The archetypal love story celebrating love - not marriage - based on Saratchandra’s famous 1917 novel. Has spawned numerous adaptations (Tamil, Telugu and yet another Hindi version in 1957 with Dilip Kumar) but the original directed by P.C. Barua has the one and only Saigal.
Sant Tukaram Marathi, 1936
Tukaram is the prototype of the poet-saints of the bhakti movement who broke the stranglehold of ritualism in religion. A joint directorial effort by Damle and Fathelal - hitherto mere technicians at Prabhat Film Studio - this is truly a ‘cult’ film.
Dr Kotnis Ke Amar Kahani Hindi/English, 1946
The ruling English approved of this true-life story of a young Indian doctor (who, in 1935, went to work amongst the Chinese war-wounded) and the Communists applauded because the Chinese force depicted in the film was the famous Communist Eighth Route Army of Mao Zedong which eventually established Communist China! But where have all the true-life stories gone?
Parasakthi Tamil, 1952
Made Sivaji Ganeshan a household name with his Ka-Ka-Ka song based, surprisingly, on a composition by Subramania Bharati - Tamil Nadu’s greatest 20th century poet. The film, which shows the heroine as a political activist, uncannily anticipates the rise of the dmk to political ascendancy.
Shree 420 Hindi, 1955
Once again with a ‘catchy’, still-remembered song - Mera Joota Hai Japani - and an absolutely unbeatable title which is still to be bettered. The chemistry of the love scenes between Raj and Nargis makes this not just another love story. The rain scene with the lovers singing pyar hua under an umbrella may not match the sheer power and dramatic intensity of the boat duet in Awaara but one got the message.
Pather Panchali Bengali, 1955
The true non-pareil of Indian cinema. I won’t attempt to gild this truly Bengali lily further.
Kaagaz Ke Phool Hindi, 1959
Guru Dutt’s great swan song.
Jalsaghar Bengali, 1958
Notable for a redoubtable performance by Chhabi Biswas in the lead role and Vilayat Khan’s magnificent music - his sole turn with Ray - won the film an award for music alone at Moscow in 1959.
Subarnarekha Bengali, 1965
Madhabi (not yet) Mukherjee was never more breathtakingly beautiful and Ghatak more stridently ideological than in this black and white classic. My personal favourite over its more famous stablemate, Meghey Dhaka Tara.
Garam Hawa Urdu, 1973
The late Mrs Gandhi’s only artistic intervention saved the film from the devouring jaws of the Central Censor Board. Based on an Ismat Chugtai story, the film explores the moral dilemmas of Muslims in the aftermath of Partition.
Maya Darpan Hindi, 1974
Nirmal Verma’s short story turned into Indian ‘art’ cinema’s sole icon by Kumar Shahani, Ritwik Ghatak’s ‘pet’ student at FTII, Satyajit Ray’s jibe in Our Films, Their Films notwithstanding.
Nirmalayam Malayalam, 1974
Written and directed by M.T. Vasudevan Nair, the film - which won the President’s Gold Medal - has a towering performance by P.J. Anthony as the velichapad (temple priest).
Deewar Hindi, 1974
Amitabh Bachchan - recently voted the top actor in a recent BBC Online Services poll - in his most charismatic role. His "narcissistically withdrawn lover" here reminds us of Faiz’s well-known line "Our world knows other torments than of love and other happiness than a fond embrace." Has attracted a lot of critical attention of late.
Ghatashradha Kannada, 1977
From a short story by Jnanpith Award Winner, U.R. Anantha Murthy, Girish Kasarvalli has fashioned the most enduring of his films. The subsequent Hindi version - not by Girish - pales in comparison.
Ekdin Pratidin Bengali, 1980
This least pretentious and most effective of the frequently tendentious Mrinal Sen probes the middle class mind and middle class morality expertly.
Imagi Ningthem Manipuri, 1982
The toast of Filmostav ‘82, Calcutta. Has something of the artless simplicity, if not the lyricism, of Pather Panchali and the early neo-realist films from Italy. But Aribam Syam Sharma’s film has a sweet-sour taste all its own!
Teacher-critic-cricket freak T.G. Vaidyanathan’s latest book on cinema Hours in the Dark is published by OUP.