Ten English-language films for lovers of Hindi cinema

Specifically, Hindi cinema of the 50s and 60s.

This post had its genesis in a post sometime back, in which blog reader and fellow blogger Rahul commented that he tended to not watch foreign films. I decided, then, to create a list of ten foreign films that might appeal to a lover of old Hindi cinema. Then, a couple of weeks down the line, when I reviewed The Woman in Question, Rahul reminded me of that promise, asking me when I’d be posting that list of English films. There had obviously been a misunderstanding somewhere; I had meant non-English films. But it gave me an idea; why not a list of English-language films too?

After all, it’s not as if the plots and themes of Hollywood and British cinema from the Golden Years were completely alien to Indian audiences. In fact, many of them would be familiar to watchers of Hindi films: a lot of films, all the way from Chori-Chori to Kati Patang, from Yahudi to Ek Ruka Hua Faislaa, from Half Ticket to Gumnaam, are based on Hollywood films, some of them to such an extent that they are not merely adaptations but outright copies. Add to that the fact that the Hays Code, which governed Hollywood between 1922 and 1945, had fairly Puritan ideas about what was permissible and what was not, and you have cinema that was relatively ‘clean’, at least as far as what was shown onscreen. You could safely watch these without fearing that you’d suddenly stumble upon nudity, profanity, or extreme violence.

 So, here goes. Ten films, mostly Hollywood, which are most likely to appeal to someone who likes classic Hindi cinema. No, they won’t necessarily have the song and dance or the tendency towards melodrama characteristic of much Hindi cinema of that period, but they are otherwise the sort of films that anybody who likes the cinema of Bimal Roy, of Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Raj Khosla, or Vijay Anand (among others) may like.

Wherever possible, I’ve tried to include links to the film, if it’s available on Youtube. All of these, however, are such good films that I would strongly recommend getting a DVD and watching them on a large screen TV, at least.

1. It Happened One Night (1934): To start, a film that so many Hindi film makers seem to have identified with, it’s been made and remade again and again, in full and in part. Chori-Chori, Basant, Humraahi, and Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin have all followed this plot to some extent or the other. An heiress runs away to be with her boyfriend, who—unknown to her—is actually after her wealth. En route, she crosses paths with a down-to-earth and pragmatic man who brings her down a few notches, doesn’t treat her like royalty—and she ends up falling in love with him. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert had great chemistry, and the plot was a delightful combination of comedy and romance.

Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night

2. The Shop Around the Corner (1940): One of my absolute favourites, by the much-loved director, Ernst Lubitsch. Starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, this one was about two coworkers at a shop who are constantly at daggers drawn. Little do they realize that the other is actually the person they’ve fallen in love with through letters sent to a post box address.

This proved to be a popular theme in Hollywood: it was reused in In the Good Old Summertime, and in You’ve Got Mail—but the best version is this one, a sensitive and sweet film that doesn’t merely focus on the central relationship, but also includes some endearing and interesting secondary characters. Every time I think of this film, I think of it as something Bimal Roy might have successfully transferred to the Hindi silver screen.

Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart in The Shop Around the Corner

3. Ben Hur (1959): A change from the previous films, this one even had a duration that an Indian viewer would identify with: it clocked in at about three and a half hours. An epic historical, Ben Hur had been originally made in 1925 as a silent film, but the 1959 version, which won eleven Oscars, was spectacular.

This was a riveting, emotional and exciting tale of friendship, betrayal, revenge: in the Judea of Jesus’s time, a young Jew (the eponymous Ben Hur) is betrayed by his Roman friend and accused, wrongly, of trying to assassinate a Roman official. From a galley slave, condemned to spend the rest of his days tied to the oars of a ship, Ben Hur comes back, to reclaim his life and to have his revenge. A must-see if you like (for example) the films of Sohrab Modi.

Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd in Ben Hur

4. Rebecca (1940): One of my favourite directors is Alfred Hitchcock, so how could I not include a Hitchcock film? Rebecca, based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name, is from the director’s early period, when he was still making films in Britain and had not migrated to Hollywood. In this, a timid young orphan meets and marries a wealthy but somewhat enigmatic widower. It’s only when she goes to her new home—a huge and intimidating mansion in the countryside—that the new bride begins to realize that her husband may still be deeply in love with his dead wife, whose memory is kept alive by her eerie and very loyal housekeeper.

Sound familiar? Rebecca was remade as Kohraa, though the original is in a class by itself, with Laurence Olivier (in particular) brilliant as Max de Winter, and Hitchcock’s direction impressive.
(This one is available on Youtube, here).

Jane Fontaine and Laurence Olivier in Rebecca

5. The Sound of Music (1965): Though I mentioned that song and dance isn’t an integral part of most Western cinema, I didn’t mean that there’s none of that—and when it comes to musicals, the lyricist-composer duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein created some of the most memorable.

This one is, as far as I’m concerned, the best of their films: one with wonderful songs and an endearing story about an Austrian girl who fails at being a nun but ends up as governess to seven children whose father, a naval officer, is a disciplinarian with a capital D. Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, and the children became so iconic as the von Trapp Family that there have even been reunions over the years. This one, too, was remade in Hindi, as the Jeetendra-Jaya Bhaduri starrer Parichay.

(You can watch The Sound of Music on Youtube, here).

Christopher Plummer, Julie Andrews and the children in The Sound of Music

6. The Mark of Zorro (1940): A wealthy young Mexican aristocrat returns from a long stint in Spain, and discovers, as he travels from the port to his privileged home, that the atrocities and corruption of the local governor are wreaking havoc with the poor peasants of the country. So our hero becomes ‘Zorro’, the ‘Fox’, a Robin Hood-like figure who goes about humiliating the governor, thwarting him at every turn, and helping the peasants—while, as an aristocrat, pretending to be an effeminate and spineless fop.

Although there was a Zorro before (Douglas Fairbanks Jr) and a Zorro afterwards (Antonio Banderas)—besides several TV Zorros—this is, in my opinion, the best. Tyrone Power is very watchable in both personas, there’s some superb swordplay, and the somewhat Azaad-like theme is very enjoyable.

7. Love Affair (1939): You’ve seen this before, if you’ve seen Bheegi Raat. Or Mann. Or, if you have seen some of the better-known English-language films, the very popular Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr starrer, An Affair to Remember. Because all of these films are a copy of this one, one of the classic shipboard romances.

A young woman and a man fall in love while on board ship, and when they finally dock, it is with a promise to meet at the Empire State Building, on a given date and time. But the woman never turns up. The man, embittered and convinced of her faithlessness, goes his own way—but their paths will cross again. This version is a little dated, I agree, but it’s also probably the most poignant version out there: Charles Boyer’s expressions when his character realizes the truth still make me shiver, years after having watched Love Affair. This one, by the way, is available on Youtube, here.

Irene Dunn and Charles Boyer in Love Affair

8. The Magnificent Seven (1960): Ostensibly, this film was remade in Hindi (as Saat Hindustani); in reality, the Hindi film lacks the adventure, pathos and drama of the original, and is—all said and done—notable only for one thing: the debut of Amitabh Bachchan. The Magnificent Seven was a remake of the Japanese film Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai); here, instead of a turbulent samurai-era Japan, the action was set in 19th century Mexico, where a group of poor villagers, fed up by the ravages of bandits, hire seven hard-bitten men, most of them once criminals, to save them. How this disparate group comes together to save the villagers, and to redeem themselves (does that have echoes of Mera Gaon Mera Desh and Sholay?) is what the film is about. An excellent cast, some good action, and a generally gripping story.

9. Wait Until Dark (1967): Do you like suspenseful films like Ittefaq? The type that keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering what’s coming next, fearing what’s coming next? This, then, is a film you should check out. Audrey Hepburn stars as a blind woman alone at home with a murderer in the house. She’s blind, mind you—she can’t even see where this man is, who he is, why he wants to kill her—and she must fight back. The only thing going for her is that she’s very familiar with her home, but how long can that be an advantage?

I can’t say more. You’ve got to watch this for yourself.

10. Paths of Glory (1957): I must admit, there’s no Hindi film that I was instantly reminded of when I thought of this film, directed by the famous Stanley Kubrick. Starring Kirk Douglas as a French Army officer during World War I, this is a men-only film (only one woman, shown singing a song, appears in it). Paths of Glory draws its name from Thomas Grey’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, and is based on a true story of French soldiers who were deliberately picked out for execution by the top brass of the French Army, in an attempt to hide the mistakes of a senior officer. It’s a thought-provoking, disturbing tale of corruption, greed, ambition, and just sheer inhumanity. Watch it for the story, for the direction, the acting, and—well, just the entire experience of it all.

Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory

For those who like English-language films as much as old Hindi films: which ones would you recommend?


40 thoughts on “Ten English-language films for lovers of Hindi cinema

  1. What a wonderful wonderful list Madhu didi! Thank you so much! Not only is the timescale of the films phenomenal (1934 to 1967), the choice of directors and the themes of films too are simply brilliant. I especially liked the fact that you included films of Stanley Kubrick and the one inspired by Kurosowa’s Seven Samurai… I’ m sure didi this can easily become one of the greatest lists ever made.. Thank you once again!


  2. Great selection all the way, Madhu. I had no idea The Shop Around the Corner was what You Got Mail was based on. I must try and watch it. Also didn’t know Sound Of Music was available on YouTube. I don’t know HOW many times I have watched Maria walk so magnificently down the aisle to the tune of ‘How do you solve a problem called Maria’. I get goosebumps just THINKING about the movie.

    I agree with you about Rebecca, apart from a bit of a change in the end, it was SUCH a faithful adaptation of the book, and so well made. I fell headlong in love with Laurence Olivier after seeing this film.

    Do go ahead and write a sequel of this post.


    • Ava, you should really try to get hold of The Shop Around the Corner; it’s a wonderful film, especially as there’s not just the romantic comedy of the lead pair, but also some sensitive and sweet tales surrounding the people around them. It’s one of my favourite films, and I have lost count of the number of times I’ve rewound and watched its end. :-)

      The Sound of Music on Youtube isn’t free, by the way. Not that it costs much (Rs 78, if I remember correctly), but yes, it’s there. This movie is such a favourite of mine that I’ve owned it, at different times, in different formats – the VHS tape, the VCD, and now the DVD. Only teh Blu-ray is left now! :-D

      I think the sequel to this post will pretty much get covered in the comments itself. Some good movies recommended here, I can see.


    • I had thought of Come September because of that trope that inspired the exact same plot element in Mere Sanam and Kashmir ki Kali. I put it aside, however, because I personally didn’t much care for the film. Also, I wondered, if a person who had grown up watching old Hindi films (where any sort of premarital sex would be taboo when it came to hero and heroine – barring a very few films like Dhool ka Phool)… would they take kindly to a film where the hero visits the heroine every September just to spend a few idyllic weeks with her (obviously not merely chatting with her)? I thought not, which was why I left it out.

      I am curious, though, about whether Come September was remade in its entirety. Your commment seems to indicate that – could you explain further? In which languages?


  3. Good list. Have two new films I have missed to watch thanks to you. Would like to add Roman Holiday, Love Story ( adapted in versions in Hindi) and the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to your list. Rebecca is one of my favourites thanks to the close line it follows of the original story. And Olivier of course.


    • Thank you so much! I have to (with much embarrassment) admit that I’ve shied away from watching Roman Holiday all these years because I can’t bear the thought of two of my favourite actors portraying people who can’t, eventually, be together. Love Story, of course. I haven’t seen The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but will put that on my list ASAP.


  4. An interesting, if slightly hazy, idea. English films which would appeal to lovers of old Hindi cinema – this forces us to seek the Holy Grail Hindi film producers and directors have been after ever since the time of Dadasaheb Phalke : wherein lies that appeal? What is the formula for, what are the ingredients that go into making a film that will be popular, and hence, successful? No one has managed to crack that code yet. Even in the ‘classical’/”golden” era of Hindi films,for every one film that the public took to, dozens essentially identical in storyline & production values, and equally well-directed and acted, with equally good music, flopped.

    To now extend that search further afield, into foreign territory, and attempt to decide which English films would strike a chord with aficionados of old Hindi films is a brave endeavour, and I applaud you, Madhulikaji, for being prepared, to borrow a famous phrase, “to boldly go where no man has gone before“.

    Films like It Happened One Night, which have been multiply remade in Hindi, with some box-office success, are easy choices. So too, probably, are epics &/or spectaculars like Ben Hur & The Magnificent Seven. The Shop Round The Corner, appealing to a deep human instinct in all of us, and therefore successful in most of its Hollywood reincarnations, is also a safe bet.

    The Sound Of Music, I’ve always felt, is in a separate category where Indian film-goers are concerned. For all that we cannot do without songs and dances in our films, Hollywood musicals haven’t really done too well here. In fact, great musicals from the golden age (30s & early 40s) of Hollywood musicals are known only to hard-core fans. The Sound Of Music (1964) came long after the end of that golden era, and has little in common with most of them. It’s contemporary, My Fair Lady (1964), another good musical, did moderately well here without setting the Ganga on fire. But it would be hard to find an Indian over 40 with even a modicum of interest in English films, who hasn’t seen The Sound Of Music.

    What I found most interesting were your unorthodox choices like Love Affair, The Mark Of Zorro, and especially Paths Of Glory. Love Affair as a weepy would probably go down well. About Paths Of Glory I’m not so sure. A good film, but my feeling is that Hindi cinema audiences don’t take to such films.

    As you’ve invited readers’ recommendations, here are a few of mine, in no particular order:
    Arsenic And Old Lace, a wonderful Cary Grant comedy
    Random Harvest, about a shell-shocked soldier who’s lost his memory, marries a girl, regains his memory in an accident and forgets all about her. Indian audiences can never get enough of this amnesia business. :D
    Gone With The Wind, the spectacular to end all spectaculars
    Father Of The Bride, the original starring the incomparable Spencer Tracy and a young and stunning Elizabeth Taylor
    Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?”a riveting picture of marital breakdown, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor savaging each other with their verbal jousts (A Rajesh Khanna-Sharmila Tagore film, ?Anubhav, had faint shades of this).
    Kind Hearts And Coronets(1949) Long before Sanjeev Kumar’s nine roles in Naya Din Nayi Raat was this gem of a British comedy with Alec Guinness (better known to the younger generations as Obi Wan Kenobi from Star Wars) doing eight roles, including a woman’s.
    Goodbye Mr. Chips”, a gentle, moving masterpiece, relevant in all ages and across cultures.
    Double Indemnity, arguably the best of the film noirs

    I could go on & on & on in this vein but you and your readers are liable to get bored of me galloping my hobby horse round this particular paddock.


    • Yes, this was a sort of off-the-cuff list, and therefore hazy. Mostly, as I explained in the introduction, it was meant to help out Rahul with his quest for films to start with. Rahul had expressed trepidation at watching ‘foreign films’ (and not even films in non-English languages), because he felt he may not be able to identify with cultures so alien to our own. My premise was that there are so many films that deal with very universal issues, things that aren’t tied down to one culture, and those films tend to make for good viewing, even if you know not much about the culture in question.

      Your comment about The Sound of Music somewhat echoes what I’ve always felt, that the Hollywood style of ‘musical’ is far removed from the Hindi film – and I think Hindi cinema does the incorporating of song and dance far better than most of what Hollywood can manage. Looking at films like An American in Paris, Oklahoma!, or Singing in the Rain (just to name three), the melding of song/dance into the story doesn’t quite seem as smooth – and, more often than not, the story isn’t great either. Personally, the only musicals I’ve liked for both story as well as song are The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, and – to some extent – My Fair Lady.

      (Rahul, by the way, is just about to begin college, so nowhere near 40). ;-)

      I like your choices a lot, too. Especially Arsenic and Old Lace (which I had briefly toyed with including, but had dropped, wondering if it was too dark for most old-fashioned-Hindi-film-loving Indians to enjoy). Also, a resounding yes for Random Harvest. There are several films in your list which, though I’ve heard about, I’ve actually never got around to watching, so maybe I should amend that. Thank you for those.

      By the way, as I mentioned, Love Affair has been remade so many times in Hindi itself that it would probably strike a chord. And The Mark of Zorro does bear a similarity to Azaad, in the sense of a double-identity hero. Paths of Glory doesn’t have (as far as I know) any clear parallels in Hindi cinema, but the themes of corruption and greed and ambition, I thought, were universal enough to make this a film that might have a greater appeal…

      We can only wait and see what Rahul has to say when he’s watched some of these films. That’s the litmus test, I guess!


  5. Brilliant. :) And courageous. Your list is wholly representative of years, genres and actors. A hard task, but I like the selection.

    Of your list, I haven’t watched Love Affair because I’d watched An Affair to Remember and that ranks as the only Cary Grant movie that I hate.

    My picks?
    The Gold Rush
    Roman Holiday
    To Kill a Mocking Bird
    12 Angry Men
    The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
    The Graduate
    Monty Python and the Holy Grail :)


    • “Of your list, I haven’t watched Love Affair because I’d watched An Affair to Remember and that ranks as the only Cary Grant movie that I hate.

      I can understand that (I won’t say I echo that, because I’m No Angel, which stars him with Mae West, was a film I liked even less, even though Grant himself was delectable in it). I think for me An Affair to Remember was even more of a letdown because I’d already watched Love Affair and had been thinking, “This film, remade with two of my favourite actors? Now how good would that be?” And somehow, it just didn’t work.

      I like your list, too, though I’ll have to admit there are several films there that I only know of, haven’t seen yet. Must watch those sometime!


  6. Roman Holiday comes very close to a worthy mention, except that, alas, it ends up in a tragic way, what with the hero and the heroine not getting united in the end!
    My Fair Lady was the backdrop of Manpasand by Dev Anand.


  7. Four of my favorite films are in your list; It Happened One Night, The Shop Around The Corner (possibly my most favorite film), Paths of Glory and the original An Affair To Remember. If I could recommend one film, it’d be Gregory La Cava’s “My Man Godfrey”. William Powell and Carole Lombard are two of my favorite actors and they absolutely sparkle in it. It’s got a lot of themes, social and otherwise, that could translate well to Bollywood, especially classic Bollywood.


  8. Interesting theme – very broad in terms of what one could throw into the list. There were 2 films in your list Madhu that I did not know about – The Shop Around the Corner (which was shocking to me since I really like James Stewart) and the other is “Paths of Glory” (though this feels very morbid based on the theme).
    There are a lot of interesting films in the comments in addition to your list. I had not heard of “Random Harvest” but as the writer mentioned, Indians love the amnesia theme. So this is a shoo-in. In fact, there was a Rajesh Khanna/Rekha/Moushumi film in 1980 or so called “Prem Bandhan” that seems to be inspired from exactly this story. The Hindi film is meh, but not terrible.

    My main addition to your list is “The Bishop’s Wife” where Cary Grant plays an angel who falls in love with the woman he is helping (the title character). Cary Grant is brilliant. David Niven as the clueless bishop is extremely good as well. The story itself is a bit cliched, but the actors elevate the film. There was a point just before the intermission in “Kal ho na ho” where I thought that film was going in this direction with SRK being the angel falling in love with the Preity Zinta character – oh how wrong I was – not to mention the film erased 3 hours of my life that I will sadly never get back.

    And “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “A Man for All Seasons” both rank among my all-time favorite films. I would suggest them to anybody. Both films have a strong message even though they are set in completely different periods – so I put them in the ilk of the Bimal Roy films – powerful and understated.

    “Gone with the Wind” was a soap-opera of a film that I thought an Indian audience would appreciate. It is a bit in the ilk of films like “Mother India” – a bit overwrought, lots of drama. We however are not very comfortable with morally ambivalent main characters, particularly when they are women. And Scarlett does fall in that category.

    Several Hitchcock films can be added to the list
    – The Man Who Knew Too Much
    – Rear Window
    – Dial M for Murder (one of my favorites) – this was remade in Hindi as “Aitbaar” with Dimple Kapadia and Raj Babbar (have not seen it though).
    All the Hitchcock films are in a genre that Hindi cinema constantly attempted to master and most often failed. They are not all terrible, but very very few are made realistically. But I digress.

    The other category that Hollywood does well and Indians often love is action. In the late 70s, there were films like “Shaan”, “The Burning Train”, etc. In that ilk, I would put The Great Train Robbery – good not great
    Day of the Jackal
    The Eagle has Landed
    Where Eagles Dare

    Okay, time to put a period. Or I can just keep going on and on and on.


    • Yes, one could certainly go on and on! After I’d finished my list, I kept thinking, “I should have added this, and that, and maybe this” – and then decided that there could be no end to the number of films one could include (after all, Hindi cinema has drawn inspiration from, or simply outright remade, Hollywood or British cinema so many times that it’s obvious that film makers here have realized what is likely to translate well and what isn’t (which makes me wonder why nobody seems to have thought of making a Hindi version of Pride and Prejudice – that’s one story that I think would work very well transplanted into an Indian milieu.

      Gone with the Wind had occurred to me too, but Scarlett’s moral ambivalence was something I was doubtful about as being acceptable to your average Indian viewer. In old Hindi cinema, at least, even in the rare instance when a heroine isn’t an outright Sati-Savitri (I’m thinking Sadhana and Do Behnen as examples), she has invariably ‘reformed’ or ‘repented’ by the end, so that she can then live happily ever after.

      I remember Anu’s review of The Bishop’s Wife. Sigh. So many films to watch (and you’ve added another – A Man for all Seasons, which hasn’t been on my list so far), and so little time!

      I love the idea of adding action films to the mix. All the ones you’ve suggested are great, and Where Eagles Dare is my all-time favourite war movie. :-)


  9. What a challenge and you have pulled it off I think! Too many films to add. I love Lubitsch, so any of his films but The Shop Around the Corner is esp lovable for me because of James Stewart.

    One we rewatch often and know line-by-line is – Cary Grant & Myrna Loy are just fab – and anyone who has ever had any kind of builder/repair person in their house anywhere in the world will instantly identify with at least some things in the movie!.
    Mr Blandings Builds his Dream House Link here


    • Ah, yes. I remember Anu reviewing Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House and me commenting that I’d somehow not got around to watching it because I always associated it with Blandings Castle (and I’ve had such bad luck with all Wodehouse adaptations to screen…). Yes, idiotic excuse for not having seen it in all these years, especially given that I am so fond of the two leads. I must watch it sometime. Soon.


  10. This is an interesting list. But mine would be completely different, coming from a different perspective (of course). I grew up in New York City and saw English-language films all my life. And I got tired of much of that, especially what came out of Hollywood, especially in recent decades. Then in the 2000s, when I had already reached what many would call middle age (my 40s), I fully discovered Hindi cinema and other Indian cinema and got to like it much more than English-language cinema.

    I know a few Americans who had similar experiences (most of whom either created blogs or started putting videos on YouTube), but I can’t say for certain that they got to love Hindi cinema for the same reasons that I did or would have the same ideas about what English-language films might appeal to them in the same way that Hindi cinema does. But I have some idea regarding the things that drew me to Indian cinema and especially Hindi cinema, and especially the films of the Golden Age and Vintage eras…

    And music and dance is very important, indeed. Hindi cinema has had that in all eras, but American cinema seemed to drop it a lot after the early 1950s (notwithstanding the fact that there are a few well known classics in the ’60s and ’70s), and dance in Hollywood films pretty much peaked in the 1940s, or maybe even the ’30s. And in that regard, I think that Hollywood (as well as other western cinema industries) made a big mistake!

    There are other qualities – such as thematic tendencies and political outlooks, etc. – that also make old Hindi films more interesting to me than a lot of American films (especially since I’m a socialist ;) ). But I decided not to go into that here, because this comment is already going to be too long :) and if I’m going to pick examples right now, I’d like to emphasize the music and dance in American films that particularly appealed to me AFTER I got to love the music and dance in Hindi films.

    And one film that definitely comes to mind is the 1933 Busby Berkeley movie Gold Diggers of 1933. I would not recommend this film for much of the “drama” in between the song-and-dance numbers – which is all too American in ways and is not so great – but that doesn’t matter, because the film is packed with musical numbers, and that’s what it is known for. And they are fantastic numbers with dancers like Ginger Rogers and Ruby Keeler. There is also some surprisingly good social criticism included in some of the dance numbers (which reminds me a bit of the way the old Hindi films could convey heavy social criticism while also including a lot of musical entertainment – not so common in Hollywood…). The number “Remember My Forgotten Man” (with a great performance by Joan Blondell) is a scathing criticism about veterans who had made great sacrifices for their country in the big war only to return home to find themselves in poverty and neglected by society. And there’s the song/dance “We’re in the Money,” starring Ginger Rogers, which reflects the economic anxieties of the Great Depression but also offers tremendous escape through a dance spectacle (which includes a part that I would say is Indian-influenced).

    Thinking of dancers in Hollywood, I also have to mention Elanor Powell. She was the best female tap dancer (a true match for Fred Astaire, which Ginger wasn’t really) as well as a great dancer in other forms. In her film Honolulu (1939), she performed a dance that directly influenced Sitara Devi’s biggest dance in Roti (1942). And, in fact, I did a blog post pointing that out:


    There’s also a British dancer-actress whom I got to like a lot after I got hooked on Hindi films, and her name is Jessie Matthews. Her films might actually be more comparable to old Hindi films than most American ones, because there’s a certain British consciousness about class in a few of her films that I think could be compared to the class consciousness in some of the old Hindi films (but not so present in most American movies). And her dances are great. She even did an “Indian” dance in one of her films, It’s Love Again (1936), that, while obviously, humorously fabricated, nonetheless has gotten raves from a few Indian people whom I’ve shown it to (and every American). (And it sure as hell beats that horrible “Indian tomb” dance in that Fritz Lang film!)

    Anyway, I’ll stop there (though I was thinking of mentioning other obvious influences, like Carmen Miranda :) )… I don’t want to take up too much space in this comments section – especially not with what might be considered a dissenting approach. :) Madhu, I wish I could agree more with your post this time, and you have listed some fine films. But I could not imagine talking about looking for English-language films that appeal to me for the reasons that I like Hindi films without making music and dance a very big part of that comparison!


    • “I don’t want to take up too much space in this comments section – especially not with what might be considered a dissenting approach. :)

      Richard, I wouldn’t call that dissent so much as a completely different perspective – which is natural, of course, given the difference in our situations! ;-) This is quite interesting to read (and not very surprising for me, considering I am fairly familiar with your blog). Most Westerners – and I don’t mean people like you, Greta, Todd, Beth or Carla, who are ‘enlightened’ (!) when it comes to Indian cinema, tend to deride the song and dance that is so integral a part of Hindi cinema. I, personally, am not gaga about the song and dance (possibly because I’ve grown up with Hindi films? Familiarity breeds contempt?). I love the music of the 50s and 60s in particular, and can happily listen to those songs for hours on end – they are invariably my preferred choice of music – but the number of films where I’m happy to have the narrative interrupted just for the song are few and far between.

      … which is why, when it comes to Hollywood (which more often than not, as I’ve mentioned in my description of The Sound of Music, does an even worse job of integrating songs into story), I am inclined to steer clear of musicals. There are many where I really love the dances and the songs – Oklahoma!, Flower Drum Song, South Pacific, and several of the 40s’ films – but more often than not, the lack of correspondingly good story makes me shun the ‘regular’ Hollywood musical. I suppose the thought that films like Waqt, Woh Kaun Thi?, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam – and, oh, so many countless others – did far better a job of combining an entertaining plot with great songs (and dances) means that I end up regarding the average Western musical with a certain pity. ;-)

      Some of the songs (and films) you’ve mentioned in your comment, I remember from your blog or from FB posts. I must watch the movies sometime! Thank you for that.


      • Madhu, regarding a few of your points above:

        “Most Westerners…tend to deride the song and dance that is so integral a part of Hindi cinema. ”

        Yes, and this is especially true of certain people who think they have a taste for “serious” cinema. But I have seen that some Indians or NRIs who think they know about “serious” cinema will follow that example to an even greater extent. And, yes, there are a few Westerners who’ve developed a taste for the qualities unique to Hindi cinema – especially the emphasis on music and dance – that some of their neighbors who have Indian origins will be the first to put down. :)

        One thing I appreciate about the world of Hindi cinema is the recognition that many different parts that go into it can be appreciated for their artistic merit or entertainment value. This does not happen so much in, say, the U.S. or western Europe, where there seems to be more narrow ideas about the standards for which cinema should be appreciated, especially among “serious” people. So some Hindi films that are pretty flawed in other ways get to be remembered just for their great music and dance. And I think this is as it should be.

        The musicals in the U.S. may not generally do as well at integrating music and dance with other parts of the film as Hindi cinema does. That may be one reason that I like Hindi cinema more. But in many old U.S. musicals, as in a good number of Hindi films, the musical numbers are presented as stage acts within the film, not situations in which people who would not be doing musical performances in real life suddenly break out into song and dance. I don’t mind the latter kind of scene, either (not at all!), but when musical acts are presented in a film as parts of a musical or stage show within the film, there is less pressure for the musical acts to be integrated – and flowing right – with the drama and the story line.

        I have gotten to love the music from ’40s and ’50s Hindi cinema more than any other kind of music. The music from the “Golden Age” of Hollywood musicals is good when it’s very lively jazz and swing. But I find the softer and more sentimental, orchestral music of 1930s or ’40s Hollywood to be very boring, especially when compared to Hindi film music.

        The thing that I got to appreciate more in the Golden Age of American musicals is the dance. I got more into the dance in American films of the ’30s and ’40s – and British ones, too – after I’d spent a few years obsessing over old Hindi films. The Hindi films made me much more curious about dance in Hollywood films. And when I went to look back at the dance in old Hollywood films, I really started to love it. I think that the dance in both kinds of films should be looked at as contributing to the films’ overall artistic quality as much as anything else, and sometimes, I even value the dance in a film above everything else.


        • This does not happen so much in, say, the U.S. or western Europe, where there seems to be more narrow ideas about the standards for which cinema should be appreciated, especially among “serious” people.

          So true! Someone made me part of a movie appreciation group on FB, and while there are others like me, it is dominated by those who are ‘serious’ about cinema, and can’t seem to think beyond Ingmar Bergman. ;-) I personally feel, like you, that there are so many things one can appreciate in cinema. I may not much care for dance, but I can see why you would.


  11. I will confess once again that I just saw the names of the films on your list, I will read your post later. The names on that list match mine, that is it would have if I were to make such a list. Since Hindi films is the bench mark I think I will also add Roman Holiday, the Nargis Dutt- Raj Kapoor starrer Chori Chori was inspired from it.


    • I always thought Chori-Chori was a fairly faithful copy (down to the sheet hung across the middle of the room) of It Happened One Night. But since I haven’t seen Roman Holiday (which may well have been based on It Happened One Night, actually…), I cannot really comment. Thanks for commenting, Shilpi!


      • That Roman Holiday is the inspiration for Chori Chori is a fairly widespread misconception in India. I imagine it is because Roman Holiday is far better known here than the older It Happened One Night. But once one sees IHON, it becomes obvious which the original is.


  12. I find this post to be interesting in the context of the chosen timeline for your blog.

    I have read your explanations in other posts saying that you chose 1970 as the cutoff date for this blog as for you, that years marks (roughly) the cutoff point between classic and modern cinema. I do agree with this assessment in essence.

    However, was there really much difference between Indian cinema pre- and post-1970? Some pointers in that direction do exist, such as the rise of angry young man, upping the ante in terms of onscreen violence and more cynicism on the big screen in general against the establishment. Some sensual/sexual content was also increased (films of B. R. Ishaara). However, I do not believe there was a sea change in the basic Hindi or non-Hindi film.

    Outside India, however, especially in the USA as well as Europe, there was indeed a sea change going from the 60s into 70s. The abolition of the notorious Hays code was the foremost factor for this phenomenon in the USA. There were inklings of these winds of change towards the end of the 60s, as USA was also involved in a morally abhorrent politically motivated war that pretty much pushed the thoughts of make-believe fantasy cinema from the minds of the young populace, most of whom were of the Baby Boomer generation.

    So, as the Hays code was abolished, it was as if floodgates were opened letting out all the bottled up emotions on the big screen in an almighty flood. Exploitation cinema of course was the biggest beneficiary of this, but even the more ‘respectable’ genres of cinema found an outlet to tell their stories in many more different ways than possible before.

    That is why most of the pre-70s American films could be remade virtually identically in India without ruffling too many censor board feathers. There would have been some cosmetic changes like excising all kissing scenes and heroines would be more covered up, but otherwise everything could be imported as it was. Not so much after 1970. Not that copycats stopped or even slowed down – in fact they sped up their pace, so much so that in the 90s and 2000s it was as if every other Friday a new release would be a straight reproduction of a foreign film. But the watering down of content was much more severe and significant than it had been before 1970.


    • I agree completely about how drastically Hollywood changed with the going of the Hays Code. I remember watching Rosemary’s Baby at a time when I was unaware of the Hays Code, and being taken aback to find that it was quite different in tone from anything I’d seen before from that era – I guess all I’d seen of Hollywood was either well before that, or well after that, not from the cusp.

      I think the shift in Hindi cinema from the 1960s to the 70s was in relatively superficial terms: the sound (RD Burman, for one: he brought in a style of music that was very different even from what he’d composed in the 60s) and the sights, especially the fashions. TBH, I cannot bare the bell bottoms and the long hair on men! Also those loud flower prints and the general over-the-top look. I think there was a certain stylishness that went out with the 60s. :-)


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