50 Best Film Shots That Will Make You Believe in the Magic of Classic Bollywood

 

We’ve compiled a montage of the best film shots from classic Bollywood movies that we feel exemplify the splendor, allure, and excitement of Hindi movies from the Golden Age. Consider these 50 beautiful film shots a glimpse through a keyhole into a much grander world of cinematographic sublimity: behold the magic of classic Bollywood.

This project was kindled in part by my reaction to everyone who’s ever told me, “I love Bollywood!” I get that a lot. Being a film production major who’s worked in the Hindi movie industry, I hear the phrase, “I love Bollywood!” several times a month—from classmates, friends, and random people at parties. Bollywood has become a trend all over the globe—every hipster worth their organic sea salt is familiar with the term, and many have even seen a Hindi film or two themselves. Except I don’t really ever know what to say in reply. It’s not because loving Bollywood isn’t exactly what I look for in new friends (because believe me, it is), but because I don’t understand what that phrase even means.

Let me put this in perspective. To me, this can be the equivalent of someone in rural Punjab who’s seen the Bourne trilogy saying, “I love Hollywood!”

Think about that. What does it mean to love “Hollywood”? Are you saying you love American filmmaking and its history? Celebrity gossip? Or do you really mean to say, “I love action flicks and Matt Damon?” Because Hollywood is not just big-budget androcentric action flicks (although they are a cool part of a big genre). Ryan Gosling kissing Rachel McAdams in the rain is Hollywood. Orsen Welles fighting a smear campaign for governor is Hollywood. Judy Garland singing over a rainbow is Hollywood. And Jack Nicholas running amok in an insane asylum is Hollywood. It’s rare to find someone who knows and loves it all.

So when you say, “I love Bollywood!” to me, as a true lover of all things Bollywood, I don’t know what you’re really referring to. Often people who haven’t had much exposure tend to generalize that elusive term Bollywood to mean “pretty costumes!” or “crazy dancing!” This perception applies just as much to Indians from India as to non-Indians anywhere else. Because Bollywood is not just the melodramatic musical with half-naked women and a loose masala plot that is often stereotyped. Bollywood is Guru Dutt searching the streets of urban decay for a glimmer of humanity. Bollywood is Meena Kumari dancing kathak upon shattered glass in sorrow. Bollywood is Amitabh Bachhan’s fist meeting the jaws of his twenty adversaries with a satisfying smack. And yes, Bollywood is Aishwarya Rai and Shah Rukh Khan in glittery costumes declaring love in the moonlight. I often yearn to somehow share all the magic of classic Hindi cinema that comes to my mind when I think of Bollywood, because it is a well-hidden treasure for so many of my generation.

Now before someone throws a fit, I get it. Not everyone has the time or interest to become heavily familiarized with Bombay’s film output since the 1930s. Nor should they. All I’m saying is, I wish more people were aware of what Bollywood truly encompasses. When you exclaim, “I love Bollywood!” there is a reason why I can’t bring myself to reply, “OMG, totes!” but instead want to fill your ear with my reverence of the cinematography in Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959). Simply tell me you loved the movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) (because, seriously, who didn’t?), or that you thought Deepika Padukone’s outfits were beautiful in that one rom-com. Otherwise, we’ll both end up feeling awkward after I start on my spiel. Yes, I probably overthink this. Yes, most people probably don’t care one way or another. But I can’t imagine living a world without the enchantment of classic Bollywood films, and maybe there are people out there who would want in, if they only knew what they’re missing.

So this montage is the reply I wish I could give everyone, but I cannot articulate–a reply that must be seen to be believed. Because when I respond, “Really? I love Bollywood too!” this is what comes to my mind. This montage is why I love Bollywood. I hope that by watching these shots, you can get a peek into that hypnotizing world yourself, and that you’ll crave more. I hope that this might be a chance to understand that Bollywood is far richer, far more complex, and far more evocative than can be summed up by mere words or by viewing a single film.

Therefore, don’t just take my word for it. Watch the 50 Film Shots That Will Make You Believe in the Magic of Classic Bollywood, and I’ll bet that somewhere deep inside your heart, something faintly stirs in a way you never knew possible. And afterwards, I recommend starting with any of the movies that made our list of the Top 30 Greatest Classic Bollywood Films of All Time. I’ll get off my soap box now. Back to translating obscure old songs where I belong. But send us a comment if this montage resonates with you, and share it with anyone who may have never experienced the wonder of the films to which it pays homage.

Just don’t even get me started on Slumdog Millionaire.

– Mrs. 55

Final Shot from Mother India Nargis

An aged Nargis remembers the trials of her youth in the final shot of the Academy Award-nominated film Mother India (1957).

As a reference, the corresponding films to our 50 selected shots are below. The music playing during the montage is the “Title Music” from Pakeezah (1972).

50 Shots’ Film Names (in order of appearance):

  1. Bandini (1963)
  2. Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)
  3. Pakeezah (1972)
  4. Aradhana (1969)
  5. Bombai Ka Babu (1960)
  6. Kohra (1964)
  7. Mother India (1957)
  8. Guide (1965)
  9. Shree 420 (1955)
  10. Sangam (1964)
  11. Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
  12. Chinatown (1962)
  13. Caravan (1971)
  14. Shree 420 (1955)
  15. Shree 420 (1955)
  16. Sholay (1975)
  17. Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)
  18. Pakeezah (1972)
  19. Pakeezah (1972)
  20. Pyaasa (1957)
  21. Bombai Ka Babu (1960)
  22. Umrao Jaan (1981)
  23. Woh Kaun Thi? (1964)
  24. Mehboob Ki Mehndi (1971)
  25. Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965)
  26. Aradhana (1969)
  27. Khamoshi (1970)
  28. Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
  29. Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
  30. Woh Kaun Thi? (1964)
  31. Mother India (1957)
  32. Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)
  33. Guide (1965)
  34. Andaz (1949)
  35. Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
  36. Aradhana (1969)
  37. Pakeezah (1972)
  38. Jewel Thief (1967)
  39. Aan Milo Sajna (1970)
  40. Anand (1971)
  41. Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)
  42. Awaara (1951)
  43. Amar, Akbar, Anthony (1977)
  44. Do Raaste (1969)
  45. Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)
  46. Awaara (1951)
  47. Sholay (1975)
  48. Baazi (1951)
  49. Woh Kaun Thi? (1964)
  50. Mother India (1957)
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Spooky Songs of Classic Bollywood: The 15 Most Haunting Melodies of Yesteryear

Biswajeet Bees Saal Baad film noir kahin deep jale

Biswajeet is haunted by a mysterious voice singing of love and murder in Bees Saal Baad (1962).

Happy Halloween! What better way to give yourself the creeps than with a vintage Hindi film song! Mr. 55 and I once hosted a Spooky Song-themed study break on-campus during which we projected old Hindi film noirs on a large screen, drank rooh afza and jammed nerdily to Lata’s high notes. Was it any surprise the two of us were the only ones really having an awesome time? Join us in our countdown to the spookiest song of classic Bollywood! When I say scary, I’m not referring to Vinod Khanna’s lime green tuxedo in Aan Milo Sajna (although it might give you nightmares). I’m talking about the real deal here. These are songs that will keep you up at night, that will haunt your waking moments as you grapple with the symbolism. And if you see a mysterious woman in a white-sari floating around your house this evening…well, don’t say we didn’t warn you!

The Fifteen Scariest Songs from Old Hindi Films!

15. Tujhko Pukare Mera Pyar (Neel Kamal 1968)

Few things are scarier than being buried alive. Rajkumar haunts his Mughal-era lover through the ages even when she is reborn as a 1960s desperate housewife.

14. Gagan Jhanjhana Rah (Nastik 1954)

This song is a hidden gem. Hemant Kumar actually impersonates God in this song with a voice that booms from the heavens amidst a stormy apocalpyse. The chorus is so darn creepy in this song, you might feel real chills from the wind sound effects mixed into the song!

13. Waqt Ne Kiya (Kaaghaz Ke Phool 1957)

What makes this song so spooky and yet so beautiful? It’s all in the lighting and the spectres lingering in the room–read our translation for more!

12. Jayen To Jayen Kahan (Taxi Driver 1954)

In our translation of this all-time creeper, we discuss the emptiness of the song’s mis-en-scene to heighten a feeling of abandonment, leaving you nothing but Dev Anand’s perfect pompadour to ease the pain.

11. Akele Hain Chale Aao (Raaz 1967)

While the movie Raaz may be a clunk, “Akele Hain” (that is reprised in a male and female version!) will certainly leave you clawing after your security blanket. Insider hint: Rajesh Khanna takes his shirt off later on in the movie if you can sit through the rest of the film.

10. Raat Andheri (Aah 1953)

In this heartbreaking social drama, Raj Kapoor plays a handsome tuberculosis patient unable to marry the girl of his dreams because of his illness. In the throes of self-pity, the minor key music haunts him as his own life slips away. Tragic, yes, but mostly just creepy.

9. Sau Baar Janam Lenge (Ustadon Ke Ustad 1963)

Mohammed Rafi’s unearthly beautiful voice echoes through the mist in this song like a phantom from the other world. The woman in mourning seems ready to commit suicide at any moment during the song, keeping the audience on their toes!

8. Dekhi Zamane Ki Yaari (Kaaghaz Ke Phool 1957)

This gentle song of disillusioned love beckons you in like a tantalizing dream, and then drags you to perdition as you scream over the ethereal chorus. Our earlier translation of Dekhi Zamane discusses the transitions of the song from fantasy to absolute nightmare!

7. Koi Duur Se Aawaz De Chale Aao (Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam 1962)

One of my favorite songs in this genre, Guru Dutt is awakened in the middle of the night by a tender lament floating through the halls of the large empty mansion in which he works. Who is this mysterious and sad woman with the enchanting song? You HAVE to watch this genius star-studded film and find out!

6. Jane Kahan Gaye Woh Din (Mera Naam Joker 1970)

Good thing I don’t have a fear of clowns or this song would have permanently wrecked my childhood. Raj Kapoor plays a circus performer who has lost all those he has ever loved. He enters a private Hell in which he is bound to perform in his clown garb to an unfeeling audience, always smiling on the outside and crying on the inside. Brace yourself for several attempts at artsy camera tricks to make him float that could not be more creepy.

5. Gumnaam Hai Koi (Gumnaam 1965)

Based on the Agatha Christie novel “And Then There Were None,” Gumnaam is a kitsch-lovers delight. Drop-dead gorgeous (literally) Lata Mangeshkar’s voice haunts a group of travelers as they meander through a nameless forest. Newsflash! The “ghost” of this song actually chimes in with a high-pitch thrill when the music goes quiet, so listen carefully!

4. Naina Barse (Woh Kaun Thi? 1964)

One of the best examples of a femme fatale in Hindi films, “Naina Barse” is sung by a ghostly woman haunting her lover from a former lifetime. Her flowing white sari against the endless, crisp white snow of a Simla winter set the perfect stage for a nightmare. The woman in a white sari is a classic cliche–read more about its meaning here!

3. Kahin Deep Jale Kahin Dil (Bees Saal Baad 1964)

This song hardly needs an introduction, so famous is its eerie tune. One of the most brilliant shots is the slow crane down from above the chandelier to Biswajeet’s horrified stare at the piano. But has anyone else ever noticed the film version has the interlude violins playing an entire octave lower than in the recorded version?? It totally blew my mind when watching the film–and both ways are equally horrifying!

2. Jhoom Jhoom Dhalti Raat (Kohra 1964)

Stylistic symbolism sets this creepster apart from its competitors. My favorite moment in this song is when the shadow figures do an interpretive dance in the sand, acting out the “choDo piyaa mera, choDo haath” line. I get chills every time I watch this–the cinematography is genuinely brilliant and haunting!

1. Aayega Aanewala (Mahal 1949)

Welcome to the spookiest song of Bollywood! Nothing will ever top the song that officially taught Bollywood everything it needed to know about horror. Don’t expect any corpses to pop out of the closet–this song is way to classy for that. See our translation of this unbeatable classic for more!

So…I know I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight. What are your favorite spooky songs from Bollywood films? Tell us the scenes that have haunted your waking hours for years (think Sadhana declaring “Mujhe khoon achha lagtaa hai” on a rainy night)! Mr. 55 and I both hope you have a very Happy Halloween!

– Mrs. 55

Mrs. 55 in her go-to gypsy girl costume. When all else fails...

Mrs. 55 in her go-to gypsy girl costume. When all else fails…tie a chunni on your head.

Defining Bollywood Film Noir

Sadhana enters a graveyard as the femme fatale of Woh Kaun Thi? (1964)

In the U.S. historians and film theorists have debated for decades about the meaning of the elusive term: “film noir.” Although many of us conjure an image of a hard-boiled detective and a mystery made more mysterious by the femme fatale, few “film noirs” actually contain these elements. This so-called genre had its roots in German Expressionism with films like Fritz Lang’s M (1931) and in depression-era crime novels. But what does the term “film noir” mean as it applies to Hindi cinema? What are the hallmarks of this genre as it played out in Bollywood and how did it begin?

I will present five films that I propose to be in the genre of Indian film noir. This is no easy task. Just as the term is vague in the American lexicon, so too does it only hazily engulf a variety of Hindi films with low-key lighting. And so I shall begin with an illustrative example. We can debate the precise definition of the genre until the end of time, but I think I can safely say that whatever Indian film noir is, Woh Kaun Thi? (1964) is Indian film noir.

Woh Kaun Thi? has 4 main basic elements. The first is in its distinct cinematographic style and setting—low-key lighting throughout a mysterious mansion and slow unhurried shots with a somber film score to match. The film gives a sense of the world being trapped in a fatalistic dream, whether alone by a graveyard or in a crowd of dancing people.

The second is the film’s overall tone and pacing—there is an uncomfortable sense of being pursued, of an impending doom unless a mystery is solved in time by the hero. Unlike in American film noir, the hero is no cynic and there is no quick sardonic dialogue to off-set the dreary mood. The hero is instead a righteous and innocent man of affairs, an heir to a fortune who becomes a victim. Though mingled with occasional musical highs, the film spirals from a slow and deliberate set-up to a climax closer and closer to complete ruin.

An interesting element of many American film noirs is the flash-back structure, which takes on an interesting form in their Indian counterparts. Woh Kaun Thi? centers around a mysterious background that occurred in the protagonist’s past life. Because the audience of Hindi films was largely composed of practicing Hindus, the world of reincarnation narrative is able to begin on a new and creatively extremely fertile ground. The hero must revisit through song, hearsay, and secrets events that took place in a past life, but whose consequences (whether karma or otherwise) now haunt him. This is the third element.

Fourthly, the film does indeed revolve around the appearance and (mis)guidance of the femme fatale, who is heard singing alluring, tragic songs. The hero is never able to wholly communicate with her, but her intentions are clearly marked with a deadly undertone. The femme fatale remains an elusive character–sometimes he chases after her, sometimes she chases after him—when her story is fully told, only then can the mystery be solved.

The films below can be placed into the category of Indian film noir along with Who Kaun Thi?:

Mahal (1949): Perhaps the grandfather of this genre, Mahal tells of a man tortured and madly in love with an apparition who haunts his mansion and claims a connection from an earlier life. The film also features the haunting vocals of Lata Mangeshkar’s all-time hit Aayegaa Aanewaalaa.

Madhubala mesmerizes Ashok Kumar in Mahal (1949)

Madhumati (1958): This classic Vijayantimala-Dilip Kumar blockbuster is told in flashback to a previous lifetime of the murder of the woman the hero still loves. The gently alluring Aajaa Re Pardesi encompasses the film’s themes of love and debts spanning several lifetimes.

Vijayantimala is reincarnated to find her lover once more in Madhumati (1958)

Bees Saal Baad (1961): A rich man comes to live in his new mansion and must solve a tragedy and murder that occurred 20 years earlier. The film contains a brilliant surprise ending, and Lata Mangeshkar scores once again with the beautiful Kahin Deep Jale, Kahin Dil.

Biswajeet follows a mysterious voice in Bees Saal Baad (1961)

Kohra (1964): This twist on Hitchcock’s Rebecca is told through the eyes of a female protagonist, living in a large, unexplored mansion that is haunted by the apparition of her husband’s first wife. Waheeda Rehman must discover the true circumstances surrounding the first wife’s death before she is driven insane. The song of the femme fatale (Jhoom Jhoom Dhalti Raat) is an absolutely genius and rare example of symbolic imagery in montage to create a feeling of horror from the song.

Waheeda Rehman sees a ghostly vision atop her mansion roof in Kohra (1964)

There are some films that contain one or more of the above elements that I have not classified as Indian film noir. These include Mera Saaya, Gumnaam, and Karz, for different reasons–often overall tone or cinematographic style. Additionally, others might argue that these films should not be categorized at all as Indian film noir, but rather as Indian gothic horror films or other such genres. Watch some of these classics and let us know your take on this chapter in cinematic history!

– Mrs. 55