The films in this list aren’t necessarily obscure titles but also include iconic works that many of us, film enthusiasts, have heard of but never got the time to watch—films by masters such as Guru Dutt, V Shantaram and Bimal Roy. This may be a good time to catch up with early Hindi cinema, of social dramas, noirish thrillers, swoon-worthy stars and great songs.
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Indian Cinema hadn’t seen such authentic war scenes, coupled with the grandeur of the Ladakhi landscapes, until Haqeeqat happened. Starring stars such as Dharmendra, Balraj Sahni, Vijay Anand and Priya Rajvansh, the Chetan Anand film is set against the Sino-Indian war of 1962, a saga of pain underlined by Kaifi Azmi and Madan Mohan’s songs.
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The story of a struggling poet and how his life changes when he crosses path with a prostitute who admires and understands his work when no one else seems to, Pyaasa is the iconic Guru Dutt film. The black-and-white masterpiece is still remembered for compelling performances and the haunting music, composed by SD Burman with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi. And to think that Dutt almost shelved it!
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Shakti Samanta’s Aradhana turned Rajesh Khanna from star to superstar, following which he went on to deliver 15 hits in a row. This sensational tale, with its woman-centric theme, still remains a benchmark in Hindi mainstream film. It’s a tale of an eloping couple, played by Khanna and Sharmila Tagore, and how society rejects her after a tragedy strikes them. The film owes its popularity in large parts to the hit, evergreen SD Burman songs, written by Anand Bakshi, that cemented Kishore Kumar’s status as the reigning playback superstar.
An Evening In Paris (1967)
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Another classic by Samanta, this time a romantic thriller with Shammi Kapoor and Tagore in the lead roles. In an attempt to find her true love, Deepa goes to Paris where she meets Shyam. However, all hell breaks loose when another suitor wants to marry her in order to clear his debts. Tagore wearing a bikini was groundbreaking, inspiring others to wear a two-piece unapologetically.
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The Dev Anand-Waheeda Rehman pairing. The iconic songs. India’s official entry to the Oscars in 1966. Where to begin on Guide, Vijay Anand’s memorable adaptation of the book written by R.K Narayan that goes by the same name? The story goes like this: A charming guide falls in love with an unhappy, married woman on one of the tours. You find out the rest.
Woh Kaun Thi (1964)
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Raj Khosla’s suspenseful film is about the journey of a Doctor Anand (Manoj Kumar) who is on the verge of losing his sanity as he tries to identify a mysterious woman (Sadhana) he met one night. A thriller with shades of noir and superb cinematography, Woh Kaun Thi? has goosebump-inducing music by Madan Mohan.
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An era-defining classic about a doctor who falls in love with an inmate, Bimal Roy’s social issue drama was way ahead of its time. With performances by Dharmendra and Nutan still revered by many.
Do Ankhen Bara Haath (1957)
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V. Shantaram’s Do Aankhen Barah Haath is a spectacle. The social-reform melodrama is about Adinath (V. Shantaram), a jail warden who takes it upon himself to correct and rehabilitate six hardened criminals. The idea of an ‘open-prison’ experiment was given to Shantaram by GD Madgulkar, the Marathi writer-poet.
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Known for its grandeur, Madhubala and Dilip Kumar’s spectacular performances, and its timeless songs, K Asif’s magnum opus is still a classic that people keep going back to. The film also went through its own share of troubles as about 25 percent of the footage shot before the partition had to be scraped down. But as history stands witness, the tragic love affair between Salim and Anarkali, as shown in the film, became an epitome for doomed love.
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One of the most celebrated comedies of Hindi cinema, Jyoti Swaroop’s Padosan—based on Arun Chowdhury’s Bengali story, Pasher Bari—is about a modest man named Bhola (Sunil Dutt) and his unrequited affection towards the very fashionable and urban neighbour Bindu (Saira Banu). Equally celebrated are the songs, including some of them picturised as musical battles, sung by Kishore Kumar and Manna De.