If I were to ask a real connoisseur of great Hindi cinema to list her or his top 100 films of all time, I’m pretty sure many of the films on this Zee Classic parallel cinema festival, India’s Finest Films, would walk happily into that list. So, even before I start telling you more about this delicious smorgasbord of handpicked Hindi movies, you know. I love these films, and ever since last evening, ie Saturday the 16th of July, my Tata SKY HD DVR has been set to record each and every one of the gems every Saturday at 10 pm. These are definitely amongst the finest Hindi films to have come out of parallel cinema in India.
Zee Classic has acquired 49 path-breaking titles produced by NFDC, and some of them will be showcased for the very first time on television.
Now these aren’t your usual formula Hindi films, though I must say I love those too – while in college I watched Yaadon Ki Baraat five times, and Pratigya thrice, with innumerable others branded on my subconscious memory as if with a cattle-branding iron. But just as I’ve mainlined on the formula films, there are some handpicked gems that I’ve always remained emotionally hung up on. The kind of films on this festival. These films are definitely amongst the most lovingly made films on off-beat, real subjects, and, of course, a far, distant cry from the run-of-the-mill run-around-the-trees masala Hindi films.
A prized collection of fine films
This is a prized collection of Hindi films that are variously historic, intense, socially impactful and which, when they released, were truly forward thinking and ahead of their times on the creative, artistic and societal fronts and till today, on the human emotions front, have remained, without exception, extremely contemporary.
Here’s the cluster of 14 movies scheduled– titles the mention of which will give you the goosebumps if you’ve watched them, and if you haven’t, would give you multiple… well… goosebumps — if you know movies at all.
Consider these: Mirch Masala, Massey Sahib, Gandhi, Ardh Satya, Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro, Salaam Bombay, Mammo, Pestonjee, 27 Down, Ek Doctor Ki Maut, Qissa, Gangoobai, Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan, The Good Road. These movies mark the debut of icons like Irrfan Khan, Pankaj Kapur, Naseeruddin Shah and many more.
High IMDB scores
In the absence of any other information, I consider the IMDB rating a generally good yardstick of the quality of a film. One remembers, of course, to not just consider the average rating per vote, but also the total size of the audience that voted. Having said that, I personally tend to believe that only people who’ve watched a film and care about sharing their views would bother to cast their votes, so regardless of number of votes, I tend to give greater importance to the average rating.
So when I looked at the IMDB rating for the 14 films on India’s Finest Films, I realised that this has to be a rare festival on quality of content, because of the 14 films, as many as five films have a rating of over 8, another seven films have rated above 7 out of 10, and the remaining too have a rating of over 6 out of 10 on IMDB. So really, a must-watch festival, this.
Now I haven’t listed these in the correct order of broadcast, but hang on. Before I get into each of the first 14 films lined up, let me add here that Zee Classic is doing the full monty with this series. It’s curated an hour-long special feature, ‘India’s Finest Films – A Parallel Journey’, which includes the views of stalwarts of Indian cinema like Shyam Benegal, Mahesh Bhatt, Saeed Mirza, Kundan Shah and Rohini Hattangadi, amongst others. The series received a digital release when it premiered on the Zee Classic YouTube channel on Tuesday, 12th July at noon.
Audiences can also catch it on television as a prelude to ‘India’s Finest Films’. Excerpts of this feature along with additional exclusive interviews will be showcased during the telecast of movies on Zee Classic.
This series eventually bring the pristine, amazing creative quality of parallel cinema into the mainstream consciousness and appeal. That should then help film makers get over stupid clichéd and far fetched, hackneyed, formulaic and copied scripts and scenarios, and give cinema in India a real creative leg-up
The channel has also launched a holistic integrated marketing campaign including Outdoor, Radio, Print and exclusive screenings of these titles with influencers. Why I’m mentioning the marketing is that I believe that together with the excellent lineup of films, the awareness campaign will hopefully help this series eventually bring the pristine, amazing creative quality of parallel cinema into the mainstream consciousness and appeal. That should then help film makers get over stupid clichéd and far fetched, hackneyed, formulaic and copied scripts and scenarios, and give cinema in India a real creative leg-up.
In fact, the great Shyam Benegal is on record as having said, “Rabindranath Tagore once said that every art seeks to find its own independent manner of expression within the world it creates, and no creative genius has yet arrived to deliver it from its bondage. Having said that, television has always been a very effective medium, particularly for films that may or may not have the opportunity to do well in cinema houses. This is because televisions reaches homes and you do not pay individually for movies. I personally feel Zee Classic’s initiative is a very good one. It will help to keep alive the film culture of our country and Zee Classic is in the ideal position to do this.”
I agree. Look at this great movies lineup on offer on Zee Classic (www.zeeclassic.com), week on week, in ‘India’s Finest Films’, which started on 16th July, and will air every Saturday at 10 PM
So here goes with a brief introduction to each film, with the telecast schedule on Zee Classic. Really meaningful cinema, this collection of movies does indeed deserve to be branded India’s Finest Films. The series started airing on Saturday, the 16th of July, and will air every Saturday at 10 pm. Thank you Zee Classic.
14 of India’s finest films
(Aired on Saturday, 16th July at 10 PM on Zee Classic. Was the first of the weekly India’s Finest Films series) IMDB Rating: 8.1/10
Hmmm, ironically, if you weren’t aware of the festival which began on Zee Classic on Saturday the 16th, you might have missed catching the first film.
In 1988, Mira Nair made her directorial film debut with Salaam Bombay! which chronicled the lives of a group of street children in Mumbai. A highlight of this creatively brilliant film was that it starred the actual street children of Mumbai in the movie. The film won awards across the globe for its authenticity and unwavering portrayal of the life of Mumbai’s abandoned and homeless youth. It won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi, the National Board of Review Award for Top Foreign Film, the Golden Camera and Audience Awards at the Cannes Film Festival, and three awards at the Montréal World Film Festival. ‘Salaam Bombay!’ was India’s second film submission to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film was among the list of ‘The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made’ by the New York Times.
(Saturday, 23rd July at 10 PM on Zee Classic) IMDB Rating: 7.8/10
For some, Ketan Mehta will always remain the man who made Mirch Masala. An attention grabbing film, it revolves around the gender divide in society. The story of Sonabai (Smita Patil) and her struggle to protect her sanctity from the evil Subedar (Naseeruddin Shah) and a village full of sexist men, the film was based in the dusty and dried surroundings of Kutch in an earthy reflection of the ‘values’ of a male- and class-dominated Indian culture. Amongst other things, Mirch Masala is known for having perhaps the finest performance of Smita Patil, which Forbes included in the film on its list, ‘25 Greatest Acting Performances of Indian Cinema’.
To my mind, there was an equally riveting – if not arguably better – performance from one of the most brilliant actors of Hindi films, Om Puri, who played a wizened, tough, determined and extremely ruggedly earthy old man who will break but not bend, and who stands like a rock by Smita Patil’s character harassed by the evil Subedar.
Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro
(Saturday, 30th July at 10 PM on Zee Classic) IMDB Rating: 7.4/10
Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro is a rare film and an attempt to showcase the dilemmas faced by urban Muslims thoughtfully but boldly. In addition to the portrayal of Bombay’s mohalla life, it also shows the joys of friendship and camaraderie and pleasure of loafing around. Salim Langda (Pawan Malhotra) is a confident petty thief. Salim earns his livelihood by doing odd jobs for the big bosses of Bombay’s underworld. His final ambition is to ape these underworld kings whose status he envies.
Saeed Mirza, the director, has a long history of making films which have ridiculed stereotypes to which minorities are subject to in popular Hindi films and this movie is one of his finest creations. The film won the 37th National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi and the National Film Award for Best Cinematography in 1989.
Ek Doctor Ki Maut
(Saturday, 6th August at 10 PM on Zee Classic) IMDB rating: 8.3/10
Ek Doctor Ki Maut is an award winning film by the noted Bengali director Tapan Sinha, which depicts the ostracism, bureaucratic negligence and insult of a doctor and his research, instead of recognition and credit. This movie is loosely based on the life of Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay, an Indian physician who pioneered the IVF treatment just around the same time when another leading scientist, Dr. Robert Edwards was conducting separate experiments in England.
The film won the 38th National Film Award for Second Best Feature Film, National Film Award for Best Direction and National Film Award – Special Jury Award awarded to the male lead, Pankaj Kapoor.
(Saturday, 13th August at 10 PM on Zee Classic) IMDB Rating: 8.1/10
OK, Gandhi wasn’t a film produced by an Indian production house or studio, of course, but it one of the most Indian films. Also one of the most iconic films of all time, Gandhi (1982) was produced and directed by Richard Attenborough and written by John Briley. Starring Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Roshan Seth and Martin Sheen, it is the highest Oscar-winning film ever, claiming eight awards from 11 nominations including Best Film.
And strangely, it almost never got made!
The late director Richard Attenborough revealed in of his interviews “It took me 20 years to get the money to get that movie made. I remember my pitch to 20th Century Fox. The guy said: ‘Dickie, it’s sweet of you to come here. You’re obviously obsessed. But who will be interested in a little brown man wrapped in a sheet carrying a beanpole?’ I would have loved to have met that guy after the Oscars!” Attenborough knew that he would be telling one of the 20th-century’s most remarkable stories, that of the Indian lawyer who returned from racially segregated South Africa to drive the British out of his home country through successive acts of non-violent protest.
They couldn’t have scheduled it better, one day before Independence eve, 13th August, at 10 pm.
(Saturday, 20th August, at 10 PM on Zee Classic) IMDB Rating: 8.1/10
Ardh Satya is directed by the brilliant director-cinematographer Govind Nihalani. The film is based on a short story by D.A. Panvalkar and the script is written by Vijay Tendulkar. It has Om Puri, Smita Patil, Amrish Puri, Naseeruddin Shah and Sadashiv Amarpurkar in lead roles. It is the story of Anant Welankar, son of a retired constable in Maharashtra Police, who is forced to let go of his dream of pursuing an MBA and join the Police force.
After Aakrosh, Ardh Satya is the second film made by Govind Nihalani. It is brutally honest in the depiction of the trials, tribulations, character and conflicts of its protagonist. In times when everything and everyone has a price, it is a hard hitting journey of an honest man… a part of which remains back to haunt you long after the credits have rolled.
(3rd September at 10 PM on Zee Classic) IMDB Rating: 7.1/10
Pestonjee is a film directed by Vijaya Mehta, starring Anupam Kher, Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi in lead roles. The film is an intimate look into the life and mannerisms of the Parsi community especially those living in the city of Bombay (now Mumbai) in the 1950s and 60s.
‘Life is for living, not for complaining.’ says the cover to ‘Pestonjee’. Phirohshah aka Phiroj (Naseeruddin Shah) and Pestonjee aka Pesi (Anupam Kher) are the best of friends. They are almost like twins. There is no life without one another and they also hope to get married at the same time. But destiny has something else stored for them.
(10th September at 10 PM on Zee Classic) IMDB Rating: 6.7/10
All of us have grown up with different kinds of stories that were narrated to us. Some of them will be overlooked while some will be lost with the passage of time. But, the story of Qissa is timeless. Irrfan Khan as Umber Singh, Tisca Chopra as Mehar, Tilotama Shome as Kanwar Singh, Rasika Dugal as Neeli are the main protagonists of the movie.
Anup Singh’s Qissa is a powerful, haunting, superbly crafted film about the complexities of character and sexuality. Does personality stem from a society or nation you were conceived in, your sex, sexuality or just the environment you were brought up in and situations that formed you? The film packs these profound inquiries into a simple story.
(Saturday, 14th September at 10 PM on Zee Classic) IMDB Rating 7.9/10
27 Down is a film directed by Awtar Krishna Kaul, featuring Raakhee and M.K. Raina in lead roles. The film is description on 27 Down, the Bombay-Varanasi Express. Sanjay (M K Raina), the son of a railroad employee, gives up on his dreams of becoming an artist when his father demands he come back to the family occupation. He gauges life in train sounds and journeys. The requests of congruity influence his connection with a young lady Shalini (Rakhee).
27 Down is one of those rare gems of the Indian silver screen that merited more credit than what it really recieved. Despite it being made 40 years ago, it manages to remarkably portray the relationship between two young adults as they get together and try to discover themselves in each other through their conversations, meaningful connections and silent solitude!
(Saturday, 1st October at 10 PM on Zee Classic) IMDB Rating: 7.6/10
“Apne pasand ki cheez milna badi baat hai.
Agar sab kuch mil gaya, lekin apne pasand ki cheez hi na mili toh matlab kya hai jeekay!”
(“It is a big thing, to get what one desires.
If you have everything, but cannot get that one thing you desire, then what is the point of living!”)
Directed by Priya Krishnaswamy, Sarita Joshi is the main protagonist in Gangoobai. The story revolves around an elderly maid who strives to accomplish her dream of buying a costly Gara sari and changes the lives of individuals she comes in contact with while in Mumbai to purchase the sari.
(Saturday, 27th August, at 10 PM on Zee Classic) IMDB Rating: 6/10
Mammo (1994), a film by Shyam Benegal, is the first film in the series of Muslim trilogy including Sardari Begum (1996) and Zubeidaa (2001).
The film portrays the flinching truths frequently confronted by the powerless, post-partition. It reminds of the emotional torture of being torn far from one’s roots over and over; in spite of one turning a blind eye or making a noise for change in the circumstances which they have no control over. It makes one appreciate something which is frequently is taken for granted until it is lost or gone for good. The character of Mammo (Farida Jalal), abandons her family and home behind for love and moves to Pakistan. They live in peaceful co-existence until her husband leaves Mammo defenseless and desolate.
Even though the motion picture is named after Mammo, the film tells two stories, one of Mammo, obviously, and other of youthful Riyaaz… His life and companions, his trysts with cigarettes, adult films, his shame that he is not as affluent as his companions, him trying to find himself, his bothering on seeing a stranger trying to be a part of his family and his ambition of turning into an author in the future.
This movie is also the recipient of National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi and Filmfare Critics Award for Best Performance by Farida Jalal and National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress by Surekha Sikri.
(Saturday, 17th September at 10 PM on Zee Classic) IMDB Rating: 8/10
Massey Sahib is a 1985 film directed by Pradip Krishen, featuring Raghuvir Yadav in the main role. It was Pradip Krishen’s first film, and was based on a novel Mister Johnson written by Joyce Cary in 1939. The film also has stars like Arundhati Roy, who was yet to pen down her first novel and win the Man Booker Prize, alongside Barry John and Veerendra Saxena.
This story revolves around a man who is stuck in the crossfire where British Frontier principles smothered Indian freedom and colonializes it. This is a story told from an Indian perspective. Francis Massey (Raghuvir Yadav) works as a secretary for a British government officer in central India. Francis tries to out-do his employer in an attempt to be more British than him. He dresses British and even has a church wedding. He is not the most productive or gifted specialist, and his supervisor, the Commissioner Charles Adam (Barry John), regularly mediates on his benefit. But, Massey’s unexpected fate is entirely past the Commissioner’s mediation.
Even though Raghuvir Yadav has never won a National Award…he did win two International Awards for the Best Actor for Massey Sahib, FIPRESCI Critic’s Award, Venice Film Festival, 1986 and the Best Actor Silver Peacock, IIFI, 1987.
Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan
(Saturday, 8th October at 10 PM on Zee Classic) IMDB Rating: 3/10
Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastan (ADKAD), a film dear to Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s heart, was a masterpiece of the parallel silver screen development that was a tribute to Indian producers. The motion picture revolves around the internal clashes of a person born and brought in a city, who battles to comprehend the significance of his life and those encompassing him, including family and companions. It stars Shreeram Lagoo, Rohini Hattangadi, Satish Shah, Suresh Oberoi (in a cameo), Om Puri and Dilip Dhawan.
Arvind Desai (Dilip Dhawan) is a single child of a rich specialist (Shriram Lagoo) who deals in extravagant luxury handcrafted products. His has conflicting emotions for his dad. While he detests his commanding nature, he respects his aura, power and sharp mind. He has long examinations on workmanship and governmental issues with a Marxist companion (Om Puri). Much against his desires, his marriage is orchestrated to a young lady from a high-class family who has quite recently returned from Paris.
It’s a film about the trans-generational exchange of qualities and the repercussions of the prevalent legacy influencing the value system in the future.
The Good Road
(Saturday, 15th October at 10 PM on Zee Classic) IMDB Rating: 6.3/10
The Good Road is a 2013 Indian drama film written and directed by Gyan Correa. The film won the trophy for Best Gujarati film at the 60th National Film Awards. Also, it was the first Gujarati film ever chosen to represent India at the Oscars. The motion picture is described in a hyperlink arrangement, where a few stories are interwoven, with the focal point of the story being an expressway in the country terrains of Gujarat close to a town in Kutch.
A family on a holiday lose their child… A truck driver’s last rid… A young lady in search of hope… This is an adventurous journey, across a national highway, and into the heart of a concealed India, where demonstrations of extraordinary sympathy are shown to outsiders.
So those were the first 14 films scheduled till the 8th of October 2016 on the India’s Finest Films series on Zee Classic. Do share which films you liked and why.
Enjoy great parallel cinema
Parallel cinema in India has evolved through the years, starting from the Neorealism-influenced films of Nehruvian India, through the more politically radical films of the Seventies and the liberal humanist films that were termed as Independent cinema. Zee Classic is giving movie lovers to taste this flavor of cinema and experience the magic for the very first time on Indian television. Enjoy the series. Great movie making from the days when post production techniques had not yet outstripped the creative. Hallmarks of great movie making from Indian Hindi cinema.