10 Epic Indian Historical Films to Watch

Normally I do “10 films to watch once you finish the standard list”. But there are so few historical films from India, that I don’t think I could come up with 10 to recommend without dipping into the standard list. Plus, everyone should watch Mughal-E-Azam, and that essentially IS the standard list.

Okay, first I am going to define this genre. Nothing with modern Indian history (so, nothing 20th century and beyond), nothing with simple character stories (no biopics), only things that have big battle scenes and big fights and drama in period costumes. With those restrictions, I can come up with 10 movies that I can recommend for one reason or another. Well, as of now, we are about to be buried in a whole bunch more of them over the next few years.

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The greatest epic of India, elephants and romance and amazing actors, it’s all about the spectacle and the message. An interesting message for a film billed as a great romance, it is actually about how there is a greater importance to giving up romance and personal happiness for the greater good and that is what makes a “real” hero.

Jodha-Akbar

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The companion piece to Mughal-E-Azam, the same performances and elephants and romance and spectacle. This time, the message is a slight twist, “true” love makes you more aware of the greater good, makes you an all-around better and less-selfish person.

Veer

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Oh Salman! Such a silly movie, and yet I enjoy it. Set in the 1800s, dealing with the era of England confirming it’s alliances and power within India. Salman is part of a band of secret rebels, goes to England to learn more about the enemy, falls in love with a princess, and so on and so on. Lots of bad period costumes and horse-riding, very enjoyable.

Razia Sultan

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I have to confess that I haven’t actually seen this film yet, but I know it deserves space on this list. Hema Malini plays the only female Sultan of Delhi, she carries a sword and wears army and has an affair with her hunky Abyssinian slave Dharmendra.

Asoka

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I knew there would be a riot if I left this one off, even though I don’t particularly like it myself. I don’t dislike it, it just isn’t as good as it could be. Shahrukh is a great anti-hero, the war scenes and sword fights are decent, the costumes aren’t bad, and the overall plot is good, a classic Indian history story. It’s just, there’s also Johnny Lever comedy scenes? And the ending is kind of open? And I really really hate Shahrukh’s wig.

Urumi

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Let’s go south! This is a movie that has everyone all together all at once, Vidya Balan to Prabhudeva. And the biggest flaw with it might be that it just has too many ideas. It starts in present day, then we get a flashback, then a flash forward, then we start traveling all over Kerala and deal with a whole variety of communities and conflicts, before it all comes together at the end. But it’s definitely worth watching for the amazing Genelia D’Souza swordwoman moments, and for the way it deals with the very first colonial moment, the arrival of the Portuguese in Kerala.

Kayamkulam Kochunni

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Such a fun movie! A bandit fighting for the people, horses and folk uprisings and daring feats of daring-do. Lots of swinging around and going “Ha-ha-HA!!!!” Plus a discussion of how the caste system, the class system, and religious prejudice helped encourage the rise of the British. Oh, and Nivin Pauly is cute and Mohanlal is very cool in his cameo appearance.

Rudhramadevi

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I really love this movie, while being fully aware of its flaws. The story of a female ruler who was raised as a boy in order to protect the line of inheritance. She grew up, she ruled, she defended, she was awesome. And she befriended her “wife” and had her own romance with a loyal soldier. Plus, Anushka Shetty plays the queen with Rana Duggabatti as her lover. The only problem is, the CGI is terrible, like hilariously bad.

Sikander

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Old school! Possibly the first Indian historical epic. Prithviraj Kapoor plays Alexander the Great, arriving in South Asia with a great army, only to be turned away when his men are convinced to mutiny and insist on returning home (came out during WWII, bit of message their for the Indian troops). Worth watching for many reasons, not least of which is admiring Prithviraj’s legs in his period appropriate little soldier skirt.

Veeram

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Another one I haven’t seen! Kunal Kapoor plays a famous legendary warrior from the 16th century, “the betrayer”. Lots of swords and costumes and fights and women. At least, based on the trailer.

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23 thoughts on “10 Epic Indian Historical Films to Watch

  1. I read the headline as 101 and I am now wondering, where are the other 91 !?

    Ashoka is a very good pick. Can’t do much about SRK’s wig …

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  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ve seen a few of the films already but haven’t even heard of most of them. Loved Asoka a lot. Read that SRK hated making it, hence no more horses and swords for him. Too bad since he seems to like challenges. After Bahubaali 1 and 2, my favorite remains Mirzya even tho it’s just a semi-historical. This morning, I brought in a bunch of wood, started soup, and plan to snuggle up with my dog and spend the next few days in ancient India!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Enjoy! Most of these should be readily available, either on Netflix or Prime. The quality varies, but they all have something fun to recommend them somewhere.

      On Sun, Jan 20, 2019 at 7:04 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I watched Veer and remembered what a sterling actor Salman can be. Didn’t like the heroine much. She was stiff as a board, overly dressed (tightly corseted?) and made up like a hoochy mama. Then I moved on to Urumi. You were right about it being hard to follow. Plus the subtitles were laughably misleading. Genelia was wonderful and for me, effortless Prabuhdeva stole the show. He dances even when he’s not dancing. I kept staring at the lead actor’s powerful, brooding face and wondered why it was so familiar. All of a sudden, I recalled falling in love with Prithviraj Sukumaran when he played Rani’s lust interest in Aiyyaa. For some reason, I’d lost track of him; maybe the long name. Anyway, I’m still doing historicals but mixing them up with a Prithviraj binge. Lovely winter days!

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        • Did you recognize the heroine? Or feel like you should? Supposedly, she was Katrina’s stunt double when Salman cast her. I don’t know if that is true, but it is certainly true that she looks very very similar to Kat, only thicker. And yes, agreed, they did not style her the best. Although her body is perfect for that style of clothing, if only it had fit a little better, she could have been wonderful with the straight bodice and petticoats and all.

          Yes Prithviraj in Urumi! Let me recommend my own favorite movie of his, City of God. And he has two other period films (if you want to stick with that), Ennu Ninte Moideen and Celluloid. Both kind of downers, but beautiful and Prithviraj is wonderful in them. His most recent film, Koode, is my pick for this Wednesday. So if you watch it tomorrow, you can talk about it with all of us! It’s available at this link: https://einthusan.tv/movie/watch/3gld/?lang=malayalam

          On Tue, Jan 22, 2019 at 5:08 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I would put Bajirao Mastani on the list, too, especially since I think it’s influenced a lot of the upcoming films. Karan Johar will be up against comparisons to his work when Takht comes out. Mohenjo Daro should also probably be on the list though it’s awful. I really want to see Veeram someday. Asoka was not one of my favorites either and the rest, except for Mughal-E-Azam, Jodhaa Akbhar, and Urumi, don’t interest me or I haven’t seen. I’ve always been surprised that there are so few historical epics in Indian cinema. It does make sense that there are more 19th century and early 20th century period films though. I can’t wait to see Panipat, Takht, Kesari, and all of the movies that come out of this historical epic trend.

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    • Yes, except I hate Bajirao Mastani!!!! And I get to write the list, so I am tyrannically not including it. And I decided not to include Mohenjo Daro because, as you said, it is awful. That’s also the beauty of the artificial limit of only 10 films, I can exclude whatever I want and I just say “oh dear, I ran out of slots”. Except I guess I blew that by telling you the truth. So, forget all I just said, I have no strong feelings about Bajirao or Mohenjo, I am completely objective and perfect in all ways, I just ran out of slots.

      On Sun, Jan 20, 2019 at 2:25 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Same director as Asoka, and similar flaws, like the battle scenes don’t quite feel epic enough, and there is a little bit of needless comedy from Prabhudeva. But it has an amazing cast (I forgot to mention Tabu is in there too for a second), and it’s a different kind of a story.

      On Sun, Jan 20, 2019 at 9:41 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Have you watched Gautamiputra Satakarni directed by Krish of Manikarnika? – Again execution is not that good, but story about a great ruler.

    How about Mangal Pandey?

    There were quite a few Telugu classics based on historical people during the Tollywood golden period of 1950s and 60s – Tenali Ramakrishna (NTR as Krishnadevaraya – 15th century Vijyanagara Empire of Hampi and ANR as the poet Ramakrishna), Mahamantri Timmarasu (again NTR as Krishnadevaraya), Palnati Yuddham, Bobbili Yuddham, Chanakya Chandragupta, etc.

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  5. I’m surprised Pazhassi Raja and Kalapani did not make it on this list ! I think they are two of my favorite Indian historical films. If you haven’t seen them, I hope you check it out. Also, maybe this is because I speak Malayalam, but I found the plot of Urumi relatively easy to follow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I debated Pazhassi Raja, but decided Urumi was more fun. And I have to admit, I still haven’t seen Kalapani yet. I know it is supposed to be really wonderful, but the story just looks so sad!

      On Mon, May 6, 2019 at 6:10 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Kaalapani could be watched for anyone and all of Mohanlal, Tabu, Priyadarsan (director), Ilaiyaraja (music), Santosh Sivan (photography), Sabu Cyril (Art props), Amrish Puri

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      • Urumi was more fun haha, but Kalapani is a must watch imo ! Tabu’s performance was heartbreaking & Mohanlal was great as ever.

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