Alfred Hitchcock once said, “the length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” But that hardly holds true for Hindi cinema. Our Bollywood musicals unapologetically stretch up to two and a half to three hours. Sometimes, more! Now, the duration may not have always have to do with the quality of the film. But more often than not, it becomes a deciding factor in the overall watchability of the movie itself. So, here’s a look at some of the longest Bollywood films ever made.
Some of these went on to become classics, while others bummed at the box office. Which of these have you ticked off your list?
1. Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) — 5 hours, 19 minutes
Director: Anurag Kashyap
The crime drama was originally shot at a run-time of 319 minutes. But no Indian theatre agreed to run it for its 5-hour duration. It was, therefore, released in two parts. And the film justifies its insane length, it’s nothing short of a masterstroke in storytelling.
The 5-hour-plus magnum opus is clearly Kashyap’s best work to-date. The scope and ambition with which Kashyap treats this saga of betrayal and deceit is much subtle and deeper than the usual rise-and-fall arc. Kashyap’s visual acuity sets stage for some of the best set-pieces in this gangster thriller.
For all its stomach-churning violence, gore and profanities, the characters and dramatic scenes are effectively realized. Altogether, it’s a perfect mix of history, social commentary, and crime-genre entertainment.
It wasn’t without reason Gangs of Wasseypur I and II went on to become huge hits and enjoy a cult following today.
GoW premiered at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight in 2012, receiving a standing ovation. “An extraordinary ride through Bollywood’s spectacular, over-the-top filmmaking, GoW puts Tarantino in a corner with its cool command of cinematically-inspired and referenced violence, ironic characters and breathless pace,” Hollywood Reporter pointed in its Cannes review.
(Trivia: Did you know Vicky Kaushal started out as an assistant director to Anurag Kashyap on this film?)
2. Tamas (1987) — 4 hours, 50 minutes
Based on a Hindi novel by Bhisham Sahni, Tamas is a landmark in filmmaking. A period drama set against the backdrop of riot-hit Pakistan around the time of the Partition, Tamas gave us a glimpse of some of the most horrific scenes in the annals of Indian history.
Directed by Govind Nihalani, the award-winning telefilm features Om Puri, Deepa Sahi, Amrish Puri, Pankaj Kapur, A.K. Hangal. The film courted much controversy at the time of its release, including threats to Nihalani. The Bombay High Court restricted the screening of the film for its sensitive subject. Two days later, however, the stay was lifted.
Where to watch: YouTube
3. LOC Kargil (2003) — 4 hours, 15 minutes
LOC Kargil was not only one of the longest Bollywood films of its time but also boasted a massive star cast. The latter, however, didn’t work in its favor. After the successful Border (1997), this ambitious J.P. Dutta project met a rather sorry fate. Documenting the 1999 Indo-Pak war, the historical war drama tried to stick closely to the facts. It is said that real ammunition and weapons were used during the filming of the movie. A lot of commitment was made towards authenticity.
The interactions between most of the characters and their backstories were also inspired by real-life events. It’s unfortunate the film didn’t do as well as it should have. At the end, it was a misfire. While some felt that the film and its viewpoint were biased, others dissed it for poor direction.
4. Mera Naam Joker (1970) — 4 hours, 4 minutes
Director Raj Kapoor was wiped out of his savings after the box-office debacle of Mera Naam Joker. It had come to selling out R.K. Studios if his subsequent film Bobby were to flop. Mera Naam Joker may have bombed at the box office, but has acquired a cult following with the passage of time.
And that development is quite reasonable as well. The movie is a celebration of life and a question for selflessness. Perhaps, the most interesting thing in the movie is the fact that it is a metaphorical autobiography of Raj Kapoor himself. The multi-layered themes were perhaps a bit difficult for the audiences to grasp but with time, viewers have come to develop a taste for this timeless classic.
At 255-minute runtime, Mera Naam Joker was the second-longest movie in Bollywood with two intervals.
(Trivia: Did you know Raj Kapoor was only 10 when he first appeared on the screen in Inquilab (1945))
5. Sangam (1964) — 3 hours, 58 minutes
Another Raj Kapoor directorial, starring him alongside Rajendra Kumar and Vjayanthimala, Sangam was one of the biggest hits of its time. The love triangle was the first Hindi film to have been shot outside India. It was filmed in various countries across Europe — Venice, Rome, Paris, Switzerland. Sangam was a debut for Raj Kapoor on two separate grounds.
It was Raj Kapoor’s first colour film as well as his editorial debut. Sangam was an early example of love triangles done right in Bollywood and set a benchmark for those that would follow.
The film is lauded and remembered as much for its performances and music.
The interesting premise and enduring popularity have prompted many filmmakers including Karan Johar to recreate the movie. But the amazingly long runtime and the unbreaking chemistry throughout that duration is not an easy thing to replicate.
The longest Bollywood movie of its time, Sangam was also the first with two intervals.
(Trivia: Did you know Raj Kapoor initially wanted to cast Dilip Kumar in Sangam? Kumar turned down the offer. Kapoor later approached Dev Anand. That too didn’t work out. It was after this that Rajendra Kumar was cast in the film).
6. Hum Saath Saath Hain (1999) — 3 hours, 48 minutes
Family dramas were the flavour of the 90s. After the successful Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) and Hum Aapke Hai Koun (1994), Sooraj Barjatya scored a hattrick with Hum Saath Saath Hai. Although, it wasn’t as big as his first two.
Hum Saath Saath Hain is an average fare that sticks to the tried and tested formula.
(Trivia: Did you know Sooraj Barjatya started out as an assistant director to Mahesh Bhatt with Saaransh?)
7. Lagaan (2001) — 3 hours, 44 minutes
Aamir ruled the 90s in august company with two other Khans. (Not a co-incidence then that Shahrukh was the original choice to play Bhuvan?) Lagaan, however, placed him in a different league. Director Ashutosh Gowariker became a household name with this film.
The sports drama at three hours and forty-four minutes made every second count. The film altered the course for modern Indian cinema. It allowed India to enter the Academy Awards in the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category that year.
Lagaan also made Aamir Khan one of the most popular and recognised actors in China. Loved and hailed by critics in India and the world over, this film is a fine example in how cinema while being rich in content can entertain. It’s at #14 in Channel Four’s 50 best films to see before you die, the only Indian film in the list.
Lagaan is perfectly positioned to be the first crossover Bollywood hit, wrote New York Times in its review. “It’s a smooth, technically impeccable, somewhat denatured version of a culturally specific entertainment… the earth-toned cinematography by Anil Mehta and the densely populated, spatially complex wide-screen images created by Mr. Gowariker give the film a kind of visual assurance that is rare enough in any national cinema.”
(Trivia: Did you know the first cut of the movie was actually 7 hours and 30 minutes long!)
8. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2004) — 3 hours, 42 minutes
The biopic on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose won critical acclaim at festivals abroad. The length of the film, however, became a grouse with the audience. Although, the runtime is completely justified when you look at the amount of content that has been squeezed into the film.
The title itself became a cause for a lot of controversies. The word ‘Forgotten’ was not taken too kindly by some researchers. The movie was also not screened in Madhya Pradesh because of its controversial content. Nonetheless, the film is one of the best historical biographies I’ve seen. Perhaps the best in Bollywood and among the best in the world. The long runtime definitely pays off.
Directed by Shyam Benegal, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose featured an ensemble cast of Sachin Khedekar, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Rajit Kapur, Arif Zakaria, Divya Dutta.
9. Mohabbatein (2000) | Salaam-e-Ishq (2007) — 3 hours, 36 minutes
After the iconic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Mohabbatein was a rather damp squib from Aditya Chopra. Bollywood big guns Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan shared screen space for the first time in Mohabbatein. This was also the film that revived Bachchan’s career.
A plain rip-off of Love Actually (2003), Salaam-e-Ishq too was a tedious affair to sit through. Despite being a complete rip-off, it lacked the innocence and charm of the original. The long runtime didn’t make it any easier. The performances were sub-par. The songs were listenable but nothing memorable.
Do yourself a favour and skip this one. Or just watch the original. (Although, I felt that Hugh Grant was the only redeeming factor in it).
10. Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (2006) — 3 hours, 35 minutes
The star-studded romance drama opened to mixed reviews. Featuring Shahrukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukerji, Abhishek Bachchan, the film was written off by many, not just for its duration but its cursory treatment to a subject that required more earnestness and sensitivity.
Its only redeeming factor, I guess, was the music. Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, is at best, a one-time watch.
Which of these have you seen and thought thoroughly justified their run time? Let’s talk in the comments below.