Seventy years ago India got its independence from the Brits, but that freedom didn’t come without pain, as the country was severed in two and Pakistan was formed. Though the British censors banned any entertainment that encouraged independence, Indian cinema was right there recording the country’s highs and lows. But after a spate of such films, audience taste changed — the freedom struggle was deemed dreary and filmmakers turned to the subject only sporadically. Here are a dozen films that show the patriotic fervor and sorrow of Partition — which ones do you remember?
In this Partition tale, a brother wreaks revenge on the priest who sold his sister into prostitution during the migration of people from the two sides. Starring Ajit and Nalini Jaywant and directed by comedian I.S.Johar, the heart-rending story mirrored the real-life upheaval in which children were separated from their families as huge waves of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs suddenly were shifted from one country to another.
Veerapandiya Kattabomman (1959)
The first Tamil-language film in Technicolor, “Veerapandiya Kattabomman” starred then-matinee idol Sivaji Ganesan as the titular war hero who fought the East India Co., the trading company that ruled India before 1857 when the British took over.
Based on the true story of Bhagat Singh, the martyr who took revenge on the British general who ordered a massacre of those celebrating Baisakhi at Jallianwala Bagh, a legend that is well known to Indians everywhere. The film starred Manoj Kumar, who would later take on the title of Mr. India. Supporting roles were played by titans of the Hindi film industry Nirupa Roy and Prem Chopra as Singh’s mother and best friend.
Garam Hawa (1974)
The Partition tore apart families, neighborhoods, towns and states. This unforgettable story by Kaifi Azmi on post-Independence India about a Muslim family was directed by M.S. Sathyu and starred Balraj Sahni with a stellar ensemble including A.K. Hangal and Jalal Agha.
Shashi Kapoor is married to Shabana Azmi but obsessed with a young English girl while his brother-in-law is equally obsessed with the idea of freedom. Both are flirting with danger in Shyam Benegal’s pic based on Ruskin Bond’s “A Flight of Pigeons” set during the 1857 Soldiers Mutiny.
1942: A Love Story (1994)
Long before he was known to western audiences in “Slumdog Millionaire,” Anil Kapoor starred in this romance set against the background of Indians fighting for independence. Directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, the film was a box office success.
Gnana Rajasekharan’s film with Sayaji Shinde essaying the titular role of the revolutionary Tamil poet Subramanya Bharati was not a box office success, but it did pay homage to one of the few South Indian heroes of the Independence movement.
Directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar and starring Aamir Khan, this film about Indians beating their colonial overlords in a cricket match won hearts and an Oscar nomination for foreign-language film. It featured stirring music by A.R. Rahman.
The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002)
Ajay Devgn toplines as the titular martyr. Indian maestro A.R. Rahman composed the songs and score.
Mangal Pandey (2005)
Aamir Khan returns to a successful theme with this film based on a real-life hero of the 1957 Soldiers Uprising, this time under director Ketan Mehta, with music by A.R. Rahman, although the film was not as successful as “Lagaan.”
Rang de Basanti (2006)
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s film toggled between current-day students and those who fought for freedom in another hit for Aamir Khan, as he dipped into the Independence well again reuniting with A.R. Rahman.
Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (2010)
What happens when you ban kids from playing soccer? They join up with a bunch of fighters and cause trouble for the rulers. Abhishek Bachchan and Deepika Padukone star in Ashutosh Gowariker’s true tale of the Chittagong Uprising of 1930 in which school children plan simultaneous attacks on the British overlords unbeknownst to their parents.