Got a free Sunday at hand? We bring you a handy guide on what to watch if you’re in the mood for a trip down memory lane with some of the best black and white old Bollywood films.
Kaagaz Ke Phool
A classic from 1959, Kaagaz ke Phool was Guru Dutt’s last work as a director, and had initially flopped at the box office. Many say it was because it was ahead of its time.
The story follows a film director whose career that’s gradually spiraling down, who meets a young woman he helps cast in one of his films and goes on to become a big star, while he delves deeper into the darkness. It’s rather tragic, so make sure you're emotionally prepared. There are also brilliant performances by Guru Dutt and Wahida Rehman and music by R.D. Burman.
Released in 1959 and one of the most celebrated black and white works in Indian cinema, Boot Polish remains our favourite for an evening watch.
With a heart-wrenching portrayal of life on the city streets, the film revolves around two kids who end up polishing shoes on the streets to earn a living. The songs are also some of the most memorable from that era, sung by great names like Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhonsle and Manna Dey.
One of many Chaplinesque portrayals by Raj Kapoor, Shree 420 remains another staple of our B&W Bollywood movie nights. It also features one of our favourite classic songs from that time; Mera Joota Hai Japani, as well as others like Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua and Ramaiya Vastavaiya.The story of Raj – played by Kapoor – who travels to Mumbai to make a fortune and ends up turning into a conman, the film contains some iconic performances by Kapoor and Nargis. Combined with music by classics like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Mohammad Rafi and Manna Dey, this one's a winner.
Do Bhiga Zameen
Directed by Bimal Roy and heavily inspired by Italian classics like Bicycle Diaries, Do Bhiga Zameen may as well be one of the most internationally successful and acclaimed movies.
The name refers to a measure of area, and refers to an area of land around which the whole story revolves. While it can get serious at times, the film is engaging and well made.
Many of us are now in a time when Mughal-e-Azam has already been turned into a coloured version, and while it looks great and all, we’d still go with the original. Loosely based on the story of the famed love between Salim and Anarkali back in Mughal times, the movie portrays the Mughal court like no movie before or since has been able to.
Other than the tragic plot of the movie, Mughal-e-Azam is full of iconic performances by Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. It’s also notable for its attention to detail in the settings – especially the royal court - as far as historical dramas from that time go, as well as the soundtrack.
Another one from Guru Dutt’s massively successful filmography, Pyaasa was one of his later works, which he produced, directed and acted in. Not only did it do well on the Indian box office, it has enjoyed its fair share of global acclaim, having made it to Time’s list of the best movies of all time among other accolades.
Essentially a story of the tumultuous life of a struggling poet, the film has some of the most memorable performances of Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman’s film careers. The songs are a treat to listen to, too, including the evergreen Jane Woh Kaise Log The sung by Hemant Kumar.
Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi
Taking a break from serious stuff, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi is a comedy from 1958 that still makes for a light-hearted watch. It stands out for not only its old school brand of comedy and black and white aesthetic, but also for its soundtrack. With Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar as singers and S.D. Burman as the composer, it’s always worth a listen on its own, too.
The name comes from the setting of the movie - a garage – and the exploits of the three brothers who work there. It’s also one of the few times we have seen Kishore Kumar on screen.
Do Aankhen Barah Haath
If you’re looking for a dose of some good old motivation from black and white Bollywood, Do Aankhen Barah Haath perfectly fits the bill. Made by the iconic Marathi filmmaker V. Shantaram, the movie won several awards in India as well as abroad, and remains a classic from that time in Indian cinema.
A story about a jail warden who teaches his six prisoners the lessons of virtue, hard work and rehabilitation, the movie goes through several stages of motivation, something we all could use on a Sunday evening. It also features the popular song Aye Maalik Tere Bande Hum.
While Madhumati can’t be categorised as out-and-out horror, it has many of the earlier signs of what would eventually turn into the Indian brand of the horror genre. A classic from 1958, Madhumati remains one of our favourite watches on eerie, cold nights.
The story revolves around a man who stumbles upon his previous life and a lover that has long been dead, and involves quite a few ghosts and tense explanations to keep the mood going. There are some great performances to watch out for, too, from actors like Vyjayanthimala, Dilip Kumar and Johnnie Walker.
One of the more experimental works on this list, Baiju Bawra was one of the few musicals from the time, and even fewer musicals based on Indian classical music. While the music has regained popularity in the times since, the film was a huge experiment at the time. Its massive success helped cement Indian classical as a regular addition to movie soundtracks after that.
For the uninitiated, Baiju Bawra was a real-life figure in the Mughal times, somewhere during 15th century Gwalior, though the exact details about him are unknown. He was said to be a gifted and prolific singer, and was even recognised by Tansen himself for his extraordinary skills.