Art films have ruled cinemas for years. Highlighting social and proprietary topics, art films base an entire universe around the concept, creating a creative world around our own. Spanning decades of research based on personal experiences, these movies have brought to critical acclaim the ideas and ways of life that were forgotten, lighting up stories of heroes who did not fall in the generic classes. Art films also succeed because of their amazing casts, most of who have proven their mettle by being an alumnus of the National School of Drama. And on that note, we will be making our picks for some of Bollywood’s finest Art films released to date.
1. Mirch Masala (1987)
Truly a classic, the movie revolves around the tax collectors appointed by the British during the colonial rule in India who would always go from village to village to demand taxes and alongside ask for more. When Subedar (played by Nasiruddin Shah) asks Sonabai (Smita Patil) to sleep with him, she slaps him and runs away to hide in a chilli powder making factory where she meets other women who decide to put an end to the rape culture. The concept of women coming together to fight one devil on shared traumatic experiences was the crux of why this movie made it into this list. However, the performances put up by all the leading ladies was simply beyond commendable. With their independence and Smita Patil's character having had enough, and the rage felt by the women can be felt by the audiences too. The setting is the most generic classic setting of a movie about India under colonialism, but the angles of societal patriarchy and the spineless men of the village alongside the school's teacher who was an icon, the movie won the hearts of every critical consensus.
Watch it on Youtube
2. Manthan (1976)
With a star-studded cast and direction crew, Manthan was set against the backdrop of the White Revolution in India where a businessman arrives in a city to list up the local residents by starting a milk factory. The movie is actually crowdfunded, and it revolves around the concept of doing good for the sake of a bigger humanity than yourself. But that is not all, the reason why this movie makes it here is because of the way it highlights the layers of Indian casteism- how the people sell their milk to an upper-caste man who simply just cheats them off to make his own profits.
The movie writes down sentences between the actualities of life and the idealism we take around with ourselves, a concept of doing good and the actual practice of doing good can be so different. The movie grapples with politics and power play, again a generic concept but told so beautifully from the eyes of the villagers who do not stand up for themselves in the name of the factor that they are belong to a lower caste and therefore will be oppressed more than they already are.
Watch it on Youtube
3. Piku (2015)
Almost everyone has either seen or heard about Piku; Deepika Padukone's role speaking volumes about her effortless talents and bringing to life the Bengali culture of life and living. The movie stands out as the most realistic portrayal of a stressed out daughter and a loving yet nagging father on a road trip to their relatives house. Simple, humorous yet heart-warming. The father-daughter duo fight over almost everything, and to the most trivial of issues. They fight the most over the selling of the old house in Calcutta, where her father wants to keep it while she wants to sell it off. One of my most memorable scenes remain where Piku drives down the roads of the city with Rana (played by the legendary Irrfan Khan) and she sees an old cinema she frequently visited in her childhood gone and replaced by another establishment. Rana helps her realize that sentimental value of things cannot held in prices of gold or silver and that some things are better left with ourselves because they are effortlessly timeless. Every scene brings out another page of expressive layers to each character, building a perfect story of their own in the bigger storyline of the plot.
Watch it Sonyliv (here)
4. Sadgati (1981)
A Satyajit Ray direction, the story touches deeply upon the entrenched system of caste in the Indian fabric. A shoemaker goes to the pandit to fix a date of marriage for his daughter only to get roped into doing unpaid labour for the pandit in exchange for the date. Like a dutiful father, the man does not eat once and simply does every work as told. The story twists when the pandit is told to forego the entire concept and he struggles with his entire being to let go of a system he bored his soul into. Untouchability is one of India's biggest struggles and the movie highlights it with every scene being all about their mistreatment and their deep rooted oppression. With some of the finest performers in all leading roles, the movie tug strings to be one of the most honest tear-jerkers that deeply tears open the fabric of the blanket people have brushed things under for ages.
Watch it here
5. Bazaar (1982)
Another tear-jerker, Bazaar talks about the life of prostitution and bride-buying. What starts off as a means to find love and be settled into a new life as a couple, ends up into a horrific tale of tragedy and violence. With the entire concept being about the ugly shades of mute spectators, dependency of a woman, auctioneering of women like objects, the movie makes you uncomfortable and rightfully so. Every aspect of the story is haunting and thought-provoking, with the entire fabric of patriarchy being sewn into the movie for critical focus for the eyes of an unsuspecting audience. So much can go wrong and does go wrong, with female characters being openly hit and no one lifting a voice to their husbands finding them dead on the night of their marriage because she saw no other way out of the horrendous cycle of life that she had gotten trapped into. With NSD casts like Nasseruddin Shah, Smita Patil, Farooq Shaikh and Supriya Pathak, their eyes spoke the million words in between the lines of the scripts.
Watch it here
6. Paar (1984)
Controversial yet probably the most simple movie on this list, Paar is all about swimming pigs and two people getting across a river; paar as in getting across. Simple enough, right? Wrong! The movie is another gem on this list that uncovers the Caste System. After a landlord kills a progressive thinking schoolmaster, a labourer decides to end the tirade of zero resistance by going and killing the landlord's brother. The movie then progresses to the laborer and his wife running away but coming back to their village and crossing a river. His wife is pregnant and must cross the river on foot with a herd of pigs, prompting which she believes that she has lost her baby. The ending of the movie as simple as the rest with the labourer on his knees, with his ears on her stomach, listening to the heartbeat of their child. Utterly simplistic but it speaks volumes in the silence of the simple and known, while most people struggle to undercover the works between the lines of the movie.
Watch it on Youtube
7. Deepa Mehta’s Elements trilogy- Fire (1996), Earth (1998), and Water (2005)
If you've watched even one of these, you know why they are here, and why they are immensely controversial. They are timelessly impeccable gems of Indian cinema, with each movie unearthing a different note of Indian society that people do not want to talk about.
Fire is about Queer Love between two married women whose husbands have sexual affairs outside the purview of their marriages with other women, so the wives form an unlikely bond that transcended into one of the first main screen visuals of a homosexual relationship. The movie started off riots about the freedom of expression being stretched too far to openly show lesbian relationships which spoke immensely about how open India was (to a great extent, still is) in terms of its acceptance of homo-erotic depictions of homosexual relationships on screen.
Earth is set in 1947 partition Lahore (which became a part of newly- formed Pakistan later) and is a story about a group of friends and their love for each other, both platonic and emotional. Religious sentiments and partition's outrage tears the group apart and ensues only tragedies in its wake.
Water was set in colonial India with the story revolving around another one of India's greatest struggles, Widow Remarriage. Another tragically sad ending, the film portrays the layers of misogyny as it exists in women, and the complete oppression- that an Indian widow has to face after the death of her husband, most of whom would never even have actually met him. The story becomes exceedingly sad when you come to know that the little girl aged only 8, who becomes a widow did not even know she was married, much less understand that he is now dead and she is a widow.
Watch the movies on YouTube.
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Anushka Chandra, Content Writer, Skyshot Media