Hindi Film 101: Top Box Office Films 1956-1970, Raj to Rajesh

I don’t care if no one else is interested in this, I AM!!!!  Plus, it’s good for you few people who want a sense of where the industry came from and where it’s going.  And it is basically the complete opposite of JHMS coverage, so that’s a nice little refreshing breather for us all. (1940-1955 in the last post)

I’m gonna give you a little flavor of what each film is, but the big thing to focus on is the box office take of it.  And then at the end of the list, I’ll try to kind of sum up what the whole thing means, both creatively and commercially.

1956: Jagte Raho (Raj Kapoor) This was the highest grossing film of 1956?  I am FASCINATED!!!!  I knew about it as a lessor Raj Kapoor film, and one of his last with Nargis (she just appeared for a cameo at the end), but I had no idea it was a box office hit.  Really, the Raj Kapoor magic was something special.  His name is going to keep showing up here all the way through the 80s. 4.44 crore (equivalent to 477 crore today)

1957: Mother India (Mehboob Khan) Well, doy!  Of course this was the highest grossing film of 1957! It was also, at the time, the highest grossing film ever.  Even adjusted for inflation. Twice as much money as the highest grosser of the year before. 8 crore (equivalent to 961 crore)

1958: Madhumati (Bimal Roy) Huh.  A Bimal Roy film!  I didn’t realize he was ever that commercial.  Although this is probably his most commercial picture, one of the first great reincarnation romances.  Oh, and with Dilip Kumar and Vyjantimala.  4 crore (equivalent to 470 crore)

1959: Char Dil Char Rahen (KA Abbas) Well, this is interesting!  Raj and Shammi, plus Meena Kumari, and KA Abbas directing, and yet I have no memory of ever hearing about this film.  Besides a vague reference to Raj trying to help out his struggling brother.  Just goes to show that sometimes films don’t last.  Something about them doesn’t stay in the audience’s mind.  Oh, and 5.27 crore (equivalent to 591 crore) So it made considerably more money than Madhumati, and yet Madhumati is the one I have read about and which has been made and remade and remade.

1960: Mughal-E-Azam (Mehboob Khan)  I feel I should have a trumpet “dun-da-da-DAH” to set this off or something.  Anyway, Mughal-E-Azam!  Incredibly ambitious movie that took forever to make, and then paid off big time. 11 crore (equivalent to 1,256 crore) Or, put it another way, more money than any film until Bahubali 2 this year (I’m not counting Dangal because I don’t believe those numbers).  Other movies came close, broke the 1,000 crore limit (adjusted for inflation), but nothing quite topped 1,256 until just this year.

1961: Gunga Jumna (Dilip Kumar) Do not underestimate the power of the Dilip!!!!  He wrote it, he starred in it, his real life brother co-starred with him.  Dilip Dilip Dilip.  And money money money!  Came close to toppling Mughal-E-Azam‘s record on half the budget.  Great story too, one of the first Deewar-type films, and one of the first “dacoit” films, one brother becomes a bandit and the other a cop.  Oh, and Vyjantimala was there too.  11.27 crore (equivalent to 1,250 crore)

1962: Bees Saal Baad (Hemant Kumar) Well what is this doing here!  No stars, no epic story, a psychological thriller just like in the old days, a throwback to the 1940s.  I guess people were feeling nostalgic and burned out on big films.  Well, a little nostalgic, the box office was a big big drop from the previous two years. 3 crore (equivalent to 179 crore)

1963: Mere Mehboob (Harnam Singh Rawail) Another throwback!  A Muslim social-sort of.  But with a light touch, a romance more than a tragedy.  And Rajendra Kumar, Sadhana, Ashok Kumar, Johnny Walker.  A real mix of the old and the new in terms of actors.  Did better than last year’s film, but still not super great. 6 crore (equivalent to 348 crore)

1964: Sangam (Raj Kapoor) RK Studios rises again!  Not nearly as big as his biggest hits, only about have as profitable, but still better than the box office had seen in years.  Well, if you look at the adjusted amount.  The actual amount was about twice as high as Awara.  The adjusted amount is half.  This is why you have to understand inflation when you compare historical numbers!!!!  The reality can be the opposite of the surface.  8 crore (equivalent to 410 crore)

1965: Waqt (Yash Chopra) The first true Yash Chopra film!  He had worked on films before, but this is the whole Yashji experience.  Stars, songs, fashion, love story, happy ending.  Lovely lovely lovely.  Money money money.  It looks like nothing now, we are so used to Yashji, but remember this was his first major film ever, and BAM.  Lots of money!  Great start.  6 crore (equivalent to 280 crore)

1966: Phool Aur Patthar (O.P Ralhan) DHARMENDRA!!!!!!!!  WITHOUT A SHIRT!!!!!  That’s all the Indian audience wants, really.  Shirtless men.  17.17 crore (equivalent to 847 crore)

1967: Hamraaz (B.R. Chopra) A little family drama here, the little brother has a hit, and the big brother comes right along with his own hit.  Although really it is a combo of the two brothers.  BR’s sensitive human drama type stuff, combined with plenty of stars (Sunil Dutt, Mumtaaz, Helen, etc. etc.)  Anyway, way way more money still than anything we see today! 13.33 crore (equivalent to 759 crore)

1968: Ankhen (Ramanand Sagar) WOOT!  Dharmendra!  No data on whether or not he wears a shirt in this film.  It’s a spy thriller, a bit of a new genre, but a nice combination of the international glamour of Sangam, and the old-fashioned thriller style.  6.5 crore (equivalent to 235 crore)

1969: Aradhana (Shakti Samanta) One shirtless star falls, another rises.  This is the arrival Rajesh Khanna, THE star.  It wasn’t supposed to be a big movie, a nice woman centered love story with the cute guy who won the FilmFare contest and Sharmila, and then somehow something magic happened and BAM.  India’s first SuperStar is born.  17.85 crore (equivalent to 805 crore) (the Dharmendra lover in me feels the need to point out, this is less than Phool Aur Patthar once you adjust for inflation) (the Rajesh Khanna lover in me feels the need to argue back that Dharmendra did not follow up Phool Aur Patthar with a solid run of similar hits)

1970: Johnny Mere Naam (Vijay Anand) Is this our first Dev Anand entry?  I think it is!  Possibly ever, definitely in this last batch of 15 years.  This is the tail end of his career, and FINALLY he is making his mark.  He was always the youngest and most modern feeling of the 50s stars, no wonder he lasted longer than the rest of them.  Oh, also, Hema Malini!  Her first (but not last) time on this list.  I do have to point out, even though this was the biggest hit of this particular year, this must have been a really bad year if this is the best it did.  Especially considering how well the previous year’s top film did, and how well next years will (SPOILERS: Haathi Mere Saathi8 crore (equivalent to 276 crore)


So, what can we learn from this batch of data?  Well, first, inflation was out of control in the 1960s!  My goodness.  8 crore had half as much value as 4 crore just 15 years earlier.  So that means it, what, quartered in value?  Is that a word?

Second, box office, while important, does not necessarily mean a film will last in the same way.  Mughal-E-Azam and Ganga Jumna are almost tied in profit, so close.  And sure, Ganga Jumna is an important film and we all kind of know about it.  But Mughal-E-Azam is, well, MUGHAL-E-AZAM.  The epicness of it, the ambition, the uniqueness, that’s why it lingers, not just the box office.


Third, this is how stars transition.  Raj and Dev and Dilip are riding high up to 1961.  And then you’ve got the young people coming in, first just minor record breakers like Mere Mehboob.  But once Dharmendra bursts forth on us all and seduces the box office into submission, and then Rajesh Khanna comes along right after, there is no hope.  Dev can get a hit in a bad year, 1970, but never again.  And Raj is back to directing and Dilip is moving to character roles.  You look for that one hit that breaks the pattern, and then see how the pattern never really reforms around it.  This is why Bajirao was SUCH a big deal, because it could be that hit that breaks it.  Not necessarily that Ranveer is now in, just that the Khans are now on the way out.


And fourth, once again, always, notice the odd spikes and then backtracking.  It’s not a straight linear progression, getting bigger and better every year.  Some years are good, some are bad, and then it is good again.  We don’t need to try to find some grand pattern based on numbers alone, that’s not how the world works.  The numbers mean something else (like, “Rajesh Khanna is breathtaking when he lets his shirt hang loose”), not just “and then profits will always and forever continue to grow”.


9 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: Top Box Office Films 1956-1970, Raj to Rajesh

  1. Well, I for one am enjoying this series, because I am up for anything that helps me figure out where to go next in my exploration of Indian film. And like the box office figures, I tend to resist linear progressions. (The exception being my current chronological journey through SRK’s major works, but that’s because I needed to go in order to get some sense of trends.) Now I just need to track some of these down. The thrill of the hunt!


    • I hate to stop you from enjoying the hunt, but check out Indiancine.ma It has most of the classic films, a little confusing to navigate, but very worthwhile. And of course Mughal-E-Azam is on Netflix!

      On Thu, Aug 31, 2017 at 4:29 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

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