Timeless Icons of Indian Cinema: Sholay, Mughal-e-Azam, Satya, Nayakan, and Others Shine in the Best Indian Films Forever (BIFF) Collection
Curated with contributions from over 150 cinephiles including filmmakers, actors, technicians, writers, critics, and more, the ‘Best Indian Films Forever’ (BIFF) List is an initiative by Film Companion that celebrates the dazzling range of Indian cinema. To compile this list, cinephiles were asked to send in their top five, favourite Indian films of all time. These entries were gathered and from them, depending on how many people picked the same films, the top 10 came together.
With contributions from some of Indian cinema’s most beloved names, including Mira Nair, Nair, Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar, Hrithik Roshan, Junior NTR, Yash, and more, this is a list that brings together classics as well as hidden gems from all over India. Although the list is numbered in accordance to the number of votes each title received, the top 10 is not a ranking. It’s impossible to compare these classics because they’re all favourites in their own way. Each of the contributors’ individual lists will be available on Film Companion, but here’s a look the 10 most loved Indian films, from the first ever BIFF list.
One of the most iconic and loved Indian films of all time, ‘Sholay’ completes 48 years of its release today. Released on 15 August 1975 and starring Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar, Amjad Khan, Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan and Mac Mohan in key roles, this classic was listed by the likes of Sriram Raghavan, Imtiaz Ali, Hrithik Roshan, Rajkumar Hirani as one of their top five.
2. Pather Panchali
Directed by Satyajit Ray, the Bengali film ‘Pather Panchali’ is widely hailed as one of the most lyrical and melancholic portraits of rural life. It’s the first film in Ray’s Apu trilogy and won widespread acclaim at the time of its release. A crucial part of Indian film history, ‘Pather Panchali’ received votes from the likes of filmmaker Hansal Mehta, film critics Namrata Joshi and Nandini Ramnath, editor Akkineni Sreekar Prasad and actor Anil Kapoor.
A 1957 release, ‘Pyaasa’ was produced and directed by the legendary Guru Dutt. Counted as one of the best films ever made, ‘Pyaasa’ stars Guru Dutt, Mala Sinha, Waheeda Rehman, Johnny Walker and Rehman in the lead. The film’s unforgettable soundtrack was composed by S.D. Burman and the lyrics were by Sahir Ludhianvi. A story of artistic pursuit, ‘Pyaasa’ got votes from the likes of producer Siddharth Roy Kapur, filmmaker Neeraj Ghaywan, producer and author Nasreen Munni Kabir, filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane, actress Janhavi Kapoor and more.
4. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and Meghe Dhaka Tara (tied)
Two classics of two very different temperaments — the dark satire ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’ and the heartbreaking ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ are tied at the fourth position in the BIFF List. Directed by Kundan Shah, ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’ remains one of the funniest and yet most grim portraits of modern India, starring Naseeruddin Shah and Ravi Baswani in the lead. The film received votes from writer-director Hardik Mehta, documentary filmmaker Sushmit Ghosh, filmmaker Homi Adajania and editor Yasha Ramchandani.
Ritwik Ghatak’s ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ is an exploration of post-Partition Bengal, with Supriya Devi playing the film’s long-suffering heroine. Ghatak both wrote and directed the film. ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ got votes from filmmakers Hansal Mehta, Achal Mishra and Monjul Baruah among others.
Directed and produced by K. Asif, this film featured cinema legends like Madhubala, Dilip Kumar and Prithviraj Kapoor. Ambitious and opulent, this 1960 release ran for three years straight at Maratha Mandir and decades later, saw full houses when a colorised version was re-released in theatres. Among those who named ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ as one of their top 5 films in the BIFF List are writer-director-actor Tigmanshu Dhulia, actor Anil Kapoor, filmmaker Ayan Mukerji, and Pakistani filmmaker Bilal Lashari.
Yet another masterpiece by Satyajit Ray, ‘Charulata’ was the breakout film for Bengali cinema’s icon, Madhabi Mukherjee. With some of the most poetic cinematography in black and white, as well as stellar performances by Mukherjee and Soumitra Chatterjee, this Bengali film is one of Indian cinema’s evergreen classics. Industry elites such as filmmaker Nikkhil Advani, film critic Shohini Ghosh, actress-filmmaker Konkona Sen Sharma, and cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran named ‘Charulata’ as one of their top five in the BIFF 2023 List.
A 1987 Tamil epic crime drama written and directed by Mani Ratnam, ‘Nayakan’ stars Kamal Haasan, Saranya (in her feature debut) and Karthika in the lead. The film was a critical and commercial success, running for over 175 days in theatres. ‘Nayakan’ received votes from the likes of writer Hardik Mehta, editor Akkineni Sreekar Prasad, filmmaker C.S. Amudhan, screenwriter Shridhar Raghavan and others.
The OG gangster film which inspired generations of filmmakers, director Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Satya’ is a legendary work. Featuring Manoj Bajpayee, Shefali Shah, Saurabh Shukla, JD Chakravarthy and Urmila Matondkar, the film established trends and storytelling devices that continue to be used even today. In the BIFF List, the film got votes from the likes of cinematographer Avinash Arun Dhaware, filmmaker Kanu Behl and director Anudeep Kv.
This Tamil political drama was co-written, produced and directed by Mani Ratnam, who was inspired by the political lives of M Karunanidhi, J Jayalalithaa and MG Ramachandran. The film marked Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s screen debut, and featured outstanding performances by Mohan Lal and Prakash Raj. It’s the kind of political cinema that’s rarely seen now. Filmmakers Vivek Athreya and Ashwin Saravanan, film critic Sangeetha Devi Dundoo, filmmakers Basil Joseph and Ravi Kiran Kola are among those who voted for ‘Iruvar’ in the BIFF List.
10. Garm Hava and Guide (tied)
Another tie, another set of greats: ‘Garm Hava’ and ‘Guide’. M.S. Sathyu’s ‘Garm Hava’, with Balraj Sahni in the lead and Farooq Shaikh as Sahni’s idealistic son, remains one of the most poignant portraits of the Muslim experience in newly-independent India. The film’s title refers to the scorching winds of hate in society. Those who voted for ‘Garm Hava’ in the BIFF List include filmmakers Mira Nair, Hansal Mehta, Amit Madheshiya and Faraz Ali. ‘Guide’, featuring Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman, is a very different mood. Directed by Vijay Anand, this social and romantic drama was an unusual tale of love and self-discovery. Regarded as one of Waheeda Rehman’s career-best performances, the film also boasted of a brilliant soundtrack by S.D. Burman. ‘Guide’ received votes from various industry cinephiles such as actor Riteish Deshmukh, screenwriter Bhavani Iyer, filmmaker Sriram Raghavan, and screenwriter Satyanshu Singh for the first ever BIFF List. A