While there was the cringe-worthy cinema of the 80s with jhintak music and dance, a wave of parallel cinema was slowly making its way onto our screens. One began appreciating the ‘art’ of cinema. The stories of everyday life, the stories that moved away from the usual song and dance routines we normally associate Indian films with, these films in the parallel movement of cinema, were simpler stories about the millions of helpless Indians, who took on the system, failed, went back home and started the next as a new beginning for the rest of their lives.
Here are 28 such films from India’s ‘parallel movement’ from the late 70s and 80s, which gave us stunning actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Pankaj Kapur and many others.
Shyam Benegal’s directorial debut starring Shabana Azmi and Anant Nag in the lead roles, went around analysing human behaviour by following the stories of a few select characters in a village and how they dealt with the curve-balls that life threw at them.
2. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro
Kundan Shah’s bizarre satire about two budding photographers played by Naseeruddin Shah and Ravi Baswani, boasts of one the largest ensembles in the NFDC films. The mad humour with which the director took pot-shots at the system, was one of the many reasons why it remains one of the most popular comedies from the 80s even today.
Mahesh Bhatt’s film about extra-marital affairs came up trumps as it depicted the messiness of adult relationships. Starring Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Raj Kiran in lead roles, the movie is home for some of the most popular ghazals by Jagjit and Chitra Singh.
4. Ardh Satya
Directed by Govind Nihalani, the film revolved around an upright cop taking on the system and the widespread corruption around him. Starring Om Puri, Sadhashiv Amrapurkar and Naseeruddin Shah, the cop’s monologue towards the end remains one of Puri’s finest moments on screen.
5. Mirch Masala
Starring Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri in the lead roles, the film is about an authoritative government inspector who runs havoc through a village, forcing himself on to women when one strong woman decides to take him on. The movie basically voices its concern for the suppressed, and depicts an uprising when the common men/women get together.
Another satire on how the bureaucracy tries its best to move a brothel from the heart of the city to the outskirts, and how the sex-workers stand up for their rights in their own crooked way. Directed by Shyam Benegal, the film starred all the usual suspects – Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patil and Kulbhushan Kharbanda.
7. Main Zinda Hoon
The film starring Deepti Naval, Pankaj Kapur and Alok Nath in the three leading roles – is the story of a woman deserted shortly after her marriage. And in a society where she is ‘blamed’ she decides to support herself, finds a job and finds a life-partner in a colleague at work.
8. Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro
Saeed Mirza’s film made Pawan Malhotra a credible name in the parallel movement overnight. The film set in a dingy neighbourhood of Mumbai majorly inhabited by a Muslim community including Salim Langa, who is the local mob boss. It deals with the aftermath of some communal tension and how it affects the minority neighbourhood.
9. Ek Doctor Ki Maut
Pankaj Kapur’s superlative performance and Tapan Sinha’s assured direction made this one of the finest and tragic films to come out of NFDC. Dealing with the discovery of a vaccine for leprosy, the film depicts the ugliness of the so-called society when a doctor is ostracised for his breakthrough invention.
10. Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai
Starring Naseeruddin Shah, this was another Saeed Mirza movie where he held a microscope over the society and its wavering ideals through a single character. In this case through a Christian mechanic who believes that if he works hard and emulates the rich, he too can become rich one day. Silly man!
11. Suraj Ka Saatva Ghoda
One of Shyam Benegal’s most abstract films ever, the film sees Rajit Kapoor narrate the stories of meeting three women (played by Neena Gupta, Pallavi Joshi and Rajeshwari Sachdev) in different stages of my life.
Based on India’s White Revolution that turned the country into the largest producer of milk in the world, the film traces the journey of a young doctor (based on Verghese Kurien, played by Girish Karnad) as he helps set up a local milk co-operative. Finding a feisty woman to lead the cause (played by Smita Patil), the farmers are able to get over social evils and become self sufficient.
13. Kamla Ki Maut
Directed by Basu Chatterjee, the film takes place over a single night as a neighbour committing suicide leaves a whole family to introspect about their whole life and the wrongs they’ve suppressed under the passage of time. Starring Pankaj Kapur, Rupa Ganguly, Irrfan and Ashutosh Gowariker – the film asks uncomfortable questions about something Indians are scared to talk about, sex.
Based on the story of an oppressed farmer whose wife is raped and commits suicide, he gets convicted for axing his own little sister in his attempt to save her from the same fate as his wife. The film remains one of the most violent and chilling retellings of the oppressed
Starring Farooq Sheikh, Smita Patil, Supriya Pathak and Naseeruddin Shah – the film deals with the issue of bride buying by poor, needy parents to an affluent couple in the Gulf region. It was lauded for its realistic and subtle portrayal of the social evil, without ever going overboard.
16. Droh Kaal
Govind Nihalani’s film moved South superstar Kamal Haasan to such an extent, that the actor remade it in Tamil with P C Sreeram directing it. The film revolves around a couple of undercover cops who infiltrate a terrorist organisation under the code-name Dhanush. The film remains a landmark for socio-political thrillers in India.
17. Garm Hava
Written by Kaifi Azmi, directed by M S Sathyu and with Balraj Sahni playing the lead, this movie based on the 1947 partition was surrounded by stalwarts. Capturing the slow disintegration of the Mirza family trying to make their minds up about going to Pakistan or staying back, it is widely considered one of the most influential films in India.
Directed by Gulzar, this film starring Shabana Azmi, Sharmila Tagore and Waheeda Rehman the film is based on Bengali short story Akal Basant. Dealing with how women are suppressed in rural areas of India.
Shyam Benegal’s first collaboration with Naseeruddin Shah, the film takes on the tyranny of the Zamindari system in rural India. Apart from Naseeruddin the film also starred Amrish Puri, Mohan Agashe and Anant Nag in the lead roles.
Featuring Naseeruddin Shah playing a visually-impaired principal in a blind school, this film by Sai Paranjpye was a poignant love story. Also starring Shabana Azmi as a teacher with sight, the complications of a relationship between the two is addressed beautifully.
21. 36, Chowringhee lane
Marking the debut of Aparna Sen as a director, the film is the story of an Anglo-Indian (Jennifer Kendall) teacher who finds unlikely companionship with a Bengali couple (played by Debashree Roy and Dhrittiman Chatterjee). It was an unsettling tale about the alienated ones.
Another Sai Paranjpye charmer, this film is the lesser-famous cousin of the director’s other film Chashme Buddoor. Starring Naseeruddin Shah, Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval in the lead roles, it is a modern adaptation of the folklore of the hare and tortoise.
This film starring Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah and Kulbhushan Kharbanda is about a mother-son moving from their village to become slum-dwellers in search of a better life. But they soon realise that escaping the clutches of the moneylenders in rural India, the poor get suppressed everywhere.
Starring Smita Patil and Girish Karnad in the lead roles, this film is the story of a leading lady who starts earning the daily bread for the family and brings her children up singlehandedly.
A retelling of the Sanskrit play Mrrchakkatika, this adaptation by Girish Karnad starred Rekha and Shekhar Suman in the lead roles. It followed the relationship between a courtesan Vasantsena and Charudatta.
2 exes meet in the waiting room of a secluded railway station late one night. What follows after the initial hesitancy is a whole night of free-flowing conversation about what had happened over 7 years since they separated.
27. Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho!
Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s film starred Bhishm Sahni who takes on his builder after his house collapse due to faulty construction. The courtroom drama was a perfect setting to expose the society’s double standards.
The film focuses on an individual’s search for identity and self-fulfillment. Smita Patil gives a strong performance of transforming from a vivacious teenager to a wiser but deeply wounded middle-aged woman.
The film starring Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher, Shabana Azmi and Kirron Kher, is an intimate look into the life and manners of the Parsi community especially those living in the city of Mumbai in the 1950s and 60s.
Treasure trove of Indian cinema.