1.) Raja Harischandra (1913) directed by Dadasaheb Phalke. Silent. First Indian feature film. About the life of Lord Krishna. Includes impressive special effects.
|Scene from Raja Harischandra.|
2.) Alam Ara (“The Ornament of the World”) directed by Ardeshir Irani (1931). First Indian sound film. Musical fantasy.
3.) Awara (“Vagabond”) (1951) directed by Raj Kapoor. About a homeless man, includes comedy, music, and social commentary.
4.) Do Bigha Zamin (“Two Thirds of an Acre of Land”) directed by Bimal Roy (1953). Social criticism, about a poor farmer’s struggle to retain his meager plot of land.
5.) Pather Panchali (“Song of the Little Road”) directed by Satyajit Ray (1955). The first of Ray’s Apu Trilogy. About a Bengali family struggling to make ends meet, as seen through the eyes of a young boy. No musical numbers.
6.) Shree 420 ("Mr. 420") directed by Raj Kapoor (1955). About a college-bound young man who discovers the social inequalities of Bombay.
7.) Aparajito (“The Unvanquished”) directed by Satyajit Ray (1957). Second of the Apu Trilogy, follows the central character of Pather Panchali.
8.) Mother India (1957) directed by Mehboob Khan. A national epic, called India’s Gone With the Wind. Blend of Soviet-style social realism, melodrama, comedy, and music. About an Indian peasant woman who suffers social injustice while trying to raise her two sons.
9.) Pyaasa (“Thirsty”) directed by Guru Dutt (1957). About an impoverished, misunderstood poet who is disowned by his family but ultimately finds triumph in his art.
10.) Ajantrik (“The Mechanical Man”) directed by Ritwik Ghatak (1957). About a Bengali taxi driver’s relationship with his automobile, which is also a main character in the story.
11.) The Music Room (1958) directed by Satyajit Ray. About the erosion of an aristocratic family thanks to its music-obsessed patriarch, who continues to throw decadent concerts while his mansion crumbles around him.
12.) Kaagaz ke Phool (“Paper Flowers”) directed by Guru Dutt (1959). About a film director who suffers disgrace and a crumbling marriage.
13.) Sujata (“Well Born”) directed by Bimal Roy (1959). Social criticism of the caste system, about a romance between a Brahmin young man and an untouchable woman.
14.) Apu Sansar (“The World of Apu”) directed by Satyajit Ray (1959). Third film of the Apu Trilogy. Together these films form the core of Ray’s artistic project: the humanist, respectful portrayal of the lives of ordinary people, far from the escapism of Bollywood.
15.) Chaudhvin ka Chaud (“Full Moon”) directed by M. Sadiq (1960). Addresses Hindu-Muslim tensions through a love triangle story.
16.) Mughal-e-Azam (“The Emperor of the Mughals”) directed by K. Asif (1960). Evokes the glories of the Mughal era. Worth seeing for its magnificent musical numbers alone, it carries with it the aura of ancient love stories and poetry, a time when lovers communicated in suggestive verse and the subtlest touch implied the most intense eroticism.
17.) Devi (“The Goddess”) directed by Satyajit Ray (1960). About the conflict between tradition and modernity. About a village girl believed by her father to be an incarnation of the goddess Kali and worshipped by the local villagers, who is dying inside from the desire to live a normal life.
18.) The Cloud-Capped Star (1960) directed by Ritwik Ghatak. Part of a trilogy of films dealing with the aftermath of the Partition of Bengal during the Partition of India in 1947, and the refugees coping with it.
19.) Sahbib, Bibi air Ghulam (“The Master, The Wife, and The Slave”) directed by Albrar Alvi (1962). Haunting romance set during the decline of the Bengali aristocracy.
20.) Charulata (“The Lonely Wife”) directed by Satyajit Ray (1964). Examines the role of women in a changing society, based on a Rabindranath Tagore novel set in the late 19th century about a neglected wife.
21.) Gumnaam (“Unknown”) directed by Raja Nawathe (1965) . A groovy haunted-house mystery featuring lots of rock n’ roll.
22.) Bhuvan Shome (1969) directed by Mrinal Sen. Realistic story about the middle class, made by a committed Marxist.
23.) Pakeezah (“Pure”) directed by Kamal Amrohi (1972). About a high class courtesan’s desire for a mysterious man who leaves her a love note on a train.
24.) A River Called Titas (1973) directed by Ritwik Ghatak. Explores the lives of fishermen on the bank of the Titas River in Bangladesh.
25.) Sholay (“Embers”) directed by Ramesh Sippy and starring Amitabh Bachchan (1975). A “curry western” featuring rugged outdoor scenery, a revenge plot, and action sequences like a thrilling train robbery.
26.) Manthan (“The Churning”) directed by Shyam Benegal (1976) Film funded by the dairy farmers whose story it tells. Other films by Benegal, including Ankur (1973), Nishant (1975), and Bhumika (1977), formed a quartet of films that put him at the forefront of a 1970s New Wave movement in India. Other notable films of this movement include G. Aravindan’s Kanchana Sita (1977), and Mani Kaul’s A Day’s Bread (1970).
27.) The Chess Players (1977) directed by Satyajit Ray. About aristocratic apathy. Set in 1856, its two main charters play endless games of chess while the British take over India.
28.) The Ritual (1977) directed by Girish Kasaravalli. Set in the Karnataka Province in southwestern India, the film uses searing black and white images to create a powerful indictment of the caste system’s treatment of women.
29.) Umrao Jaan (1981) directed by Muzaffar Ali. Based on a classic tale of star-crossed lovers in 19th century Lucknow, includes traditional dance and music.
30.) 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981) directed by Aparna Sen. About the friendship between a lonely English teacher, a former student, and her fiancé.
31.) The Rat Trap (1981) directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Set in the southern state of Kerala, about an anti-hero unable to adapt to social change who represents a dying feudal class desperately clinging to outmoded ways.
32.) Genesis (1986) directed by Mrinal Sen. Quasi-religious fable.
33.) Salaam Bombay! (1988) directed by Mira Nair. International hit. A portrait of Bombay through the eyes of street kids.
34.) The crime films of Ram Gopal Varma: Shiva (1990), Rangeela (1995), Satya (1998), and Company (2002). Dramatize the seedy underbelly of organized crime in Bombay.
35.) Mississippi Masala (1991) directed by Mira Nair. About an Indian family living in Nigeria who are forced to relocate to the American south because of political unrest. The daughter strikes up a relationship with a local African-American man (played by Denzel Washington), brining up her own family’s prejudices and those of the locals as well.
36.) 1942: A Love Story (1993) directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. About religious and cultural strife during the turbulent 1940s.
37.) Bandit Queen (1994) directed by Shekhar Kapur. Based on the true story of the folk heroine Phoolan Devi, a low-caste woman who was married at age eleven, raped by the police when she tried to escape her husband, and ran off to become the most notorious bandit in northern India.
38.) Bombay (1995) directed by Mani Ratnam. Addresses Hindu-Muslim tensions through the story of a Hindu man and a Muslim woman who marry and move to Bombay to escape the wrath of their families, only to find themselves caught up in the 1993 riots.
39.) The Making of the Mahatma (1996) directed by Shyam Benegal. About Mahatma Gandhi’s years in South Africa, where he studied what he called the twenty-one forms of truth, which he would later use to lead India out from under British rule.
40.) Fire (1996) directed by Deepa Mehta. About a lesbian relationship, and the general oppression of women at the hands of religious orthodoxy. First part of a trilogy.
41.) Earth (1998) directed by Deepa Mehta. Follows the fates of several families of differing religions during the rise of violent religious intolerance after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.
42.) Taal (“Rhythm”) directed by Subhash Gai (1999). A romance, and a classic example of Bollywood’s subtle yet intense eroticism. Because kissing and nudity is forbidden, sexual energy is expressed in subtler ways—like two characters drinking from the same Coke bottle.
43.) Kandukondain Kandukondain (2000) directed by Rajiv Menon. Tamil-language adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, set in India, with music by A.R. Rahman.
44.) Mission Kashmir (2000) directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Story of the intertwined lives of a police officer trying to quell Muslim violence in Kashmir and an aspiring suicide bomber.
46.) Lagaan (“Land Tax”) directed by Ashutosh Gowariker (2001). Set in colonial India, about villagers’ rebellion against British land tax, featuring an epic cricket match. Nominated for Oscar for best foreign language film.
47.) Shadow Kill (2002) directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Religion, politics, and human frailty are all embodied in the main character, an executioner who spends his time dreading when he will be called upon to do his job.
48.) Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (2002) directed by Aparna Sen. A Hindu woman and a Muslim man form a bond on a bus that is attacked by terrorists.
49.) Water (2005) directed by Deepa Mehta. Third film in trilogy. Concerns the plight of widows under Hindu religious doctrine.
50.) The Namesake (2006) directed by Mira Nair. Based on the novel by acclaimed writer Jhumpa Lahiri, it tells the story of an Indian family living in New York, and the adult son’s struggle to balance his desire to adapt with his parents traditional ways.