Aditya Chopra's Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, 1995

The longest running film in the history of Indian cinema, DDLJ continues to attract viewers in its 16th year of release. What keeps them coming? Perhaps the innocence of Raj and Simran’s romance in which they can spend the night together without sex because Raj, the bratish NRI understands the importance of an Indian woman’s honor. Perhaps it’s the way in which the film artfully reaffirms the patriarchal status quo and works for all constituencies – the NRI and the local viewer. Or perhaps it’s the magic of Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol who created a template for modern love, which was hip and cool but resolutely Indian.

Did You Know That: Despite his success, Aditya Chopra has remained a recluse refusing interviews and photo-sessions because he believes that it will prevent him from watching movies with the audience. He said: I never want to fake an emotion or cheat them. I can only be sincere when I am one of the audience. I firmly believe that if I cannot sit in the theatre as a common person, I’ll be finished.
Manmohan Desai's Amar Akbar Anthony, 1977

What can you say about a film in which three separated-in-childhood brothers, who don’t know that they are brothers are donating blood to their mother, who they don’t know is their mother, simultaneously. Amar Akbar Anthony is Manmohan Desai at his absurd best. There is nothing that is outside the logic of this film including a Sai Baba statue restoring the sight of a blind woman and Akbar playing the bongo while his brothers toss the villain around. Desai’s inspired madness was clearly infectious because Amitabh Bachchan gave one of his finest comic performances.

Did You Know That: After Amar Akbar Anthony, Desai became a Bachchan specialist. They did seven more films together ending with the uninspired Ganga Jamuna Saraswati.
Satyen Bose's Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958

Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi is Hindi cinema's ultimate screwball comedy. The story of three brothers who run a garage featured three real-life brothers: Ashok, Kishore and Anoop Kumar. The eldest brother, played by Ashok, becomes a misogynist after a love affair goes sour and he won't let the younger two even look at women, much less go near them. Of course his strict rules are no match for the gorgeous Madhubala who comes to the garage one night and changes their lives forever. The narrative was superbly nutty in places but the brothers didn't let the energy flag. This is no-holds-barred unadulterated fun.

Did You Know That: The car played such an important role in the film that the credits say: Introducing Champion Car Model 1928
Raju Hirani's Lage Raho Munna Bhai, 2006

Mahatama Gandhi and two Mumbai goons – this unlikely combination gave us a superbly entertaining film that re-introduced Gandhi to a country that relegated him to the history books and park statues. A wave of Gandhigiri or peaceful protest swept the nation and even today you occasionally read newspaper stories of disgruntled parties sending flowers with cards that say: Get Well Soon, just like Munna does in the film. This is a rare sequel that is better than the original. Raju Hirani is a self-confessed disciple of Hrishikesh Mukherjee and like the master, Hirani’s films also make us wipe tears even as we smile. This is feel-good in the best sense of the word.

Did You Know That: Laage Raho Munna Bhai started life without Munna and Circuit. It was the story of a young boy in 1947 who is friends with Gandhi. He gets wounded in a lathi-charge by the British and falls into a coma, only to wake up in the present day. When it became too grim Hirani thought what if Munna meets the Mahatama?
Shyam Benegal's Ankur, 1974

True to its name, Ankur, which means seed, sowed the seeds of the art house movement in Hindi cinema. Shyam Benegal’s first film was a compelling portrait of feudal life in rural India: the casual oppression, the relentless injustice and the tragedies, great and small, that are inflicted with indifference. Benegal’s trump card was his debutant lead actors: Shabana Azmi and Anant Nag as Laxmi the lower caste servant and Surya, the landlord’s son who has an affair with her. Both were pitch perfect.

Did You Know That: Shyam Benegal made his directorial when he was 39 years old. He wrote the story for Ankur when he was in college but it took him twenty-odd years to find a producer willing to make the film.
Govind Nihalani's Ardh Satya, 1983

Ardh Satya was that rare thing – an art house hit that ran to full houses for ten weeks in Mumbai. Om Puri gave an outstanding performance as Welankar, an honest cop who becomes mired in the quicksand of police corruption and brutality. When he beats a prisoner to death during an interrogation, Welankar is forced to ask the notorious criminal Rama Shetty for help. Nihalani’s hard-hitting film was so successful that the honest-cop-brutalized-by-the-system formula was promptly co-opted by mainstream cinema. But few films matched the anger and intensity of Ardh Satya.

Did You Know That: Om Puri called Ardh Satya his lottery and he thanked Amitabh Bachchan for giving it to him. Bachchan was Nihalani’s first choice for the role of Welanker. But the actor was busy and Om Puri got the role.
Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan-Once Upon a Time in India, 2001

By Bollywood’s conventional wisdom, Lagaan should have been a disaster. Before this, Gowariker had made two flops. Apart from Aamir Khan, the film featured non-entities. And the unkindest cut – these non-entities weren’t wearing designer fashions. They were sweaty villagers in dhoti-kurtas. The film proved once again the truth in William Goldman’s dictum that in the movie business, nobody knows anything. This fabulously entertaining tale of villagers who take on the might of the British empire in a cricket match was a resounding hit and only the third Indian film ever to be nominated for best foreign film Oscar. Lagaan proved true its own dialogue: Sach aur sahas hai jiske man mein, jeet usi ki hogi.

Did You Know That: Having witnessed the struggle of his producer-father Tahir Hussan, Aamir had promised himself that he would never produce a film. But when Ashutosh and him couldn’t find a producer willing to fund a 25-crore rural period film, Aamir took up the gauntlet himself.
Kundan Shah's Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, 1983

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro is a film that cannot be described. It can only be experienced. Shah’s black comedy about two naïve photographers who get embroiled with corrupt builders, cops and a ruthless magazine editor is, at once, perfectly absurd and perfectly real. The achingly funny film is in fact a serious comment on the state of our nation, which sadly is as relevant today as it was then. Jaane Bhi Do Yarro is brutal in its insight and inspired in its lunacy.

Did You Know That: The original script for the film included a talking gorilla who analyses the human condition, a short-sighted disco killer and a chess game won by commissioner DeMello's corpse.
Yash Chopra's Deewar, 1975

After the endless escapist romances of the 1960s, Hindi cinema started to address and reflect the political and social turbulence of the 70s. Deewar’s tragic, haunted, criminal protagonist Vijay personified the angst of a nation, fractured by inflation, poverty and the Emergency. When Vijay refuses to pick up money tossed at him, saying Main aaj bhi phenke hue paise nahin uthaatha, he articulates the seething anger of a generation. Deewar is undoubtedly one of Amitabh Bachchan’s finest performances. He gave Salim-Javed’s powerful dialogue such heft that decades later we are still reciting them.

Did You Know That: The detailed screenplay of Deewar, minus the dialogue was written in 18 days. The dialogue took an additional 20 to 25 days and all of it was written at one go. Salim-Javed’s greatest scripts didn’t require second drafts.
Chetan Anand's Haqeeqat, 1964

Fourty seven years after release, Haqeeqat continues to be the best Hindi war film ever made. Set against the India-China conflict of 1962, Haqeeqat captures the courage and sacrifice of Indian soldiers in Ladakh. The desolate beauty of the landscape mirrors the emotional state of these men who are full of patriotism and pain, as they long for their loved ones at home. The vast ensemble cast included Balraj Sahni, Dharmendra, Vijay Anand, Sanjay Khan and debutants MacMohan and Priya Rajvansh.

Did You Know That: Chetan Anand was originally supposed to direct Guide. But when finances for Haqeeqat came through, he dropped out of that project and Goldie took his place.
M. S. Sathyu's Garm Hava, 1973

Hindi cinema’s first film on the partition continues to be its finest rendition of the havoc the division of the country wrecked on ordinary lives. The script, written by Kaifi Azmi and Shama Zaidi, captured the anguish of a Muslim family living in Agra. The head of the family Salim Mirza, played by Balraj Sahni, must make the hard decision to abandon their home and migrate to Pakistan. Their uprooting captures the fracturing of a country.

Did You Know That: The Censor Board held up Garam Hawa for eight months because it was feared that the film would incite communal unrest. The film went on to win a National Award, three Filmfare Awards and was selected for the official competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
Vijay Anand's Guide, 1965

I wonder if any studio today would have the courage to adapt R.K. Narayan’s novel about the adulterous love affair between a dancer and a guide who then goes to jail and eventually becomes a saint. Rosie, who defiantly walks out of her dead marriage, and her lover Raju Guide, who is riddled with jealousies and insecurities, were memorably flawed characters. The epic saga of love and redemption was enhanced by S. D. Burman’s outstanding soundtrack and Shailendra’s poignant lyrics. His words continue to haunt us.

Did you know that: Guide was perhaps Hindi cinema’s first attempt at a cross-over film. It was made in Hindi and English but the English version was a resounding flop. R. K. Narayan reportedly wasn’t a fan of either version. He dubbed it the misguided Guide.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anand, 1971

Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahin. This is the philosophy expounded by Anand, played superbly by Rajesh Khanna, a man whose death becomes an affirmation of life. With his relentless energy and cheer, the cancer patient mocks his imminent death and teaches those around him the value of each day. So when his sister asks for his blessings, he says: Tujhe kya ashirwad doon, bahen? Yeh bhi toh nahin keh sakta meri umar tujhe lag jaaye. Hrishikesh Mukherjee told Anand’s story with a lightless and absolute control. It was poignant but never maudlin.

Did You Know That: Anand was inspired by Hrishikesh Mukherjee's friendship with Raj Kapoor and is dedicated to him. Once when Raj Kapoor was seriously ill, Hrishikesh Mukherjee became obsessed with the fear that Kapoor would die. That became the germ of the film.
Bimal Roy's Bandini, 1963

Bimal Roy’s last film featured one of Hindi cinema’s most complex and fully realized female characters: Kalyani. Kalyani is a murderer – she cold-bloodedly killed the wife of the man she loves. But Kalyani is also virtuous, selfless and possesses a real strength of character. This was the role of a lifetime and Nutan, who was coaxed out of semi-retirement to play it, gave it all. Her face raged with a grand passion and a quiet grace.

Did You Know That: The credits of Bandini include R. D. Burman as assistant to his father S. D. Burman and Gulzar as assistant director. The film also marked the debut of Gulzar as lyricist. He wrote the song Mora Gora Ang.
Abrar Alvi's Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, 1962

Should that be Guru Dutt’s Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam? Despite denials by Alvi and lead actress Waheeda Rahman, the belief that Guru Dutt ghost-directed this classic persist. The film, adapted from a Bengali book, has the master’s imprint: melancholia, a poetic sensibility and haunting visuals. Meena Kumari as Chhoti Bahu, the lonely wife who becomes an alcoholic, had a pathos and beauty that is unrivalled even today.

Did you know that: In 1962, Meena Kumari was the only heroine nominated for the Filmfare Best Actress award. She competed against herself, winning nominations for Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, Aarti and Main Chup Rahungi. She won for Aarti.
Raj Kapoor's Awara, 1951

Awara is arguably Hindi cinema’s first international hit. The story of a petty criminal whose only redemption is his relationship with an upright, upper-class girl, was a blockbuster in the USSR and China. Awara explores the nature versus nurture debate with grand emotions and baroque imagery. The nine-minute-dream sequence, in which Raju is torn between his hellish criminal existence and salvation, represented by Rita, was a watershed in Hindi films. As was the rough romance between the mismatched couple.

Did you know that: Awara featured five Kapoors: Prithviraj, Raj, Shashi as the young Raju, Randhir as the young child with the dog in the opening credits and Prithviraj’s father Bisheshar Nath as a judge.
Guru Dutt's Pyaasa, 1957

Pyaasa is that rare thing – a film that engages and entertains but also haunts you with its poetry and tragedy. The story of a penniless poet who finds fame after he is thought to be dead but abandons it for anonymity seems especially relevant in our consumerist, corrupt, celebrity-crazy culture. Sahir Ludhianvi’s brilliant poetry hits home even harder today.

Did you know that: Gulabo, Pyaasa's golden-hearted prostitute, was based on a real-life character. Writer Abrar Alvi said that he met her in Mumbai’s red-light district and managed to get her to tell him her life story. She later thanked him for treating her with respect. Alvi said he used her exact words in the film.
Ramesh Sippy's Sholay, 1975

Shekhar Kapur said about Sholay: There has never been a more defining film on the Indian screen. Indian film history can be divided into Sholay BC and Sholay AD. Indeed for a certain generation, which includes me, Hindi cinema starts with Sholay. The characters – Veeru, Jai, Basanti, Gabbar Singh, the minor players like Soorma Bhopali and Sambha, even the horse Dhanno – are the stuff of legend. And Sholay’s dialogue is part of our colloquial language. Kitne Aadmi Thhe? Jo dar gaya, Samjho Mar Gaya. Hum Angrezon ke zamane ke jailor hain. Salim-Javed’s lines are still relevant and resonant. Which is why Sholay continues to be Hindi cinema’s gold standard.

Did you know that: When it first released, Sholay was dubbed Chholey and considered a flop. Critics called it a dead ember and the trade pundits predicted a disaster. So much so that Ramesh Sippy even considered re-shooting the end and allowing Amitabh Bachchan’s character Jai to live. Of course critics and pundits were wrong: by the third week, the audience was repeating the dialogue with the characters.
Mehboob Khan's Mother India, 1957

Mehboob Khan’s epic story of a mother who sacrifices everything to raise her two sons, only to eventually shoot one of them, has given Hindi cinema its most enduring themes: the iconic mother figure, the rebel son for whom she has a soft corner for, the importance of societal good over individual gain. Every Hindi film mother since then, from Nirupa Roy in Deewar to Rakhee in Ram Lakhan, has echoed Radha of Mother India. Incredibly, Nargis was only 28 when she played the role, aging onscreen from a nervous young bride to a weathered, white-haired woman. Few performances have rivaled hers in this film.

Did you know that: Mother India was the first Indian film to be nominated for the foreign film Oscar. It lost to Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria by exactly one vote.
And the best Hindi film ever made is K. Asif's Mughal-E-Azam - 1960

The romance between the prince and the dancing girl is the best Hindi film ever made. With its powerful performances, thunderous father-son drama and spectacular song and dance sequences, Mughal-e-Azam is the apotheosis of the Hindi film form. The making of the film was as dramatic as the film itself. Mughal-e-Azam took 15 years and 15 million rupees to make. The lead actor Chandramohan died after ten reels were shot and the film had to be scrapped and restarted. K. Aasif refused to compromise so tailors were brought in from Delhi to stitch the elaborate costumes and legendary classical singer Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was hired for a staggering 25, 000 rupees. The result is a film that half a century later remains unmatched in every aspect.

Did you know that: Shah Rukh Khan's father Meer Taj Mohammad, who fleetingly struggled to become an actor, came to the sets of Mughal-e-Azam, hoping to get a role but was told to stand in the line for extras. He left and never returned.