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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Ramaiya Vastavaiya Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Raj Kapoor Nadira Shree 420

In a classic example of a dutch angle, Raj Kapoor recoils from the snake-like Nadira in Shree 420 (1955).

Today we present the lyrics and English translation of the famous “Ramaiya Vastavaiya” from Raj Kapoor’s 1955 blockbuster Shree 420. One of the most priceless gems of India’s Golden Age of Cinema, Shree 420 is a showman’s dream. In an era when the aesthetic of film was still an experimental playground, Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420 is as original and evocative as it was 60 years ago.

Raju, played by Raj Kapoor himself, arrives in Bombay as a patriotic simpleton crooning “Mera Joota Hai Japani.” In a pawnshop, Raju encounters Vidya (played by Nargis, in her final romantic appearance opposite Raj Kapoor under his banner production company), a pretty teacher who is selling her bangles to help pay for her struggling school (and whose name redundantly means “knowledge.”) For the next few weeks, Raju works hard to both earn a decent living at a laundry service and to woo the principled Vidya, dreaming of a simple and happy future family.

However, this utopian simplicity does not last long. When Raju delivers some pressed shirts to a wealthy flat, he meets Maya (whose name significantly means “illusion”), a high society woman who thrives on parties and gambling with the rich. She recognizes Raju’s untapped potential as a cunning cardshark, and lures him to a fancy soiree where she introduces him as Rajkumar, the Prince of Pipalinagar, of all things ridiculous. This brief taste of luxury and easy money leads Raju to agree to form a partnership with the corrupt industrialist Seth Dharamanand, bringing him instant wealth.

But Raju’s whirlwind romance with high Bombay society is stained by the shame Vidhya instills in him for his actions, and one night at the nightclub, he sees Maya and her world of illusion for what they truly are. He runs away in horror back to the slums that once gave him a home. Enter the song “Ramaiya Vastavaiya,” a cute villager number complete with chorus girls in native dress and a heavy-handed reminder that yes, poor people can be happy too.

Nargis Shree 420 ramaiya vastavaiya

Nargis plays a virtuous, impoverished schoolteacher who struggles to give her students a better life in Shree 420 (1955).

Of course, the question you really want answered is, what the heck does “Ramaiya vastavaiya” mean?

It turns out Ramaiya vastavaiya is Telegu for respectfully asking, “Ram, won’t you come?” Legend has it that music composer Shankar Singh Raghuvanshi, who grew up in Hyderabad where Telugu is a dominant language, had been demonstrating his composition to director Raj Kapoor using placeholder Telugu lyrics. When Raj Kapoor heard the tune, he loved it so much, he wanted the Telugu title lyrics to be included in the final version! And perhaps the convenient symbolism did not escape Raj Kapoor–like Lord Ram returning at last to his kingdom, Raju finally comes back to the people who love him and his true home.

But all that aside, the real reason everyone has adored “Ramaiya Vastavaiya” for generations is simply that it’s so darn catchy. If you hear it once, you’ll be humming it all day! We hope you enjoy our English translation to the lyrics of this all-time favorite below. Follow along with the video and let us know in the comments how much your mind was blown like ours by the discovery of Ramaiya vastavaiya‘s Telugu roots.

Ramaiya Vastavaiya Lyrics and English Translation:

Mohammed Rafi:
Ramayyaa vastaavayyaa, ramayyaa vastaavayyaa
Ram, will you return?
Lata Mangeshkar:
Mai.N ne dil tujhko diyaa
I have given you my heart
Chorus:
Haa.N ramayyaa vastaavayyaa, ramayyaa vastaavayyaa
Yes, Ram, will you return?
Mai.N ne dil tujhko diyaa
I have given you my heart

village girl

Dancer Sheela Vaz plays a stock village girl with all the right morals in Shree 420 (1955). While shooting the song, Sheila Vaz, who did not speak Hindi, studied a translation of “Ramaiya Vastavaiya” and faked it till she made it!

Mohammed Rafi:
Naino.N mei.N thii pyaar kii roshnii
In your eyes was the light of love
Teri aankho.N me yeh duniyaadaari na thii
This worldliness was not in your eyes then
Lata Mangeshkar:
Tu aur thaa teraa dil aur thaa
You were different, your heart was different
Tere man mei.N yeh miThi kaTaari na thii
This sweet dagger was not in your heart then
Mohammed Rafi:
Mai.n jo dukh paauu.N, to kyaa? Aaj pachhataauu.N, to kyaa?
If I become sad, so what? If I regret today, so what?
Chorus:
Maine dil tujhko diyaa
I have given you my heart
Oh ramayyaa vastaavayyaa, ramayyaa vastaavayyaa
Oh, Ram, will you return?

Mohammed Rafi:
Us desh mei.N tere pardes mei.N
In that country, in your foreign land
Sone chaa.Ndi ke badle mei.N bhikate hai.N dil
Instead of gold and silver, they sell hearts
Lata Mangeshkar:
Is gaao.N mei.N, dard ki chhaao.N mei.N
In this village, in the shadow of pain
Pyaar ke naam par hii dhaDakte hai.N dil
Hearts beat only in the name of love
Chaand taaro.N ke tale, raat yeh gaatii chale
In the tent of the moon and stars, the night sings this songs
Maine dil tujhko diyaa
I have given you my heart
Chorus:
Oh ramayyaa vastaavayyaa, ramayyaa vastaavayyaa
Oh, Ram, will you return?

Nargis Shree 420 ramaiya vastavaiya

Joining in on the song playing on everyone’s lips in town, Nargis mourns for her lost love in Shree 420 (1955).

Lata Mangeshkar:
Yaad aati rahii dil dukhaati rahii
I still remember you, my hearts still grieves
Apne man ko manaanaa na aayaa hame.N
But I do not know how to conciliate my own mind
Tu na aaye to kyaa? Bhuul jaaye, to kyaa?
If you do not come, so what? If you forget, so what?
Pyaar karke bhulaanaa na aayaa hame.N
But having fallen in love, I do not know how to make myself forget
Wohii se duur se hii, tu bhi yeh keh de kabhii
Even from far away, say this sometime
Maine dil tujhko diyaa
I have given you my heart
Chorus:
Oh ramayyaa vastaavayyaa, ramayyaa vastaavayyaa
Oh, Ram, will you return?
Mukesh:
Maine dil tujhko diyaa
I have given you my heart
Chorus:
Oh ramayyaa vastaavayyaa, ramayyaa vastaavayyaa
Oh, Ram, will you return?

Raj Kapoor Ramaiya Vastavaiya Shree 420

Embodying the return of Lord Ram, Raj Kapoor leaves the glitzy world of Bombay nightlife to engage a captive audience of villagers in Shree 420 (1955).

Mukesh:
Rastaa wohii aur musaafir wohii
The path is the same and the traveler is the same
Ek taaraa na jaane kahaa.N chhup gayaa
But I do not know where that star has hidden itself
Duniyaa wohii duniyaawaale wohii
The society is the same, the citizens are the same
Koi kyaa jaane kiskaa jahaa.N luT gayaa
No one knows whose world has been destroyed
Merii aankho mei.N rahe, kaun jo mujh se kahe?
Who once told me to remain forever in their eyes?
Maine dil tujhko diyaa
I have given you my heart
Chorus:
Oh ramayyaa vastaavayyaa, ramayyaa vastaavayyaa
Oh, Ram, will you return?

Glossary:

Ramya vastavaiyaa: Ram, will you come (Telugu); dil: heart; nain: eyes; pyaar: love; roshnii: light; aankhe.N: eyes; duniyaadaari: wordliness; man: mind; heart; miiThaa: sweet; kaTaarii: small dagger; dukh: sadness; pacchtaanaa: to regret; desh: country (India); pardes: foreign country; sonaa: gold; chaa.Ndii: silver; [kisi ke] badle mei.N: in place of [something]; bhiktaanaa: to sell; gaao.N: village; dard: pain; chaao.N: shadow; naam: name: dhaDaknaa: [the heart] to beat; chaa.Nd: moon; taaraa: star; raat: night; gaanaa: to sing; yaad aanaa: to remember; dukhaanaa: to grieve; manaanaa: to conciliate, to cajole; bhuul jaanaa: to forget; bhuulaanaa: to make [someone] forget; duur: far away; kabhii: sometime; rastaa: path; musaafir: traveler; chhup jaanaa: to hide; duniyaa: society, the world; duniyaawaale: citizens; jahaa.N: world; luT gayaa: destroyed

Lalita Pawar Raj Kapoor Shree420

With motherly affection, Lalita Pawar welcomes Raj Kapoor back to the fold with open arms in Shree 420 (1955).

The moral dilemma that plagues Raju’s existence eventually comes to a climax when Seth Dharamanand, Maya, and Raju are incriminated for swindling money from the poor to build communal houses. Seeking to atone for the past, Raju address the scores of poor people awaiting a home. Perhaps it is impossible to build houses for each person individually, he says, but they are a group of a million people, now united, and if they go to the government and demand land, they have the power to build their own homes with their combined money. The cure to poverty for the nation, he preaches, is not dishonesty, but hard-work and determination. Raju is released from his charges, and returns to the lifestyle of an honest workingman as he began, joined by Vidya who has forgiven him. The film finishes, humbled and hopeful, with the two heading down the road of life together.

Thank you to our fans Mustafa and Onima Thakur for this inspiring request!

-Mrs. 55

P.S. Be sure to watch the music video of this song and appreciate Raj Kapoor’s novel song transitions! Halfway through the song, the camera tracks “Ramaiya Vastavaiya” as it is picked up from the dancing villager’s circle by a passing horse carriage, overheard by a bicyclist, who carries the melody to Nargis sitting alone miles away, thereby fluidly retaining the realism of the sequence. Song transitions were still uncharted territory in this infant age of cinema–and Raj Kapoor, like the the great Guru Dutt, was a genius and pioneer. OK, OK I promise that’s the last thing I’m going to say about this song–but seriously, every scene in this movie is a film-lover’s gold mine!

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 Bollywood classics 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 films 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, the movies 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 films 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!

– Mrs. 55

O Sajna Barkha Bahar Aayi Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Sadhana wistfully enjoys the rain in "o sajna barkhaa bahaar aayii" from Parakh (1960). Because she plays the role of a village girl here, she was instructed to get rid of the characteristic "fringe" hairstyle seen in her later movies in order to avoid looking too glamorous!

Rain songs have always held a special place in Bollywood cinema. From “pyaar hua iqraar hua” in Shree 420 (1955) to “ghanan ghanan ghir aayii badra” in Lagaan (2001), fans of Hindi cinema have been treated to a number of beautiful gems about the rain over the years. Today, I’ve translated an all-time classic rain song from the film Parakh (1960) directed by Bimal Roy (he won his third Filmfare Award for Best Director for this film!): “o sajna barkhaa bahaar aayii”.   Parakh satirizes Indian democracy using a plot in which the postmaster (Nasir Hussain) of a village mysteriously receives a check for five lakh rupees to be given to an individual who is most well-equipped to benefit the village. When it is decided that an election will be held, influential characters in the village begin campaigning to persuade the village that they are the most deserving candidate to receive the check: namely, the impious postman (Motilal), the pious piest (Kanhaiyya Lal), the creepy rich man (Asit Sen), the greedy doctor (Rashid Khan) , the landlord (Jayant), and the well-respected schoolmaster (Vasant Chowdhury). Meanwhile, the postmaster’s daughter (Sadhana) begins to fall in love with the schoolmaster, and she sings “o sajna” as she pines for him in the rain.

A musically timeless duo: playback singer Lata Mangeshkar and music director Salil Chowdhury

This song is considered to be one of the finest compositions of the music director Salil Chowdhury (who also wrote the story for Parakh). Although Salil Chowdhury did not receive his due during his lifetime, he is undeniably  one of the most talented and revolutionary composers from the Golden Era. His compositions are often remembered for their unusual melodies, rich orchestration, and integration of Western and Indian classical themes. Those of you familiar with Salil Chowdhury’s work in Bollywood may be surprised to know that he also composed songs for a wide variety of Indian languages, including Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Telegu. Among these languages, Salil’s most prolific work was in his native tongue Bengali–he revolutionized the genre of the Bengali adhunik (modern) song with his musical compositions and self-written lyrics (what a multi-talent!). In fact, as is the case with many of his Hindi songs,  the tune for “o sajna” was released in Bengali first in 1959 as “na jeo na.” This song was one of Lata Mangeshkar’s earliest hits in the Bengali music industry, and Bengalis have cherished the collaboration between Lata and Salil ever since this major musical milestone.

–Mr. 55

P.S: As an extra tidbit of trivia, it has been said that the only non-classical record found in the collection of renowned Hindustani vocalist Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan after his death was an LP of “na jeo na.” What an honor!

O Sajna Barkha Bahar Aayi Lyrics and Translation

o sajnaa barkhaa bahaar aayii
Oh, my beloved, the rain-filled season of spring has arrived.
ras
kii puhaar laayii, a.nkhiyo.n me.n pyaar laayii
It has brought sprinkling droplets of nectar, it has brought love to these eyes.

tum ko pukaare mere man kaa papiiharaa
The cuckoo bird in my heart calls out to you,
miThii miThii aganii me.n jale moraa jiiyaraa
as my heart burns in a sweet fire.

aisii rimjhim me.n, o sajan, pyaase pyaase mere nayan
My eyes long for you, my beloved, in this light shower of rain;
tere hii khvaab me.n kho gaye
they have become lost in a dream of you.

saa.nvalii salonii ghaTaa jab jab chhaayii
When the beautiful dark clouds spread throughout the sky,
a.nkhiyo.n me.n rainaa gayii, nindiyaa na aayii
the night passed in my eyes, and I could not fall asleep.

o sajna barkhaa bahaar aayii
Oh beloved, the rain-filled season of spring has arrived.

Glossary

barkhaa: rain; ras: nectar; puhaar: sprinkles, droplets; papiiharaa: pied-crusted cuckoo bird (associated with the monsoons in Indian mythology); jiyaraa: heart; rimjhim: light rain; saa.nvalii: beautiful; salonii: dark; ghaTaa: clouds; rainaa: night; nindiyaa: sleep.

Two or Three Things I Know about Mira Nair: Thoughts from a Former Intern

Nargis and Raj Kapoor in one of the most iconic shots of classic Indian cinema from Shree 420 (1955)

A scene from Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding (2001) inspired by Raj Kapoor’s classic

After the summer of my sophomore year, I was fortunate enough to intern with my favorite contemporary director Mira Nair. Both of us had studied film production at Harvard University and incidentally under the same professor! I first met Mira at his film screening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City when I spotted her in the audience. My heart was beating so fast, I could hardly sit still through the screening. After the show, I gave her my impromptu elevator speech and joined the crew at Mirabai Films that summer!

Intern Mira Nair

Mira Nair and I at the MoMA my sophomore year. Note the glazed look in my eyes. Best day ever!

I was twelve years old when I saw Monsoon Wedding (2001) and have yet to find a movie from my generation that I love more. Mira’s other films include Vanity Fair, Salaam Bombay, The Namesake, Kama Sutra, and Amelia, but what does any of this have to do with old Hindi cinema? I want to talk about a side to her movies that you may not have been familiar with—that is, the impact of classic Bollywood on her work.

Perhaps you can recall that scene from Monsoon Wedding in which the wedding planner marries the housemaid beneath an umbrella. Look familiar? It should! Mira was directly inspired by Raj Kapoor’s famous song “Pyaar Hua Iqrar Hua” in directing this scene. Like Nargis and Raj Kapoor walking together on a rainy night, huddled together beneath an umbrella, Mira’s characters strike the same pose to celebrate their romance at the height of the Indian monsoons.

On-set and behind-the-camera with Hollywood director, Mira Nair.

In the front lobby of Mirabai Films hangs an original hand-painted movie poster of Aurat (1940), Mehboob Khan’s little-known precursor to the later smash-hit Mother India (1959). Its relative obscurity (and the eagerness to explain) brings a pride that can only be known to a fellow old Bollywood fanatic. By her desk is a beautiful and fascinating work of photography taken of the interior of R.K. Studios. Mira once explained how the studio in her photograph seems so unassuming and bland, but there, in an inconspicuous back wall besides an empty soda bottle hangs a small, telling picture of the greatest showman of India—Raj Kapoor himself. Despite his wealth and glamour, he and his colleagues maintained an inspiring sense of humility throughout his career that inspired hers.

If you’re looking for more celebrity interest, there is a great scene in her film, Vanity Fair (2004), in which the heroine (played fearlessly by Reese Witherspoon) makes an ill-received attempt to blend in among a high-class dinner party. Guess what? The scene was inspired by none other that the classic song Jaane Woh Kaise from Guru Dutt’s classic Pyaasa! In fact, Mira love it so much and wanted to make sure she captured Dutt’s spirit so precisely, that she got the whole cast together and watched Pyaasa for a movie night before the shoot. You heard me, people. If you have yet to watch Pyaasa yourself and are still looking for reasons to make the commitment, try this: Reese Witherspoon has seen it and you haven’t. Enough said.

Guru Dutt makes the room incredibly uncomfortable in Pyaasa (1957), an inspiration for Reese Witherspoon’s future character in Vanity Fair (2004).

And did you know Mira was very close friends with bold auteur Satyajit Ray? Mira’s favorite of his films include The Apu Trilogy and Days and Night in the Forest (1970), the latter of which was actually screened at the Harvard Film Archive last year with Sharmila Tagore in person! (I obviously had front row seats, almost underwent cardiac arrest upon seeing Sharmila in person, and begged for an autograph that is now framed on my desk. But that’s neither here nor there.) In fact, after growing up on these films, Mira came to respect Sharmila so much as an actress, and eagerly cast her in one of her first indie films called Mississippi Masala (1991)!

There are a million other ways old Bollywood films have influenced her work, and I have highlighted only a few that I know from working with her personally. Watch her films and let us know which others you can spot! Until then, put Pyaasa on your early Christmas list.

-Mrs. 55

Guru Dutt and the Struggle to Break Free of Convention

Guru Dutt’s poetic magnum opus, Pyaasa (1957), is often considered among the greatest cinematic achievements of all time, easily among the top 30 greatest Bollywood films ever made. You’re going to be hard-pressed to find someone more defensive of the genius that is Guru Dutt than yours truly. Pyaasa is an evocative film that explores one man’s search for humanism in the cold cynicism of post-independence Indian society. People often contrast Guru Dutt with his contemporary, famed actor and director Raj Kapoor, who shot hits like Shree 420 (1955)–a song-laden, fun rags-to-riches story with a clean happy ending. In contrast, the melancholic, disillusioned tone of Guru Dutt’s poetic films usually leave me feeling like my heart has been slowly torn out, but so beautifully done, I don’t even want it back anymore.

But I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and ask those who know and love both films, does it not seem that Pyaasa and Shree 420 both actually stemmed from the same reaction to the ideals of Nehru’s India under the “mandate of modernization?” Perhaps the creed of the heroic tramp of Shree 420 that spoke to the working masses is not so far from that of the starving poet of Pyaasa that stirred the minds of the intelligentsia. When Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt, or any contemporary film-maker for that matter, sought to fill a void in their country’s cinema, despite such seemingly different approaches, they represented the emotions and wants of the same people. When you look closely, in fact, Pyaasa falls into many traps of the very conventions Guru Dutt wanted to break.

According to Raj Khosla, Guru Dutt believed the soul of Pyaasa was contained in the lines of hero Vijay’s song of lament: “Jinhe naaz hai Hind par, woh kahaan hain?” (“Where are those who are proud of this India?”), and Prime Minister Nehru himself is rumored to have been quite upset upon hearing this line, a direct invocation to the government for change.

Appalled and disillusioned, Guru Dutt’s hero stands Christ-like in the doorway of a ceremony to honor his own death.

But if that’s the case, what the heck is the chintzy “Hum aapki aankhon mein” dream sequence in which hero Vijay and Meena sing and dance in a heavenly courtyard of swirling mist and starry skies doing in the film? Perhaps it is not entirely surprising to learn that the song was not originally intended to be in the film–it was only added in later to appease the distributors who believed it to be unmarketable without at least one glitzy, expensive Bollywood song. The other songs in his film mesh seamlessly into the narrative, as if they are not songs at all, but mere continuations of dialogue–a novel technique pioneered by Dutt.

A greater travesty is, did you know the film was actually supposed to end with the high-angle crane shot of Meena all alone in the grand room with papers flying everywhere after Vijay leaves? To me, the scattered pages are a symbol of Vijay’s poetry whose role as a commodity in the film is in turn a symbolic attack of the loss of romanticism in the realities of the industrialization process. It’s as if to say, society must also honor the man who breathes life into the poems, not merely the price of the written words.

But as Dutt’s assistant recalls, Guru Dutt, “changed the ending because of how the distributors reacted. They felt the ending was too heavy. The financiers requested, ‘Why don’t you have a happy ending?’” Now Pyaasa finishes with Vijay finding spiritual fulfillment with the companionship of Gulabo and the two making their way into the hopeful sunset. I mean, isn’t this the kind of “all’s well that ends well” of conventional cinema he wanted to fight against?

So ultimately, the very focus on wealth and profitability that Guru Dutt chastises in his film is actually the force that proved overpowering in its production. Though Guru Dutt himself wanted otherwise, the distributors, believing to represent the mass market, were able to convince Dutt to change his plans and take fewer risks. He becomes just another flaw in his own criticism against Nehru’s India, greatly compromising the effectiveness of Pyaasa’s commentary. Essentially, the “solution” presented in a film like Shree 420 to try to work the system as best as possible, is all that Pyaasa shows is possible–try to be “purposeful” (as Guru Dutt wanted) within the limitations of the system. Recalling Vijay’s own lines, “Isko hi jeena kehte hain, to yuhiin jee lenge,” (“If this is life, then this is how we’ll live,”) Pyaasa often invites a sentiment to conform to the status quo rather than fight or question it.

Or am I reading too much into this?

–Mrs. 55