The Golden Age of Indian Cinema

Nargis Dutt, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar in a still from Andaz
Nargis Dutt, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar in a still from the film Andaz.

In India, it all started with Raja Harishchandra (1913), India’s first feature film, which tells the story of a righteous king and showed a brilliant understanding of Indian audiences by the film’s director, Dadasaheb Phalke (the Father of Indian Cinema). When India became independent in 1947, it had a blossoming film industry that had been going from strength to strength since its birth.

Then comes the golden age of Indian cinema (late 1940s–1960s), the movies that made it to the list of best films ever created in the history of Indian cinema – Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz ke Phool (1959), Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957), Raj Kapoor’s Awaara (1951) and Shree 420 (1955), K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955) and many other such classics.

The beautifully elegant Madhubala in the famous Sheesh Mahal song sequence in K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam 

K. Asif’s magnificent epic Mughal-e-Azam (1960) is set in the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. It tells a tale of a father and son conflict and the doomed love between the son, Prince Saleem (Dilip Kumar) and a commoner, Anarkali (Madhubala, in her best performance). Grandiose sets, magnificent battle scenes, splendid music and choreography, and rich dialogue have accorded K. Asif the reputation of a visionary filmmaker.

Sunil Dutt, Nargis Dutt and Rajendra Kumar in Mehboob Khan’s Mother India

Mehboob Khan’s majestic film Mother India (1957) was the first Indian film to be nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category (1958). The central character, played by the incomparable Nargis, is Radha, a poor peasant woman who struggles to raise her sons Birju and Ramu (Sunil Dutt and Rajendra Kumar) despite much hardship and suffering. Her strong traditional values and bravery gave the character of Radha a unique place in the hearts of millions.

Waheeda Rehman and Guru Dutt in Pyaasa.

Pyaasa is often listed among the greatest films ever made. In 2002, Pyaasa was ranked among Top 160 on the Sight & Sound critics’ and directors’ poll of the all-time greatest films. In 2005, Pyaasa was the only Hindi film to make it to the ‘100 Greatest Films of All Time’ list by Time magazine, which called it ‘the soulfully romantic of the lot.’ In 2017, Taste of Cinema ranked it among the ’25 Most Influential Asian Movies of All Time’.

Raj Kapoor and Nargis Dutt in Shree 420.

Shree 420 became popular in other countries, including the Soviet Union, Romania, and Israel. In Russia, it was said that Raj Kapoor was as popular as Jawaharlal Nehru, due to the success of Awaara and Shree 420. In Israel, the song “Ichak Dana Beechak Dana” (transliterated as “Ichikidana”) became popular and was re-recorded by local singer Naim Rajuan.

The most iconic songs from the golden era – Pyar Hua Iqrar Hua (Shree 420), Jab Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya (Mughal-E-Azam), Jaane Kahan Mera Jigar Gaya Ji (Mr. & Mrs. 55), Lag Jaa Gale (Woh Kaun Thi?), Awara Hoon (Awara), Udein Jab Jab Zulfen Teri (Naya Daur) are still played in our homes. They fill our hearts with joy and bliss.

By Elysian Studios

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