In fiction, when you paint yourself into a corner, you can write a pair of suction cups onto the bottoms of your shoes and walk up the wall and out the skylight and see the sun breaking through the clouds. In nonfiction, you don’t have that luxury. – Tom Robbins
I have always admired the art of nonfiction filmmaking. It is absolutely raw, with naked emotions and a vulnerable story narrated as it is. If you don’t watch documentaries, you should start watching some, and this list can help you kick start your love for them.
India is a vibrant nation whose strength lies in its commitment to equal rights and to speech, religious and economic freedoms that enrich the lives of all citizens. India is not only the world’s largest democracy; it is also a secular, pluralistic society committed to inclusive growth. Along with that, India is also an abode of stories. 1.2 billion stories with uncountable colours, emotions, myths, tradition, culture etc.
So today, I present to you, the best documentaries about India, that you should definitely watch!
1. The Story of India
Written and presented by historian Michael Wood, The Story of India is one of the most beautiful and praiseworthy documentaries made on India. This BBC documentary series consists of six episodes which beautifully tell the journey of the country since its genesis and how it evolved over the period of hundreds of years. The episodes are: Beginnings, The Power of Ideas, Spice Routes and Silk Roads, Ages of Gold, The Meeting of Two Oceans and Freedom.
2. The World Before Her
Written and directed by Nisha Pahuja, The World Before Her is a Canadian documentary film, which studies the contradictory scenario for young girls in India by portraying two groups of young women participating in two very different type of training camps. The focal point of the narration are two girls, Ruhi Singh, who aspires to become Miss India, and Prachi Trivedi, a Hindu nationalist with the Durga Vahini.
- Best Canadian Feature at the 2012 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival
- Best Documentary Feature at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival
3. Inside the Mahakumbh
This documentary by National Geographic shows the Maha Kumbh Mela in its full glory. The intensive account of the world’s largest festival with more than 100 million people is brilliantly shot and presented. The dazzling spectacle of spiritual fervor and collective diversity of this 55-day celebration occurs once in every 12 years. It’s a must watch.
4. India Untouched
The malpractice of casteism and untouchability in contemporary India has not subsided over the period of years. That is the exact issue which Indian documentary filmmaker Stalin K. has explored in his documentary ‘India Untouched’. His film not only galvanized international attention to caste discrimination but also won numerous awards.
- Silver Dhow, Second-best Documentary, Zanzibar International Film Festival, Tanzania.
- Golden Conch, Best Documentary, Mumbai International Film Festival.
- Best Film of the Festival, Mumbai International Film Festival.
- Best Documentary, Mahindra IAAC Film Festival, New York.
- Best Film, One Billion Eyes Film Festival, Chennai, India.
5. Bollywood: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told
Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra & Jeff Zimbalist, this documentary shows the power and beauty of Indian Film Industry, Bollywood. It talks about how cinema holds India together and yet tears it apart. Bollywood is not just and industry, it’s a lifeline that pumps blood to over two billion people across the globe. If you are a Bollywood fan, it’s a must watch.
6. Born into Brothels
Born into Brothels is a documentary about children of prostitutes in Sonagachi, Kolkata’s red light district. It is directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman. In the film, Briski teaches photography to the kids and the pictures clicked by them depict a life in the red light district through their eyes.
- 2004 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Briski, Kauffman
- 2004 Bermuda International Film Festival Audience Choice Award – Briski, Kauffman; Documentary Prize – Briski, Kauffman
- 2004 Cleveland International Film Festival Best Film – Briski, Kauffman
- 2004 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival Audience Award – Briski, Kauffman (tied with Word Wars)
- 2004 International Documentary Association Award for Feature Documentaries – Briski, Kauffman, Geralyn Dreyfous-White, Pamela Boll (tied with Fahrenheit 9/11)
- 2004 National Board of Review Award for Best Documentary Feature – Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman
- 2004 Seattle International Film Festival Golden Space Needle Award for Best Documentary – Briski, Kauffman
- 2004 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award, Documentary – Kauffman
7. Children Of The Pyre
This one is my personal favorite from the list. Directed by Rajesh S. Jala, the film documents the story of seven children who cremate bodies at the India’s largest crematorium, Manikarnika, on the banks of the Ganges, in Varanasi. The childhood of these kids is spent in stealing cremation shrouds and burning dead bodies.
- “Best Documentary” at the 2008 Montréal World Film Festival
- “Best Documentary” at the 2008 Sao Paulo International Film Festival
- “Best Documentary” at the 2008 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles
- “Best Documentary” at the 2009 Asiatica Film Medial
- “Best Documentary” at the 2009 IDPA
- “Silver Lotus Award” for “Best Audiography” at the 56th National Film Awards.
8. Gulabi Gang
Directed by Nishtha Jain, the film documents the story of Sampat Pal Devi and the fiery women of her Gulabi Gang. The way these women empower themselves and take up the fight against gender violence, caste oppression, and widespread corruption shows how they are determined to change the unchangeable.
- Best Film on Social Issues at the 61st National Film Awards
- Best Non-Feature Film editing at the 61st National Film Awards
9. Smile Pinki
Directed by Megan Mylan, the film tells the story of a young poor girl in India who receives free surgery to correct her cleft lip. Her life transforms after the successful surgery.
- 81st Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject)
10. Superman of Malegaon
The town of Malegaon, which survives in abject poverty, hardships and communal tension possesses an overflowing passion for filmmaking. This documentary directed by Faiza Ahmad Khan is a journey through that movie making process.
- Jury Award for Best Documentary at Asiatica Film Mediale, Rome
- Jury Award for Best Documentary at Kara Film Festival, Pakistan
- Best Debut Film at Film South Asia, Nepal
- Best Editing, Documentary and Director at the Asian Festival of First Films, Singapore
- Best Editing at the Asian TV Awards, Singapore
- Audience Choice Award for Documentary, Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA)
- Golden Camera Award for Best Documentary, US International Film and Video Festival
- Gold Awards for Editing and Best Documentary and a Silver Award for Sound Design, Indian Documentary Producers Association
- Best Documentary at Bollywood and Beyond, Stuttgart
- Youth Choice Award at Vesoul Asian Film Festival
- Special Mention at Best Film Festival, Romania
11. Beyond All Boundaries
In India, cricket is not just a sport; it’s a religion. This documentary by Sushrut Jain explores the anxiety and larger than life celebration after the 2011 Cricket World Cup Win. It also peeks into the lifestyle of three people, who have devoted their lives to cricket; Sudhir, Prithvi, and Akshaya.
12. Amma and Appa
How complicated can intercultural marriages be? ‘Amma and Appa’ explores the cultural collision when a European woman and an Indian man get married. The travel, parents encounter and their journey of discovering each other’s tradition and emotions is beautifully presented. The film is directed by Franziska Schönenberger and Jayakrishnan Subramanian.
How does the mindscape of an ambitious and restless youth looks like? The film explored what goes inside the mind of a young boy, in one of the toughest undergrad schools of the world. It’s directed by Abhay Kumar.
- Best Film at EBS International Documentary Festival 2015
14. Children Of The Inferno
A place in North East India where vast subterranean coal fire burns out of control beneath the towns and villages, children mine coal all day on that burning land. This worse than hell condition is reported by Aidan Hartley and directed by Edward Watts.
15. Prostitutes of God
The practice of religious sex slavery was made illegal 20 years ago, but there are more than 23,000 women in Karnataka, who sell their bodies every day in the name of the mysterious Hindu Goddess Yellamma. Prostitutes of God explore the lives of these Devadasis (servants of God).
Hope you liked these.
Until next time… 🙂