The roaring success of the Marathi film Sairat both in India and overseas has made moviegoers contemplate the purpose and quality of cinema. It is high time we went beyond mainstream Hindi cinema and explored the gems that filmmakers through the length and breadth of the country have to offer. We bring to you ten films from thriving film industries in various languages, with which to begin your journey:
1. Telugu: Maya Bazar (The Market of Illusions), 1957
A retelling of the ancient Sasirekha Parinayam, Maya Bazar is an epic fantasy film directed by KV Reddy. Starring stalwarts like NT Rama Rao, A Nageswara Rao and SV Ranga Rao, this film is known for its mellifluous music by S Rajeswara Rao and Ghantasala, stunning cinematography by Marcus Bartley and stellar performances by the ensemble cast.
Quick fact: The song Lahiri Lahiri Lahirilo has a moonlit boat ride which was in fact shot during noontime in a Chennai lake- just one of the examples of the brilliance that was achieved in spite of technical limitations in those days!
2. Bangla: Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud Capped Star),1960
Legendary director Ritwik Ghatak’s story about a selfless daughter’s sacrifices for her family, was based on a novel of the same name by Shaktipada Rajguru. Neeta (Supriya Chowdhury) belongs to a family of refugees from Bangladesh, whose efforts for her family’s well-being go unappreciated. Her poignant tale is set in the backdrop of the Partition of India and the plight of the refugees in the aftermath. The music of the film, by Jyotirindra Moitra is steeped in the Indian classical tradition and the film has been a formative influence for generations of filmmakers to follow.
3. Hindi: Guide, 1965
Adapted from RK Narayan’s eponymous novel, Guide remains one of the greatest cinematic works in Hindi. Capably directed by Vijay Anand, the film has memorable music by SD Burman and tackles themes of love, betrayal, social norms, marital tension and redemption among many others. Waheeda Rehman’s passionate Rosie is one of the most empowered heroines both in literature and cinema.
4. Konkani: Nirmon (Destiny), 1966
Inspired from Tennyson’s Enoch Arden, this film directed by A Salam was a phenomenon in Konkani cinema, and tackled the timeless theme of the protagonist’s (played by Celestino Alvares) masculine view of his duty towards his family. This film was instrumental in reviving interest in the Konkani language with its universally appealing story and popular songs, and people crowded the screenings for repeat views! It went on to win two National Awards- Best Actor and Certificate of Merit for Regional Films, the first ever for a Konkani film.
5. Kannada: Bangarada Manushya (The Man of Gold), 1972
Starring Kannada film stalwart Dr Rajkumar, this film by Siddalingaiah is the story of Rajiv, who returns to his ancestral village from the city and improves his family’s lot by innovations in farming. Famous for its inspirational songs, the film was so influential that many youngsters who had migrated to cities returned to their native villages and took up farming. Let it suffice to say that this film is one of the truest representations of rural India, and a commentary on how locally generated solutions are the answer to its problems.
6. Marathi: Pinjra (The Cage), 1972
One of the last major films by veteran V Shantaram, this film follows the story of the idealistic schoolteacher (played by Shriram Lagoo), who wishes to reform a Tamasha dancer (Sandhya), but ends up falling in love with her. The film explores themes of ethics, legitimacy, righteousness and the tussle between reason and emotion. Its songs, set to music by Ram Kadam, have become eternal classics.
7. Gujarati: Bhavni Bhavai (The Play of Life), 1980
Ketan Mehta’s directorial debut, this film is narrated in the lyrical style of the folk art Bhavai and stars New Wave greats like Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patil, Om Puri and Mohan Gokhale. It recounts the tale of a caste-ridden society where the untouchables are accorded second-class treatment and their significance to the society is unacknowledged. The bleak reality is presented with a comic touch, especially with Naseeruddin Shah’s portrayal of the petty tyrant.
Quick fact: Mehta dedicated his film to dramatist Bertolt Brecht who greatly influenced the director’s style, and Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, creators of Asterix.
8. English: 36 Chowringhee Lane, 1981
The directorial debut of Aparna Sen, this film was produced by Shashi Kapoor and narrates the story of an old Anglo-Indian teacher (Jennifer Kendal), who in the evening of her life finds herself lonely and unwanted. Kendal, whose parents ran the travelling theatre group Shakespeareana, gave an effortless performance as Violet Stoneham. The pathos and desolation of old age is depicted very poignantly in this film.
9. Malayalam: Manichithrathazhu (The Ornate Lock), 1993
Does this image look familiar? Shobhana won the National Award for Best Actress with her portrayal of Ganga/Nagavalli in this thriller which has been dubbed or remade in every major Indian language (Chandramukhi,Bhool Bhulaiyaa, ringing any bells?) One of the few films of its genre to receive critical acclaim, the appeal of this film lies in its climax, left rather open-ended for the audience to interpret. Fazil, the director was assisted by Priyadarshan, Siddique-Lal and Sibi Malayil, all of whom went on to become acclaimed directors in their own right.
10. Tamil: Iruvar (The Duo), 1997
Maniratnam’s able direction and Santosh Sivan’s riveting cinematography make Iruvar a textbook on filmmaking. A story of the nexus between films and politics, it draws from the friendship of MG Ramachandran and M Karunanidhi. Aishwarya Rai made her debut with this film which boasts of a stellar ensemble cast- Mohanlal, Prakash Raj, Revathy and Tabu among others. With an imposing background score and winning music, this film is often hailed as Maniratnam’s finest.
This list is in no way definitive and it has been an uphill task to choose one film per language to initiate movie buffs into lesser known realms. Got more recommendations? Share with us in the Comments below!
Title Image: quint