Bollywood movies echoing Indian history

Travelling back in time with historical period dramas


October 30, 2019

/ By / Kolkata

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Many historical characters have found representation in Bollywood’s period films

With Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Panipat set to hit theatres at the end of this year and the announcement of Baiju Bawra by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, here is a look at the period dramas of Bollywood which retold the tales of history.

India has had a colourful past with the range of eras encompassing its history- Mauryan-era, Sultanate period, Mughal-era, colonial era, modern history and more. The historical events from these eras have found grand representation in Bollywood movies. While they are mostly fictionalised account of the events, many of them try to show historical accuracy through the grand sets, periodical costumes and colourful musical sequences.

While there are a lot of Bollywood movies depicting a real historical time or event like Sikander (story of Alexander the Great) (1941), others have used the era as a backdrop in their stories. It was with Mughal-E-Azam that the popularity for period dramas increased and has been growing since then. With movies such as Panipat, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, Takht, Gangubai Kathiawadi and Baiju Bawra lined up for 2020, period dramas seems to be garnering massive popularity. With such a great audience for the genre, here are a few of the majestic dramas  depicting historical events and the bravery of the Indian rulers.

Mughal-E-Azam (1960)


The first Hindi black-and-white movie to be digitally coloured and re-released in 2004

A landmark in the history of Bollywood, this K Asif magnum opus starring yesteryear superstars Madhubala, Dilip Kumar and Prithviraj Kapoor, explored the tragic love-story of the courtesan Anarkali and Mughal prince Salim. While there is no historical evidence of the existence of Anarkali and all speculations are based on a play, the film’s success and popularity made many people believe that it is a real account. From the iconic costumes to grand sets, the bold venture featured 2,000 camels, 400 horses and 8,000 troops among other things.

It is also the first black-and-white movie to be digitally coloured and re-released in 2004.

Aśoka (2001)

An epic historical drama, the movie starred Shahrukh Khan in the lead role of the third century BCE Mauryan emperor Asoka and chronicled the early life of the emperor before he embraced Buddhism after the Kalinga war. It showed the love affair of the emperor with the princess Kaurwaki. There were a lot of diversion from history like the characters in the movie conversed in modern Hindi instead of the ancient Prakrit dialects and names were changed in accordance to the language.

“And yet, as far as historical accuracy is concerned, there’s a surprising result: though the whole Pawan/Kaurwaki episode is fantasy, the film mostly avoids messing around with the known facts,” wrote historian Alex von Tunzelmann. It was also shown at the Toronto International Film Festival and Venice Film Festival to positive reviews.

Jodha Akbar (2008)

Set during the reign of the great Mughal ruler Akbar, the film was a great hit

Set during the reign of the great Mughal ruler Akbar, the film was a great hit

Even before Padmaavat, it was Ashutosh Gowarikar’s period gala Jodha Akbar which faced controversy and protests. Set during the reign of the great Mughal ruler Akbar, played by Hrithik Roshan, explored his political dynamics and his inclusivity and tolerance towards faith along with the love story of the emperor and his Rajput wife, princess Jodha Bai.

The film won two national awards for best costume and best choreography. It also won the Audience Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the São Paulo International Film Festival and two awards at the Golden Minbar International Film Festival.

Bajirao Mastani (2015)

Another movie set in the 18th century, this Sanjay Leela Bhansali film was the story of Maratha Peshwa Bajirao, played by Ranveer Singh and his relationship with Mastani (played by Deepika Padukone), his second wife. Conceived in the 1990s, Bhansali had announced the movie in 2003 but the production was delayed due to the changing cast and came to fruition only in 2015.

Extensively researched, the film was noted for its scale of grandeur and attention to detail regarding set and costumes. With twenty-two sets created in the Film City, it is one of the most expensive Hindi movies till date and won seven national awards.

Mohenjo Daro (2016)


The film explored the Indus Valley Civilisation and its city Mohenjo-daro

Set in 2016 BC in the Indus Valley Civilisation and its city Mohenjo-daro, this fictional tale failed to make impact on box-office. While Gowarikar admitted to taking artistic liberties with the characters, he said that he had been true to the architecture and culture of the time as he worked closely with archaeologists to ensure authenticity in representation.

The film had been selected as the Closing Film of the 69th Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland and was screened at the Piazza Grande on August 13, 2016 before the award ceremony.

Padmaavat (2018)

The movie surrounded by violent protests and numerous controversies was based on a 13th century Urdu epic poem, Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Padmavat, about a Rajput queen Rani Padmavati who performed jauhar (mass suicide) to escape from surrendering to the enemies.

Though successful at the box-office, the movie received mixed critical review. It was applauded for its regal costumes, great cinematography and soundtrack, but few critics were not satisfied with the portrayal of Allauddin Khilji, the Muslim king while a few were miffed by the regressive patriarchal ideas in the movie.

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (2019)

This is the most recent adaptation of the tale of Jhansi ki Rani

This is the most recent adaptation of the tale of Jhansi ki Rani

While there have been lots of adaptations of the story of Rani Lakshmibai, the queen of Jhansi, Kangana Ranaut’s co-directorial is the latest addition to the list. With Ranaut in the lead role, the movie captures the journey of Rani Lakshmibai from Bithoor, where she grew up to becoming the Jhansi ki Rani (queen of Jhansi).

The movie accounts the queen’s war against the East India Company and how she became one of the leader in the 1857 revolution.

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