Bollywood is not primarily known for churning out realistic films. Even the most significant events of history are told in the regular song and dance manner. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. Biopic or films based on real events are few and far between in Bollywood but in the last decade or so their numbers have increased tremendously thanks to the new age and daring filmmakers who don’t shy away from pushing the envelope in telling stories of real people and real incidents – not necessarily glorious – to cater to an ever growing audience who are no longer satisfied by the clichéd ridden formulaic cinema of Bollywood. Here is a list of top Hindi movies based on true stories.
15. Not a Love Story (2011)
This is perhaps the most infamous film in the list made by none other than Ram Gopal Varma. No matter what his intentions are but you have to give him credit for bringing to life some of the most bizarre incidents to the silver screen. ‘Not a Love Story’ is based on the gruesome and senseless murder of Neeraj Grover by his alleged girlfriend actress Maria Susairaj and her boyfriend M.L. Jerome. Prior to the release of the film there were a lot of discussions regarding the film and the victim’s parents even accused the filmmaker of feasting on their personal tragedy. The film opened to mixed reviews and poor box office response but it remains one of the most daring features of the director.
14. Firaaq (2008)
Nandita Das’s directorial debut ‘Firaaq’ was not perfect but it made people think, encouraged discussions and most importantly proved that she is a sensitive filmmaker. It was a political thriller based on the infamous 2002 Gujarat riots and shows through the plight of various families as to how the riots affected the lives of innocent people. The film won numerous awards at various film festivals around the world as it appealed to people all over with its tale of pain and loss of innocence, as they are such universal topics.
13. Shootout at Lokhandwala (2007)
As the name itself suggests it is based on the 1991 Lokhandwala Complex shootout in Mumbai between gangsters and police. It’s a typical action flick with a hint of realism. The dialogues are fresh and brutal, the performances to the point – especially Vivek Oberoi – and the songs tongue-in-cheek. Directed by Apoorva Lakhia, the film has a very rugged look and the action sequences are slickly cut. Don’t miss the effervescent Rakhi Sawant in a cameo playing an actress of the 90s who’s in charge of her sexuality.
12. The Attacks of 26/11 (2013)
Only a filmmaker like Ram Gopal Varma would have dared to make a film on such a sensitive topic whose effect and images are still fresh in the minds of the people. Ramu has been going through a rough phase in his career for the last few years but he pulls off a well crafted and detailed narration of the most ghastly terrorist attack the country has ever witnessed and has been subjected to, in a film that showed glimpses of his brilliance that he is usually associated with. Critics were all praise but the people decided to stay away from the film as it reminded them of an event they would rather hope never happened. It was screened at the Berlin Film Festival in the competition section.
11. Manjhi – The Mountain Man (2015)
What can you do for your beloved one? Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal while Dashrath Manjhi carved a path through a hill with just a hammer and a chisel. ‘Manjhi – The Mountain Man’ tells a story of a man who achieves an unimaginable feat fueled by love, anger and desperation. The film was noted for its simplicity and to-the-point narrative aided by naturalistic performances of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte.
10. Bawandar (2000)
Sadly the events showed in the film ‘Bawandar’ rings true even today. Based on the tragic life of Bhanwari Devi, the film tells the story of a woman who suffers from sexual violence in the hands of men and not only has to fight hard for her justice but also has to face ostracization from the society. Director Jag Mundhra who is usually known for making sleazy horror-thrillers called his film a tribute to the spirit of women who never gives up in their fight for justice. Nandita Das won many accolades for her gut wrenching portrayal of the role of a rape victim.
9. Jolly LLB (2013)
The film’s storyline is inspired by not one but two real life incidents – the Sanjeev Nanda hit-and-run case and the Priyadarhsini Mattoo case. It plays out as a satire on the justice system of India which favours the rich and the powerful and the common man has to struggle even for the basic rights. ‘Jolly LLB’ emerged as a surprise winner at the box office solely on the basis of its strong content and the infectious charm of its leading man Arshad Warsi. A sequel starring Akshay Kumar in the lead role came out in 2017.
8. Airlift (2016)
It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Akshay Kumar is the new Manoj Kumar of Bollywood. Lately he has been intentionally doing films that highlight the patriot in him. ‘Airlift’ is one of the many films that gave him the opportunity to be one. Based on the inspiring tale of Ranjit Katyal, an influential Indian businessman in Kuwait who orchestrates a rescue mission to save Indians trapped in Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion, the film was uplifting and makes you feel proud of the man who selflessly devoted his time and energy for his countrymen. Of course all the regular Bollywood elements like song-dance and excessive emotions are there in the film but it stands out nonetheless for its raw authenticity.
7. Madras Café (2013)
‘Madras Café’ stands out for its sheer honesty and lack of pretentiousness in portraying a period in Indian political history which has not been dealt with in any mainstream Bollywood film before it. Director Shoojit Sircar holds nothing back in showcasing the complex relationship between India and Sri Lanka and what led to the ultimate assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. It’s a dark, engrossing piece of cinema that entertains as well as it is informative. However it’s the selection of actors like John Abraham and Nargis Fakhri in the lead roles that raised questions but to give credit where it’s due they did a convincing job in playing their parts despite being limited actors.
6. Shahid (2012)
Hansal Mehta is known for bringing the lives of the marginalized people and the victims of societal prejudices to the big screen and ‘Shahid’ is no exception. It’s a biopic of Shahid Azmi, a lawyer and human rights activist who was assassinated for allegedly supporting terrorists in his capacity as a lawyer. Rajkumar Rao delivers a performance of a lifetime in his portrayal of the slain lawyer and won the National Film Award for Best Actor. Its films like ‘Shahid’ that will take Bollywood to the next level in terms of telling real stories of real people.
5. Talvar (2015)
‘Talvar’ had many things going in its favour. First of all it’s based on the much publicized Aarushi Talwar murder case. Secondly it was directed by the supremely talented and level-headed Meghna Gulzar. Further it boasted of a star cast that comprised some of the finest actors of the country like Irrfan Khan and Konkona Sen Sharma. There was no chance of going wrong anywhere and the best part is it didn’t. The film is noted for its unbiased dissection of the case that kept the nation on its toes for over six years. The real life case is yet to get a full closure but the film does its job of entertaining the audiences and making them think while they leave the theatre.
4. No One Killed Jessica (2011)
Yet another film based on a real life murder case and this time it’s the high profile Jessica Lal murder case involving a model and the son of a politician. Anyone who has heard of it knows the details of the case but how much justice the film does to the case is a matter of discussion. The best thing about the film is the performances of the two main leads Rani Mukerji and Vidya Balan. Rani plays the firebrand journalist who investigates the case while Vidya as the victim’s sister lends a quiet dignity to her role. The film tries it’s best to stay true to the source except for a few cinematic liberties here and there and is overall effective in giving the audiences an insight into the distraught world of a sister coping with a tragedy.
3. Special 26 (2013)
This Indian heist crime thriller by Neeraj Pandey was a beginning of sorts of a fruitful cinematic association between Pandey and Akshay Kumar. They are very often referred to as the Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio of India by their hardcore fans. The film was unique in the sense that it had a very indigenous feel to it as it was inspired by the 1987 Opera House heist in Mumbai where a group of fraudsters masquerading as CBI officers executed an income tax raid on a jewelry shop. It had everything that you look for in a heist thriller – a tight narrative, clever twists and turns and plenty of cat and mouse chase. Only an unnecessary love story added to the story slows down the pace of the narrative.
2. Neerja (2016)
Not many people have heard the story of Neerja Bhanot until Bollywood made a biopic on her that came out in 2016 and which received tremendous love from both the critics and audiences. Hers was an ordinary life but an extraordinary display of courage on a fateful day made her a mainstay in the pages of history and now in people’s memory. It was a film that showed we all have the capability to contribute to the betterment of our society by our small deeds of courage. ‘Neerja’ was also significant in bringing out the actress in Sonam Kapoor in the role of a Pan Am flight attendant who showed nerves of steel and gumption to save passengers from a plane hijacked by terrorists.
1. Black Friday (2007)
You don’t expect anything less than a revelation from Anurag Kashyap when he is dealing with a subject matter as dark and depressing as the 1993 Bombay bombings. Based on the book ‘Black Friday – The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts’ by Hussain Zaidi, a reliable account of the even that shook the entire nation, the film was controversial to say the least. The film was completed before the verdict was passed on the gruesome incident so the censor board grounded the film for three years fearing public backlash or else the film would have seen the light of the day in 2004 itself. It was the first released film of Kashyap and although it received critical acclaim not many people saw it. Only after the legend of Anurag Kashyap began to grow that people discovered the movie and it became a hit among his diehard fans.
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