Most of the Indian movies that are made even today are musicals with umpteen songs and dances merged into melodramatic sequences.But there is another side to the industry that makes about 700 movies per year.
Listed below are a few worthy entries into criterion.Ranging from Oscar Nominees to biopics, gangster epics to docu dramas, films with neo-realist flavor to true-blue bollywood song and dance fare.
So much to watch, so many stories to enjoy more so through subtitles.
Vijay Anand – Guide
Satyajit Ray – Charulata, Pather Panchali, Aranyer Din Ratri
Mrinal Sen – Kandahar, Akaler sandhane
Ritwik Ghatak – Meghe Dhaka Tara and Subarna-Rekha
Guru Datt – Pyaasa, Kaagaz ke Phool, Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam
Mani Ratnam’s Roja, Iruvar, Nayakan
RamGopal Varma’s Company, Satya
Ashutosh Gowariker – Lagaan, Swades
Anurag Kashyap – Black Friday
Farhan Akthar – Dil Chahta Hai
Mira Nair – Monsoon Wedding
Shyam Benegal – Kalyug
K.Vishwanath’s Sagara sangamam
Hrishikesh Mukherjee – Anand, Satyakaam
Gulzar – Ijaazat,Aandhi
Shahi Kapoor – New Delhi Times
K.Asif – Mughal-e-Azam
Kamal Amrohi – Paakezah
Ramesh Sippy – Sholay
Aditya Chopra – Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
Sooraj Bajatiya – Hum Aapke Hain Kaun
Subhash Ghai – Karma
Sanjay Bhansali – Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam
Nagesh Kukunoor – Dor, Iqbal
Rajkumar Hirani – Munnabhai series
Fire – Deepa Mehta
abhijan by satyajit ray is the only indian film i own, it was a big influence on taxi driver apparently.
Apart from Lagaan I haven’t seen any of the films that you mentioned above.
There are many that I’ve wished (for quite a while) that Criterion could get.
Satyajit Ray is one of my favorite filmmakers from anywhere; I’ve seen about half of his body of work, and even my least favorite (thus far) – Nayak – is still an ingenious film. If Criterion could get rights, the Apu trilogy, and Charulata would probably be the best candidates for releases. There are so many other great films of his. There’s an abundance of Ray-related film writing which is more easily obtainable (in the US at least) than most of his films – the Andrew Robinson bio, a collection of his film criticism, and a few volumes of autobiographical writing; I’d recommend all of that material to anyone interested.
I’ve seen two of Ritwik Ghatak’s films – Cloud Capped Star and Subarna-Rekha – and both are excellent, but very, very dark, which wouldn’t scare off most Criterion admirers, but they are certainly a dramatic departure from any stereotype I might have ever held about Indian (specifically Bengali, in this case) film. Both of those films are interesting technically, and the back-story behind them – both Ghatak’s life and experiences, and the greater historical context surrounding them makes them major, major films; deserving of wider exposure around the world. I’d like to see more of his work.
I’ve never been able to track down any of Mrinal Sen’s films, but he does sound quite interesting. He had a rather elaborate website up a year or so ago; I need to do some surfing and see if it’s still up, or if it has expanded.
I’ve liked the few of Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor’s films that I’ve been able to see.
Thanks for reminding me, how could I forget all those you mentioned, they are like prelude to whatever Indian cinema that followed
Ray’s Charulata, Apu Trilogy( the third part “world of apu” is available on criterion), Aranyer Din Ratri should definitely be in criterion.
Mrinal Sen’s Kandahar, Akaler sandhane
Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara (Cloud Capped Star) and Subarna-Rekha
Guru Datt’s Pyaasa, Kaagaz ke Phool, Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam
Updated my list.
Here are a couple of sites which might interest you,
Adam, the list is now updated with more of Ray’s monumental work. you might want to check them out.
Aranyer Din Ratri is a great, great film – I think one of Ray’s most overlooked. The picnic scene is one of THE reasons I think Ray was brilliant.
Pyaasa, Kaagaz ke Phool – those are the two Guru Dutt films I’ve seen, and they are both outstanding – as musicals, they are both unusually naturalistic – there’s a fine ‘magical realist’ quality to both…
Exactly it has got its moments but like you said picnic scene has to be the best, and the game that they played is still on in some family parties I have been to. :-)
All the above movies are great in indian cinema but equal credit should go the writers too for writing excellent stories,i agree that most of the above movies are written by the directors themselves but if you take the case of Vijay Anand’s “Guide” it is the excellent novel written by great indian writer called R.K Narayanan.
Perhaps the greatest Indian movie ever Ray’s Pather Panchali is a short story by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay and Black Friday by S. Hussain Zaidi
Lest we forget, Monsoon Wedding.
for Lillette & Vijay Raaz, for the very intelligent use of Hindi film music (a rarity), the wedding theme and the underlying little threads that culminate in the end.
added Monsoon Wedding to the list. Thanks for reminding George.
pardon me but trying my best to bring these movies to notice….
Being Indian, I sometimes sit through some of the mainstream song-and-dance studio churn-outs to keep certain people company, many of who themselves consider the 700-films-a-year part of the industry as a joke, only watching it to poke fun, especially at cheesy Hollywood remakes.
On the other side, as you’ve mentioned, there certainly are some great films that need a strong and patient mind to devour. I see you’ve mentioned Nayakan by Mani Ratnam. It was the only Indian film that made TIME magazine’s Top 100 films. Another great movie by Mani Ratnam is Bombay, or Mumbai in Hindi. It is wrongly titled as Bumbai over at IMDb. Another addition to the list is director Vishal Bharadwaj’s Omkara.
So yeah, Mani Ratnam – Bombay, and Vishal Bharadwaj – Omkara.
I saw a film recently at a festival called Vanaja by Rajnesh Domalpalli. I liked it a lot and would recommend checking it out.
one word…. SHOLAY!
Sholay feels like an indulgent favorite for people rather than a world class masterpiece.Sholay, Omkara, Maqbool etc. would only qualify for a second list and not this one in particular.
sholay may not be a deep or world class masterpiece, but it is historical in indian cinema. it is the gone with the wind, star wars, or e.t. the first indian blockbuster film where pretty much everyone in india lined up to see it and waited in line for hours to see. sure, there are more poignant indian films, but it is not to be discounted.
In addition to Satyajit Ray and Guru Dutt’s work mentioned above, I recommend:
Mughal-E-Azam (K. Asif, 1960)
Mother India (Mehboob Khan, 1957)
Umrao Jaan (Muzzaffar Ali, 1981)
Pakeezah (Kamal Amrohi, 1972)
Silsila ( Yash Chopra 1981),
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (Aditya Chopra 1995)
Devdas (Bimal Roy, 1955)
Dil Se (Mani Ratnam, 1998)
Phoolan Devi-Bandit Queen (Shekhar Kapur, 1994)
Shor (Manoj Kumar, 1972)
Rang De Basanti (Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, 2006)
…and Sholay (which Eraserhead mentioned above).
I don’t know exactly what the pre-requisites are for a a film to be considered a “world class masterpiece”, but these are films which are brilliant productions, in my opinion, are benchmarks in Indian cinema history and have enough production material backing them to make a juicy Criterion release.
If you are interested in other films which are maybe less critical/interesting as far as narrative or production go (or some which just lack the amount of behind-the-scenes material to back up a Criterion release), I’d also add: Veer-Zaara (Yash Chopra, 2004), Paheli (Amol Palekar, 2005), Dor (Nagesh Kukunoor, 2006) and even Devdas (Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 2002) if only for the obscene production value and excellent music, which after all is part of mainstream Indian cinema.
Without being judgemental, I would want to reiterate that run-of-a-mill bollywood potboilers are not looked forward at criterion, atleast that’s what I believe looking at their repertoire.
DDLJ, Dil Se,Rang De Basanti are nothing without the music and especially ARRahman (for latter two), we have to observe that nobody watches a film leave alone appreciating them because of one or more glittering song and dance sequences.
I have utmost respect for Nagesh Kukunoor and I would love him to show up on criterion sometime in the future after he has atleast a couple more movies like Iqbal and Dor.
Veer-Zaara and Devdas – I wouldn’t even want to delve into these.
The original list above started with a few and then was updated by user requests for adding sensible movies that had a universal appeal and theme, that even folks form italy or a Japan or for that matter cinephiles in LA would love to like them.
Andy, an important film I forgot to mention earlier is Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Muthamittal. It was one of the very few contemporary non-Hindi Indian films that had a good run at film festivals and received a strong reception. If Criterion were to dip into Mani Ratnam’s oeuvre and pick his top three, this would certainly be one. Has anyone seen it?
And, hey, it’s not of great import, but I’d love it if you could correct his name to Mani Ratnam.
On a completely different note, I’m amazed at how all-round and worldly most of you cinephiles are.
Sorry, double post.
Got Mani Ratnam right this time and good find Nikhil – Kannathil Muthamittal.
Mani Ratnam’s criterion box set – ah…beautiful life!
I personally didn’t think I had included “run-of-the-mill Bollywood potboilers” in my first list, but I can accept that taste is purely subjective…
For example I’m really surprised you included Dil Chata Hai in your post, because in my opinion there aren’t even any good glittering song and dance sequences to mollify the unspectacular acting, under-developed plot lines and unbelievably trite ending! I suppose the song “Woh Ladki Hai Kahan” was a sort of stunted precursor to the same better-executed idea in Om Shanti Om, but that’s as much as I’m willing to cede on that film ;)
Oh, DDLJ is amazing! I think it’s actually one of my favorites. The quintessential hero and heroine (Kajol’s best movie, I think, from the few I’ve seen), the mythical return to the homeland, the PURE FILMI-NESS of Amrish Puri’s performance from beginning to end! This film is an excellently cinematic and explicit representation of Lacan’s Name-of-the-Father. I thought the cinematography was incredibly dynamic and knowledgeable of the parameters established by European and North American film history, and adept at referencing these as well as the themes and semiotics that came to national recognition in the Indian film industry itself.
I thought Veer-Zaara was an interesting example of bi-national relations (which have ideologically been articulated through the politics of production and distribution of films in India and Pakistan), as well as a gauge of the types of representation allowed to Punjabi/Sikh identity on celluloid. I agree that the acting was nothing particularly special, Preity Zinta is far from my favorite actress, but I thought she engaged her character well and at least was conscious of different cultural nuances between the two countries (through things like an attempt at an Urdu-ized pronunciation of Hindi, for example). I was also pleased with Rani Mukherjee’s performance and was glad she kept from overacting as she often tends to do. That’s why it’s on my “good, but not Criterion material” list.
(I hope it was clear in my post that the second list is composed of films that are worthwhile endeavors to watch if one is looking for an experience of Indian cinema in its many forms, but may not fit the profile for a grandiose Criterion release for the reasons I mentioned. Although, to be fair, Criterion did release Chasing Amy and Armageddon (why?) and I might not be in a position to determine if cinema that does not completely transcend conceptual and aesthetic expectations is to be barred with such certainty from the hopes of being added to Criterion’s Library).
As far as A.R. Rahman goes….the score is part of the film, even the item songs (and I don’t think it overpowered or stunted any of the components of Rang De Basanti or Dil Se. Speaking of the latter, the surreal beauty of the song Chaiyya Chaiyya (for example), especially the Sufi poetry of the lyrics is impeccably situated in the movie).
I’m not exactly sure what the universal appeal and theme of a film might be, although the ones I listed (besides being good films in other aspects) utilize romantic love (unfettered, transgressive, tragic, you name it!) as a narrative centerpiece, and I’m willing to bet in most cultural situations that’s generally an understandable, or at least interesting topic.
In any case, I’m not in any way related to India or Indian culture (or Italy, Japan, or L.A. for that matter) and if the criteria for listing films for this topic is the ability to be enjoyed and lauded by a non-Indian viewer, I stand by my list of movies as a sensible compilation of good and even exceptional productions of cinema in an international context.
Sorry for the exceptionally long post, but I’m glad to contribute to this topic!
Lets not forget theres also a new breed of young Indian movie makers making films like “Everybody says Im fine” and “Traffic Signal”
Great input Irene!
And Maneck, Everybody Says I’m Fine was an important film for India, and for Rahul Bose. Other films along this line are Split Wide Open, Bombay Boys, Chameli, and not forgetting Mr. and Mrs. Iyer.
Irene, I failed to recognize that you represent a microcosm of non-Indian cinephiles who would be interested in watching true-blue Bollywood fare, my apologies for that.
It is not that I do not like movies like DDLJ, Hum aapke Hai Kaun etc , they are in my blood and I grew up with them, but at a corner of my mind there was a little apprehension about the reaction of criterion fans on including these kind of movies.
Anyway like you said taste being subjective I will add movies that you listed.I would love to see criterion come up with a “Essential Bollywood Romance” box set or a “Essential Early Indian Cinema” .
So lets keep this thread going. appreciate everybody for their inputs.
We need to see Satyajit Ray on criterion. And not crappy indian rental store dvd.
Updated the list with inputs…