India is arguably the most diverse country in the world in terms of culture and history. And he is also often portrayed in Bollywood. Indeed, some of the most successful and critically acclaimed Bollywood films belong to the historical genre.
That said, here we are with 10 must-see historical films that Bollywood has ever produced. From the Harappa age to the freedom movement, this list includes films from every era and for all age groups. So, dive in and start reading.
Year of publication: 1982
Launch: Ben Kingsley, Roshan Seth, Candice Bergen, Rohini Hattangadi
Mahatma Gandhi was an Indian lawyer turned freedom fighter, best known for pushing for reforms through non-violent methods. He has also inspired many other peace activists such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
Although not a Bollywood film, Gandhi features perhaps the best cinematic portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi. The film covers his life from the infamous train crash in South Africa to his eventual assassination.
Gandhi also has a large Indian cast and was directed by veteran Hollywood director Richard Attenborough. The film was a super hit in India and abroad, winning several Academy Awards in the process.
Year of publication: 2001
Launch: Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelley, Yashpal Sharma, Paul Blackthorne
This century’s only Oscar-nominated Indian film, Lagaan, is a fantasy sports drama set during the British Raj. Lagaan follows a group of downtrodden villagers who accept a cricket match with a cruel British Army officer as a bet to cancel their taxes.
Lagaan has been well received by critics and is partly responsible for Aamir Khan’s elevation to world stardom. The film also introduced the global audience to a new generation of Indian cinema. It is a work of fiction, yes, but one that every Indian should look at at least once in their life.
3. Mangal Pandey: The Rising
Year of publication: 2005
Launch: Aamir Khan, Rani Mukerji, Toby Stephens, Kirron Kher, Ameesha Patel
Mangal Pandey was an infantryman of the British East India Company, which is largely responsible for igniting the 1857 uprising.
Pandey, along with several other sepoys, protested the company’s draconian government and the cow-greasy cartridges of their rifles. This led to a mutiny, which eventually turned into a widespread rebellion across the country.
Mangal Pandey: The Rising brilliantly portrayed the life of the titular hero and his heroic deeds that nearly overthrew the British Raj. Mangal Pandey: The Rising has received positive reviews and is one of the few Indian films to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
4. Bajirao Mastani
Year of publication: 2015
Launch: Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Milind Soman, Mahesh Manjrekar
Bajirao Mastani is an epic historical love film directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The film centers on Peshwa Bajirao of the Maratha Empire and his love story with Mastani, the daughter of a Hindu ruler and a Muslim queen.
The couple is largely ostracized in the community, but as they say, love knows no bounds. Bajirao Mastani is a story of tragic love which, although scarce in history, is high in the heart.
Year of publication: 1960
Launch: Madhubala, Dilip Kumar, Prithviraj Kapoor, Ajit Khan
Who in India hasn’t heard of Mughal-e-Azam? The film took Indian cinema by storm upon its release and is often regarded as the greatest Indian film ever.
Mughal-e-Azam centers on the love story between Mughal prince Salim (later Jahangir) and Anarkali, against the wishes of his father, Emperor Akbar. The initial disapproval leads to a war between father and son.
Mughal-e-Azam was the most expensive Indian film of the time and also became the highest-grossing film for 15 years.
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Year of publication: 2019
Launch: Akshay Kumar, Parineeti Chopra, Mir Sarwar, Vikram Kochhar
Kesari is a historical war drama based on the 1897 Battle of Saragarhi. It was more of a last stand than a battle involving 21 Sikh soldiers defending Fort Saragarhi against more than 10,000 Afghan invaders.
Kesari plays this heroic event superbly and, like all good Bollywood movies, he is also very attached to music and melodrama.
7. The legend of Bhagat Singh
Year of publication: 2002
Launch: Ajay Devgn, Amrita Rao, Sushant Singh, Akhilendra Mishra, Raj Babbar
The legend of Bhagat Singh is based on the Indian revolutionary folk hero Bhagat Singh. He is known for the symbolic bombing of the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi, for which he was arrested and executed.
Bhagat Singh and his collaborators, Rajguru and Chandra Shekhar Azad, were also complicit in the murder of a British police officer. The trio’s actions have received both praise and condemnation. However, Bhagat Singh has since become a symbol of resistance against the British.
Directed by Rajkumar Santoshi, The Legend of Bhagat Singh also accurately portrays the life and actions of its titular hero. The film also won two National Film Awards.
8. Jodhaa Akbar
Year of publication: 2008
Launch: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai, Sonu Sood, Kulbhushan Kharbanda
Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar is an epic historical love film inspired by Mughal Emperor Akbar and his wife Jodhaa Bai. Boasting a long lifespan, spectacular visuals and costumes, and stunning performance, Jodhaa Akbar is epic in every way.
The film also accurately portrays several historical events, so it’s a must for any history buff out there.
Year of publication: 2001
Launch: Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Ajith Kumar, Danny Denzongpa
Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya dynasty ruled most of the Indian subcontinent in the 3rd century BC His exploits are legendary, but Ashoka is perhaps best known for giving up war and embracing Buddhism.
After witnessing the large-scale destruction of Kalinga, Ashoka gave up arms and devoted her life to Buddhism and the spread of its teachings. Santosh Sivan’s Asoka is a fantastic dramatization of the life of the Mauryan emperor.
Asoka takes some artistic liberties, but has been well received by critics and audiences alike for its epic scale, musical sequences, and Shahrukh Khan main performance.
10. Mohenjo Daro
Year of publication: 2016
Launch: Hrithik Roshan, Pooja Hegde, Kabir Bedi, Arunoday Singh
Mohenjo Daro is another Ashutosh Gowariker film on this list. After depicting the British Raj and the Mughal era, Gowariker set foot in the Harappa era with Mohenjo Daro.
The film is set in 2016 BC and is basically a love story between a farmer and a high-ranking girl in the Indus Valley Civilization. There are very few films set in that era, and although Mohenjo Daro was a box office failure, it’s still a must for any history buff.
- Mangal Pandey: The rise
- Bajirao Mastani
- Mughal-e Azam
- The legend of Bhagat Singh
- Jodha Akbar
- Mohenjo Daro
So, this is the list of the 10 best historical Bollywood movies, which promises both entertainment and awareness about India’s glorious past. We hope we haven’t missed any of your other favorites. If we did, feel free to mention it in the comments and stay tuned for more in-depth listings.
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