Bollywood is the world’s largest national cinema. No other country has managed to come up with as many films in a year as Bollywood. The national cinema of India also has a prolific history and still enjoys wide patronage not only locally but all over the world.
This list lets you in on the 15 best movies that you should not miss from Bollywood’s classical period.
15. Ankur by Shyam Benegal (1974)
This film comments on a very sensitive issue then and now in India – the caste system. The film is actually a very effective love story that deals between the romantic affair between a wealthy landowner and the daughter of a poor man.
14. Sholay by Ramesh Sippy (1975)
Sholay is a well-made action film that came out of Bollywood’s classical period in the mid 1970’s. It is a tale of vengeance as a former police officer, with the help of two outlaws, exacts revenge on a bandit that murdered his wife.
13. Shree 420 by Raj Kapoor (1955)
This coming of age tale depicts the city as a monster who eats its own children. An upright rural boy’s innocence is shattered when he takes to the city to search for a better life. The film still rings true up to this very day.
12. Madhumati by Bimal Roy (1958)
This fantastic film blurs two genres – the horror film and drama. In the movie, a man enters the an abandoned mansion where he gets to reconnect with his past life. The film also works as a mystery flick and as a morality tale.
11. Hum Dono by Vijay Anand (1961)
This film, according to many film critics and historians, was made way ahead of its time. A soldier, who had just gone home and weary from battle, starts a double life when a doppelganger/impostor takes his life away from him.
10. Do Bigha Zameen by Bimal Roy (1953)
This neorealist film earned awards from the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival. It is a story about a father and son who go to the city to find a better life. Sadly, they find the city also mired in deep poverty and social injustice.
9. Aradhana by Shakti Samanta (1971)
This film is considered both a classic in Bollywood Cinema and also as a musical treasure. The film revolves around a mother who gives her child up for adoption but still follows the child from a distance. It is deemed as the quintessential Bollywood drama film.
8. Sahib, Bibi, Aur Gulam by Guru Dutt and Abrar Alvi (1962)
This multi-layered film has been praised for its strong acting and meticulous direction. The film is also rich in thematic value and doubles as a mystery and a scathing indictment of the decadence of Bengali society in the 1960’s.
7. Awaara by Raj Kapoor (1951)
This well-made and excellently acted Bollywood film functions like a soap opera – as secrets and clandestine affairs are revealed one after the other. More importantly, it is also a study on social injustice and the relationships of men.
6. Kaaghaz Ke Phool by Guru Dutt (1959)
This movie was released during the golden age of Bollywood and is actually a film within a film. It tells the story of a director who finds himself uninspired and tired, until he one day finds the perfect actress who was to be his muse in his next film project.
5. Guide by Vijay Anand (1961)
This reflective film was taken from an equally soulful novel that was actually a deep reflection on the teachings of the Vedas. This morality play is about the transformation of a corrupt businessman into a spiritual guru.
4. Mother India by Mehboob Khan (1957)
This critically-acclaimed film was India’s entry to the 1957 Academy Awards where it almost clinched the title. This lovely film is an inspired homage to the Indian heritage – as it displayed a deep understanding of Indian culture and history.
3. Pakeezah by Khamal Amrohi (1971)
This film has been praised for its lavish cinematography, excellent screenplay, and outstanding production values. It features a prostitute who meets a man in a train accident. She falls in love with the man and vice versa – without the woman telling the man of her true profession.
2. Mughal e Azam by Karimuddin Asif (1961)
This film happened to be one of the most expensive films ever made in India during the 1960’s. It featured lush cinematography, colorful costumes, dazzling art direction and a truly heartwarming storyline.
1. Pyaasa by Guru Dutt (1957)
This film tops the list simply because of its rare and insightful depiction of Indian society especially after the end of British colonialism. It alludes to the search for an Indian morality and national philosophy at a time of great transitions.