"the grandeur and vintage character of Mughal-e-Azam cannot be repeated"
The vintage charm never fades away. Same is the case with evergreen black and white Bollywood films, which people never forget.
The black and white era was very special for first and second-generation desi communities across the globe.
Besides visiting the theatres, it was common for fans of Indian cinema to watch their favourite black and white Bollywood films on video, particularly from the eighties onwards.
These black and white films reflect all genres, addressing many key social issues. Hence, black and white films can also be appealing to a younger audience and students of film.
Black and white films from Bollywood feature some of the biggest stars to grace the big screen. They include Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Meena Kumari, Vyjayanthimala, Kishore Kumar and Waheeda Rehman.
Selecting the pearls from the vast ocean, here is a list of 20 black and white Bollywood movies that will surely take you back to the impressive golden era.
Director: Kamal Amrohi
Stars: Ashok Kumar, Madhubala
Mahal makes it to this list for having an excellent plot. The film is a supernatural suspense thriller that deals with reincarnation.
The story is about a man who once upon a time built a mahal (palace) for his lover. His lover used to stay there and he would always come at midnight to meet her. He always left the palace at dawn.
One day he dies in a mishap and cannot come to meet her. A few days later his lover also passes away.
Then after several years, new owner, Hari Shankar (Ashok Kumar) comes to live in the palace. This is when the actual suspense emerges. Actress Madhubala plays the dual roles of Kamini and Asha.
A user on IMDb reviewing the film writes:
“This is classic in real sense of the word. A tight suspense from beginning to end. Mahal is one of the greatest films ever made in Bombay filmdom.”
Lata Mangeshkar sings the famous track ‘Aayega Aanewala’ in the film.
Director: Raj Kapoor
Stars: Prithviraj Kapoor, Nargis, Raj Kapoor, KN Singh
Awara is a blockbuster black and white film from the early fifties, breaking many records within India and abroad.
The film is based on the interlocking lives of the innocent Raj Raghunath (Raj Kapoor) and wealthy Rita (Nargis). But Raj himself also turns to the crime world under the influence of Jagga (KN Singh).
His real father Prithviraj Kapoor plays the strong role of Judge Raghunath who also happens to be the dad of Raj in the film.
In 2005, ranking the film amongst the “Top 25 Must-See Bollywood Films”, Indiatimes writes:
“Whenever Raj Kapoor and Nargis came together on screen, sparks flew.”
“Their chemistry was electrifying and it crackles with raw passion in Raj Kapoor’s Awaara.
“Nargis’s wild and carefree sensuality pulsates and Raj Kapoor’s scruffy hair-rebellious persona only adds fuel to the fire.”
The movie is a must-watch for everyone, especially with the different characters portraying emotions that are deep as an ocean.
Director: Master Bhagwan
Stars: Geeta Bali, Master Bhagwan, Bimla
Albela is a classic film, which falls under the musical-comedy genre.
The story revolves around Pyarelal (Master Bhagwan), a poor man who has to leave his house because he is unable to generate money for the marriage of sister Vimla (Bimla).
When leaving home, he vows to return as a rich man. He falls in love with actress Asha (Geeta Bali) and also becomes a successful actor himself.
However, when Pyarelal returns he realises that some family members have done a disappearing act, with others having issues and his mum no longer alive.
He also comes to know that presents and money that he had sent home over the years were also missing. In respect to the Indian box office, Albela became the third-highest-grossing movie of 1951.
With C. Ramchandra doing the music, the film has the famous song ‘Shola Jo Bhadke.’
Do Bigha Zamin (1953)
Director: Bimal Roy
Stars: Balraj Sahni, Murad, Nirupa Roy, Rattan Kumar
The Bengali poem, ‘Dui Bigha Jomi’ by Rabindranath Tagore is the foundation for the film Do Bigha Zamin.
This film portrays the struggle and extortion of poor farmer, Shambu Maheto (Balraj Sahni) at the hands of the merciless landlord, Thakur Harnam Singh (Murad)
The farmer and his family almost end up giving up their lives to save their two acres of land, which is their only means to earn money.
However, in the end, the landlord has his way and takes the land from the farmer.
Parvati ‘Paro’ (Nirupa Roy) plays the wife of Shambu, with Kanhaiya Maheto (Rattan Kumar) portraying his son in the film.
The film won ‘Best Film’ at the 1st Filmfare Awards, along with receiving an ‘International Prize’ during the 7th Cannes Festival in 1954.
Boot Polish (1954)
Director: Prakash Arora
Stars: Kumari Naaz, Rattan Kumar, Chanda Burque, David Abraham
Boot Polish is a social drama about siblings Bhola (Rattan Kumar) and Belu (Kumari Naaz).
After the death of their mother, cruel aunt Kamla Devi (Chanda Burque) forces the brother and sister to become street beggars.
With the help of John Uncle (David Abraham) who is a bootlegger, Bhola and Belu decide to go against their aunt and live a respectful life.
After saving money, both of them begin to polish shoes to earn money and survive.
However, following the arrest of John, and rain affecting their work, starvation looms upon the children.
With the police intending to take away the children from an orphanage, Belu escapes. While boarding a train, she meets a rich family that makes the decision to adopt her.
Despite moments of sadness when separating, the siblings reunite finally, with the wealthy family also adopting Bhola.
With no other nominees under the category of ‘Best Film,’ RK Films were victorious at the 1955 Filmfare Awards.
Baap Re Baap (1955)
Directors: Abdul Rashid Kardar
Stars: Kishore Kumar, Chand Usmani, Smriti Biswas, Jayant
Baap Re Baap is a super-hit comedy-drama directed by AR Kardar. The success of the film boosted the career graph of actor and singer Kishore Kumar.
After seven years, Ashok Sagar (Kishore Kumar) returns to India from abroad. His parents want to find an appropriate match for him.
His parent’s selection is Roopa (Smriti Biswas) who comes from a rich family. Meanwhile, Ashok develops feelings for flower girl Kokila (Chand Usmani) after hearing her singing.
With his father (Jayant) not agreeing to him marry Kokila, Ashok leaves home.
He does eventually come back with bride Kokila, courtesy of some planning and help from his mother.
The dialogues and the music of OP Nayyar sync well with the narrative of the film. Audiences will enjoy the pace of the movie and have a good laugh when watching.
Shree 420 (1955)
Director: Raj Kapoor
Stars: Nargis, Raj Kapoor, Nadira
Written by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Shree 420 was a big hit at the box office. Many people will always recall the song ‘Mera Joota Hai Japani,’ which became an anthem for the youth.
The film tells the story of a village boy, Ranbir Raj (Raj Kapoor) who heads for the city to make a fortune. Raj falls in love with the simple Vidya (Nargis) who comes from a poor background.
Raj meets many cunning people in the city who teach him how to live a life of fraud and cheat as the name suggests Shree 420. Seductress Maya (Nadira) particularly uses and manipulates Raj.
Despite not smoking in real life, Nadira does in the film. The use of a cigarette holder became a fashion statement.
From leading a fraudulent life, Raj finally realises that being honest is more important, much to the delight of Vidya.
The film became very popular in Russia, with it being the most successful foreign movie at the Soviet Box Office.
The whole soundtrack of the film is very good and situational, including tracks such as ‘Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua,’ ‘Ramaiya Vastavaiya’ and ‘Ichak Dana Beechak Dana.’
Jagte Raho (1956)
Director: Amit Mitra
Stars: Raj Kapoor, Pradeep Kumar, Smriti Biswas, Nargis
The storyline of Jagte Raho touches upon the trials of a poor countryman (Raj Kapoor) who travels to Kolkata with a hope of leading a better life.
But the naivety of this peasant gets the better of him as he falls into a web trap of middle-class greed and corruption. This becomes very shattering for him.
In a quest to satisfy his thirst, the peasant witnesses different shades of city life, meeting several people along the way.
Besides, Pradeep Kumar (Pradeep) and Smritis Biswas (Sati), Nargis has a crucial cameo role in the film.
Describing the film as “One heart-breaking and unforgettable night”, Peter Young reviewing the film on IMDb states:
“Jagte Raho is one of the most amazing classics of Indian cinema.
“It is sad, comic, tragic, humorous, authentic, educative and entertaining.”
The film was declared a blockbuster at the Russian box office, attracting 33.6 million viewers.
Director: Guru Dutt
Stars: Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, Mala Sinha
Pyaasa is the story of a poet Vijay ( late Guru Dutt) who struggles to get his poems published. With his poems going to waste, he sells the papers that he has written on.
Despite no one believing in him, Vijay meets the kind prostitute, Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman) who loves his poetry.
The prostitute has the determination to find a publisher for his poems and acclaim the fame that he is looking for.
See how the prostitute goes out of her way to help the unsuccessful poet. With Pyaasa being quite nerve-wracking, it is a must-watch movie.
The late Abrar Alvi is the writer of the film, which had some memorable dialogues, particularly one of Vijay:
“Apne Shauk Ke Liye Pyaar Karti Hai Aur Apne Aaram Ke Liye Pyaar Bechti hai”. [She loves for a hobby and trades it for her comfort.]
Mala Sinha portrays the role of Meena, Vijay’s ex-girlfriend in the movie.
Naya Daur (1957)
Director: BR Chopra
Stars: Dilip Kumar, Vyjayanthimala, Ajit, Jeevan, Chand Usmani
Naya Daur is a popular black and white film, with a sporting story to it. Shankar (Dilip Kumar) earns a livelihood pulling a tonga (horse cart) to transport passengers.
But Kundan (Jeevan), the son of landlord Seth Ji (Nazir Hussain) threatens the business of Shankar and fellow Tong wallahs as he starts a bus ride using the same route.
The tonga wallahs begin to lose customers, which becomes demoralising for them. When protesting to Seth Ji, Kundan challenges Shankar for a race between the tonga and the bus.
In the midst of this race, villagers build a new road. Shankar also has a dilemma as he realises his best friend Krishna (Ajit) and him both love Rajni (Vyjayanthimala).
To complicate matters, Manju (Chand Usmani), the sister of Shankar is deeply in love with Krishna. This whole love triangle causes friction between Krishna and Shankar.
After initially trying to sabotage the quest of Shankar, Krishna comes to his senses. Whereas Shankar wins the race as the underdog, with his sweetheart Rajni very pleased to have her love back.
This film will give viewers a good adrenaline rush.
Director: Bimal Roy
Stars: Dilip Kumar, Vyjayanthimala, Pran, Johnny Walker
Madhumati is an evergreen romantic film, with a paranormal significance.
On a rainy night, the vehicle carrying engineer Devinder (Dilip Kumar) breaks down. He goes to an old mansion nearby seeking shelter.
The servant of the place lets him in, informing that he can live there until the stormy season comes to a halt and his car gets repaired.
It is in this mysterious house that he recalls his previous life as Shyamnagar Timber Estate manager Anand where he had a beautiful relationship with Madhumati (Vyjanthimala). This relationship ends on a tragic note.
Radha, wife of Devinder is also played by Vyjanthimala. Pran as the evil Raja Ugra Narain and the comical Johnny Walker play key supporting roles in the film.
The film had a great soundtrack, with Mukesh singing the famous song, ‘Suhana Safar Aur Yeh Mausam.’
From a box office perspective, Madhumati became the highest-grossing movie of 1958.
The film went on to bag several National and Filmfare Awards under different key categories.
Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)
Directors: Satyen Bose
Stars: Kishore Ashok Kumar, Anoop Kumar, Madhubala, Sahira, KN Singh, Veena
Chalti Ka Naam Ghadi is a black and white comedy film that stars three real-life Kumar brothers.
Siblings Manmohan ‘Manu’, Sharma (Kishore Kumar), Brijmohan Sharma (Ashok Kumar) and Jagmohan ‘Jaggu’ Sharma (Anoop Kumar) manage a garage.
Brjmohan is a former boxer, with Jagmohan being an electrical engineer and Manmohan taking on the role of a mechanic.
Manmohan falls in love with his customer Renu (Madhubala). Renu’s friend Sheila (Sahira) becomes the love interest of Jagmohan.
Brijmohan who normally hates all women also a has secret lover, Kamini (Veena) hiding a photo of her beneath his pillow.
The story dramatically changes when Renu’s father agrees to marry her to the brother of Raja Hardyal Singh (KN Singh).
The father of Renu is unaware that Raja and his brother are crooks who are only marrying her for the inheritance.
In the end, the brothers fight off the crooks and marry their lovers. With Chalti Ka Naam Gadi gaining success at the box office, it became the second highest-grossing film of 1954.
The movie takes viewers on a journey of laughter.
Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)
Director: Guru Dutt
Stars: Waheeda Rehman, Guru Dutt, Veena Sapru
Teaming up with writer Abrar Alvi, Kaagaz Ke Phool is an epic that depicts the roller coaster life of film director Suresh Sinha (Guru Dutt) through flashbacks.
The in-laws of Suresh initially disapprove of him having a career in the film industry, which hits his marital life to rock bottom.
Similar to him, he meets the lonely Shanti (Waheeda Rehman) on a rainy night and the two fall in love. Together the duo hit stardom as a successful director-actress, Jodi.
However, fate has more misery for him. With both, his wife Veena (Veena Sapru) and Shanti leaving him, Suresh finally scums to death sitting on a chair in his own film studio.
The film sums up the real-life story of Guru Dutt, which was also tragic. It may be a mere coincidence that he had such an oldish look for this film.
The film has the famous song, ‘Waqt Ne Kiya Kya,’ which was unintentionally shot in light and shade.
Love in Simla (1960)
Director: RK Nayyar
Stars: Joy Mukherjee, Sadhana, Azra
Sashadhar Mukherjee, the father of lead actor Joy Mukherjee produced the romantic-musical film, Love in Simla under the banner, Filmalaya Production House.
The story is about Sonia (Sadhana) who becomes an orphan, following the death of her father and step-mother. She then goes onto reside with her uncle and aunty (General and Mrs Rajpal Singh).
Sheela plans to marry her boyfriend Dev Kumar Mehra (Joy Mukherjee).
Sonia’s aunt and cousin Sheela (Azra) frequently taunt and make critical remarks towards her for being very ordinary looking.
Fed up by all this, Sonia decides to give Sheela a challenge.
After the huge success of the film, a sequel was made, going by the name of Love in Tokyo (1966).
Domestically Love in Simla became the fifth highest-grossing film of 1960, as well as coming third across the Russian box office charts.
Director: K. Asif
Stars: Prithviraj Kapoor, Madhubala, Dilip Kumar, Nigar Sultana, Jillo Bhai, Durga Khote
Mughal-e-Azam is amongst the greatest films of Indian cinema. The historic film highlights the love story of Mughal Prince Salim (Dilip Kumar) and court dancer, Anarkali (Madhubala).
Emperor Akbar (Prithviraj Kapoor), father to Salim is very angry when he comes to know about the affair, courtesy of the jealous messenger Bahar (Nigar Sultana).
Akbar hopes that his son does not continue with the relationship. With the two defiant in love, Akbar sentences Salim to death after losing in battle. However, Anarkali hands herself in to save Salim.
With Anarkali faces death by being entombed alive, she requests to see Salim be it under the influence of drugs.
As the sentence to wall up Anarkali alive is taking place, Akbar is told that he owes a favour to her mother (Jillo Bhai).
Despite a change of heart, Akbar is unable to set Anarkali free. Thus he facilitates an escape for Anarkali and his mother, with the condition that she never sees Salim ever again.
Durga Khote plays Maharani Jodha Bhai, the mother of Prince Salim. The blockbuster film took ten years in the making.
The lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni and music from Naushad are a real treat. Stardust reviewer KK Rai writes about the film stating:
“It can be said that the grandeur and vintage character of Mughal-e-Azam cannot be repeated, and it will be remembered as one of the most significant films made in this country.”
The film brings the characters to life and is a must-watch for everyone.
Kala Bazar (1960)
Director: Vijay anand
Stars: Dev Anand, Waheeda Rehman, Nanda, Vijay Anand
Kala Bazar, which means black marketing was a successful black and white film by hit director Vijay Anand.
The film shows show how Raghuvir (Dev Anand), becomes involved in black marketing after losing his job as a bus conductor, following an argument with a passenger.
Coming from a poor background, Raghuvir lives with his sister Sapna (Nanda) and mother who is a widow.
After making money, he settles his family in a large Marine Drive flat.
Raghuvir then falls in love with Alka Sinha (Waheeda Rehman), as he heads for Ooty to be near her. He almost dies trying to win her over.
Raghuvir receives further disappointment when he finds out that Alka is engaged to Nandkumar Chattopadhyay (Vijay Anand).
Realising that he is on the wrong path, Raghuvir quits black marketing. An IMDb user reviewing the film and acting of Dev Anand expresses:
“A very heart warming movie with great acting and absolutely lovely songs. A must see for cinema that portrays the grittiness of life.
“Dev Anand’s acting is restrained and effortless.”
“He displays all the charm that he is rightly famous for and looks quite the dandy in his ascot, coat draped over this shoulder’s and bouffant hair style.”
Director: Hemen Gupta
Stars: Balraj Sahni, Baby Sonu, Baby Farida, Usha Kiran
Kabuliwala takes inspiration from the namesake story by the Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore. The story is about Abdul Rehman Khan (Balraj Sahni) from Afghanistan, a middle-aged dry fruit seller in India.
Khan becomes friends with a small girl named Mini (Baby Sonu) after meeting her whole family on the streets.
Leaving his Afghani family back home, Khan likens Mini to his own daughter, Amina A. Khan (Baby Farida).
Mini’s mother Rama (Usha Kiran) is a little circumspect about her daughter meeting Khan. While her father who is a writer has no issues with Khan spending time with Mini.
Then one-day things turn for the worse as Khan enters into a fight with one of his customers. He ends up stabbing him, with the police booking him for murder charges.
The final scene is touching as a grown-up Mini fails to recognise Khan after being released from prison.
With a hurting Khan perhaps returning to Afghanistan, he feels that his real daughter may also not recall him as is the case with Mini.
This film will bring back beautiful childhood memories.
Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962)
Director: Abrar Alvi
Stars: Meena Kumari, Guru Dutt, Rehman
Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam is an adaption from the Bengali novel, Saheb Bibi Golam (1953) by Bimal Mitra.
Set in colonial Kolkata, the story is about Bhootnath (Guru Dutt), a humble yet educated servant who gets close to Chhoti Bahu (Meena Kumari).
Chhoti Bahu is neglected by her husband Chhote Sarkar (Rehman). The zamindar has more interest in dancing girls and alcohol than his wife.
Meanwhile, Bhootnath suffers an injury as he is caught in the middle of a crossfire between British soldiers and freedom fighters, following a bomb explosion.
Jaba (Waheeda Rehman) looks after Bhoothnath. She is the daughter of Subinay Babu (Nazir Hussain), owner of the factory where Bhoothnath works.
The film has several flashbacks, with some of the main characters tragically meeting death. Unlike the novel, Bhoothnath and Jaba have a happy ending as husband and wife.
The film has several classic dialogues including one where Chhote Sarkar says to Chhoti Bahu:
“Gehne Tudwao, Gehne Banvao. Aur Koriyaan Khelo. So Aaram Se.” (Break old jewellery sets, make new ones. Play with shells. And sleep.)
The story was unique, with the characters and their emotions being bold and ahead of times.
The film was applauded by the critics, winning ‘Best Actress’ and ‘Best Director’ at the 1963 Filmfare Awards.
Director: Bimal Roy
Stars: Ashok Kumar, Nutan, Dharmendra
The film Bandini revolves around the Bengali novel Tamasi by Jarasandha (Charu Chandra Chakrabarti).
Set in the 1930s during the British Raj, the film is a love story between Kalyani (Nutun), a female inmate and Dr. Devendra (Dharmendra), an in-house jail doctor.
Regardless of her past, Devendra wants to marry Kalyani. But he is not aware that the latter is serving life imprisonment for murdering the wife of Bikash Ghosh (Ashok Kumar), a freedom fighter.
Bandini has an out of the box storyline, which reflects on the tragic and emotional journey of a woman.
Besides receiving a National Award in 1963, the film won numerous categories at the 1964 Filmfare Awards.
Raat Aur Din (1967)
Director: Satyen Bose
Stars: Nargis, Pradeep Kumar, Feroz Khan
Raat Aur Din is a psychological women-centric black and white film. The story follows Varuna (Nargis Dutt) who has a Disassociate Identity Disorder (DID), which leads her to live a dual life.
Pratap Verma (Pradeep Kumar) meets Varuna on a blustery night and immediately falls in love with her.
After sending a marriage proposal via his family, the two enter into wedlock. Post-wedding, Pratap realises something is not quite right with Varuna.
In the day time, he notices that she is a homemaker. But as the night creeps, he finds that she visits night clubs, consumes alcohol, along with singing and dancing away.
Varuna is in complete denial when Pratap questions about her odd behaviour. His mother arranges an exorcism believing that she is possessed. But that is too in vain, with Pratap opposing that.
Pratap then comes across Dilip (Feroz Khan) who asserts to be the lover of Varuna, referring her as ‘Peggy.’
The fantastic acting skills of Nargis earnt her a National Film Award for ‘Best Actress’ in 1967.
Complimenting actress Nargis, a user of IMDb posts:
“Raat Aur Din clearly belongs to Nargis who handles her character so simultaneously, effortlessly and beautifully.
“Through this role she proves what versatility is called in terms of acting.”
Several other black and white Bollywood films made their mark on the industry including Anmol Ghadi (1946), Aar Paar (1954), Devdas (1955), Chori Chori (1956) and Howrah Bridge (1958) to name a few.
Despite some of these films being colourised through a digitally mastered process, it is the black and white reels that contine to have the charm.
Watching these gem black and white movies of Bollywood are the perfect way to enjoy your weekend.