There is absolutely no dearth of creativity in India. The entertainment and film industry have produced some spectacular masterpieces that have not only been critically acclaimed in India but also, abroad. But sometimes, a lot of striking movies and documentaries that come out, win awards at international film festivals and disappear into oblivion without ever coming into limelight. We have put together a whole list of films, documentaries and short movies by Indian filmmakers that became big abroad and are still unknown to most Indians. Watch out for these, and add them to your viewing list!
1. Parched (2015)
Radhika Apte starrer showcased at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.
This 2015 Indian drama film — starring Radhika Apte and Surveen Chawla — is written and directed by Leena Yadav and produced by Ajay Devgn under his banner Ajay Devgn FFilms. The film explores the lives of four women in a village of north-western region of India, which still suffers from old, age-ridiculed traditions like forced child marriages and other social issues. Parched showcased at the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. If you haven't heard about it already, don't miss the chance to watch it, this September.
2. Chatrak (2011)
Screened at the Directors' Fortnight of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
Directed by Sri Lankan director Vimukthi Jayasundara, Chatrak — a 2011 Indian Bengali drama film — is a story of a successful architect (Anubrata Basu) and his girlfriend (Paoli Dam) in search of his lost brother (Sumeet Thakur) who is now said to be mad and living in a jungle. The film was screened at several film festivals worldwide, including the Directors' Fortnight at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. An explicit cunnilingus between the protagonists in the film, caused major uproar in India, especially in Kolkata, where the film was essentially shot.
3. Court (2014)
Won 19 awards at National and International Film Festivals.
Court is a 2014 Indian courtroom Marathi drama film which examines the Indian legal system through the trial of an ageing folk singer at a Sessions Court in Mumbai. This directorial debut of Chaitanya Tamhane — a writer and director — premiered at the 71st Venice International Film Festival on 4th September 2014 and won 19 awards at various film festivals including the Best Feature Film award at the 62nd National Film Awards in 2014.
4. Gattu (2012)
Received high critical acclaim by critics and film reviewers all over the world.
An endearing tale of a little boy who is passionate about flying kites, Gattu is yet another gem that Hindi film industry can be proud of. This 2012 film, written by K.D. Satyam and directed by Rajan Khosa received high critical acclaim by critics and film reviewers all over the world. The film had been honored with a special mention under Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk (German Children's Fund) category at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival securing a high position among the few Bollywood films to win such acclaim.
5. Miss Lovely (2012)
Premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
Ashim Ahluwalia's first narrative feature film, Miss Lovely, follows the tragic story of the Duggal brothers between 1986 and 1993 who produce sleazy sex-horror films and share an intense and mutually destructive relationship. The younger sibling — played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui — develops feelings for a mysterious young woman named Pinky (Niharika Singh) eventually leading to his downfall. The New York Times profiled the movie and the director in a piece titled “Mumbai in the Bad Old Days”. It premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and won the National Film Award – Special Jury Award (Feature film), and Best Production Design at the 61st National Film Awards.
6. Peddlers (2012)
Never got a release but was selected for International Critics’ Week.
Peddlers — set in Mumbai — revolves around 20-year-old destitute boys who get trapped in the drug trade and a young cop, who tracks them. Written and directed by Vasan Bala, this movie never got a release but was selected for International Critics’ Week which is a prestigious sidebar at the festival.
7. Om-Dar-B-Dar (1988)
Premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival.
This cult movie directed by Kamal Swaroop was made in 1988 but was only released in Indian theaters 26 years later, on 17 January 2014. It follows the adventures of a school boy named Om along with his family and employs nonlinear narrative and an absurdist story line to satire mythology, arts, politics and philosophy. It premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1988 and won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie in 1989. It was also screened at the Rome Film Festival.
8. Gandu (2010)
Officially selected at the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival.
This black-and-white Bengali film — known for its stunning visuals and narrative — is a story of a lonely and frustrated teenager whose state of mind is shown by intercuts of him rapping in Bengali. Director Qaushiq Mukherjee described the film as a ‘rap musical’ when asked whether the movie is pornographical owing to it’s graphic sex scenes. After being previewed at Yale University, Gandu premiered globally on 29 October 2010 at the 2010 South Asian International Film Festival in New York City. It was an official selection at the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival and was also screened at the Slamdance Film Festival.
9. Lucia (2013)
Won the Best Film Audience Choice award at the London Indian Film Festival.
This is a story about Nikki, an usher in theatre who suffers from insomnia but after consuming a special pill, he gets entangled in a different kind of dream. It was the first crowdfunded Kannada film. It premiered at the London Indian Film Festival on 20 July 2013 and won the Best Film Audience Choice award at the festival. This 2013 release was also among the films shortlisted by the FFI to become India's submission for Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the same year.
10. The Japanese Wife (2010)
Purchased for distribution in North America and released through Netflix, Amazon and iTunes.
This Aparna Sen movie is an epistolary romantic tale of a young Bengali village school teacher — played by Rahul Bose — who marries and remains true and loyal to his Japanese pen friend throughout his life, while actually never meeting her. The movie released in 2010, two years after its original date of release. It received high ratings and very positive reviews from Indian critics.
11. Sonchidi (2011)
Screened at the 68th Venice International Film Festival.
Sonchidi — also called The Golden Bird — is a 2011 Indian science fiction film about two travelers who are in search of a flying-craft, which they believe could possibly take them to the ultimate escape from the cycle of births. It was directed by Amit Dutta and was screened at the 68th Venice International Film Festival.
12. Killa (2015)
Won two awards at the Berlin Film Festival.
Killa — a 2015 Indian Marathi drama film directed by Avinash Arun — is a story of an 11-year-old boy juggling between coping with the recent death of his father and making new friends in an unfamiliar place after his mother gets a job transfer. The film won the Best Feature Film in Marathi at the 62nd National Film Awards. It also won two awards at the Berlin Film Festival and was nominated at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards for the Best Youth Feature Film.
13. Kharij (1982)
Won the Jury prize at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival.
Kharij is a story of exploitation of a child-servant by a middle-class family who try to pacify the grieving father of the child after he is found dead. This 1982 Bengali film by Mrinal Sen was nominated for the Golden Palm and won the Jury prize at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival. Mrinal Sen won the award for the Best Screenplay and Nitish Roy won Best Art Direction at National Film Awards in 1983.
14. Ghatashraddha (1977)
Won three awards at the 25th National Film Awards in 1977.
This is a story of a young Brahmin Vedic school student from an aristocratic family who fails at concealing his friend’s pregnancy who is a widow. Ghatashraddha — a 1977 Indian Kannada language film — became the only Indian film to be chosen by the National Archive of Paris among 100 others, during the centenary celebrations of cinema. The film won three awards — Best Feature Film, Best Music Direction and Best Child Artist — at the 25th National Film Awards in 1977.
15. Inshallah, Football (2010)
Was picked for a National award after being banned earlier.
This is a 2010 documentary film by Ashvin Kumar — an Oscar nominated filmmaker — about an aspiring 18-year-old footballer, known as Basha, who was denied the right to travel abroad on the pretext that his father was a militant in the 1990s. It ran into a lot of controversies for not owning the necessary censor certificate, without which it cannot be shown publicly in India. The movie showcases “Kashmir’s physical beauty, the claustrophobia of militarisation, the dread and hopelessness of children born into war and the nuances of relationships.” It premiered at the Pusan International Film Festival and bagged a Special Mention award at the 2010 Dubai International Film Festival.
16. Unfreedom (2014)
Was banned from a public release in India and was later released in North America.
This movie focuses on the Muslim and LGBT identities by exhibiting a parallelism between a Muslim fundamentalist in New York who kidnaps a liberal Muslim scholar with an intent to kill and a closeted lesbian in New Delhi who kidnaps her bisexual lover with the intent to love. This 2014 Indian drama film by Raj Amit Kumar was banned from a public release in India and was later released in North America in May 2015.
17. Party (1984)
Bagged an award at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival in 1985.
This is a lesser-known Govind Nihalani 1984 Hindi film. It was the official Indian entry to the 32nd International Film Festival of India, New Delhi, and also took part in the Tokyo Film Festival 1985 and Asia Pacific Film Festival 1985. The film is a deeply intelligent satire aimed at the urban elite which shows people getting ready, looking forward to go, or cribbing about having to go just before going to the party. It bagged the Best Supporting Actress at National Film Award and the Best Actress at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival in 1985.
18. Aakhri Khat (1966)
Was selected for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 40th Academy Awards in 1967.
This is probably the oldest movie on the list. Released in 1966, this Bollywood film written and directed by Chetan Anand, was Rajesh Khanna’s debut film as an actor. It is a heart-warming tale of a little child who separates from his mother when she dies and later reunites with her in the form of a statue because of the ‘Last Letter’ that she left with his father. (It is a bit of a maze-like storyline, in case you're wondering). The film was selected as the Indian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 40th Academy Awards in 1967, but was not accepted as a nominee.
19. Labour of Love (2014)
Premiered at the 71st Venice International Film Festival.
This National Award winning film is set amidst the problematic reality of unemployment in Kolkata laying focus on a young couple who work in different shifts. When she works, he sleeps and vice versa. Labour of Love (or Asha Jaoar Majhe) is a 2014 Bengali-language film by Aditya Vikram Sengupta. The film premiered at the 71st Venice International Film Festival in September 2014, where it won the Best Debut Director in the Venice Days. It also won the Indira Gandhi Award for Best First Film of a Director and Best Audiography at the 62nd National Film Awards.
20. Cities of Sleep (2015)
Showcased at the Taiwan International Documentary Festival.
This is a 2015 documentary on sleep communes and sleep industry in India. Filmmaker Shaunak Sen explores this unexplored aspect of sleep, and its socio-political dynamics. The 74-minutes film follows two beggars who have spent last seven years sleeping in odd places in Delhi — from subways and under flyovers to car garages, vacant zoo cages and deserted pipeline.
21. Jai Bhim Comrade (2011)
Won awards at various National and International Film Festivals.
This documentary elicits the various aspects of the lives and politics of Dalit people in Mumbai. The making of the film began with the description of police violence in the 1997 Ramabai killings and was released after the conclusion of the court trials that followed the Ramabai incident, 14 years later, in 2011. It won the Best Film/Video award at Mumbai International Film Festival in 2012. It also won award at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, the National Film Awards, and the Jean Rouch Film International Film Festival in 2012.