Top 10 must see Indian made movies

So despite not being a film buff/snob I do have my own list. These films are all directed by Indian indie filmmakers - most of them deal with controversial issues and garnered much attention for their subject matter.

15 Park Avenue (2005) - directed by Aparna Sen and stars Shabana Azmi (Who in my opinion is one of the greatest Indian actresses of all time), Konkana Sen Sharama and Rahul Bose. This movie deals with Sen Sharama who suffers from schizophrenia and in the deep recesses of her mind she lives in a world where she is married with 3 children and lives in a large house at 15 Par Avenue. It is implied that the illness was always dormant within her and erupted after a gang rape and the subsequent ending of her engagement to Bose. Azmi plays Sharma's sister a controlling dominant woman who struggles to take care of her sister and manage her life at the same time. The film shows the clash between what we perceive as real and what really is real and questions the attitude held that schizophrenics and delusional.

Monsoon Wedding (2001) – directed by Mira Niar, starring Vasundhara Das and Shefali Shah is the more Bollywood-y type movie on this list. Set four days before an arranged marriage, the film captures the drama, excitement and festivities of a big Indian wedding. The tag line of the movie is “with the rains comes the family” referring to the monsoon season and the gathering of the family from all corners of the globe for the wedding. It’s noisy, dramatic, colorful and heartbreaking. It really captures the spirit of large families and all their drama.

Kama Sutra: A tale of love (1996) – again another Mira Niar film this time starring Rheka, Indira Varma and Naveen Andrews (yes from Lost). This movie was banned due to the explicit content and sexuality that it displayed. The short of it is that it follows a courtesan of the king (who is depicted as a major wastrel) skilled in the art of seduction and pleasure who falls in love with a stone carver. The story is a little more complicated but again there are some stunning scenes with Varma and Andrews. One of my favorite things about Niar as a filmmaker is the way she creates tension and projects amazing emotions into a 2-hour time span. She also deals gracefully with subjects where it is pretty easy to screw up and end up coming off as very sleazy.

Mr. and Mrs. Iyre (2002)– this one is again an Aparna Sen movie, staring Konkana Sen Sharama and Rahul Bose (who have fantastic on-screen chemistry) and deals with the tensions between Muslims and Hindus in India. Sen Sharma plays Mrs. Meenakshi Iyer a traditional Brahmin Hindu wife who is traveling to meet her husband. Bose plays a Muslim wildlife photographer, Raja Chowdhury (who is a introduced to her by a common friend.) They travel together with some interaction until the bus is stopped by a mob that is looking for Muslims, (news had arrived previously that Hindu mobs are rampaging against Muslims after a Hindu village was burned down in sectarian violence.). Previously when the knowledge that riots were occurring came to light Raja confesses to Meenakshi that he is Muslim and she responds by asking him not to touch her. However later she protects him from the mob by telling them that they are a married couple “Mr. and Mrs. Iyre” (Iyre being a well known Hindu name) thus saving his life. The film chronicles how they must put aside their prejudice to survive. Again Sen takes a look at human relationships and creates this amazing tension between the two leads.

Fire (1996) – This is the first of the “Element” films by Deepa Mehta and stars Shabana Azmi (love love love her!) and Nandita Daas. This film generated much attention because it was one of the first mainstream films in India to explicitly deal with the subject of homosexual relations. The story revolves around Radha and Sita – two sisters-in-law who are trapped in loveless and empty marriages. In Sita’s case her husband has only married her in order to please his family and in Radha’s case she is unable to have children and her husband believes that sex should only be used for pro-creation. The two women out of unhappiness and longing turn to each other. The film generated plenty of negative publicity including irritated gay-rights lobbyists. Mehta defended her work by stating, “it is not a film about lesbians but rather the choices we make in life”.

Earth (1998) – the second of the Mehta trilogy and again sees Shabana Azmi and Nandita Daas in the main roles but interestingly Mehta also chose to cast Amir Khan a popular Bollywood actor as well. This was unusual as her usual choices for male roles lean towards more ‘artsy’ actors such as Rahul Bose or Ifran Khan. This movie is set during the time of the partition and follows the life of a young girl with polio (narrating through her adult self played by Azmi). The film explores how people of different faiths were divided during the partition and how it affected the day-to-day lives of young men and women and infused them with prejudice.

Water (2005) – This is the final installment in the trilogy. Mehta initially planned to cast Azmi and Daas in the main roles again but the movie attracted much antagonism from right-wing political parties in India who claimed she was showing the conservative beliefs of Indian culture in a negative light. Mehta eventually re-cast and had to shoot the film in SriLanka, and under a false name. The movie stars Lisa Ray, Seema Biwas (both highly acclaimed Indian actresses), John Abraham and Sarala (a young SriLankan actress). It follows the story of a widows home in India, Sarala plays an 8-year-old widow named Chuyia who is now condemned to a life of misery. Ray plays a beautiful young widow, Kalyani who is prostituted out in order to help the others to survive (hence she is the only one who’s head isn’t shaved) and Abrahma plays a young upper-class follower of Gandhi - Narayna who falls in love with Kalyani. The movie has plenty of heart, and is emotional and heartbreaking. The setting is gorgeous (I’m not biased in the least) and the acting is amazing. Water was also nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film in the 2007 Oscars.

Raincoat (2004) – This film was directed by Rituparno Ghosh and stars Ajay Devgan and Ashwariya Rai. The story follows Manu played by Devgan an unemployed guy from Bhagalpur who is in search of money to finance his new business. He travels to Calcutta and meets Neeru (played by Rai) an old friend to whom he was once engaged. The talk revolves around a borrowed raincoat and the two of them discuss their lives and what brought them to where they are now (Neeru is now married). Ghosh uses some amazing and skillful flashbacks to slowly give the audience a clear picture. It’s a love story – but not a happy one, more of a story of two people torn apart and then brought back together to help one another.

Train to Pakistan (1998) – based on the book of the same name, the movie is directed by Pamela Rooks and stars Nirmal Pandey, Rajitt Kapoor and Divvya Dutta. The movie is set in the summer of 1947 (during the partition) in Mano Majira a small village on the border of India and Pakistan where Muslims and Sikh’s live peacefully. That changes when one day a train arrives from Pakistan carrying the bodies of the all the travellers who have been butchered while leaving. It’s not the most pleasant of films, but is extremely powerful and stirring and the direction is insane.

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