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Upperstall’s Top 20 Indian Films

On July 7, 2020 our labour of love, Upperstall.com turned 20. Stating the obvious, it has been a stupendous journey – one where we have, with our limited resources but plenty of passion, tried to celebrate and critique the best and worst of Indian cinema; one where we’ve done our best to acknowledge our classic films and the luminaries who were part of them in all genres of filmmaking. Upfront, we’d better mention that Upperstall has never been too fond of year end lists – we done them but sporadically – and this year with the pandemic and all ensuring a limited number of releases mostly spread across various OTT platforms, it just didn’t make
sense.

However, leaving our teens behind was something we wanted to celebrate. But how? And then it struck us. Let’s do a list after all but one that epitomizes all that we’ve stood for these two decades. There was some thought – should we look at the best that Indian cinema has offered during these twenty years since we launched? Or go further back? After all, classic films and luminary write-ups are a key part of our site. So finally, it was decided that since it’s the very first time we’re doing something like this, let’s do it taking in the entire journey of Indian cinema itself. And since we are 20, why not compile a list of the Top 20 Indian films of all time. Using the Sight & Sound template as a guideline, we were clear that for us there is no distinction between any kind of filmmaking. So, the list could include feature films, documentaries, shorts and animation films too.

So, who would put together this list? How would we go about it? The idea was to include all those who have contributed to Upperstall to get us where we are – be it even a single piece or several. In other words, all our writers from past and present. The exception being the one-off pieces done by directors/crew members writing about their own films and their making. It has been challenging and exciting at the same time. Especially since our contributors – filmmakers, film critics and film scholars – are a varied and opinionated lot cutting across generations. Some initially reacted they didn’t believe in the concept of such lists. Others questioned whether we weren’t being a little pompous? Who were we to declare the 20 best Indian films of all time? Should we not say that these are perhaps the 20 films that had a huge impact on us? And some even felt that they had not seen enough films across the country and down the years to undertake such a task. But we were sure that being such a motley lot from across the country, who between ourselves had watched a good amount of our cinema, we would get widely assorted, eclectic lists from which to collate our final 20. And we were right! Though some of our contributors did stick to their guns of not believing in such compilations, most gamely responded with their choices.

This, then, is our list of the Top 20 Indian films of all time as according to the 40 ‘Upperstallers’ who sent in their selections. The ‘rankings’ are according to the number of votes received. Whether labelling these films as the best or looking at them as films that have profoundly affected us or even simply as our favourites, there is no doubt that all these cinematic creations are undeniably brilliant. They are undisputed masterpieces in Indian cinema history and need no more introduction. And like with any list, which incidentally is of 23 films due to the tie in the number of votes in a number of places, we typically have most of the usual suspects, some unexpected surprises and yes, even the odd shocking omissions…

The Top 20

 

1.

Pather Panchali (Bengali, 1955)
Dir: Satyajit Ray

26 votes

 

 

2.

Pyaasa (Hindi, 1957)
Dir: Guru Dutt

21 votes

 

 

2.

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (Hindi, 1983)
Dir: Kundan Shah

21 votes

 

 

4.

Meghe Dhaka Tara (Bengali, 1960)
Dir: Ritwik Ghatak

20 votes

 

 

5.

Garm Hava (Urdu, 1973)
Dir: MS Sathyu

17 votes

 

 

6.

Charulata (Bengali, 1964)
Dir: Satyajit Ray

15 votes

 

 

7.

Do Bigha Zamin (Hindi, 1953)
Dir: Bimal Roy

14 votes

 

 

7.

Sholay (Hindi, 1975)
Dir: Ramesh Sippy

14 votes

 

 

9.

Mughal-e-Azam (Hindi, 1960)
Dir: K Asif

13 votes

 

 

10.

Court (Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati, English, 2014)
Dir: Chaitanya Tamhane

12 votes

 

 

10.

Guide (Hindi, 1965)
Dir: Vijay Anand

12 votes

 

 

10.

Subarnarekha (Bengali, 1965)
Dir: Ritwik Ghatak

12 votes

 

 

13.

Uski Roti (Hindi, 1970)
Dir: Mani Kaul

10 votes

 

 

14.

Elippathayam (Malayalam, 1981)
Dir: Adoor Gopalakrishnan

9 votes

 

 

14.

Aparajito (Bengali, 1956)
Dir: Satyajit Ray

9 votes

 

 

16.

Mother India (Hindi, 1957)
Dir: Mehboob Khan

8 votes

 

 

16.

Sant Tukaram (Marathi, 1936)
Dir: VG Damle, S Fatehlal

8 votes

 

 

16.

Bhumika (Hindi, 1977)
Dir: Shyam Benegal

8 votes

 

 

19.

27 Down (Hindi, 1973)
Dir: Awtar Krishna Kaul

7 votes

 

 

19.

Pakeezah (Urdu, 1972)
Dir: Kamal Amrohi

7 votes

 

 

19.

Ghatashraddha (Kannada, 1977)
Dir: Girish Kasaravalli

7 votes

 

 

19.

Satya (Hindi, 1998)
Dir: Ram Gopal Varma

7 votes

 

 

19.

Piravi (Malayalam, 1988)
Dir: Shaji N Karun

7 votes

 

 

The films that just missed the cut by just a solitary vote, the honorary runners up so to say, with 6 votes each were – 36 Chowringhee Lane (English, 1981), Ardh Satya (Hindi, 1983), Black Friday (Hindi, 2004), Kaagaz Ke Phool (Hindi, 1959), Deewaar (Hindi, 1975), Nayakan (Tamil, 1987) and Amma Ariyan (Malayalam, 1986).

It was also heartening to see films chosen in various languages and quite a few documentaries as well in people’s lists even if they didn’t make the final cut. In fact, S Sukhdev’s India ’67 (1968) found its way into four lists, the most among the non-fiction films. Some other documentaries that were mentioned included SNS Sastry’s I Am 20 (1967), Pramod Pati’s Explorer (1968) and Abid (1972), apart from Anand Patwardhan’s Ram Ke Naam (1992) and Bombay: Our City (1984).

In terms of the directors, Satyajit Ray’s movies bagged the most votes by far, a staggering 72. He was followed by Ritwik Ghatak (41), Guru Dutt (27), Shyam Benegal (24), Bimal Roy (24), Adoor Gopalakrishnan (23) and Vijay Anand (21). Though G Aravindan and Mrinal Sen each clocked up an impressive tally of 19 votes for their great bodies of work, their votes were far too divided amongst their various films for any one film of theirs to make it to the list. This, in its own way, speaks about their greatness as filmmakers with voters struggling to mark that one definite film from their oeuvres.

Finally, a big, big thank you to all our voters – Ajay Raina, Alekh Sangal, Anand Subramanian, Anil Zankar, Arunaraje Patil, Atul Taishete, Batul Mukhtiar, Bela Negi, Chandan Goswami, Charudutt Acharya, CS Venkiteswaran, Dalton Christopher JL, Deepa Deosthalee, Deepa Gahlot, Dipankar Sarkar, Hemanti Sarkar, Indranil Bhattacharya, Irene Dhar Malik, Jabeen Merchant, Jerry Pinto, Karan Anshuman, Karan Bali, Manoj Mundayat, Maulee Senapati, Monish K Das, Nandini Ramnath, Nishtha Jain, Omar Ali Khan, Putul Mahmood, Rahul Desai, Ramchandra PN, Ranjan Das, RV Ramani, S Theodore Baskaran, Saumil Gandhi, Sharad Raj, Shoma A Chatterji, Shrikant Prabhu, Tanuja Chaturvedi and Uma Vangal.

1 Comment

  • Nayak (the hero) of Satyajit Ray, calcutta 71 of Mrinal Sen and Black Friday of Anurag Kashyap should be in the list

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