The Top 30 Greatest Classic Bollywood Films of All Time

The top 30 greatest classic Bollywood films have been selected. Which films made the list of Bollywood’s best?

Greatest Bollywood Films of All Time Guru Dutt Waheeda Rehman

Introduction

Mr. and Mrs. 55 – Classic Bollywood Revisited! at last present our definitive list of the classic Bollywood movies you absolutely must see before you die. Hundreds of films were scored and ranked across multiple dimensions of Bollywood cinema including: story, direction, performances, musical composition, as well as cultural impact and legacy. We included Hindi-language films made between the period of 1949-1979 on our list of the best classic Bollywood movies ever made. Some on the list are beloved favorites of the industry, while others may surprise you.

Among the winners are directors Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy and Raj Kapoor–names synonymous with masterpiece Indian cinema–each with multiple films among Bollywood’s all-time greatest. Always wondered why a couple of young Harvard students like us love old Indian films so passionately? No matter what you think you know about Bollywood movies, the films on this list will change your understanding of Indian films like never before. From village epics that grapple with our national identity to the nostalgic poetry of sudden disillusionment, classic Bollywood films transport us from the enchanting glamour of Bombay nightlife to the majestic gardens of Kashmir. They carry our souls through hardship and loss and revive our spirits with redemption.

This is cinema the way it was meant to be. This is classic Bollywood.

The top 30 Films from 30 years of classic Hindi cinema (1949-1979):

1. Pyaasa

Pyaasa Guru Dutt

Guru Dutt, 1957

Pyaasa, or “thirst,”is the story of one man’s search for compassion in the cold cynicism of post-independence Indian society. Vijay is an unpublished poet, dismissed by his own family and scorned by socialites and his colleagues. After befriending a prostitute who shelters him, Vijay is believed dead and his poetry “posthumously” lionized. He becomes an overnight sensation, mourned by fans across the country, and the true Vijay is labeled an imposter. India entered its golden age of filmmaking in the 1950s when its long-awaited freedom from England and the hopes of a new government created a social tinderbox of great expectations and disillusionment. Pioneering the technique of utilizing song lyrics as direct extensions of the film’s dialogue, Guru Dutt as the writer-producer-director-star paints a stirring portrait of the commodification of humanity.

2. Mughal-e-Azam

Mughal-e Azam K. Asif

Karimuddin Asif, 1961

At the turn of the 17th century, Prince Salim falls in love with the court dancer Anarkali and wages war against his own father, Emperor Akbar, in order to marry her. Director K. Asif’s enormous cast, opulent sets, intricately designed costumes and extravagantly staged battle scenes made the film the most expensive ever produced in India at the time. But despite of all the grandeur, the film has a warm heart, and the dangers of the romance between Salim and Anarkali are infused into each glance they share. Although the love story is the backbone of the film, it is Emperor Akbar, from whom the film derives its name (“the Great Mughal”), who takes center stage as he is torn between love for his only son and the unforgiving demands of the Mughal Empire. Every line of dialogue is written with the ornamentation of poetry, casting an elegance to Mughal-e Azam‘s thunderous power.

3. Pakeezah

Pakeezah Kamal Amrohi

Kamal Amrohi, 1971

In the grandeur of Muslim Lucknow at the turn of the century, Pakeezah is a courtesan and dancer who dreams of leaving her life behind when a stranger falls in love with her in a train compartment, not knowing her true profession. With swirling romanticism and languid, dream-like cinematography, Pakeezah instantly became one of the most extraordinary musicals ever made. Perfectionist director Kamal Amrohi, who also wrote the script and some of the lyrics, effectively transports the viewer into a wistful age of bygone formality and luxury. Each of Pakeezah‘s popular semi-classical songs illustrates the duality of a courtesan’s poetry, at once glamorizing the elaborate rituals of love and destroying the institutions that upheld them.

4. Mother India

Mother India Mehboob Khan

Mehboob Khan, 1957

With tragedy strikes her family, newlywed village belle Radha is determined to weather a crucible of social and personal adversities without compromising her honor. In doing so, she reinvents herself as a heavy-handed symbol of India’s own pride as an ancient culture and a new democracy. A defining film in the history of Bollywood, director Mehboob Khan’s iconic Mother India set the pattern for the more than 60 years of Bollywood film that followed it. A mythologization of traditional values and an homage to the beauty of Indian heritage, Mother India‘s unabashedly epic glorification of self-sacrifice and female empowerment was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1958.

5. Guide

Guide Vijay Anand

Vijay Anand, 1965

A corrupt businessman is transformed into a spiritual guide after a misunderstanding that leads to his idolization by a village besieged by drought. Based on the R.K. Narayan novel of the same name and bolstered by a stunning soundtrack, Guide explores a fundamental Vedic transformation from materialism to a release from worldly attachments in an extremely unlikely hero. A scandalous love story settles into the background as director Vijay Anand boldly deconstructs social taboos, from adultery and non-traditional gender roles to religious fraud, in a film that stirringly evolves into a philosophical awakening greater than the circumstances it portrays–a brilliant reflection of the double entendre intended by its title.

6. Kaaghaz Ke Phool

Kaagaz Ke Phool Guru Dutt

Guru Dutt, 1959

In the 1950s at the height of India’s golden age of film-making, a celebrated movie director feels uninspired by the tinsel-lined glitz of studio era Bollywood. When he discovers a new actress, innocent to the corruption of the industry, he believes he has found a muse to ease his restlessness. A elegiac behind-the-scenes film about film-making, Kaaghaz Ke Phool became a cult classic following the eerie semi-autobiographical death of its director Guru Dutt. Trapped in a world of pretense, Guru Dutt illustrates a kind of yearning that softly and slowly erodes the soul–a desperate hunt for a human connection. The real triumph is in the film’s stunning camerawork, gracefully gliding through the empty studio sets like a beautiful spectre of Dutt’s own shattered desires.

7. Awaara

Awaara Raj Kapoor

Raj Kapoor, 1951

A female lawyer is determined to prove her lover’s innocence in a murder attempt on the life of a respected judge. Structured in medias res, the film’s flashback reveals the injustice of her lover’s past when the very judge who condemns him proves to be his own father: a man who threw his wife onto the streets when he believed a criminal had raped her. Echoing the dark lessons of the ancient Ramayana, Awaara shatters the nature versus nurture debate with a showman’s flair and surrealist fantasy, including the film’s legendary dream sequence evoking a descent into Hell. Awaara launched Raj Kapoor’s famous Chaplin-esque hero for the first time, who resonated immensely across the Soviet Union and Communist China as the voice of a new generation.

8. Sahib, Bibi, Aur Ghulam

Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam Guru Dutt

Guru Dutt/Abrar Alvi, 1962

Desperate to save her marriage, the younger daughter-in-law of a wealthy family sacrifices her moral boundaries to win over her alcoholic husband. A nostalgic glimpse into the decaying Bengali feudal system, Sahib, Bibi, Aur Ghulam unravels a dazzling murder mystery at the heart of its progressive view of societal redemption. Seen from the perspective of a young factory worker lured into a stately mansion as an ally of its young mistress, Sahib, Bibi, Aur Ghulam hauntingly opens the doors to the hollowness of exterior splendor. Spiraling against her will with the collapse of Calcutta’s landed aristocracy, Meena Kumari’s portrayal of the tormented wife is forever considered among the most magnificent on-screen performances of Bollywood history.

9. Aradhana

Aradhana Shakti Samanta

Shakti Samanta, 1971

When her lover dies at war, an unwed mother gives up her son up for adoption, vowing to watch over him in secrecy as he grows up in the house of another. Her poignant worship, or aradhana, of her dead fiancé and their son became immortalized in the Indian cinematic psyche as an audacious struggle of traditional society confronted by changing modern values. Boasting one of the all-time greatest soundtracks of Indian cinema, Aradhana epitomizes the versatility and creativity of the era’s leading music directors. From the youthful romance of “Kora Kaagaz Tha” to the grim Bardic undertones of “Safal Hogi Teri Aradhana” to the notoriously seductive “Roop Tera Mastana,” the film is as much remembered for its luminous performances as for exemplifying the golden age of Bollywood music.

10. Do Bigha Zameen

Do Bigha Zameen Bimal Roy

Bimal Roy, 1953

A farming family fights to save their ancestral land from a cunning mill owner. Do Bigha Zameen follows the father and son’s trip to Calcutta from their idyllic village to earn enough money to pay their debts–only to discover the miseries of urban poverty instead. Inspired by the work of Italian neorealism, Do Bigha Zameen pioneered early parallel cinema with a deliberate attention to the “everyday,” and the feeling of an invisible, unhurried camera whose shots and mis-en-scene are both carefully constructed and effortlessly fluid. Directed by Bengali auteur Bimal Roy, the film’s nationalistic electricity hit a broader audience, becoming the first Indian film to win the Prix Internationale at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival.

11. Bandini

bandini bimal roy

During the British Raj of the 1930s, a prison doctor falls in love with a convict who reveals the story of her tumultuous connection to a freedom fighter.

12. Madhumati

Madhumati Bimal roy

Bimal Roy, 1958

On a rainy night, a man enters an abandoned mansion where he is confronted by unfulfilled visions of his past life.

13. Shree 420

Shree 420 Raj Kapoor

Raj Kapoor, 1955

A country boy travels to Bombay to make his fortune where he is lured from the path of virtue into a thrilling life of deceit.

14. Sholay

sholay ramesh sippy

Ramesh Sippy, 1975

After his family is murdered by a notorious bandit, a former police officer enlists the help of two outlaws to capture him.

15. Ankur

shyam benegal Ankur

Shyam Benegal, 1974

The social hierarchies of rural India are disrupted when a landowner begins an affair with a poor farmer’s wife.

16. Hum Dono

Hum Dono vijay anand

Amarjeet, Vijay Anand (1961)

After returning from war, a soldier begins to lead a double-life when his doppelgänger’s family welcomes him home.

17. Barsaat (1949)

Barsaat raj kapoor

Raj Kapoor, 1949

Two men with different ideals of love search for answers with the coming of the monsoons.

18. Amar Akbar Anthony

Amar Akbar Anthony manmohan desai

Manmohan Desai, 1977

Three brothers are separated in childhood and eventually unite after one is brought up a Christian, one a Hindu, and one a Muslim.

19. Anand

Anand hrishikesh mukherjee

Hrishikesh Mukherjee, 1971

A doctor recounts the story of a terminally ill man who wishes to his live life to the fullest and spread happiness to those around him.

20. Haqeeqat

Haqeeqat chetan anand

Chetan Anand, 1964

A platoon of Indian soldiers leave their homes and loved ones to encounter the harsh realities of battle in the Indo-China War of 1962.

21. Don

Don 1978 chandra barot

Chandra Barot, 1978

A simpleton is trained to infiltrate the underworld by impersonating a criminal leader who has been killed in a police chase.

22. Mahal

Mahal kamal amrohi

Kamal Amrohi, 1949

A young lawyer is haunted by a ghostly woman in his new house, where the builder and his fiancée died shortly after it was built.

23. Sangam

Sangam raj kapoor

Raj Kapoor, 1964

An Indian Air Force Officer leaves for the Kashmiri front, entrusting his wife to the care of his best friend who has secretly always loved her.

24. Dosti

Dosti satyen bose

Satyen Bose, 1964

A penniless orphan makes the unexpected friendship of a blind boy who teaches him survival on the streets of Bombay.

25. Waqt

Waqt yash chopra

Yash Chopra, 1965

Natural disaster separates the members of a close-knit family who re-connect in a series of dramatic entanglements years later.

26. Deewar

Deewar yash chopra

Yash Chopra, 1975

A mother attempts to reunite her two estranged sons: one, a leading criminal of the underworld, and the other, an uprighteous policeman.

27. Kati Patang

Kati Patang shakti samanta

Shakti Samanta, 1970

As a promise to raise the child of her dying friend, a young woman risks starting a new life under a false identity.

28. Aandhi

Aandhi gulzar

Gulzar, 1975

A powerful politician struggles to reconcile her position with secrets from her past.

29. Purab Aur Paschim

Purab Aur Paschim major kumar

Manoj Kumar, 1970

East clashes with West when a traditional Indian student encounters swinging London society for the first time.

30. Bombai Ka Babu

Bombai Ka Babu Raj Khosla

Raj Khosla, 1960

A small-time thief is forced into a deadly web of deception when he gains the trust of his victim’s family.

Read more about these and other classic Bollywood movies on our film pages! Which films do you consider among classic Bollywood’s all-time best and why? Leave us a comment and let us know! Be sure to read our ranking of the top 30 Bollywood movie soundtracks next!

– Mrs. 55

Advertisements

Plagiarism in Hindi Film Music: Is Imitation the Most Sincere Form of Flattery?

Music directors in the Bollywood industry today are often accused of plagiarizing songs without giving proper credit to the original sources. Pritam Chakraborty, in particular, comes to mind as a composer who has been subjected to such accusations in recent times. Yet, lifting tunes is not a new trend in the industry: its origins can be  traced back to the industry’s earliest days when music directors of the Golden Era composed melodies heavily inspired by unattributed sources. Below, let’s take a listen to some plagiarized works composed by five of the greatest music directors of yesteryear: R.D. Burman, S.D. Burman, Shankar-Jaikishan, Salil Chowdhury, and O.P. Nayyar.

 R.D. Burman

Among the music directors of his time, R.D. Burman was perhaps the most notorious for composing inspired tunes.  Within the list that I’ve provided below, the magnitude of plagiarism varies from song to song. Some numbers below are direct lifts from their originals, such as the cult classic “mahbuubaa mahbuubaa” from Sholay (1975). Others represent more subtle variations of plagiarism: for instance,  the Kishore Kumar classic “dilbar mere kab tak mujhe” only takes it mukhDaa from “Zigeunerjunge” but has original antaras and interludes.  As a musician, I personally feel that the latter form of lifting is somewhat justifiable because it still reflects a level of creativity and originality on the part of the composer. The direct copying of tunes, however, raises ethical concerns and may have even placed music directors like R.D. Burman in legal trouble had such songs been released today.  Regardless of your opinion on this issue, what is universally striking about the list of songs below is the diversity of sources from which R.D. Burman drew his inspiration.  Collectively, the original melodies come from a smorgasbord of musical genres from all over the world: traditional folk, American pop, Greek, German, French, and even Iranian rock!

aao twist kare.n (Bhoot Bangla, 1965)  / “Let’s Twist Again” (Chubby Checker, 1962)
churaa liyaa hai tum ne  (Yaadon Ki Baraat,  1973) / “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium” (Bojoura, 1969)
teraa mujhse hai pahle kaa naataa koii  (Aa Gale Lag Ja, 1973)/ “The Yellow Rose of Texas” (Traditional)
mahbuubaa, mahbuubaa (Sholay, 1975) / “Say You Love Me” (Demis Roussos, 1974)
mil gayaa ham ko saathii (Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin, 1977) / “Mamma Mia” (ABBA, 1975)
jahaa.n terii yah nazar hai (Kaalia, 1981) / “Heleh Maali” (Zia Atabi, 1977)
kaisaa teraa pyaar (Love Story, 1981) / “I Have A Dream” (ABBA, 1979)
dilbar mere kab tak mujhe (Satta Pe Satta, 1982) / “Zigeunerjunge” (Alexandra, 1967)
kahii.n na jaa  (Bade Dilwala, 1983) / “La Vie En Rose” (Edith Piaf, 1955)
tum se milke  (Parinda, 1989) / “When I Need You” (Leo Sayer, 1977)

Zeenat Aman sizzles in “churaa liyaa tum ne” from Yaadon Ki Baraat (1973)

S.D. Burman

Like his son, S.D. Burman has also composed melodies that reflect marked inspiration from foreign sources.  Although we have already investigated the influence of Tagore’s music on S.D. Burman in a previous post, we now observe how his compositions also were inspired by non-Indian genres.  For a composer who was rather traditional in his musical output, who would have imagined that he lifted material from Mexican, Italian, and American country melodies?

chaahe koi khush ho (Taxi Driver, 1954) / “Tarantella” (Traditional)
jiivan ke safar me.n raahii
 
(Munimji, 1955) / “Mexican Hat Dance” (Traditional)
ek laDkii bhiigii bhaagii sii (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958) / “Sixteen Tons” (Tennessee Ernie Ford, 1955)
ham the vah thii (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958) / “Watermelon Song” (Tennessee Ernie Ford, 1957)
yah dil na hotaa bechaaraa (Jewel Thief, 1967) / “March” (Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957)
saalaa mai.n to sahab ban gayaa (Sagina, 1974) / “Chella Lla” (Renato Carosone, 1959)

The ever-versatile Kishore Kumar stars in a comic role in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1955)

Shankar-Jaikishan

In my opinion, Shankar-Jakishan were the quintessential music directors of Bollywood’s Golden Age. They combined the authenticity of traditional Indian music with the modern sophistication of Western influences to produce songs that appealed to the masses. It’s not surprising that some of their tunes reflect inspiration from foreign influences, but what is remarkable is that several of the songs listed below are remembered today as some of this duo’s most treasured gems.  Two songs from Chori Chori (1956), two songs from Gumnaam (1965), and the title track of Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai (1961) — among many other hits — were heavily inspired by existing Western numbers. I think you’ll be surprised to see some of your favorites on the list below…

ghar aayaa meraa pardesii (Awaara, 1952) / “Al Balad El Mahboub” (Umm Kulthum)
aajaa sanam madhur chaa.ndnii me.n ham (Chori Chori, 1956) / “Tarantella” (Traditional)
panchii banuu.n uDtii phiruu.n (Chori Chori, 1956) / “Coming Through The Rye” (Traditional)
aigo aigo yah kyaa ho gayaa?
(Boyfriend, 1961) / Stupid Cupid” (Connie Francis, 1958)
jiyaa ho jiyaa kuchh bol do  (Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai, 1961) / “Broken-Hearted Melody” (Sarah Vaughan, 1959)
sukuu sukuu (Junglee, 1961) / “Sucu Sucu” (Ping Ping, 1961)
dekho ab to kis ko nahii.n hai khabar (Janwar, 1964) / “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (The Beatles, 1963 )
gumnaam hai koii (Gumnaam, 1965) / “Charade” (Henry Mancini and Orchestra, 1963)
jaane chaman sholaa badan (Gumnaam, 1965) / “Autumn Leaves” (Nat King Cole, 1956)
le jaa le jaa meraa dil (An Evening in Paris, 1967) / “Man of Mystery” (The Shadows, 1960)
kaun hai jo sapno.n me.n aayaa? (Jhuk Gaya Aasman, 1968) / “Marguerita” (Elvis Presley, 1963)

Rajendra Kumar definitely breaks conventions of automobile safety during the picturization of “kaun hai jo sapno.n me.n aayaa?” from Jhuk Gaya Aasman (1968).

Salil Chowdhury

Salil Chowdhury’s compositions always reflect an intelligent and sophisticated mastery of music that set him apart from his peers in the industry.  Instead of describing the songs listed here as cases of plagiarism, I would be more likely to categorize them as adaptations. When Salil Chowdhury used another Western melody as an inspiration, he always managed to make it his own by adding something special that would resonate with Indian audiences. Take, for example, the evergreen Talat-Lata duet “itnaa mujhse tu pyaar baDhaa.” Although the mukhDaa is clearly inspired by Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, Salil composes new antaras that beautifully complement the original melody.  As another example, consider “bachpan o bachpan” from Memdidi (1961).  Inspired by the children’s rhyme “A Tisket, A Tasket,” Salil takes the melody to a new level of complexity by inserting operatic interludes sung by our beloved diva Lata Mangeshkar.  Bravo!

dharti kahe pukaar ke (Do Bigha Zameen, 1953) / “Meadowlands” (Lev Knipper, 1934)
halke halke chalo saa.nvare (Tangewaali, 1955) / “The Wedding Samba” (Edmund Ros and Orchestra,  1950)
dil taDap taDap ke (Madhumati, 1957) / “Szla Dziewczka” (Traditional)
zindagii hai kyaa, sun merii jaan  (Maya, 1961) / “Theme from Limelight [from 3:27] ” (Charlie Chaplin, 1952)
itnaa na mujhse tu pyaar baDhaa (Chhaya, 1961) / “Molto allegro” from Symphony No. 40 (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1788)
bachpan o bachpan (Memdidi, 1961) / A Tisket, A Tasket” (Traditional)
aa.nkho.n me.n tum ho (Half-Ticket, 1962) / “Buttons and Bows” (Dinah Shore, 1948)

Vijayantimala coyly hides behind a tree in the picturization of “dil taDap taDap ke” from Madhumati (1957)

O.P. Nayyar

O.P. Nayyar is known for his characteristically Western-inspired approach to crafting melodies for Hindi films, but his contribution to our list of directly plagiarized songs is relatively small in comparison to some of his peers in the industry. The most well-known example here is, of course,  the Rafi-Geeta duet “yah hai bambaaii merii jaa.n” which has been lifted from its predecessor “My Darling Clementine.”

baabuujii dhiire chalnaa (Aar Paar, 1954) / “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas(Trio Los Panchos, 1947)
yah hai bambaii merii jaa.n (C.I.D., 1955) / “My Darling Clementine” (Traditional)
lakho.n hai.n yahaa.n dilvaale (Kismat, 1968) / Red River Valley” (Traditional)

Biswajeet hams it up for Babita during the picturization of “lakho.n hai.n yahaa.n dilvaale” in Kismat (1968)

What is your opinion on plagiarism in Hindi film music? Was it acceptable for music directors of this time to lift material from Western sources in order to introduce musical diversity to Indian audiences? Or, is it unethical for such plagiarism to occur without giving credit to the original musicians who created the songs in the first place? Let us know in the comments, and feel free to share any examples that go along the theme of this post!

-Mr. 55

The Tragedy and Triumphs of Do Bigha Zameen

Do Bigha Zameen 2
Balraj Sahni embraces his son in despair after a violent misunderstanding in the urban nightmare of Do Bigha Zameen (1954).

In the 1954, the year of the first Indian Filmfare awards, the film that took home the glory of both best picture and best director was about to become more than just a national treasure. Do Bigha Zameen, the latest directorial offering of a relatively minor Bengali newcomer, told a story that was not familiar in the tinsel-lined halls of Bombay filmdom. Without a glamorous period backdrop, without elaborate dream sequences, and without clearly enunciated moral take-home points, Do Bigha Zameen cannot be readily categorized with contemporary village epics such Mother India (1957) nor socially-conscience critiques like Shree 420 (1955) and Pyaasa (1957). With such a new vision of Indian cinema, stylistically and socially, Do Bigha Zameen hit a broader audience, becoming the first Indian film to win the Prix Internationale at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival.

But what is all this hype about? What makes Do Bigha Zameen so radical and why does everyone always bring it up in discussions of must-see Bollywood films? The film is directed by Bimal Roy, a prominent member of the post-colonialist Bengali intelligentsia, who was directly influenced by another radical film movement sweeping Europe: Italian Neorealism. Like other great Bengali directors of his day, ie. Rhitwik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy was fascinated by the work of Italian pioneer Vittorio de Sica and his masterpiece Ladri Di Biciclette (1948). The film is the defining work of Italian neorealism, marked by a deliberate attention to the “everyday,” the feeling of an invisible, unhurried camera whose shots and mis-en-scene are carefully constructed, but have the naturalness of a documentary. The Italian neorealist movement glorified without ornamentation the lives and suffering of “ordinary” citizens. It gave importance to the unimportant and evoked sympathy without the crutches of melodrama.

Do Bigha Zameen 1Balraj Sahnia Nirupa Roy
Nirupa Roy and Balraj Sahni flirt with each other beneath a shady tree in Do Bigha Zameen (1954).

Now I’ll argue that among the Indian film influenced by the neorealist movement, Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy is perhaps the truest to the legacy set by Ladri di Biciclette. To fully appreciate that unique style of film-making, you must see Ray’s Aparajito. Do Bigha Zameen blends the line between neorealism and commercial–similar perhaps to the films of Guru Dutt, but without the poetic grandeur. Starring the classiest of men, Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy (yes! she did play the heroine before becoming a stock mother-figure actress in the 70s!), Do Bigha Zameen, tells of the hard work, misfortune, and desperate measures taken by a family who is cheated of their land by a greedy mill owner. The film follows the father and son’s trip to Calcutta from their idyllic village to earn enough money to pay their debts–only to discover the harsh realities of urban poverty instead.

Like Ladri di Biciclette, the film also explores the evolving relationship between a father and son, of how the dynamic changes when a child grows up quickly and a mutual level of forgiveness that comes with a more mature relationship. With scenarios by Hrishikesh Mukherjee (who also did the screenplay for gems like Anand!), it’s clear that “realism” is given a healthy splash of Bollywood exaggeration. When the going gets rough for this family, it just spirals into greater and greater tragedy–the loss of property, becoming victims of robbery, illness, and a car crash. A heavy-handed background score encourages the audience to evoke sympathy and fear, as well as a handful of painful histrionics rendered by the cutesy child actor. But all in all, the real triumph of this film is in the conclusion.

The impoverished family watches the destruction of their ancestral land behind a closed gate in Do Bigha Zameen (1954).

At the end of Do Bigha Zameen, there is no real outcome. Like with Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito, it ends with a single shot of the family, moving on into the distance. The journey we as an audience have witnessed is but a chapter in their lives that we know will be marked in the future with similarly unresolved troubles. But it also carries a kind of hope with it, not that all will be right in the world, but a hope that men and women like these are survivors and will find a way to persevere, even if that does not mean coming out on top. It is what sets this film apart from the Raj Kapoors of the world. And that is, I think, the message that hit home with millions of Indian viewers in the dissatisfied liberated world.

The film takes its name from a Rabindranath Tagore poem “Dui Bigha Jomi.” In the original poem, a poor farmer begs his landlord to not make him sell his ancestral plot of land. But the cruel landlord insists, while the farmer famously begs (as in the film adaptation) that the land is like his mother–and how could anyone sell their own mother? Do Bigha Zameen, however small, carries the price of a man’s honor, and for the poor farmer, this cannot be bought by mere money.

Meena Kumari plays a doting mother in a special appearance for the Lata Mangeshkar song, “Aaja Re Nindiya Tu Aa” in Do Bigha Zameen (1954).

Also of note, a young Meena Kumari plays a minor role as a benevolent landlady who agrees to to help the family with their debts (before further disaster strikes, rendering her offer useless). She had been on set of Roy’s earlier film, Parineeta (1953), when she heard of the production and loved it so much, she begged to participate. Of particular and slightly disturbing note is the facial hair on her upper lip that the costume and make up department didn’t do something more about. You think it blends in because you can’t really see it in person, but it shows up on black-and-white film stock like a dark shadowy menace. Gets ‘em every time.

– Mrs. 55