Film is a medium that penetrates our day-to-day life with extreme ease. Drawing from all other artforms, it is a concoction of our realities, served to us faithfully with some degree of exactitude.
When you look at ‘The Art of Painting’ by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, you’ll be forced to think of the self-reflexive quality that all art possesses. Although, what makes films about films truly unique, is the intrinsic quality of the craft to hold a mirror to itself. As the stories of cinema are best told cinematically, these films are truly part-autobiographies and part-stories.
From Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963) to Godard’s Contempt (1963), there are several foreign films about cinema. India, too, is home to quite a few well made films that tell stories of the film world. Here are 16 Indian movies about movies and moviemaking worth your time:
1. Supermen of Malegaon (2008)
Malegaon is a town situated 8-9 hours away from Bombay, a city which is as star-struck as the city of dreams. A hub of escapism that thrives on cinema, Malegaon is fraught with communal tensions, hardships and abject poverty. The residents of this small town follow a regimen of producing remakes of Bollywood films in budgets ranging from as low as Rs. 20,000 – Rs. 40,000. It is their love for cinema that drives them to make films despite their limitations; and it was the director Faiza Ahmad Khan’s love for this indomitable spirit that drove her to the town.
Essentially, this film is a making/behind-the-scenes of the Superman film made by the residents of Malegaon. As the people earnestly seek refuge in the fantastical world of cinema, somewhere, we too seek refuge in their world. Despite the fact that it seems far away from reality, it is indeed in tandem with our world, and the film is an apt autobiography of the Indian cinematic spirit, ardent and unfazed. It is sure to give you hope for your share of celluloid dreams, as you travel through the challenges of the filmmaking process alongwith the endearing ways of moving ahead of them with utmost grace.
Where to Watch: YouTube
2. Bioscopewala (2018)
A modernised Kabuliwala, this film follows the story of Rehmat Khan, a man who travels around in the city with his bioscope showing films to children. Although classics are best left untouched, Bioscopewala succeeds in delivering a tender story of nostalgia and remembrance. It’s a story about an Afghani man in the city of Kolkata, who develops a bond with a 5-year old girl while selling dry fruits – and the girl goes on to remind him of his daughter back home. Bioscopewala changes these details to fit the bioscope. Our man Rehmat, sells stories in his little bioscope. Roaming around in the city, our reconceptualised Bioscopewala goes on to sell movies.
The film premiered at the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival, and was overall well received by critics. Director Deb Medhekar layers the film and constructs it like a puzzle so as to keep us hooked till the end. It is an on-screen manifestation of our collective love for films. With Danny Danzongpa in the lead role, this simple and heartwarming story is a must watch for cinephiles.
Where to Watch: Hotstar
3. Foto (2007)
When Naseeruddin Shah’s character tells the little boy Foto to surrender to the magic of cinema, we do too. As he expressively narrates cinema’s origin stories in this children’s film, we are drawn to the mystical world of movies just like Foto is. ‘Ye Cinema ka magic hai Foto, ye har ek ko dikhayi nahi deta‘, says Naseeruddin Shah, when Foto’s curiosity is piqued.
The story of a boy who does not fit into his school’s societal microcosm, finds his calling in the fantastical movie world when introduced to it; and that makes for a sweet little story to cherish.
A lesser-known gem, Foto is the recipient of a National Award for Best Children’s Film in 2007. Director Virendra Sahni, who’s assisted Saeed Mirza, is a two-time National Award winner.
Watch Foto on Amazon Prime
4. Bombay Talkies (2013)
This four-film anthology by the group of directors that also made Lust Stories — Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap was a depiction of what sprouts when the world of film interacts with our real, banal lives. Made on the occasion of Indian cinema’s 100th anniversary, this film follows the lives of people who thrive on what cinema delivers; and how all of them lead similar lives in Bombay, while chasing their dreams.
From beautiful songs to four dreamy stories, it is a bag full of good old cinema love. When the credits roll, the film sings to you ‘Aaya, aaya, aaya, main hoon movie madaari‘, and you dance to its tunes almost effortlessly. The four filmmakers weave four different stories and journeys centered around the same emotion. It is essentially about how cinema invades our lives, and leaves us weaving more celluloid dreams.
Where to Watch: Netflix
5. Kaamyaab (2020)
A rare film, Kamyaab is a satirical tribute to the life of character artists; a humble ode to the unnoticed, unsung heroes who’ve entertained us as much as their ‘star’ counterparts over the years.
For an audience blinded by the glamorous side of cinema and used to idolising heroes, Kamyaab comes as a rare, refreshing effort as it passionately explores the non-glam, dowdy side of the film world. And it does so with humour and an earnestness. Sanjay Mishra is a class act. He pulls off the part with a finesse and sensitivity, that only he can. Deepak Dobriyal is a delight to watch. It’s nostalgic and heartwarming to watch actors from the yesteryears we’ve grown up watching, together onscreen. At the end, debutant director Hardik Mehta leaves you with a memorable experience and a film you wouldn’t mind revisiting. Kamyaab is a must watch for fans of cinema!
Where to Watch: Netflix
6. Kaagaz ke Phool (1959)
Usually considered way ahead of its time, Guru Dutt’s take on the film industry places the artist in its highly opportunistic realm. Standing solid on its themes, much like the protagonist stands on his morals, the film traces the journey of film director Suresh Sinha who ends up disillusioned by the very passion that drove him to success. This film talks about the deeper problems that lie at the heart of a life in cinema, the traumatic downfall and the momentariness of fame. Dealing with themes previously untouched in Indian cinema, Kaagaz Ke Phool was under-appreciated at the time of its release. Today, it’s considered one of the hallmarks in Indian cinematic history.
The sad part about the film is that it resonates thoroughly with the director’s own life, and is considered a tribute to his mentor at Bombay Talkies, Gyan Mukherjee. Besides its many achievements, this was the first cinemascope film made in India. It was ranked 160 in the 2002 Sight & Sound Magazine’s List of Greatest Films.
Watch Kaagaz Ke Phool on Amazon Prime
Recommended: 107 Years Of Cinema: 100 Best Indian Movies
7. Luck By Chance (2009)
It centers around two outsiders trying their luck in Bollywood. While our female protagonist Sona, is a small-town girl struggling to make ends meet in the city of dreams, the male protagonist Vikram, is a Delhi boy trying to make it big in the movies. It is peppered with spot on portrayals of the varied elements of the film industry. The film makes a comment on almost every aspect ranging from nepotism to everyday newcomer struggles.
It is a combination of keen insight and humor, and goes on to portray the elusive idea of a star alongwith all it takes to become one. What’s interesting is the role that the lonesome city of Bombay plays in the trials and tribulations of the keen aspirants. The film, unabashedly, holds a mirror to the film industry, a place that reflects society. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that it makes us conscious of our own hypocrisies and idiosyncrasies. It could have done better at the box office but was an instant hit with the critics.
Watch Luck By Chance on Amazon Prime
8. Celluloid Man (2012)
A rare piece of work, Celluloid Man has been screened across 50 film festivals worldwide. If you are someone who is interested in what keeps our evergreen films, everlasting, this film is for you. This documentary revolving around film archivist P. K. Nair is a treasure trove for connoisseurs of cinema. Directed by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, it is a tribute to a man who was the Founder of the National Film Archive of India and a guardian of Indian cinema. He was an ardent preserver and collector of India’s history and heritage. Going one reel, one film at a time, he laid the foundations of archiving and preserving in a country that lost a lot of its historical films to fires. The film won 2 National Awards including Best Biographical Film and Best Non-Feature Film Editing.
The narrative of the film is braided together by conjoining interviews of several film personalities that Nair influenced during the course of his career. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Gulzar, Basu Chatterjee, Naseeruddin Shah, Kamal Haasan, Dilip Kumar, Santosh Sivan, Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen, to name a few. The many significant, unheard, untold stories of Indian cinema will continue to live through this landmark documentary. For fans of film, Celluloid Man is essential viewing.
Where to Watch: BFI Player
Recommended: 10 Best Indian Films You Haven’t Seen: Celluloid Man, Naseem…
9. Harishchandrachi Factory (2009)
As the name suggests, the film follows the journey of the factory that produced Harishchandra, India’s first feature film. With a simplicity that often does not come simply, the filmmaker renders on screen, the entire life of Dadasaheb Phalke. The emotion that drove Phalke’s desire to present Lord Krishna on the screen to the Indian audiences was passed on to the director, Paresh Mokashi. That same emotion lead him to investigate and document the life of the person who brought cinema to India. It is an absolutely riveting tribute, a film that is sure to move any ardent moviegoer. Told with sweetness, innocence and great candour, it’s made with its heart in the right place.
Harishchandrachi Factory (2009) was India’s official entry to the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language film category. Stellar performances from Nandu Mahadev, who spectacularly embodies Phalke and Vibhavari Deshpande, who plays Phalke’s wife add to the film’s beauty manifold.
Where to Watch: Netflix
10. The Cinema Travellers (2016)
Centered around the dying tradition of travelling cinemas of India, The Cinema Travellers is a powerful ode to cinema itself. The documentary premiered as an official selection at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and won the L’Œil d’or Special Mention: Le Prix du documentaire. It’s a story of balancing between the holding on and letting go of film traditions. While there are difficulties in keeping a tradition alive, the love for film overpowers all the hurdles for the Cinema Travelers, a group of people who have been running the last travelling cinemas of the world.
Preserved with care and extreme affection, a practise that is bordering its end is shown to make a difference in the lives of many. Helmed by Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, this under-appreciated masterpiece is a must watch. ‘Here we were witnessing something very magical, and the only way this story was to be told was through the language of cinema,’ said Mahadeshiya in an interview on The Kamla Show.
11. Filmistaan (2012)
In times of hatred and conflict between the two warring nations, this cinematic gem is a gentle nudge to people on both sides of the border to end the futile war India and Pakistan have been fighting for over half a century now. We have reasons aplenty that divide us. Religion, territory, politics, you name it. Filmistaan, however, is a light, at times funny, other times sad, attempt at presenting all the things we bond over. It’s a heartwarming story of friendship that develops between two youngsters, Sunny, an Indian and Aftab, a Pakistani, brought together by circumstances, who eventually bond over their passion for films aka Bollywood.
Showing a cross-cultural love and admiration for our cinema, the film is a true representation of how movies have come to influence us. The film went on to be screened at the 17th Busan International Film Festival. It won the national award for Best Feature Film in Hindi.
Watch Filmistaan on Amazon
12. Khamosh (1986)
Featuring the likes of Amol Palekar, Shabana Azmi, Pankaj Kapur, Naseeruddin Shah and Soni Razdan, this Vidhu Vinod Chopra directorial is a suspense mystery that unravels in Pahalgam, Kashmir wherein a film actor is suspiciously murdered, following into a series of investigative events that form the story’s crux. Without typical song and dance, the film still centers around a Hindi film shooting scenario. Fusing humour with thriller, the film takes a jab at the underpinnings of the film industry, and makes a comment upon how it operates.
13. Bombay Boys (1998)
This Bollywood cult comedy concerns the lives of three men raised out of the country, who become entangled in the meshes of love and war after reaching Bombay with their individual aspirations. Director Kaizad Ustad embeds the film with a mature messaging, sensitive treatment of homosexuality and well structured narrative. It is considered as a bold statement on the Bollywood film industry even today. Reflecting upon the art scene in the city of Bombay, the film is rooted in depiction of struggles that are middle-class.
14. Bollywood Calling (2001)
This Nagesh Kukunoor directorial is an effective satire on the Indian film industry. Centering around an alcoholic cancer-ridden American filmmaker who chooses to produce an Indian film, this film is an absurdist representation of the many sad realities that come with Bollywood. It also comments on the hegemony of the westerners who assume white supremacy over all other film industries, notwithstanding the fact that Bollywood is the most productive film industry in the world. It was screened at the Rome Film Festival along with the MAMI Film Fest.
Where to Watch: Netflix
15. The Sholay Girl (2019)
Directed by Aditya Sarpotdar, this film follows the life of India’s first stuntwoman, Reshma Pathan. Reshma played stuntwoman to starlets like Hema Malini, Sridevi, Meena Kumari and Dimple Kapadia, to name a few. In her act, actress Bidita Bag shines in the role of Reshma, and delivers an extremely convincing performance. She took up a training in the martial arts, specifically to ace the role. It would not be wrong to say, that the spirit of both the Reshmas, real and fictional made the movies possible for us.
Where to Watch: Zee5
16. Bollywood Diaries (2016)
‘How far can you go to achieve your dreams’, reads the poster for Bollywood Diaries. Well, it surely gives an answer to that question. It follows the journey of three protagonists who are seemingly unrelated, but yet bound by their love for cinema and their desire to become actors. Struggling to make it big in a star-studded world, their journeys are documented with honesty and realism. It can be considered an ode to the undying courage and the spirit that drives aspirants such as these. If you share their love for the movies, you will definitely enjoy this piece of work too.
Watch Bollywood Diaries on Amazon Prime
There we are!
We might not be at the movies right now but are well aware of the magnitude of pure passion and love the medium commands. If you love films with all your heart, you will love these even more dearly!
By Sanghmitra Jethwani