Early Indian filmmakers turned to the rich trove of Indian mythology for subjects - audiences would be familiar with them, and it was an opportunity to awe them with the visual magnificence of costumes and palaces. This is a formula that still works although the expensive detailing has extended to Independence sagas and later period settings as well.
MAYABAZAR (1957) - Tamil/Telugu – A mythological story presumably excerpted from the Mahabharata, the film narrates the role of Bhima's son, the immense Ghatotkacha in uniting estranged lovers, Arjuna's son Abhimanyu and Krishna's niece, Sasirekha.
MUGHAL-E-AZAM (1960) - Hindi – When Mughal prince Salim (who was later named Jahangir) falls in love with Anarkali, a dancer at the royal court, this creates a rift between him and his father, Emperor Akbar, leading up to war between father and son.
NAYAGAN (1987) - Tamil – Based on the life of Varadharaja Mudaliar and cast in the mould of Godfather, Nayagan tells the story of Velu, an immigrant from Tamil Nadu. A chance incident thrusts him into a life of crime and he eventually becomes a godfather to the beleagured masses.
BANDIT QUEEN (1994) – Hindi - Based on the life of Phoolan Devi, this movie traces her life from the child bride to an abusive man to the young woman at the receiving end of caste-based atrocities to the dreaded dacoit who finally exacts her revenge and then surrenders.
IRUVAR (1997) - Tamil – The film, loosely based on politics in Tamil Nadu, narrates the story of the fond friendship between actor Anandan and poet/writer Tamilselvan, who enter the world of politics and at one point, are even on opposite sides.
THE LEGEND OF BHAGAT SINGH (2002) - Hindi -This is a biopic about the young revolutionary, Bhagat Singh, who,despite being inspired by Gandhi, had a diametrically opposite approach to freedom struggle, that of armed strife.
GURU (2007) - Based on the life of Dhirubhai Ambani, Guru traces the journey of ambitious Gurukant from weaving dreams of immense success in a small village in Gujarat to becoming an industrial tycoon in Mumbai.
HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY (2009) - Marathi - This curiously titled film narrates the true story of how the doyen of Indian cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke set about making India's first motion picture in the midst of failed experiments, umpteen trials and a unique challenge regarding women characters.
BALGANDHARVA (2011) - Marathi – A biopic that traces the life of Marathi stage actor and singer, Balgandharva (1888-1967), renowned for his convincing portrayal of women characters in an era when women did not act in theatre.
PAAN SINGH TOMAR (2010/2012) – Hindi - This is the story of a runner-turned-rebel – Paan Singh - who was an ex-Army man and champion athlete, but, following a land feud in his village, turned into a dreaded bandit.
An edited version of the article was published in Culturama's May 2013 Issue.