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15 Indian Movies That Won International Acclaim

The Indian film industry is a cinematic powerhouse renowned for its prolific output and diverse storytelling. Over the years, Indian filmmakers have woven tales that transcend geographical boundaries,  resonating deeply with audiences across the globe. These cinematic masterpieces offer not just entertainment but also a window into the myriad facets of  Indian society- its traditions, complexities, and aspirations. This article embarks on a cinematic journey to explore 15 Indian movies that have not just garnered international acclaim but also left their indelible mark on the global film landscape.

Mother India

Mother India is a 1957 epic drama directed by Mehboob Khan and starring Nargis, Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar, and Raaj Kumar. In this melodrama, a poverty-stricken woman raises her sons through many trials and tribulations. Through all her struggles, she sticks to her morals.

Mother India became a cultural classic and is regarded as one of the best films in Indian cinema. This movie received many national and international awards and nominations. Nargis became the first Indian to receive the Best Actress Award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. In 1958, it became India’s first submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was chosen as one of the five nominations for the category. The film came close to winning the Academy Award but lost to Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria by a single vote.

The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox is a 2013 Hindi language drama film starring Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur alongside Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bharti Achrekar, and Nakul Vaid in supporting roles.

The film is set in Mumbai and it revolves around a mistaken delivery by the Dabbawalas of Mumbai, which leads to a relationship between Saajan, a lone widower, and Ila, an unhappy housewife, as they start exchanging notes through the daily lunchbox.

The Lunchbox was screened at International Critics’ Week at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and later won the Critics Week Viewers Choice Award also known as Grand Rail d’Or. It was shown at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. The Lunchbox was nominated for Best Film Not in the English Language at the 2015 British Academy Film Awards.

Gangs of Wasseypur

This is a 2012  Hindi language black comedy gangster thriller film directed by Anurag Kashyap. This movie was screened at the 2012 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight marking one of the only Hindi-language films to achieve this. It was also screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. The Hollywood Review stated that the film was at par with any movie made in the style of Quentin Tarantino and Variety mentioned the influences of Coppola in the film.

Nayakan

This is a 1987  Tamil language epic crime drama film written and directed by Mani Ratnam. It stars Kamal Haasan in the leading role. Nayakan is loosely based on the life of Bombay underworld Don Varadarajan Mudaliar and the American film The Godfather. Nayakan was India’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 60th Academy Awards. It was also included in Time’s list of “ All-Time 100 Best Films”.

Salaam Bombay

This is a 1988 Hindi-language film directed, co-written, and co-produced by Mira Nair. The movie shows the daily life of children living in the slums of Bombay. Nair’s inspiration for the film came from the spirit of Bombay’s street children and how they lived. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film at the 61st Academy Awards. It won the Camera d’Or and Audience Award at the Cannes Film Festival. It won three awards at the Montreal World Film Festival. The film was on the list of “ The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made” by the New York Times.

Kaagaz Ke Phool

This is a 1959 Hindi language romantic drama film produced and directed by Guru Dutt who also played the leading role in the movie along with Waheeda Rehmaan. It marked a technical revolution in Indian cinematography and is widely considered to be ahead of its time. The film was a box office failure as the public could not relate to its theme but was later regarded as a cult classic.

In the 2002 Sight & Sound critics and directors’ poll, Kaagaz ke Phool was ranked #160 in the list of greatest films of all time. It was listed in British Film Institute’s Top 20 Indian Films in 2002 at #11.

Pather Panchali

This is a 1955 Bengali language drama film written and directed by Satyajit Ray. It is an adaptation of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s  1929 Bengali novel of the same name. The movie depicts the childhood travails of the protagonist Apu and his elder sister Durga amidst the harsh village life of their poor family. This movie has won many national and international awards.  It won the Best Human Document Award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival. Sight & Sound, The British Film Institute’s magazine has included Pather Panchali several times in its Critics’ poll of the greatest-ever film.

The Namesake

This is a 2006 English language drama film directed by Mira Nair and based on the novel of the same name by Jhumpa Lahiri. It stars Kal Penn, Irrfan Khan, Tabu and Sahira Nair. The film was screened at film festivals in Toronto and New York City.

The film shows the struggles of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, immigrants from the state of West Bengal to the United States, and their American-born children Gogol and Sonia. It also went on to win an award at  the Love is Folly Film Festival in Bulgaria.

Awaara

This is a 1951 Hindi crime drama film produced and directed by Raj Kapoor. Raj Kapoor also plays the lead in this movie along with Nargis. In this movie, a poor young man named Raj joins a criminal gang to feed his mother. But he falls in love with Rita and decides to change for the better.

The film became an overnight sensation in South Asia and was an even greater success in the Soviet Union, East Asia, The Caribbean, The middle-east and Europe. The film was nominated for the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953. It was very popular abroad having sold over 200 million tickets overseas including more than 100 million in China and about 100 million in the Soviet Union. In 2012, Awaara was included in the 20 new entries to The All-Time 100 greatest films by Time magazine.

Lagaan

This is a 2001 Hindi language epic musical sports drama film written and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. The lead characters in this movie were played by Aamir Khan and Gracy Singh. In this movie, the people of a small village in Victorian India stake their future on a game of cricket against their arrogant British rulers.

Lagaan was screened at various international film festivals and garnered multiple accolades. It was the third Indian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film after Mother India and Salaam Bombay. In 2010, Empire Magazine ranked it among the ‘100 best films of World Cinema’. In 2011, it was included among the top 25 Best Sports Movies by Time Magazine.   

Kharij

This is a 1982 Bengali film by Mrinal Sen based on a novel by Ramapada Chowdhury. The movie revolves around a middle-class family whose child servant is found dead in their kitchen and their efforts to pacify his grieving father. The movie was nominated for the Golden Palm Award at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival and won the Jury Prize at that festival.

Court

This movie is a 2014 legal drama film written and directed by Chaitanya Tamhane. The film examines the Indian legal system through the court trial of a singer, Narayan Kamble, who is accused of encouraging a manhole worker to commit suicide through one of his folk songs.

The movie premiered at the 71st Venice International Film Festival in 2014, where it won the Best Film in the Horizons Category. The film went on to win 18 other awards at several film festivals. The film was selected as India’s official submission for the 88th Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film Category but was not nominated.

Dil Se

This is a 1998 Hindi language romantic thriller film directed by Mani Ratnam who produced it with Ram Gopal Varma and Shekhar Kapur. It is set against the backdrop of insurgency in Assam and stars Shahrukh Khan and Manisha Koirala in the lead roles.

Dil se was screened at the Era New Horizons Film Festival and Helsinki International Film Festival. The movie was a moderate success at the box office but it was a major success overseas especially in the United States and United Kingdom, becoming the first Indian film to enter the top 10 in the United Kingdom box office charts. It also received success in Japan. It went on to win the Netpac Award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Devdas

This is a 2002 Hindi language period romantic drama film directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. It stars Shahrukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, and Madhuri Dixit in the lead roles. The movie is based on the 1917 novel of the same name by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay.

Devdas is featured in the Out of Competition section at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. This movie received a nomination for Best Film Not in The English Language at the 56th British Academy Film Awards ( BAFTA).

Do Bigha Zameen

This is a 1953 Hindi- language drama film directed by Bimal Roy. Based on Rabindranath Tagore’s Bengali poem “ Dui Bigha Jomi”, the movie stars Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy in lead roles. It is considered an important film in the early parallel cinema of India and is regarded as a trendsetter. It was the first Indian film to win the International Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It was also the winner of the Social Progress Award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

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