Prof. David Campion



IT is almost impossible to overstate the impact of cinema on modern South Asian culture. The Bombay film industry, "Bollywood," produces at least three times as many films each year as Hollywood. By any standard, the influence of films in India is remarkable. In the midst of South Asia's diversity, commercial films are a touchstone of common culture for South Asians at home and around the world. Their biggest stars are idolized by hundreds of millions of fans, regularly courted by political parties, and elevated almost to the level of deities. For decades, Bollywood churned out hundreds of cheap musicals with formulaic, recycled plots that were limited by strict government censorship. However, in recent years, the Indian film industry has grown in international recognition and become more sophisticated and bold, tackling sensitive political and social topics and breaking taboos.

Below is a selection of South Asian and Western films useful for complementing our study of Modern South Asian history and culture. Some of these films are of average quality and imperfect in their historical accuracy, but many are excellent and effectively recreate the compelling issues that people living in South Asia faced at different moments in their history. And since films are the media through which many non-South Asians gain their impressions of India and other parts of South Asia, they are worthy of consideration by historians for that reason alone.

Most of these films can be obtained at Watzek Library. You can also find many of them on Netflix. In addition to the list below you might consult Prof. Philip Lutgendorf's Notes on Popular Indian Cinema.

Some information courtesy of Internet Movie Database. Used with permission

Clive of India (1935)
Black Narcissus (1947)
Jhansi ki Rani (1952)
Pather Panchali (1955)
The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)
The Long Duel (1967)
Conduct Unbecoming (1975)
Shatranj ke Khilari (1977)
Junoon (1979)
Ghare Baire (1984)
A Passage to India (1984)
The Deceivers (1988)
The Making of the Mahatma (1996)
Lagaan (2001)
Devdas (2002)
Kisna (2005)
The Rising (2005)
Before the Rains (2007)
Lokmanya: Ek Yugpurush (2015)
Victoria & Abdul (2017)

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)
The Drum (1938)
Gunga Din (1939)
Kim (1950)
Northwest Frontier (1959)
The Man Who Would be King (1975)
The Far Pavilions (1984)

Bhowani Junction (1956)
Gandhi (1982)
The Jewel in the Crown (1984)
Mountbatten, The Last Viceroy (1986)
1942, A Love Story (1994)
Earth (1998)
Train to Pakistan (1998)
Jinnah (1998)
Hey Ram (2000)
The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002)
Pinjar (2003)
Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2005)
Midnight's Children (2012)

Kandahar (2001)
In This World (2002)
Osama (2003)
Khakestar-o-Khak (2004)
The Kite Runner (2007)

Guide (1965)
Bombay Talkie (1970)
Staying On (1979)
Heat and Dust (1982)
Trikal (1985)
In Custody (1993)
Border (1997)
Seven Years in Tibet (1997)
Such a Long Journey (1998)
Cotton Mary (1999)
Moina Matir (2002)

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
Mississippi Masala (1992)
My Son the Fanatic (1997)
East is East (1999)
Bend it Like Beckham (2002)
Ae Fond Kiss (2004)
The Namesake (2006)
Brick Lane (2007)

Salaam Bombay (1988)
City of Joy (1992)
Bombay (1995)
Dil Se (1998)
Theeviravaathi (1999)
Mission Kashmir (2000)
Bhopal Express (2001)
Kannathil Muthamittal (2002)
Monsoon Wedding (2002)
Mr & Mrs Iyer (2002)
Teen Deewarein (2003)
Born into Brothels (2004)
Main Gandhi ko Nahin Mara (2005)
Paheli (2005)
Parzania (2005)
Rang de Basanti (2006)
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Dheepan (2015)

Mirch Masala (1985)
Bandit Queen (1995)
Fire (1997)
Silent Waters (2003)
Water (2005)
White Rainbow (2005)
Dukhtar (2014)


Director: Richard Boleslawski, 1935

Ronald Colman stars as Robert Clive, a humble clerk in the East India Company, who is frustrated by his lack of advancement and transfers to the military arm of the Company, where he excels. Clive's leadership and gift for manipulation strengthened Britain's hold over India, allowed him to amass great personal wealth and made him one of the first heroes of the British Empire.

© 20th Century Pictures


Director: George Stevens, 1939

This classic film, starring Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks jr, was one of the very first Hollywood depictions of India. Set in the nineteenth century, three British soldiers and a native waterbearer must stop a secret revival of the murderous "Thuggee" cult before it can spread across the land. The film is based very loosely on Rudyard Kipling's 1892 ballad of the same name (though it is more like The Three Musketeers) and is interesting for its stereotypes as much as for its story.

© RKO Pictures


Director: Terence Fisher, 1959

In the 1830s, the British East India Company does battle with the Thugs, a sinister cult of murderers who strangle their victims in devotion to the goddess Kali. This low-budget 1950s horror flick was produced by Hammer Films, a London studio known for pulp horror/sci-fi thrillers. It perpetuates all the usual orientalist stereotypes of Indians but is itself a revealing historical artifact. Based loosely—very loosely—on the writings of William Sleeman, the British army officer who helped eradicate the remnants of the Thuggee cult.

© Columbia Pictures


Director: Amol Palekar, 2005

When an inattentive husband leaves behind his wife to go off on business, she is visited by a ghost who takes the form of her husband and attempts to woo her back. The plot of this typically lavish Bollywood film revolves around romance, magic, and fastasy. Scenes of puppet theatre and camel races celebrate the culture of Rajasthan where the story is set. Paheli is a screen version of the story "Duvidha" by Vijaydan Detha, which was itself based on a popular Rajasthani folktale.

© Red Chillies Entertainment


Director: Nicholas Meyer, 1988

In 1825, Lt. William Savage, a reform-minded District Officer in the service of the East India Company, undertakes to rid his district of what the British viewed as the two greatest problems of Indian society: "Suttee" (widow immolation) and "Thuggee" (a secret cult of robbers and murderers). Savage's actions are eventually thwarted by his profit-minded Company superiors, but not before he attempts to infiltrate the cult and become one of the "deceivers." Based on the 1952 novel by John Masters.

© Warner Home Video


Director: Satyajit Ray, 1977

In 1856, officials of the East India Company move to consolidate their hold over North India by annexing the wealthy kingdom of Awadh. The chief minister to the Nawab attempts to warn his ruler and local landlords of the impending danger but they ignore him and instead indulge their obsession with playing chess. The game becomes a metaphor for the larger game of politics played by the British as they maneuver to capture Awadh's king. Based on the 1924 short story by Premchand.

© Shemaroo


Director: Sohrab Modi, 1952

This epic film tells the true story of Rani Lakshmi Bai, ruler of the small princely state of Jhansi in central India. The Rani of Jhansi struggled to save her state from British annexation and died in 1857 while personally leading her soldiers into battle. Her heroism, leadership, and sacrifice have been celebrated in folklore and repeatedly invoked by Indian nationalists. This was the first Indian film in Technicolor and one of the first to enjoy distribution in the US under the title The Tiger and the Flame.

© Geneon


Director: Ketan Mehta, 2005

This Bollywood epic is the first major film to focus on the 1857 Indian Rebellion—or "Mutiny" as it is usually referred to in British history. The story follows the rebel leader Mangal Pandey, an Indian sepoy in the service of the East India Company, and his friendship with a British officer. Pandey was a real figure but one about whom little is known. Filming began in 2003 and the opening scene was launched by Charles, Prince of Wales, during an official royal visit to India.

© Yash Raj Films


Director: Shyam Benegal, 1979

Set during the Uprising of 1857, this film focuses on three women of an Anglo-Indian family who take refuge from the rebels with a local moneylender to whom they have a substantial debt and who, thus, has a vested interest in their survival. When they are discovered, their lives are spared as the rebel leader, Javed, wishes to make the youngest woman, Ruth, his second wife. The plot is further complicated when British forces return seeking vengeance for the mutiny.

© Shemaroo


Director: Ashutosh Gowariker, 2001

In 1893, the people of a small village in colonial India hope that they will be excused from paying lagaan, the crippling land tax that the British have imposed. Instead, the capricious officer in charge challenges them to a game of cricket, a game totally unknown to them. If they win, they get their wish; if they lose, the increased tax burden will destroy their lives.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Om Raut, 2015

A Marathi biopic of the fiery nationalist Bal Gangadhar Tilak, lionized as Lokmanya ("revered by the people"), who advocated for a confrontational approach to ridding India of its British rulers. Tilak's embrace of Indian culture and rejection of English education made him popular among the Marathi-speaking peasantry of Western India and his writings and speeches gained him a national following while leading to his imprisonment on charges of sedition. Tilak died in 1920, the year that Gandhi's first Non-Cooperation campaign began.

© Essel Vision


Director: John Huston, 1975

This adaptation of the famous 1888 novella by Rudyard Kipling tells the story of Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnehan, two ex-soldiers roaming through British India. They decide that the country is too small for them, so they trek beyond the Northwest frontier to "Kafiristan" in order to become kings in their own right. Kipling appears briefly as a character in his own fictional tale.

© Warner Home Video


Director: Satyajit Ray, 1955

This acclaimed film tells the story of an impoverished Brahman family in Bengal at the beginning of the twentieth century. Harihar recites religious texts and performs Hindu rituals while dreaming of a career as a playwright. Meanwhile he and his family cope with the daily hardships of village life. Based on the 1929 novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay with music by Ravi Shankar. This is the first film in Ray's Apu Trilogy. The other films are Aparajito (Unvanquished) and Apu Sansar (The World of Apu).

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Henry Hathaway, 1935

The 41st Bengal Lancers are stationed on the Northwest Frontier of British India, guarding against Afghan invaders led by the wily Oxford-educated Mohammed Khan. Experienced, though insubordinate, Lt. McGregor (Gary Cooper) is joined by two younger officers through various adventures and hardships. This film is a noteworthy period piece from the 1930s but is less well known than Gunga Din, which was released a few years later and has become a cinema classic.

© Universal


Director: J. Lee Thompson, 1959

This film takes place in 1905 in the Northwest mountain regions of India where a local Hindu raja allied to the British is battling rebel Muslim tribesmen. In order to get his son—the crown prince—and his governess to safety the raja entrusts them to the care of a British officer. The film is a typical Saturday morning cliffhanger, but the direction is quite good.

© RCI Home Video


Director: Victor Saville, 1950

This adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's famous adventure novel from 1901 recreates the "Great Game" of spying and surveying in British India's Northwest frontier. The title character is a young British orphan who, like an Anglo-Indian Huck Finn, roams the bazaars and roads of his adoptive country surviving through theft, begging, and being a messenger and spy for the British.

© Warner Home Video


Director: Michael Anderson, 1975

The plot revolves arounds a scandal in a British regiment stationed in India in the 1870s. Lt. Drake is from a middle-class background and is eager to advance himself by making the right impression. Lt. Millington, the son of a general, is not keen on army life and desires to get out as soon as he possibly can. When the widow of the regiment's most honored hero is assaulted, Drake must defend Millington from the charges in an unusual court-martial. Based on the 1969 play by Barry England.

© Crown Films


Director: Stephen Frears, 2017

In 1887, Abdul Karim, a young police clerk from Agra, is selected by the British colonial goverment to travel to London to present a gift to Queen Victoria on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee. Abdul strikes up an unlikely friendship with the "Empress of India" and stays on in Britain to become her servant and, at her request, her munshi (teacher) of Urdu and the Qur'an. When Victoria dies in 1901, Abdul returns to India. Based on the book by Shrabani Basu and Abdul's diary discovered in 2010.

© BBC Films


Director: Peter Duffell, 1984

Based on the bestselling 1978 novel by M.M. Kaye, this miniseries is an epic of high adventure in colonial India revolving around the romance between Anjuli, a half-caste Indian princess, and Ash, a British officer raised in India. The Far Pavilions drew upon and helped perpetuate a popular sense of "Raj nostalgia" in the early 1980s. As such, it offers a lavish, entertaining, but highly romanticized vision of exotic India under British rule.

© Acorn Media


Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 2002

This visually stunning film tells the story of Devdas, the son of a zamindar (landlord). He is parted from his childhood friend and true love, Parvati, when he is sent to England for his education. Parvati eagerly awaits his return, but their love is not meant to be. At the time it was made, Devdas was the most costly Hindi commercial film on record. Based on the 1901 novel by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee.

© Qualiton Imports Ltd.


Director: Satyajit Ray, 1984

In 1907, Nikhil—a wealthy yet enlightened and charitable Bengali landowner—encourages his wife Bimala to emerge from the traditional female seclusion of purdah and introduces her to his old friend Sandip, a radical leader in the Swadeshi movement. Bimala is deeply affected by Sandip's revolutionary fervor and experiences a profound political awakening that draws her out of her home and into the tumultuous world of Indian nationalism. Based on the 1916 novel by Rabindranath Tagore.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Shyam Benegal, 1996

The plot of this jointly produced Indian and South African film concentrates on Mohandas Gandhi's early years in South Africa, and the crucial events there that led to his later fame in India as "Mahatma". Close attention is given to the slow and complex development of Gandhi's political philosophy and his deep, but at times difficult, relationship with his wife Kasturbai. Based on the 1970 book The Apprenticeship of a Mahatma by Fatima Meer.

© Video Sound


Director: Ken Annakin, 1967

Set in the 1920s, this film is based very loosely on the true exploits of the notorious Bhanta dacoit, Sultana, and the colonial police officer, Freddy Young, whose mission it was to capture him. Sultana (Yul Brynner) and Young (Trevor Howard) develop a strong respect for each other during their game of evasion and pursuit across the hills and plains of North India. However, the portrayal of Sultana as a nationalist rebel and Young as ambivalent toward British imperialism in India is historically inaccurate.

© Rank Organisation


Zoltan Korda, 1938

Set in the Northwest Frontier, the plot revolves around an uprising against the British and their Indian allies. The film offers a gallery of imperial stereotypes: the gallant English officer and his devoted wife, the plucky Scottish drummer, the treacherous Indian rebel, and the obsequious loyal prince. Though popular with British audiences, The Drum caused protests in Madras and Bombay, where it was viewed—not unreasonably—as pro-British propaganda. Some filming was done in the princely state of Chitral, now the province of Khyber-Pakthunkhwa, Pakistan.

© United Artists


Director: Richard Attenborough, 1982

This epic film portrays the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi from his days as a young lawyer in South Africa to his death as the spiritual leader of the Indian nation shortly after independence. It also provides a vivid account of the Indian nationalist movement from its beginnings through the independence and partition of the Indian subcontinent. This critically-acclaimed film took decades to produce and won eight Academy Awards in 1983.

© Columbia/TriStar


Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1947

This strange and haunting film focuses on a group of Anglican nuns who arrive in a remote location in the Himalayas to set up a school and clinic for the local residents. The fragmentation and collapse of their own community force them to abandon the mission. The film was released a few months before India's independence and some critics speculate that the plot is an allegory about Britain's retreat from India. Based on the 1939 novel by Margaret Rumer Godden.

© Criterion


Director: Ketan Mehta, 1985

Set in central India in the early twentieth century, this film depicts the daily humiliation and exploitation heaped upon villagers by an abusive subedar (tax collector). In colonial India, subedars went from village to village accompanied by police constables, often demanding more than just taxes. When this subedar's attention focuses on the local women, they unite and fight back, to the shame of their feeble husbands.

© Channel Four Films


Director: David Lean, 1984

Tensions between Indians and the colonial British residents of the town of Chandrapore boil over when a visiting Englishwoman, Adela Quested, accuses a young Indian physician, Dr. Aziz, of rape during a tour of the local caverns. Based on E.M. Forster's 1924 novel, this film can be seen as a study of colonial relations, perceived differences between East and West, and the nature of memory and friendship.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Santosh Sivan, 2007

Set in 1937 in the Malabar District of the Madras Presidency, this film focuses on an affair between an English spice plantation owner and his Indian housekeeper that ends tragically. The central character is T.K., a servant on the plantation, who discovers the affair and is torn by loyalty to his employer, village politics, and the rising tide of Indian nationalism. Among other things, the film captures well the beauty of the Indian state of Kerala in which it was filmed.

© Lions Gate


Director: Deepa Mehta, 2005

Set in the 1930s during the rise of the independence struggle against British colonial rule, this film examines the plight of a group of widows forced into poverty at a temple in the holy city of Varanasi. It focuses on the relationship between one of the women, who wants to escape the social restrictions imposed on widows, and a low caste man who is a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Water was completed despite years of aggressive efforts by Hindu extremists to halt its filming.

© Mongrel Media


Director: Subhash Ghai, 2005

This Bollywood epic recreates the turmoil of the last days of the British Raj while focusing on the romance between Kisna, a young Indian of humble origins, and Katherine, his English childhood friend and daughter of a hated colonial official. Like mostly Bollywood films, Kisna is filmed on beautiful locations and filled with lavish visual effects and elaborate musical routines, but it also signals a trend in Bollywood to tackle topics of greater historical and political significance.

© Eros Entertainment


Director: Raj Kumar Santoshi, 2002

This film portrays the controversial life and death of Bhagat Singh, the Punjabi revolutionary who took up arms against colonial rule in India. Condemned by the British as a terrorist and hailed by many Indians as a freedom fighter, Bhagat Singh was initially inspired by the Gandhian example of non-violent non-cooperation but later rejected it after growing frustrated at its apparent ineffectiveness.

© Tips Films Pvt. Ltd.


Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra, 1994

This commercial Hindi film tells the story of the romance between Naren, the son of wealthy landowner, and Rajjo, the daughter of a revolutionary. The story is set in small town in the foothills of the Himalayas caught up the turmoil of the Second World War and the "Quit India" Movement. The film is an epic of love and sacrifice not unlike Gone with the Wind as well a contemporary example of how India's struggle for independence is presented to Indian moveigoers.

© Eros Entertainment


Director: Shyam Benegal, 2005

This film focuses on the final years in the life of Subhas Chandra Bose, one of the most controversial figures in Indian nationalism. A rising star in the freedom movement, Bose fell out with Gandhi and was pushed to the margins of Congress politics. At the outbreak of war in 1939, he fled to Germany and later conspired with Japanese forces to lead an army of Indian soldiers against the British during the Burma campaign. Bose remains a hero to many Indians, especially in his native Bengal.

© Sahara Media


Director: Christopher Morahan, 1984

This fourteen-part miniseries originally produced for Granada Television in Britain tells the story of a small group of Britons and Indians from the middle of the Second World War to the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. The historical authenticity of the plot and complex characters provide an excellent glimpse into the psyche of the British in India during the final days of the "Raj." Based on Paul Scott's Raj Quartet novels published between 1965 and 1975.

© A&E Home Entertainment


Director: Tom Clegg, 1986

This TV miniseries traces the events and experiences of the last viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and his wife Lady Edwina. In early 1947, Mountbatten arrived in India to oversee the transfer of power to independent India and Pakistan. The film captures well the challenges, dilemmas, and tragedies involved in the British withdrawal and the partition of the Indian subcontinent.

© Bonneville Video


Director: Deepa Mehta, 1998

The movie opens in the city of Lahore in Punjab in 1947 before India and Pakistan became independent. Lahore is a cosmopolitan city, depicted by a group of working class friends from different religions. The rest of the movie chronicles the fate of this group and the maddening religious conflict that sweeps across Punjab as the partition of the two countries is decided and Lahore is given to Pakistan. Based on the 1988 semi-autobiographical novel The Ice Candy Man by Bapsi Sidhwa.

© New Yorker Films


Director: Pamela Rooks, 1998

Tensions run high in a Punjab village in the run-up to partition between independent India and Pakistan. Sikhs living in this border town have heard rumors of Muslims assaulting, killing, and raping other Sikhs and Hindus—many of whom are their friends and relatives. Enraged at the breakdown of civil order and eager for revenge, they plan their own attack upon a crowded train full of Muslims headed to Pakistan. Based on the 1956 novel by Khushwant Singh.

© Video Sound


Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1997

Based loosely on the 1952 memoir by Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer, this film begins in 1939 prior to his departure for an expedition in India. At the outbreak of war Harrer was detained by British authorities and in 1944 escaped from a POW camp in Dehra Dun and fled into neighboring, neutral Tibet. He remained there until 1951 and during that time befriended the young Dalai Lama. Harrer left Tibet shortly after the Chinese invasion. A solid film with spectacular cinematography.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, 2003

Lajjo is a recently married Hindu woman abducted by Muslims during the chaos of partition and taken to Pakistan. There she is forced to become the second wife of an abusive and controlling alcoholic. Her determined sister-in-law, Puro, sets out to search for her, encouraged by her brother, but cautioned by her parents who would prefer not to lose another child. A compelling story that deals with abduction, a widespread and largely overlooked aspect of partition violence.

© Lucky Star Entertainment


Director: Jamil Dehlavi, 1998

Muhammad Ali Jinnah being judged in the afterlife is the premise of this controversial film about the founder of Pakistan. The story traces Jinnah's political development from champion of Hindu-Muslim unity to his demand for a separate Muslim state. The film was meant to revise the largely unflattering portrayal of Jinnah presented in earlier films such as Sir David Attenborough's Gandhi. Yet the casting of an Englishman (veteran English actor Sir Christopher Lee) in the title role was criticized by many Pakistanis.

© Dehlavi Films


Director: Kamal Hasan, 2000

This film traces the descent of an Indian archaeologist from moderate politics into Hindu fundatmentalism after the murder of his wife in the Calcutta riots of 1946. Although produced as a commercial Hindi film, it boldly addresses the communal violence that accompanied the partition of the subcontinent and the reaction of the Hindu right to Gandhi's pleas for communal harmony. Some "disturbing" portions were cut by the Indian film censor board.

© Blue Mountain Digital


Director: George Cukor, 1956

In the summer of 1947 the British are on the verge of finally leaving India. Among the few sorry to see them leave are the Anglo-Indians—half British and half Indian. They are going to miss the patronage of their white cousins, the job reservations, and the important status and positions they currently hold. This film revolves around Victoria, an Anglo-Indian woman and her relationships with British, Indian, and Anglo-Indian men. Based on the 1954 novel by John Masters.



Director: Silvio Narizzano, 1979

Based on Paul Scott's Booker Prize-winning novel from 1977, this film tells the story of retired colonel Tusker Smalley and his wife Lucy who made the decision to "stay on" in India after the British withdrew in 1947 and as most of their friends returned home. Now retired, Tusker and Lucy are the only remaining British residents in a once-busy hill station. Problems arise when the Indian owner of their bungalow plans to change the one corner of India in which they hoped to preserve their Anglo-Indian life.

© HBO Films


Directors: Ismail Merchant and Madhur Jaffrey, 1999

In 1954, seven years after India has gained independence from Britain, many Indians still feel like second-class citizens in their own country, as the nation's sovereignty has not immediately erased the perception that the British are superior to Indians. An example is Cotton Mary, an Anglo-Indian nurse in the employment of the wife of a BBC correspondent. Mary claims she is the daughter of a British army officer (although she has no firm evidence) and views herself as more British than Indian.

© Universal


Director: Vijay Anand, 1965

Formerly India's most corrupt tour guide, Raju—just released from prison—seeks refuge in an abandoned temple. Mistaken for a holy man by the local community, he plays the part and succeeds so well that God himself intervenes to put the con man's newfound sanctity to the test. A classic film adaptation of R.K. Narayan’s most celebrated novel, first published in 1958.

© Eros Entertainment


Director: Shyam Benegal, 1985

Set in the Portuguese enclave of Goa in 1961, this film follows the lives of several generations within a wealthy and influential Goan family. The Portuguese-speaking, Roman Catholic Goans were distinct from other Indians and embraced a hybrid culture with roots that went back nearly four centuries. The Indian invasion of Goa in late 1961 brought an end to its status as a Portuguese colony. An evocative portrayal of the culture and traditions of Goan Christians.

© Blaze Films


Director: Deepa Mehta, 2012

At the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, as India gains independence, two newborns are switched by a nurse in a Bombay hospital. Saleem, the illegitimate son of a poor woman, and Shiva, the offspring of a wealthy couple, are fated to live the destinies meant for each other. Their lives become mysteriously intertwined and inextricably linked to the tumultuous events of India's post-independence history. Adapted and narrated by Salman Rushdie based on his acclaimed 1981 epic novel.

© Number 9 Films


Director: James Ivory, 1970

Lucia Lane, an English writer by way of the US, arrives in Bombay (Mumbai) to watch the filming of one of her novels. She is nearing middle age, has had several husbands, and is lonely and self-absorbed. Hari, a screenwriter, offers to show her around. This film gives an interesting glimpse into the prolific Indian film industry.

© Merchant Ivory Productions


Director: James Ivory, 1982

Anne, an Englishwoman, is investigating the life of her great-aunt Olivia whose destiny had always been shrouded with scandal. The search leads back to the early 1920s, when Olivia, recently married, came to live with her civil servant husband in an Indian princely state. Slowly, Anne discovers, upon getting pregnant by an Indian local in the early 1980s, that she and Olivia have more than a little in common. Based on the 1975 novel by Ruth Prawar Jhabvala.

© Home Vision Entertainment


Director: Tareque Masud, 2002

Set in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1971, a family is divided by religious belief and civil war. Anu, a shy young village boy, is sent away to a madrassa by his father Kazi, an orthodox Muslim. Far from his family, Anu struggles to adapt to the Islamic school's harsh regimen. As political divisions in the country intensify, a split develops between moderates and extremists in the madrassa. Meanwhile in Anu's village, these same tensions create a growing rift between his father and mother.

© New Yorker Films


Director: Sturla Gunnarsson, 1998

This film is set in Bombay (Mumbai) on the eve of the 1971 war with Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. A bank clerk and his family find their modest life unraveling when he agrees to do a clandestine favor for an old friend. Based on the prize-winning novel by Robinton Mistry the film is both a tragic drama and a wryly humorous story about enduring hope and the strength of faith.

© Image Entertainment


Director: J.P. Dutta, 1997

During the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War an Indian army unit numbering just 150 men is facing a Pakistani force of over 2000 soldiers and tanks in the remote Longewala region of Punjab. The story focuses on a small group of soldiers and how they supported each other through the pivotal "Battle of Longewala." Based on a true story, this film is a landmark of Bollywood cinema and manages to combine bloody battle scenes with lengthy and lavish musical numbers.

© Eros International


Director: Shehkar Kapur, 1995

This film tells the story of Phoolan Devi, a low-caste village girl whose life erupts in a feverish spree of vengeful violence, shocking the world and bringing a government to its knees. Born of low caste, eleven-year-old Phoolan is sold into marriage with a man twenty years her senior in exchange for a cow and a rusted bicycle. Challenging her fate, she escapes and falls in with a pack of ruthless bandits, But the political structure of the male-dominated gang comes with its own set of brutal humiliations.

© Hallmark Home Entertainment


Director: Mira Nair, 1988

This film focuses on the lives of India's urban street children. The story is seen through the eyes of Krishna, an illiterate rural boy abandoned by his family and left to fend for himself on the streets of Bombay (Mumbai). The film is a gritty and disturbing look at the pimps, prostitutes, pushers, addicts, hustlers, and the legions of street children struggling to survive on the streets of modern India.



Director: Mahesh Mathai, 2001

In December 1984 a poison gas leak at the Union Carbide chemical plant in the city of Bhopal resulted in one of the worst industrial accidents in history. Thousands died and tens of thousands more were permanently sickened. This film traces the events of the disaster through the eyes of Verma, a plant supervisor, and his new bride, Tara.

© Alive Entertainment


Director: Ismail Merchant, 1993

This film revolves around the attempts of a teacher to interview the legendary Urdu poet, Nur. In a larger sense it is about the decline of a language and its effect on a people, specifically, Urdu and the Muslims of India. While the story has many comical elements, an all pervasive sense of loss and decline permeates every scene of the movie as an idealistic teacher searches for a lost literary treasure.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Roland Joffé, 1992

Set in the slums of Calcutta, this film tells the story of a disillusioned young American doctor who travels to India to escape his former life and becomes part of a mission serving lepers and slum dwellers. Om Puri gives an excellent performance as Hasari Pal, a rickshaw puller struggling to provide for his family. The film is based loosely on the bestselling 1985 novel by French journalist Dominique LaPierre.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Aparna Sen, 2002

Meenakshi Iyer (a Tamil Brahman) and her nine-month-old son are riding next to Raja (a Muslim) on a long bus journey. When the bus is stopped by a communal mob on the hunt for Muslims, Meenakshi thrusts her baby into Raja's arms and the mob allows the couple to proceed unharmed. This film traces the growing relationship between "Mr. & Mrs Iyer" while set against the background of Hindu-Muslim communal violence.

© Triplecom Media Pvt. Ltd.


Director: Stephen Frears, 1985

This film is set within the South Asian community in London during the 1980s. The main character, Omar, gains the running of his Uncle Nasser's laundromat. He is helped by his friend Johnny, who is white and an outsider, but not entirely accepted by either the white or Asian Londoners. A revealing perspective on multi-cultural London and the "Empire" coming home to Britain.

© Warner Home Video


Director: Mira Nair, 1992

In 1972 all South Asians in Uganda were expelled by the dictator Idi Amin and their property confiscated. This film tells the story of one family that resettled in the American South to manage a motel. The plot revolves around the romance between the daughter Mina and an African-American carpet cleaner and the cultural clash between the two families. It also focuses on the father and his coming to terms with his dislocation and exile life.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Mani Ratnam, 1995

A young Hindu man and Muslim girl fall in love and elope after their families forbid them to marry. They move away from their small village to Bombay (Mumbai) where they live happily until tragedy strikes with the outbreak of the widespread "Babri Masjid" communal riots in that city in 1992. Based on true events.

© Eros Entertainment


Director: Deepa Mehta, 1997

Sita, a young woman in Delhi, embarks on an arranged, loveless marriage to a faithless husband. The extended family live together according to custom and tensions escalate. Radha, Sita's sister-in-law, is unable to conceive and her disappointed husband has taken a vow of celibacy and is often gone. Eventually Sita and Radha develop a physical relationship which is far more emotionally sustaining than that which they have found with their husbands. This taboo-breaking film led to riots in Mumbai.

© New Yorker Films


Director: Udayan Prasad, 1997

Parvez is a westernized Pakstani taxi driver living in the English Midlands town of Bradford. He watches helplessly as his British-born son, Farid, embraces Islamic fundamentalism in response to the bigotry and perceived moral degeneracy of working class life in England. The film has its comic moments but is mostly a drama dealing with cross-cultural and generational gaps among the South Asian community in Britain.

© Miramax


Director: Mani Ratnam, 1998

Amarkant Varma is a program executive for All India Radio and is dispatched around the country to interview citizens to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Indian independence. While waiting for a train he meets and falls in love with a mysterious woman named Meghna. Amarkant pursues her not knowing she is a member of a separatist group and has been chosen to carry out a suicide bombing at the Republic Day parade.

© Eros Entertainment


Director: Damien O'Donell, 1999

This film is set in Salford, Britain, in 1971. Fish-and-chip shop owner George Khan expects his family to follow his strict Pakistani Muslim ways. But his children, with an English mother and having been born and brought up in Britain, increasingly see themselves as British and start to reject their father's rules on dress, food, religion, and living in general.

© Miramax


Director: Sabiha Sumar, 2003

This Pakistani film is set in 1979 when General Zia ul-Haq had placed the country under martial law and was beginning to allow the legal and educational systems to come under the control of Islamic clerics. The film is set in a village in Punjab in which Ayesha, a middle-aged widow still haunted by the ghosts of Partition, soon watches her teenage son succumb to the forces of radical Islam.

© First Run Features


Director: Santosh Sivan, 1999

Inspired by the events surrounding the 1991 assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by Tamil separatists, this film focuses on the making of a young suicide bomber. Malli has spent most of her nineteen years in revolutionary training. She is a hardened killer but the path to assassination forces to her to examine her own emotions and beliefs for the first time (in Tamil with English subtitles).

© Winstar Video


Director: Gurinder Chadha, 2002

Jess is a girl from a conservative Sikh family living in Hounslow, West London. Her only desire is to become a famous football star like her idol, David Beckham, but her traditional family refuses even to consider it. A light-hearted look at the tensions of family politics and growing up in the midst of two cultures.

© Twentieth Century Fox


Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra, 2000

Set in the turmoil of the disputed Kashmir Valley between 1989 and 1999, the mission actually starts after a series of life-altering events. An Indian Muslim police officer in the line of duty accidentally kills a Muslim Kashmiri family. The sole surviving child of the clan is then adopted by the police officer at his wife's insistence since the couple had earlier lost their own son in an accident. A typical Bollywood action film in many ways, but unusual for tackling the politically sensitive issue of Kashmir.

© Columbia/TriStar


Director: Janhu Barua, 2005

The multi-layered plot of this film focuses on a semi-senile widower named Uttam who is forced into retirement from his position as a distinguished lecturer in Hindi literature. As his dementia worsens he begins to blame himself for the assassination of Gandhi over half a century earlier. Finally his daughter begins to investigate her father's past and his connection to the Mahatma to discover what has triggered these long-suppressed memories.

© Yash Raj Films


Director: Dharan Mandrayar, 2005

This film tells the story of four remarkable women and their journey to overcome the social stigma and grim reality of widowhood in India. Abandoned by their families, impoverished by a system that fails to recognize them, and denied even the simplest grace of wearing color, they find the resolve to transform their lives.

© Prahbu Films


Director: Mani Ratnam, 2002

Dhileepan and Shyama are a newly married Tamil couple forced to flee their home in Sri Lanka. They soon become separated and, while in a refugee center in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Shyama gives birth to a daughter, Amudha, but abandons her before returning home. When Amudha is nine years old she travels to Sri Lanka with her adoptive parents to find her birth mother. A moving and intimate portrayal of the human cost of the Sri Lankan civil war (in Tamil and Sinhala).

© Film Movement


Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 2001

The prolific Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf has had one of his most visible international successes with this haunting, open-ended drama. Set (and shot) during the Taliban era, shortly before the US invasion of 2001, this film follows an Afghani-Canadian woman as she attempts to enter Afghanistan in search of a despondent sister. (Also titled Safar e Ghandehar).

© New Yorker Films


Director: Magesh Kukunoor, 2003

This film is revolves around the lives of three death row inmates in an Indian prison—all convicted of murder. The warden, Mohan, desiring his prison to be an instrument of holistic reform and not merely about punishment and isolation, allows Chandrika, a documentary filmmaker, to come into the prison to film the three convicts. As the documentary progresses, a bond develops between Chandrika and the men. A gripping psychological thriller with a surprise ending.

© Metalight Productions


Director: Mira Nair, 2002

This film tells the story of a wedding in upper middle-class Delhi. An extended family spread all over the world reunites for the big event and all the ties and feelings between siblings, cousins, parents, friends are shown and expressed in a light but touching way; love, friendship, envy, pain, sorrow, loneliness, passion, and hope in a nearly perfect mix. This film is an accurate portrait of the middle class and their servants in present-day India.

© Universal


Director: Michael Winterbottom, 2002

This extraordinary docudrama recreates the harrowing journey of two young Afghan males, Jamal and Enayat, who are smuggled, step-by-step, from their refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan through Iran, Turkey, and Europe to their final destination in London. The film draws attention to the desperate plight of refugees and illegal immigrants in general, but especially of Afghans displaced in Pakistan after a generation of violence.

© Sundance Films


Director: Rahul Dholakia, 2005

This powerful film is based on the true story of a Parsi family whose ten-year-old son, Parzan, disappeared after an angry mob attacked their home during the 2002 riots in Godhra in the Indian state of Gujarat. The Godhra riots, in which over 1000 people were killed (mostly Muslims), were among the worst acts of communal violence in India's recent history. The film has been screened throughout India, except in Gujarat.

© Serene Pictures Classics


Director: Ken Loach, 2004

Set in Glasgow, this film tells the story of a cross-cultural relationship between Qasim, an aspiring DJ of Pakistani descent, and Roisín, an Irish Catholic piano instructor. Pressured by his parents to accept an arranged marriage with his cousin Yasmin, Qasim must choose between his love for Roisín and his duty to comply with the traditional values of his family and Muslim community.

© Lions Gate


Director: Siddiq Barmak, 2003

The first movie produced by Afghan filmmakers after the fall of the Taliban, Osama is a searing portrait of life under the oppressive fundamentalist regime. Because women are not allowed to work, a widow disguises her young daughter as a boy ("Osama") and sends her out to work so that they will not starve to death.



Directors: Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, 2004

Two documentary filmmakers chronicle their time in Sonagchi, Calcutta, and the relationships that develop between them and the children of prostitutes who work the city's notorious red light district. The children are given cameras and encouraged to document the details of the squalor and vibrant humanity of their lives in the slums.

© HBO/Cinemax Documentary Films


Director: Atiq Rahimi, 2004

Set in post-Taliban Afghanistan, this film by an Afghan director tells the story of Dastaguir and his recently deafened five-year-old grandson Yassin. The pair hitchhike and walk across the barren landscape as they make their way to the coal mine where Dastaguir's son Murad works. There Dastaguir must tell Murad that the rest of their family were all killed in a recent bomb attack. A sad portrayal of the violence and uncertainty that has persisted in the wake of the overthrow of the Taliban.

© Bodega Films


Director: Rakesh Mehra, 2006

A young, idealistic English filmmaker, Sue, arrives in India to film a docudrama about Indian revolutionaries Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, and their contemporaries during the fight for freedom from British colonial rule. However, the young Indians she casts in the film reflect a self-centered and materialistic generation that, at first, cannot relate to the patriotism and sacrifice of the characters they portray.

© UTV Motion Pictures


Director: Marc Foster, 2007

Amir, the privileged son of a wealthy businessman in Kabul is friends with Hassan, the son of his father's servant. As children in the relatively stable Afghanistan of the early 1970s, the boys are inseparable and spend idyllic days flying kites and telling stories. Years after Amir and his father have fled to America and settled there, Amir returns to his war-torn native land, now under Taliban rule, to learn about the fate of Hassan. Based on the bestselling 2003 novel by Khaled Hosseini.

© Dreamworks


Director: Mira Nair, 2006

Set in Calcutta and New York, this film spans two generations and two cultures. Shortly after their arranged marriage—and still virtual strangers to each other—Ashoke and Ashima move from India to the US. When their son is born they raise him in a traditional Bengali home, but as he grows older his desire to embrace his identity as an American brings him into conflict with his parents' values and expectations. Based on the 2003 novel by Jhumpa Lahiri.

© Fox Searchlight


Director: Sarah Gavron, 2007

A young Bangladeshi woman, Nazneen, arrives in 1980s London, leaving behind her beloved sister and home, for an arranged marriage and a new life. Trapped within the four walls of her flat in East London, and in a loveless marriage with a middle-aged businessman, she fears her soul is quietly dying. Yet the free-thinking society that surrounds her eventually penetrates the traditions she holds dear, and slowly Nazneen awakens to her own ideas and her own choices. Based on the 2003 novel by Monica Ali.

© Film4


Director: Wes Anderson, 2007

A quirky story about three formerly estranged American brothers who set off on a rail journey across India to "find themselves" and reestablish their bonds with each other. Their spiritual quest, however, veers rapidly off course as they become stranded in the middle of the Rajasthan desert. At this moment, a new and unplanned journey suddenly begins. A strange but intriguing take on the stereotype of western travelers who view India as a destination for spiritual enlightenment.

© Fox Searchlight


Director: Danny Boyle, 2008

Jamal Malik, an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, is just one question away from winning a staggering twenty million rupees on India's version of the television program "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" When the police arrest him on suspicion of cheating, Jamal relates the story of life and survival in the slum where he and his brother grew up. Despite its popular reception and critical acclaim in the West (it won the Academy Award for Best Picture), this film prompted protests from Mumbai slumdwellers and activists upon its release in India.

© Fox Searchlight


Director: Afia Nathaniel, 2014

In the mountains of Northwest Pakistan, Allah Rakhi flees her village to prevent the forced marriage of her ten-year-old daughter, Zainab, to Tor Gul, the elderly headman of a rival family. With Gul's henchmen in close pursuit, Allah Rakhi and Zainab are smuggled by a sympathetic truck driver from their mountain home to the teeming streets of Lahore. A harrowing story with spectacular cinematography in the mountains and valleys of the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan.

© Zambeel Films


Director: Jacques Audiard, 2015

The heartbreaking story of Dheepan, a Tamil fighter who flees civil war-ravaged Sri Lanka after having lost his entire family. He joins with two other Tamil refugees, who pretend to be his wife and daughter, and together they try to make better lives for themselves as immigrants in a suburban Paris housing project. In the process, Dheepan is forced to reconnect with his warrior's instincts to protect his new family. This film won the Palme d'Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

© Criterion

Created by campion@lclark.edu | Updated February 2018