANTHONY (1977): Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor and Vinod Khanna play brothers separated at birth and raised by Christian, Muslim and Hindu families. Manmohan Desai inserts songs, tears, fights and comic interludes like a chef adding, well, masala.
AN ENCOUNTER WITH FACES (1978): Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s short documentary film on children’s homes in Dongri and Mankhurd in Mumbai was nominated for the Academy Award in the Documentary Short Subject category.
GOL MAAL (1979): Arguably the blithest Hrishikesh Mukherjee comedy of all, Gol Maal pits the sublime Utpal Dutt and Amol Palekar in a double role (of sorts) against each other for 144 entertaining minutes.
ARTH (1982): Mahesh Bhatt’s powerful, semi-autobiographical film was not just the ultimate feminist take but also the perfect ode to the complex web that the husband, wife and other woman narrative demands.
APAROOPA (1982): Set in colonial upper-class Assam, the Jahnu Barua-directed vehicle was the first Assamese film produced by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) of India.
MOONDRAM PIRAI (1982): Balu Mahendru’s romantic drama has achieved cult status in Tamil cinema for its unique amalgamation of high emotional quotient and film-making style. Lead performances by Kamal Haasan and Sridevi (also featured in the Hindi remake Sadma) are the stuff acting school textbooks are made of.
ARDH SATYA (1983): Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya hasn’t aged a day since its release. Its gritty, bleak vision of law and order was a huge influence on the street films of the 1990s, as was Om Puri’s tortured lead turn.
JAANE BHI DO YAARO (1983): The cult of Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro seems to grow stronger with every passing year. The razor-sharp writing and absurdist set-pieces are perfectly matched with its social commentary and black humour.
MY DEAR KUTTICHATHAN (1984): India’s first 3D film was a Malayalam fantasy. A re-edited and dubbed Hindi version with additional scenes was released in 1997.
MOUNA RAGAM (1986): The romantic drama announced to the world that Mani Ratnam was a directorial talent to watch out for, the feminist themes of his script married to his technical expertise in more ways than one.
MR. INDIA (1987): An inspired mix of kids’ film, social satire and superhero caper, Shekhar Kapur’s Mr. India, about an ordinary man who can turn invisible, has endured as one of the first cinematic memories of a generation of moviegoers.
NAYAKAN (1987): Even though its narrative is basically that of The Godfather, Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan, with Kamal Haasan in the lead, is a strong contender for the greatest Indian gangster film of all time.
PUSHPAK (1987): Kamal Haasan’s black comedy was India’s first silent full-length feature film. Unnamed characters in a plot that follows a penniless, unemployed youth make for possibly the most subtle, intelligent slapstick comedy there could be.
SALAAM BOMBAY! (1988): Mira Nair’s 1988 film about Mumbai street kids has lost none of the raw power that saw it win the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and garner an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
OM DAR-B-DAR (1988): The Kamal Swaroop-directed film married mythology and art with politics and philosophy in a non-linear narrative unlikely to be understood by most Bollywood buffs. Despite achieving cult status, the film didn’t receive a commercial release until 2014.
PARINDA (1989): A seminal gangster film from Vidhu Vinod Chopra, celebrated for Binod Pradhan’s shadowy photography, the razor-sharp editing by Renu Saluja, and Nana Patekar’s turn as the psychotic crime boss Anna.
RAM KE NAAM (1992): Anand Patwardhan’s powerful and extremely relevant documentary about the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya released before the demolition of the disputed mosque in December 1992.
MANICHITRATHAZHU (1993): The psychological thriller brought up dissociative identity disorder before anyone in Indian cinema had heard of it and has spawned remakes in multiple languages including Tamil, Kannada, Bengali and Hindi, all commercially successful.
HUM AAPKE HAIN KOUN..! (1994): Sooraj Barjatya’s romantic musical doubled up as India’s favourite family drama and most successful box-office performer ever, flagging off the feel-good era for years after release.
BANDIT QUEEN (1994): Shekhar Kapur’s last film in India was also his crowning achievement—a biopic of Phoolan Devi, starring Seema Biswas, which remains as disturbing and powerful today as it was back in 1994.
SATYA (1998): Ram Gopal Verma’s Satya could lay claim to being the most influential Hindi film of the last two decades. It broke Indian cinema out of the romantic gloss of the 1990s, and gave a platform for new talent including Anurag Kashyap, Manoj Bajpayee, Vishal Bhardwaj and Saurabh Shukla.
HYDERABAD BLUES (1998): Nagesh Kukunoor’s amiably ramshackle 1998 film, made on a shoestring budget, anticipated the “Hindie” movement just before it came to the fore in the 2000s.
DIL CHAHTA HAI (2001): Releasing a year into the new century, Farhan Akhtar’s 2001 film introduced a new kind of cool to Hindi cinema, aided by its naturalistic dialogue, fetching production design and music by newcomers Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.
LAGAAN (2001): This 2001 hit, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker and starring Aamir Khan, ingeniously married two major Indian obsessions, film and cricket, and paved the way for future sports-centric audience-pleasers like Chak De! India and Dangal.
MUNNA BHAI M.B.B.S. (2003): Rajkumar Hirani’s directorial debut, about a hoodlum who decides to become a doctor, has a wealth of comic detail and irresistible performances by Sanjay Dutt, Arshad Warsi and Boman Irani.
RANG DE BASANTI (2006): Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s multi-starrer introduced India to citizen activism while also making patriotism cool. The debate on its take on social vigilantism may continue but its impact is undeniable.
BLACK FRIDAY (2007): The release of Anurag Kashyap’s grim take on the 1993 Bombay blasts was held up by the censor board for three years. It established Anurag Kashyap as the face of Indian indie cinema as soon as it made it to the theatres.
CHAK DE! INDIA (2007): The Shimit Amin drama remains the ultimate sports film for India. Shah Rukh Khan memorably played the role of a coach to a women’s hockey team.
OYE LUCKY! LUCKY OYE! (2008): No one has skewered social-climbing in Delhi as incisively as Dibakar Banerjee does in his second film. Abhay Deol plays a “superchor” who wants to move up in life.
HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY (2009): In this Marathi film, Paresh Mokashi imagines the making of India’s first feature film, Raja Harishchandra, in 1913, by Dadasaheb Phalke (Nandu Madhav).
3 IDIOTS (2009): Rajkumar Hirani’s comedy drama set records for box office success on release. The Aamir Khan-starrer was the first Indian film to cross the Rs200 crore mark, besides opening up the China market where it made Rs16 crore.
AADUKALAM (2011): Vetrimaran’s electrifying 2014 film is set in the world of cockfighting and features a standout lead turn from Dhanush.
CELLULOID MAN (2012): Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s documentary is a tribute to an unsung hero, film archivist P.K. Nair, as well as a love letter to Indian cinema itself.
GANGS OF WASSEYPUR I, II (2012): Anurag Kashyap’s sprawling, violent, endlessly quotable film about gangsters in small-town Jharkhand reinvigorated the crime genre.
ANGAMALY DIARIES (2017): In this Malayalam gangster film by Lijo Jose Pellissery, there’s no time to recover from one dazzling set piece before another’s upon you.
BAAHUBALI 2: THE CONCLUSION (2017): With Rs1,500 crore-plus in box-office earnings worldwide, the second part of S.S Rajamouli’s epic movie, according to film critic Baradwaj Rangan, “showed that people would still come to theatres if you gave them a spectacle”.
At 70, India has come a long way from the country the British exited in 1947, and which they believed (and hoped) would not survive in its then form. India has since evolved into a vibrant constitutional democracy and made rapid strides in several domains (although there is a lot of work still to be done). Over the next few days, to mark the 70th anniversary of India’s independence, Mint will profile 70 milestones across the years, and across domains—politics, business, entertainment and sport. Put together by Mint’s reporters and editors, these entirely subjective listings are far from comprehensive, as is only to be expected when one is dealing with the seven-decade-old post-independence history of a country as large and complex as India.
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