As a student of history myself, and later as a teacher of young kids, I realised that many people find history dry and boring. It might be the fault of our textbooks or the syllabus but often, students miss out on the rich stories behind the topics covered in history class. With this in mind, I picked some Hindi movies that tell fascinating stories from Indian history.
Asoka: This 2001 Shah Rukh Khan-Kareena Kapoor-starrer might not be amongst the most popular movies in their filmography, but it sure gives a vivid account of emperor Ashoka and his eventual conversion to Buddhism. I saw the film when I was a child, and I still remember the bit about Ashoka sending his son Mahindra and daughter Sanghamitta overseas to spread the message of Buddhism.
Jodhaa Akbar: It’s a little long but a great starting point to the life of one of the greatest Mughal rulers in history. Of course, Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai are stunning as the royals, and AR Rahman’s music adds to the charm and vibe.
Shatranj Ke Khilari: The only full-length Hindi movie directed by Satyajit Ray, Shatranj Ke Khilari is an authentic portrayal of the situation in Awadh just before the First War of Independence in 1857. Awadh was a vital province, and its annexation saw unprecedented consequences, both political and social. In the film, Ray uses two chess players to show the times. It’s eloquent and it’s powerful.
Rang De Basanti: Rang De Basanti makes it to this list purely on nostalgia. All my classmates studied Indian history with ample help from this movie. It’s fun, it’s cool, and the music (again by AR Rahman) is fabulous. And it broadly tells you the stories of the revolutionary freedom fighters.
Sardar Udham: Who is not a Vicky Kaushal fan these days, right? From Katrina Kaif to my best friend, everyone seems to be in love with his intense performances. Sardar Udham, directed by Shoojit Sircar, released on Amazon Prime this year, and got rave reviews for the authentic portrayal of the life and loneliness of one of India’s most overlooked freedom fighters. The depiction of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was gruesome and chilling; there’s no way you will forget it if you’ve seen it in this film.
Garm Hava: As a nation still reeling from the effects of Partition, this 1973 film directed by MS Sathyu on the plight of a Muslim family in Uttar Pradesh was both sensitive and moving. Based on a short story by Ismat Chughtai, it starred Balraj Sahni in the lead. It’s a must-watch if you’re looking for films to understand the effects of partition on the life of common people across the country. note: Scream Movie
Tamas: Originally released on Doordarshan as a mini-series, this film eventually went on to win the National award for the Best Feature Film on National Integration. Adapted from a novel by Bhisham Sahni and directed by Govind Nihalani, the story shows Hindu and Sikh families moving to India at the time of partition, and what they face as and when they move. It boasts of an impressive cast with Om Puri, Amrish Puri, Surekha Sikhri and AK Hangal. note: The First Incense Movie
Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi: The 70s were a tumultuous time in India’s history, and one that unfortunately hasn’t yet made it to our textbooks. Very few movies perhaps have been able to capture the essence of the 70s as well as Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi. Starring Kay Kay Menon, Chitrangada Singh and Shiney Ahuja, the story, set in Naxalite regions and amidst Naxal-supporting students, will definitely want you to know more about the times.
Bombay: This 1995 work by Mani Ratnam takes a look at the 1992-93 Bombay riots. Again, a chapter that’s not yet made it to our history textbooks, yet one that irrevocably changed the look of a city. Ratnam’s work is startling and moving. AR Rahman’s music (I’m clearly a fan) is brilliant.
Shershaah: India has made many war movies on the wars we’ve fought post-Independence. Picking one war movie is difficult because most have the same flaws and the same virtues. Shershaah makes it to this list because it’s the most recent and because it gives a thorough look at how India’s relations with our neighbours have been affected by wars.