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India's Best Films: Theodore Bhaskaran

By Shobha Warrier
Last updated on: June 06, 2005 15:51 IST
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Recently, Time magazine announced its list of the 100 greatest films of all time, and the eclectic selection includes five Indian films.

While none would question the brilliance of the selected Indian classics like Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy, Guru Dutt's Pyaasa and Mani Ratnam's Nayakan, decided to ask Indian filmmakers, artistes, technicians and critics what they felt were the best Indian films of all time.

Today, we feature film historian Theodore Bhaskaran.

Bhaskaran told Shobha Warrier: "Many Western film critics and film historians do not have an idea of the complexity of Indian cinema. There is no such thing as Indian cinema; you have Bengali cinema, you have Malayalam cinema, you have Tamil cinema, you have Hindi cinema just as you have French cinema, Spanish cinema, Italian cinema and English cinema. You can't talk about something called European cinema. Indian cinema is like that."

"Though it is very difficult to choose 10 best films, this is my list of 10 all time best Indian films. It is a neck to neck race. The films I have chosen are rooted in the soil, whether it is Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam or Tamil. These films are typically Indian," he said.

Vipul Shah's list | Subhash Ghai's list | Time magazine's selection

Ezhai Padum Padu


This Tamil film is an adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. A very imaginatively adapted film. The French Revolution, which was the backdrop of Les Miserables, was changed to the Indian freedom struggle. It was shot in the typical Hollywood style. I would rate this as one of the best films made in India.

Director: K Ramnath

Pather Panchali


This film burst onto the international scene, and started a process of introspection in Indian cinema. Pather Panchali was a path breaker, and an all time great.

Director: Satyajit Ray



This film captured the splendour of the Mughal court beautifully. It is also a very typically Indian film with songs, music, and spectacle. Mugal-e-Azam deserves a place in the history of world cinema.

Director: K Asif

Titash Ekti Nadir Naam


This film is about the fishermen community on the river Titash and how river silting affects their lives. It was shot entirely in Bangladesh. I would rate this as one of the greatest movies Indian cinema has seen.

Director: Ritwik Ghatak



Duvidha is about a Rajasthani folktale. It is about ghosts and how such beliefs form a part of Indian rural life. What I recall distinctly is the way colour is used in the film, very imaginatively and symbolically; subdued and in an understated way. Story telling was also in the folklore style.

Director: Mani Kaul



Mrigaya was set against the Santhal rebellion (1857 to 1858). There is a Santhal couple and two white couples in the film, and Mrinal Sen juxtaposes their lives beautifully. It is an imaginative story set with the Santhal rebellion as the backdrop. It also brings out the political and social tensions.

Director: Mrinal Sen



Images in Elipathayam are fantastic, especially the way he uses the rat trap as a metaphor for life. This is really a master's work. When you go to the Museum of Moving Images in London, there is only one Indian film that visitors can see, and that is Elipathayam. That is the kind of respect the film gets.

Director: Adoor Gopalakrishnan



Chidambaram is a beautifully made film in Aravindan's typical, mystical way of story telling. His distinct style is also evident in the film.

Director: G Aravindan

Tabarana Kathe


This film is a strong statement on the Indian bureaucracy. The story is about how a poor retired government servant tries to get his pension. It is a socially and politically relevant film. It was chosen as the best Indian film of the year.

Director: Girish Kasarvalli



Prohor had a great impact on me because it tells the story by images and a minimum of words. The images are haunting and so appropriate. It is the story of three women, all lonely in their own way. One woman, a nurse, gets raped when she is on her way home after her night duty. Later, she finds the rapist in the intensive care unit. All she has to do was pull the tube and the man will be dead but she doesn't do that. She nurses him back to life and when he sees her, he cries. It is a very powerful film.

Director: Subrata Chowdhary

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Shobha Warrier