Hindu Mythology has always been a subject of Bollywood and regional movies from times immemorial. And no, I am not talking only about such movies which portray Gods and Demigods, along with the tales of their origin. Those times have passed, I guess. Ever-changing trends now implore filmmakers to give new directions to their scripts, rather than milking the same cow again and again. Meaning, inculcate or infuse modernities within the religious lores and create something new, which might appeal both to the newer audience as well as breathe freshness into the millennials.
Nowadays, we find the religiousness (again, from a God-Demigod point of view) limited to a few Hindi and regional television serials. Mainstream cinema, especially Bollywood, have ceased to make religious movies, probably because of budget and duration constraints or has resorted to animated films. Rather, Bollywood seems to have switched to a neo-noir way of filmmaking. How this change is going to shape our tomorrow’s cinematic world is something only time can tell. We bring to you a list of such movies that have been based out on these folklores or Hindu religious texts, either directly depicting these Gods or Goddesses or they’re a modern take on these religious books. Needless to say, there’s a very thin line that separates mythologies, folklore, and devotion. And mind you, these are only a few to start with.
13. Raavan (2010)
A movie which made headlines only for the casting, the eternal music, and the stunning scenic sets, and not much about its storyline which was inspired by the Ramayana. Revolving between a bandit named Beera, the kidnapped wife of a cop named Ragini and the cop himself Dev, ‘Raavan’ mostly follows the storyline of Ramayana with a subtle unexpected twist in the end, as opposed to the epic. Sadly, even the said twist couldn’t save this sinking ship.
12. Bajrangbali (1976)
A film on the revered Lord Hanuman, ‘Bajrangbali’ was probably one of the first films that pitched Dara Singh in the titular role. Another highlight of the film was the casting of Late Shashi Kapoor who played Lakshmana. The storyline pans from the birth of the Bajrangbali as the son of Lord Vayu and Anjani, His childhood and the voyage of his devotion culminating at Lord Rama to the battle at Lanka, until the birth of Lava and Kusa. The best part is the narrative, which is crisp and concise, yet gives away almost everything.
11. Ghatothkach: Master of Magic (2008)
The one who earned fame being the son of Bheema and Hidimba, ‘Ghatothkach’ or Ghatothkacha was also known for his magical capabilities such as flight, size manipulation, super strength, and invisibility. Right from his mentoring to be a fearsome warrior by his mother and father to fighting all the antagonistic, demonic creatures, ‘Ghatothkach’ truly is the master of magic in the film. Undeterred and unconquerable, it took the mighty warrior Karna the Vasavi Shakti divinely weapon to slay Ghatothkacha, something the former had been saving for his battle against uncle Arjuna.
10. Rajneeti (2010)
A comparatively feeble effort from the otherwise accomplished filmmaker Prakash Jha, ‘Rajneeti’ directly or indirectly showcases many characters of the Mahabharata in a modern political setup. While Manoj Bajpai (in the shades of the antagonist Duryodhana) played the leader of the opposition, the protagonist sections were led primarily by Ajay Devgn, Ranbir Kapoor, Arjun Rampal and Nana Patekar. Too many interwoven plotlines, with viewers not realizing the gist of The Mahabharata plotline until the very end and dull, clichéd performances make ‘Rajneeti’ a not-so-shiny yet tolerable affair. Watch it for the portrayals of modern-day Karna and Lord Krishna by Ajay Devgn and Nana Patekar respectively. And also for the rest of the star-studded cast and a couple of soulful songs.
9. Dashavatar (2008)
Despite being an animated feature, ‘Dashavatar’ is one of the handful movies which depicts all the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, including the yet to be Kalki avatar. ‘Dashavatar’ is the journey of all the incarnations, right from Matsya avatar in the SatyaYuga until the Kalki, and in a way, it also promulgates the evolution of the modern human beings, from being in a fish’s form to a half-man-half-lion (Narasimha) to being the yet-to-be eternal prince mounted on a white horse, the Destroyer of all the Filth (Kalki). An interesting and accommodating watch, with decent animation.
8. Kalyug (1981)
Yet another comparable with The Mahabharata in terms of its characterization, ‘Kalyug’ is the story of the animosity between two families (analogous to those of Pandavas and Kauravas) headed by Ramchand and Bhishamchand and a volley of innumerate other characters including their own children and their children’s children. And hence, the family feud passes on to generations. Complicated, boggling and a wee bit tragic, this Shyam Benegal’s venture is unmissable.
7. Arjun: The Warrior Prince (2012)
‘Arjun: The Warrior Prince’ is the tale of the mighty warrior Arjuna, who was the favorite student of Dronacharya and excelled beyond par in his abilities compared to his brothers and cousins (the Kauravas). Soon, he emerges to be one of the most powerful heroes during the Mahabharata and defeats the formidable Karna, his only equal in terms of his abilities. Though the film’s main focus is the characterization of Arjuna as a prince, warrior, and a beloved/favorite husband to Draupadi, the superior animation, and the overall storytelling is definitely a win-win.
6. Bal Ganesh (2007)
A film that begins with the birth or the inception of Lord Ganesha in His original form, His beheading by an angered Lord Shiva and His resurrection using an elephant’s head, followed by His adventures and quests to conquer evil while growing up – sums up the film perfectly. The animation is decent and the overall story, though not complete, is worth your time. ‘Bal Ganesh’ was perhaps a handful of animated firsts that landed in the theaters during a time when mythological movies were mostly live-action and the animation was limited to comic-book-based movies.
5. Mahabharat (1965)
The epic of all epics, ‘Mahabharat’ was brought to the big screens in Bollywood in 1965. Interestingly, Veda Vyasa has been officially credited as one of the contributing writers of the film. Revolving around the valiant Pandavas and the colluding Kauravas, ‘Mahabharat’ was a very comprehensive effort to bring forth all the facets and perils of the Kurukshetra war in the same feature. Replete with songs by legendary playback singers like Md. Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and with Dara Singh commencing his role as a mighty warrior (the other being Lord Hanuman), ‘Mahabharat’ perhaps is the only film version of the epic that you can endure.
4. Hanuman (2005)
A smash hit and one of the most popular movies of the year of its release, ‘Hanuman’ is the perfect portrayal of Bajrangbali in any Bollywood movie so far, be it his childhood, his pranks as a child and his immensely blessed form, with the capabilities like flight, immortality, immunity against divinely weapons, infinite growing and shrinking capabilities and his super strength. Our own superhero, ‘Hanuman’ is more than a mere religious figure and has been adored, devoutly followed and admired by many, in all sorrows and bliss. ‘Hanuman’ depicts the life and times of Lord Hanuman, from his childhood until the epic war against Ravana. ‘Hanuman’, as a movie, is majestic and scintillating in all its departments.
3. Krishna Aur Kans (2012)
Perhaps one of the best flash-animated features as far as Bollywood is concerned that I’ve seen, ‘Krishna Aur Kans’ is extremely engaging and narrates the Krishna Leela amazingly. Utterly awe-inspiring and a fun watch, ‘Krishna Aur Kans’ revolves around the birth of the Eighth Avatar of Lord Vishnu, his journey to his foster parents Yashoda and Nanda, and ultimately his slaying of the demon king Kansa. Everything, from story to screenplay to the animation, is absolutely heartwarming and you would relive, rekindle and cherish your childhood days yet again.
2. Ramayana: The Epic (2010)
This Warner Bros. venture is often touted to be the best-animated feature in India till date. The story of the warrior-prince Lord Rama, His journey from Ayodhya to Lanka, His valor and morals and ultimately His battle with the demon-king Ravana is what constitutes of this movie. Nothing we haven’t seen or heard of before, save the animation, ‘Ramayana: The Epic’ is the same old, valued Ramayana in an enhanced flavor.
1. Jai Santoshi Maa (1975)
For the uninitiated, ‘Jai Santoshi Maa’ is one of the highest grossing Bollywood blockbusters of its time. Fact check – the movie scene when Santoshi Maa or Goddess Santoshi actually appears on the screen, during the time when the movie was in theatres, the very frame of the Goddess’ appearance was paused and voluntary offerings were made to the Goddess by devotees in the theatre in the form of coconuts, flowers, incense and other delicacies. Nowhere in the world has it ever happened that a movie theatre was converted to a temple for a brief duration of time, many times a day, for months altogether. Revolving around a devotee of Goddess Santoshi called Satyavati in the 18th Century, ‘Jai Santoshi Maa’ narrates how an ardent devotee follows the path of devotion to appease the formidable Goddess and attains Moksha. The overall story of Satyavati’s devotion and the appearance of the Goddess is and has been a much-talked affair and the telltale of the movie’s popularity and success is still passed on to generations.
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