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A critic's list of the top twenty films of indian cinema

Moving Images
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1. The Apu Trilogy, Satyajit Ray, Bengali, 1955-1959
A masterly evocation of life and survival in India seen through the eyes of Apu as he grows from child to man to father. Pointillist in precision, lyrical in presentation, universal in theme.

2. Charulata, Satyajit Ray, Bengali, 1964
The film Ray called his most perfect. Never has a woman been filmed with such sensitivity in Indian cinema as Madhabi Mukherjee in this epic tragedy adapted from a Tagore novella on violation of trust in marriage.

3. Teen Kanya, Satyajit Ray, Bengali, 1964
Three gems of Tagore converted into vibrant cinema. ‘Postmaster’ is a poignant study of the relationship between a postmaster and an unlettered little girl. ‘Monihara’ an intriguing ghost story about a spoilt wife’s obsession for jewels; and ‘Samaapti’ the tale of the transformation of a tomboy to woman.

4. Duniya Na Mane, V. Shantaram, Hindi/Marathi, 1937
The "unexpected" revolt of a determined young girl against her fraudulent marriage with an old man. A cinematic tour de force.

5. Kismet, Gyan Mukerji, Hindi, 1948
The longest runner in Indian cinema history is a nonpareil entertainer that combines the lost-and-found theme with the story of a crook’s redemption through his love for a lame dancer.

6. Do bigha zameen Bimal Roy, Hindi, 1953
Heart-rending saga of a peasant struggling to save his piece of land. The race between a hand-pulled rickshaw and a horse carriage remains one of the classic sequences of Indian cinema.

7. Udayer Pathey Humrahi, Bimal Roy, Bengali/Hindi, 1944/45
Poor boy meets rich girl. And triggers off a far-ranging battle of ideologies. Witty and inspiring encounter across the great income divide. Catchy dialogue, heady ideals.

8. Chandralekha, S.S. Vasan, Hindi, 1948
Spectacular Indian costume drama about evil royalty and its overthrow. Grand escapism with suspense, thrills, dances, action, the works.

9. Parineeta, Bimal Roy, Hindi. 1953
Endearingly Indian domestic and class-struggle ethos in a superb adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chatterji’s tale of love and sacrifice.

10. Andaaz, Mehboob Khan, Hindi,1949
Tragic romance played with new-generation stars Nargis, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor centering on the vital theme of liberal westernism vs Indian traditions.

11. Awaara, Raj Kapoor, Hindi, 1956
Grandly-treated show of crime vs social uplift, through the leftist theme of environment shaping a man and not birth. Superbly meaningful entertainment for the post-independence audience.

12. Jagte raho, Raj Kapoor, Hindi, 1956
Off-beat portrayal of an honest rustic accidentally uncovering, through the course of a single night, the social evils that fester under the surface of genteel life in a big-city colony.

13. Mother India, Mehboob Khan, Hindi, 1957
The epic of epics: the saga of a peasant woman’s survival and devotion to ideals, a celebration of human grit and dignity in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

14. Navrang, V. Shantaram,HindI, 1959
A creative artist’s search for libidinal beauty in an orthodox set-up, with splendid use of colours and dances.

15. Pyaasa,Guru Dutt,Hindi, 1957
Brooding and stylish exploration of a poet’s quest for recognition, love and revolt without protest in a materialistic world. The classic Indian film on the outsider theme.

16. Padosan, Jyoti Swaroop for Mehmood, Hindi, 1968
Country bumpkin outwits jealous and cranky music teacher to woo beautiful urbanised neighbour, with the help of a hilarious band of amateur musicians. Ridiculous, uproarious, sublime.

17. Ankur,Shyam Benegal, Hindi, 1974
First of the Hindi new-wave hits, with an unusual rural backdrop and lingo, fresh faces, studio-less shooting, on the theme of landlordist exploitation of a labourer woman and her physically  handicapped husband.

18. Swayamvaram,Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Malayalam, 1975
This multiple award-winner was a grim realistic saga of a couple’s struggle to live life on their own terms.

19. Guide,Vijay Anand, Hindi,1965
Image-breaking R.K. Narayan novel of illicit love, treachery and enforced sainthood, adapted into a lavish yet sensitive film spanning the entire range of human emotions. Superb songs, exquisite dances.

20. Satyakam,Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Hindi, 1969
A gripping dramatic narration of one man’s combat against the cancer of corruption and exploitation in civic administration. Predictive of the politician-criminal nexus.


The last of film historian Firoze Rangoonwalla's 15 books on cinema was Cinema Mystique India.

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