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.

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Saat Hindustani (1969)

Last week I watched Shichi-nin No Samurai. Earlier this week, The Magnificent Seven (which was based on Shichi-nin No Samurai). So, logical progression? Next in line ought to be a film based on The Magnificent Seven. Saat Hindustani. Going by the law of averages (or should that be the law of diminishing merit?), I guess I shouldn’t have held out much hope for this one. Shichi-nin No Samurai is far superior to The Magnificent Seven, and The Magnificent Seven is light years ahead of Saat Hindustani.

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The Magnificent Seven (1960)

After having watched Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant Shichi-nin No Samurai last week, I figured it was time to rewatch this film, which goes so far as to mention that it’s based on Shichi-nin No Samurai. For me, The Magnificent Seven has much to recommend it. Firstly, it’s a Western, a genre I’m usually fond of (as long as it steers clear of the run-of-the-mill formulas that John Wayne acted in during the early 30’s—and which, sadly, continued in a lot of films well past the 30’s). Secondly, The Magnificent Seven stars one of my favourite actors, Yul Brynner. Thirdly, it was directed by John Sturges, the very capable man behind classic adventure films like Escape from Fort Bravo, The Great Escape, and Ice Station Zebra.

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Shichi-nin No Samurai (1954)

I first heard about this film when I was a child—The Magnificent Seven was being shown on TV, and one of my parents said it was based on Seven Samurai. End of story, for then.
I’ve grown up since. I’ve heard about the brilliance of Akira Kurosawa. And I’ve recently read that Shichi-nin No Samurai (Seven Samurai) was supposedly the first film ever to use the concept of a group of unconnected people being brought together for a common cause. It therefore seemed high time to finally see the film for myself.
Having just finished watching it, I’m still stunned. This is a mind-blowing film, colossal and profound, gut-wrenching and brooding and action-packed and funny and romantic and… Well, simply unforgettable.

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