From Tamas (1988) to Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), these are some of the best Hindi movies on YouTube as of February 17, 2023.
With the influx of paid streaming platforms, none of us look to the good ol’ YouTube that houses a ton of great films, old and new, across languages. Many interesting old films and forgotten masterpieces difficult to find elsewhere can be found here. And some new-age underrated gems which may have escaped mass attention are here too. From classic films that are considered timeless to more recent hits that have become fan favorites, this list has something for everyone.
Some of the movies on our list are well-known for their iconic scenes, memorable dialogues, and timeless music, while others have flown under the radar but are equally deserving of your attention. So for those of you who’ve ticked off all the good ones on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar or Mubi, or those with no subscription to any of these, here are some of the best hindi movies on YouTube that don’t cost a thing and are totally worth your time:
Best Hindi Movies on YouTube
1. Aligarh (2015)
An earnest appeal to the conformist society, Aligarh asks us to feel compassion and empathy rather than being the guardians of old, self-righteous doctrines. The film deserves all the superlative adjectives & labels like ‘fantastic,’ which Siras wouldn’t have approved of. Director Hansal Mehta’s execution is poetry in itself diffusing layers of feelings. The way he pins his players in static frames reflects the suffocation faced in the hands of hypocrites. While Mehta’s initial shots instill in us a voeyeuristic feeling, he keeps going back to the same occasion to infuse empathy. The juxtaposed shots of Deepu reading Siras’ poetry and Siras‘ rendezvous with his ‘lover’ lends grace to the word ‘love.’ Read full review here.
2. Aakrosh (1980)
Govind Nihalani’s directorial debut is jarring, poignant, and painfully relevant to this day. Aakrosh shines a light on the dynamics of the oppression of Adivasis. It is a social commentary as well as a crime thriller. As a middle-class lawyer investigates the cause of a woman’s death, he also uncovers the dark, gritty reality about the life of Adivasis. Om Puri gives a haunting performance as Lahanya Bhiku, utilising the sound of silence. The film offers an unflinching, uncompromising depiction of a grim reality with no attempt to soothe or sugar-coat.
3. Sadgati (1981)
Adapted from Munshi Premchand’s short story of the same name, Satyajit Ray brought to focus the tragic lives of the “untouchables” in India. The film is a scathing indictment of the casteist atrocities prevalent in the country. Om Puri and Smita Patil embody their characters brilliantly. The film is tinged with a sense of pathos and injustice from the very start. Ray’s artistic touches built up the film in a manner that made tragedy seem inevitable because society has already failed. It is an intense and difficult watch with some truly horrifying scenes. This angry and devastating film quietly rails against injustice.
4. Tamas (1988)
Govind Nihalani’s gut-wrenching period piece was adapted from Bhisham Sahni’s novel of the same name. Tamas is an unforgettable saga about the horrors of the partition of India. It is a brutally honest, unbiased, dark depiction of the bloodshed, violence, and dehumanisation that the partition left in its wake. Its unfiltered take on communal conflict landed it in legal controversy when it was released. This film brings forward a searing picture of the cost of freedom and the plight of displacement. It is shocking and authentic, and is certainly one of the best films ever made on this subject.
5. Maqbool (2003)
Vishal Bhardwaj directed this incredibly unfettered interpretation of Macbeth. Shakespeare’s play is recontextualised completely using the Indian underworld paradigm, but its essence is remarkably retained. This makes it feel true to life as well as larger than life. The film transcends the tropes of its genre and focuses on the schism in human nature. The characters are compelling and equal parts Shakespearean and original. The directing and editing are immaculate, and the performances are affecting. The complex interplay of hunger for power and personal relationships elevates the film to a philosophical masterpiece.
6. Ijaazat (1987)
Featuring Rekha, Naseeruddin Shah and Anuradha Patel, Ijaazat beautifully explores the conflicts and complexities of human relationships. One of Gulzar’s most sensitive works, the film was much ahead of its time and has come to acquire a cult status. Drawing from Subodh Ghosh’s Bengali short story Jatugriha, Ijaazat saw Rekha deliver her career-best performance.
7. Masaan (2015)
While it is difficult to blend the cinematic and poetic, there are some films that do it with effortless ease. Masaan is one of those handful. Set against the backdrop of the city of Varanasi, it is a story about a set of people, linked mysteriously to the Sangam. ‘Sangam do bar aana chahiye, ek bar akele, aur ek bar kisi ke sath‘, is a line in the film that defines it the best. A rather dark, yet beautiful exploration of hope and death in dreadful simultaneity, the film will definitely make you fall in love with the poetry of Dushyant Kumar. Masaan was honored at the Cannes Film Festival with two awards.
8. Kai Po Che (2013)
Featuring Sushant Singh Rajput, Amit Sadh and Rajkummar Rao, Kai Po Che is based on Chetan Bhagat’s The 3 Mistakes of My Life. Set during the times of the 2001 Godhra riots in Gujarat, the film follows three friends in their prime, struggling to find a balance between life, love and work. Reveling in the themes of friendship, community and harmony, the film also braids together the politics of the space it is based in, into its narrative very well. The strong performances by the three lead actors make it worth a watch.
9. Shahid (2013)
This biopic of Shahid Azmi, a lawyer who represented Indian muslims in court, is a sensitively treated blend of fact and fiction directed by Hansal Mehta. Dealing with a dark subject at hand, Mehta furnishes the film with finesse, without dramatization or romanticization of the narrative. But what makes the film it is, is its documentary-like approach in order to retain the reality and rawness of the subject. It has strong resonances shooting with a handheld camera at points in the narrative. With a conviction that very few films are made, Shahid stands out for its truth as much as for its realistic treatment of the subject.
10. Gulaal (2009)
While some films are a journey inwards, others are a cerebral experience. Writer Raj Singh Chaudhary’s Gulaal blends both, embedding its complex themes of love, war, betrayal, greed with a rustic duality. Kashyap weaves all these threads into a taut, thrilling, edge-of-the-seat narrative. Smart writing coupled with compelling performances makes this socio-political drama a must watch and one of Kashyap’s finest. Piyush Mishra’s music lends depth to the narrative.
11. Oye Lucky Lucky Oye (2008)
Officially released two days after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, this film missed the limelight it truly deserved. Exploring the art of thievery with utmost finesse, director Dibakar Banerjee paints quite a picture for us to relish. The film follows Lucky, an anti-hero who has a passion for stealing. Most of his heists are motivated from the lack of a fulfilling childhood. His morally ambivalent nature is a by-product of his troubled dynamic with his father. Two other things that stood out for me were the portrayal of Delhi and Paresh Rawal’s multi-character role.
12. Pinjar (2003)
A thoroughly contemplative feminist film based in the era of the Indo-Pak partition, Pinjar stars Urmila Matonkar and Manoj Bajpayee in the lead role. Unlike other Bollywood films in this space, Pinjar looks at the partition in a refreshed light, as it focuses, not on the communal violence, but gives a woman’s lived experience of those times. Adapted from the novel Pinjar by Amrita Pritam, this gut-wrenching tale of pain and separation tells her story, her lived realities.
13. Rockford (1999)
Directed by one of the finest directors in India, Nagesh Kukunoor (who also acted in the film), this Indian English language film is a coming-of-age drama. It centers around a 13-year-old boy, Rajesh Naidu, who is sent to the Rockford Boys’ High School and must adjust to a completely new life thereon. The film explores the themes of friendship and companionship within a boarding school. It is relatable, as the nostalgia for adolescence and school will grip you literally and figuratively through its crisp editing. It was overall well received the critics and earned a screening at the MAMI Film Festival.
14. Fire (1996)
This path-breaking piece of cinema has created a separate place for itself amongst a very niche audience. Despite being not so popular, it has been well received by critics and moviegoers alike. A true exploration in the realm of fluid sexualities, Fire can easily be called India’s first true lesbian film narrative. What has kept Fire alive (pun intended), is its universality, which is a by-product of the many talents that have endowed the film with their grace. Deepa Mehta, the director of the film, made it as a part of her Elements trilogy. The other two films in the trilogy, Earth (1998) and Water(2005) were equally well made and received.
15. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983)
A biting satire, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro delivers more of its intended messages that show a rather tragic mirror to the society. If being one of the most highly rated IMDb films wasn’t enough, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro won Kundan Shah the Indira Gandhi Award for Best Debut Film. If you are anywhere familiar with the working of an essentially Indian system, you would love this film for its blatant depiction of a world thickly plagued with corruption. Its gritty humor plays out well, enabling it to map out a reflection of the real in the very act of showing the impracticable.
16. Arth (1982)
“Arth dug into my own wounds, my life burns,” said Mahesh Bhatt about his masterstroke of a film Arth, in an interview with Filmfare. Bhatt infuses his film with questions around marriage, love, relationships seldom addressed in Indian society. He renders an old story with a refreshing perspective. The filmmaker treats the compelling characters with precision while crafting the narrative with a rare sense of balance. The picturisation of the song ‘Tum Itna Jo Muskura Raho Ho‘ is sure to break your heart. The film won Shabana Azmi a National Award for Best Actress.
17. Sparsh (1982)
Sensitively crafted, Sai Paranjpye’s Sparsh is a rare Indian film about disability. It breaks stereotypes around the portrayal of disabled characters. The film radically moves away from the forlorn disabled figure who needs sympathy to survive. Shifting the onus to real empathy, this landmark film shows us how far one can go in truly changing the life of a disabled person. Aniruddh and Kavita‘s story manifests on screen through the portrayals of Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi. They infuse their roles with an earnestness and realism required to render Paranjpye’s powerful narrative.
18. Bhuvan Shome (1969)
This is one of the earliest films belonging to what came to be called ‘arthouse cinema’ later. The Mrinal Sen directorial revolves around a Bengali story by Balai Chand Mukhopadhyay. While following the protagonist, Bhuvan, a bureaucrat, the film intelligently comments on the rural-urban divide. Employing the simple documentary style to weave a fluid narrative, it traces Bhuvan into and out of solitude. Involving the likes of Utpal Dutt, Suhasini Mulay and Amitabh Bachchan, the film is a true timeless classic. It garnered three National Awards for Best Feature Film, Best Director and Best Actor.
19. Shree 420 (1955)
Shree 420 is the one of the most entertaining and moving Bollywood films with the legendary Raj Kapoor playing a Chaplin-esque character. Raj Kapoor plays a world-weary man who hitch-hikes his way to the big city Bombay from a small-town. He discovers the myriad of hypocrisies that define the social structure in a tough city. The film reflects life in early post-Independence days. It was the era of Nehruvian secular state socialism, where the government was attempting to mix socialist values with capitalism.
However, the single-most greatest aspect of Shree 420 was Raj Kapoor’s brilliantly stylized direction. The catchy-tunes and high production values withhold a timeless appeal. Raj Kapoor and the great Nargis deliver terrific performances. They deeply convey their characters’ dreams, hopes, and yearning.
20. Ardh Satya (1983)
1980s was one of the greatest decades for parallel Hindi cinema. While the glitzy mainstream cinema spiralled down, the gritty parallel cinema took over, giving us some of the most unforgettable, iconic Hindi films. There were quite a few intriguing social dramas which cast a critical eye on the broken institutions of India. One such important film was Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya. For this movie, Nihalani collaborated with noted Marathi Playwright Vijay Tendulkar, who already worked with the filmmaker in Aakrosh (1980). The narrative was based on a short story titled ‘Surya’ by Da. Panvalkar.
21. Gangs of Wasseypur (2012)
No film buff needs an introduction to this one. Yet we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. While the epic gangster drama has been a recipient of more awards than one can count on their fingers, the highest accolade that it got, according to its director Anurag Kashyap, was a pat on the back from someone like Martin Scorsese. One of the very few Indian films to have traveled globally, Gangs of Wasseypur came to be listed in the 100 Best Films of the 21st Century by The Guardian. The five-and-a-half-hour magnum opus was screened at the 2012 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight.
There you go! These are some of the best Hindi movies on YouTube that should be on your watchlist. These films not only show the diversity in Hindi cinema, but also of India as reflected in cinema. Many of these movies are important cultural, artistic, and historical artefacts from various different eras. If you’re done watching these, check out Manoj Bajpayee-starrer 1971, Ritesh Batra’s debut feature The Lunchbox (2013), Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday.
Which movies did we miss? Tell us your recommendations in the comments below.
(Additional writing by Debapriya Maitra & Arun Kumar)