As we aptly demonstrated in this week’s cover story, the Bollywood industry is vast and has been through many transformations. While it can be said that all films made within India are technically part of “Bollywood”, the characteristic big musical dance numbers and epic love stories are not present in every film created in the Bollywood system.
With this month’s TFS List, we wanted to draw your attention to some of the less brightly coloured films and highlight four films from Hindi cinema that are often overlooked.
Pyaasa, which means “thirsty”, is a 1957 film about a young poet named Vijay. Vijay spends his life out on the streets, avoiding the ridicule and taunting he experiences from his brothers when he is home. While out on the streets he meets a prostitute named Gulabo, who falls in love with both the man and the poetry, but when a dead homeless man is mistaken for Vijay, things take a turn. Vijay’s former employer pushes to have his poems published and succeeds. They are met with great adoration by readers, but Vijay’s attempts to declare himself alive are met with resistance.
While this portrait of an artist’s isolation struck a chord with audiences, it was not initially a hit. Over time it has grown to become one of India’s most beloved films, achieving international success (it was named one of the top 100 films of all time by TIME Magazine.)
Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India
If there is one film on this list that bridges the gap between Bollywood of today and yesterday, it’s Lagaan.
Released in 2001, Lagaan is the story of a small town in India during the British colonial rule. With crops failing and over-taxation bleeding them dry, the town attempts to plead their case to the British. Instead of relieving them of their taxes, a bargain is struck: if the townspeople can beat the officers in a game of cricket, all taxes will be waived for the entire town for three years. The townspeople embark on a journey to learn a foreign game with an outcome that will determine their fate for years to come.
Lagaan was a huge critical success both in India and internationally. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and has persisted in being a part of lists just like this one for many years.
Do Aankhen Barah Haath
Do Aankhen Barah Haath, or Two Eyes, Twelve Hands, is one of the most celebrated Hindi films of all time. It tells the story of a young prison warden who rehabilitates six violent offenders who have been released on parole. The young warden’s regime of hard work on a horribly run down farm demonstrates that if someone works hard, has a goal and is persistent in the pursuit of it, they will always succeed. The prisoners produce a hearty harvest and are remade into new men in the meantime.
The film was met with great critical success, winning the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. Released in 1957, this film has resonated across India to become one of their best and most beloved films.
All of the films on this list have been important to India, but Mother India more than most. The film tells the story of Radha, a woman so morally pure that she’s almost goddess-like, trying to raise her sons in dire poverty.
The film is generally considered to be an allegory for post-independence India, especially in how it looked at the country’s function without British authority, bringing about discussions of nationalism and women’s independence.
Mother India was met with great critical success, but also beloved by audiences. It was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. But despite all the academia, you should really just watch it because it’s a good movie.
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