One could easily fill a list of the best Indian films with those of the country’s native filmmakers. Directors such as Satyajit Ray, Ritwak Ghatek and Guru Dutt have enough great cinema between them to fill such a list themselves. After all, who would know India better than a native Indian? With that said, I have decided to compile a list of the greatest films set in India, but made by Westerners.
Several of these films have English and American actors (and in one case German) in dark make-up portraying native Indians, which though common practice in pre-1960′s Western cinema, may seem a bit off-putting to a more modern crowd, but whether the modern day idea of political correctness is practiced or not, these classic films, by the likes of Fritz Lang, Jean Renoir and the duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, are things of sheer cinematic beauty.
Now, as I am sure one will notice once one peruses the list, I have cheated a bit by including eleven films, via a tie at number seven, instead of the standard titular ten. Anyway, without further ado, here are my choices for the 10 (or 11) Best Non-Indian films set in the great land of India.
Every time I see this film or hear any of the songs from its soundtrack (which is probably more often than one would expect) I am instantly transported back to my youth. But more than just a nostalgic wellspring, this childhood Disney favorite (and the final film Walt Disney himself had a hand in) is a seriously rollicking good time. This is back when Disney still had it all goin’ on.
Perhaps Ava Gardner as a half Indian woman is a bit of a stretch, but putting aside the obvious cliche’s that went with the era’s filmmaking, in both the US and the UK of which this is a co-production, this is a rather fun film, full of action and adventure (and a pretty great finale) while at the same time showing the plight of the many half-caste Anglo-Indian population with dignity and honor.
Leave it to Wes Anderson to make India even quirkier and more elaborately colored than it already is. This is not necessarily the director at his best (though even lesser Wes Anderson is quality Wes Anderson) but the intricate story he weaves, and the intricate way he films it (Kubrick does Alexander Korda) and the performances of his family of cast members (Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody and Jason Schwartzman top among them) makes for a rather delightful little motion picture adventure.
Directed back to back by Hungarian-born, British director Zoltan Korda (Ethnodocumentarian Robert J. Flaherty was co-director of the first film) and produced by big brother Alexander Korda, and starring Indian actor Sabu in his first two film roles (at age 13 and fourteen respectively) these are a pair of exciting adventure stories – the first a black and white look on an elephant hunt (Sabu was an actual elephant tamer as a child) and the second a Technicolor war and espionage film.
Any movie that can have a guy reach into someone’s chest and pull their heart out, raising it over his head in religio-pathic glory, is all right with me. Okay, okay, perhaps this is considered the lesser of the three Indiana Jones films (yeah, I said three, no need to acknowledge that Crystal Skull travesty) but it shows our intrepid Dr. Jones in the great country of India, and it is a hell of a lot of fun indeed. And you have a guy ripping someone’s heart out!! Kali ma Shakti de.
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