India: 10 films and TV series that capture its essence

Edited by: Louisa Schaefer As India celebrates Republic Day on January 26, we showcase ten films, documentaries and series that take a critical look at the state of the nation.


This year, India marks 75 years of independence from British rule, with celebrations culminating on Independence Day on August 15. Here is a list of films, television series and documentaries that showcase important issues in the country.

The Great Indian Kitchen (2021): One of the few non-Hindi films to make waves all over India, this Malayali movie tells the story of a woman who struggles to fit into the role of a traditional wife after marriage. In an interview with the Indian media, director Jeo Baby said he deliberately wanted to create scenes that made men uncomfortable in their patriarchal roles.  
Jai Bhim (2021): Made in Tamil, "Jai Bhim" is a legal drama directed by T Gnanavel and featuring the Tamil superstar, Suriya. The movie highlights caste differences in India through the story of a tribal man who is accused of theft and arrested by the police. The film is the highest-rated movie on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and has featured on the Academy Awards' YouTube channel. 
Sardar Udham (2021): Based on the life of Udham Singh, an Indian revolutionary in the 1910s, this new Amazon Prime series directed by Shoojit Sircar features actor Vicky Kaushal as the freedom fighter. Udham Singh witnessed the Jallianwalla massacre in 1919 when British soldiers gunned down thousands of peaceful protesters at a garden complex in Amritsar, Punjab. Singh assassinated Michael O'Dwyer, the British lieutenant governor of Punjab at the time. 
India's Daughter (2015): Made by British filmmaker Leslee Udwin, the documentary traces the story of Nirbhaya, the 21-year-old who was gang-raped and killed in New Delhi in December 2012. The film was banned by the Indian government, which said statements by a convict Udwin had interviewed were derogatory to women.
Masaan (2015): Released in English as "Fly By Solo," the film is a heartbreaking love story about the struggle to overcome caste and class differences in Varanasi in northern India. The film won an award at the Cannes Film Festivaal in the "Un Certain Regard" category in 2015. 'Masaan': a love story about overcoming caste and class differences
Inshallah Football (2010): a documentary for football lovers, "Inshallah Football” tells the story of a young Kashmiri football player who is denied a passport to play outside India because his father is a militant member of the Hizbul Mujahideen, a separatist group in India-administered Kashmir.
The Story of India (2009): This expansive documentary series made by Michael Wood for the BBC and PBS tells the story of India's 10,000-year-old history, right from the Indus Valley civilization to present-day politics and society. Riots broke out between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002
Parzania (2007): Set amid the Gujarat riots, the film tells the story of Parzaan, a ten-year-old boy who lives in Ahmedabad with his family, who are followers of the Zoroastrian religion. Like many little kids his age, Parzaan lives in his own make-believe land, which he calls Parzania. However, when violence engulfs Ahmedabad, the boy ends up getting lost. Directed by Rahul Dholakia and featuring actors Naseruddin Shah and Sarika, the film is based on a true story and subtly highlights the complicity of Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat at the time, in the violence that killed over 2,000 people.
Rang de Basanti (2006): Directed by Bollywood filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and featuring actor Aamir Khan, "Rang de Basanti," Hindi for "Paint me the Color of Saffron," is a coming-of-age movie about five friends in modern-day Delhi facing up to India's colonial past and its troubled present. 
1893: Waiting room at Pietermaritzburg Station, Natal, South Africa
On June 7, 1893, shortly after his arrival in South Africa, Gandhi was thrown out of first class as a 'non-white' on the train journey from Durban to Pretoria. The night in the waiting room of the Pietermaritzburg train station was the turning point in his life. Gandhi transformed himself from a shy lawyer into an activist for the rights of the Indian minority in South Africa.

Gandhi (1982): Directed by Sir Richard Attenborough, "Gandhi" is a mainstay on any list of films about the Indian freedom struggle and the role of the Mahatma in India's history. Ben Kingsley portrays the figure of Gandhi from his days in South Africa, to his journey to India and his ideas of non-violence. Kingsley won the Oscar, the BAFTA and the Golden Globe awards in the best actor category for his acting.