India’s Top 10 Lost Films – Compiled by P.K. Nair

Bhakta Vidur (Alternate Title: Dharma Vijay), 1921, 89 mins

Adopting the perspective of Vidur- the chief advisor to the Kauravas, who, for ethical reasons, sided with the Pandavas prior to the great war of Kurukshetra- the film ‘Bhakta Vidur’ sought to hold a moral lens to the struggle between British colonialists and the Indian resistance.

Bilet pherat (Alternate title: England returned),1921, 68mins

One of the earliest examples of broad, deliberate satire made in the mould of the Hollywood slapstick comedies of the time, ‘Bilet Pherat’ (1921) lampoons the trend of Indians travelling abroad (in those days, usually to Britain) for higher education in a…

Savkari Pash (The Indian Shylock), 1925, 80 mins

A milestone film by Baburao Painter, ‘Savkari Pash’ is notable not just for its courage in going against the grain but also for its technical finesse and poignant treatment of its subject matter. At a time when mythological films were de rigueur, Baburao Painter staked almost everything to make India’s first social realist film.

Balidan (Sacrifice), 1927, 108 mins

‘An excellent and truly Indian film’- The Indian Cinematograph Committee, 1927.

‘Balidan’ was a persuasive effort at bringing about social reform with its story of a conflict between a progressive, rational king and an orthodox, ritual-bound priest.

Alam Ara (1931) Hindi/ Urdu, 124 mins

‘Alam Ara’ occupies its position in Indian film history as the first film to have employed sound and possess a diegetic soundtrack, complete with songs. A swashbuckling tale of warring queens, palace intrigue, jealousy and romance, the film was heavily drawn from Parsee theatre

Sairandhri, 1933, 148 mins

The first Indian film to have been made in colour, (though not indigenously since it was processed and printed in Babelsburg, Germany using the Agfacolor process), ‘Sairandhri’ is a remake of Baburao Painter’s silent classic from 1920, of the same name

Mill (Mazdoor), 1934, 142 mins

This is the only film written by the acclaimed writer Munshi Premchand in which he also played a cameo. The film courted controversy owing to its story of a prodigal son of a benevolent mill worker who inherits the mill and proceeds to treat its workers with disdain.

Seeta (1934), 119 mins

A mythological film with a stellar cast featuring Prithviraj Kapoor as Ram and Durga Khote as Seeta along with some of the most high-profile actors of the time, the film broke new ground by becoming the first Indian film to gain international exposure: it was screened at the 1934 Venice Film Festival where Debaki Bose won an award, the first Indian filmmaker to do so on an international platform.

Zindagi (Life), 1940, 120 mins

One of the highest grossing films of the 1940s, the music for the film was composed by Pankaj Mullick. The film saw P.C. Barua coming together once again with K.L. Saigal along with the actress Jamuna. It was a film that not only challenged social mores but also explored the complexities and consequent disillusionment of an unusual platonic relationship between an unmarried couple living together.

Khoon ka Khoon (Hamlet), 1935, 122 mins

This was the first adaptation of a Shakespearan drama in Indian cinema. Largely a filmed version of a stage performance of the play, the film contains a towering performance by Sohrab Modi in the central role of Hamlet, and is an astute adaptation of the original Shakespeare play. The film marked the feature debut of Naseem Banu, as Ophelia.