Indian cinema has always had a strong leaning towards social dramas not only in the Art cinema space, but also in the mainstream especially in the decades following Indian Independence. Common themes are industrialisation, social reform, corruption, unemployment, the caste system and untouchability.
PARASAKTHI (1952) – Tamil - After a sudden reversal of fortune, and an arduous struggle for survival, Gunasekaran is arrested for attacking a priest who tried to molest his sister. In a court of law, he mocks religion, voices his disillusionment and enumerates the ills that plague society.
DO AANKHEN BARAH HAATH (1957) – Hindi – Jail Warden Adinath believes that he can transform six dangerous criminals into peace-loving citizens, by the metaphoric act of getting them to turn a piece of barren land into a lush farm.
PYAASA (1957) - Hindi/Urdu – Vijay's radical poems about society are deemed unfit to be published. But a prostitute who admires his work tries to get them published. Vijay is mistakenly presumed to be dead and when he arrives to claim credit, nobody steps forward to vouch for his identity.
JALSAGHAR (1958) – Bengali – As the days of the zamindari system draw to a close, Biswambhar hosts one last musical soiree in his crumbling ancestral mansion to outdo his neo-rich neighbour's festivities and relive his glorious days as a patron of music.
SAMSKARA (1970) – Kannada - The Brahmin community of a village ask their head, Praneshacharya to solve the quandary about the funeral rights that befit Naryanappa who was born in a Brahmin household, but had rejected the community.When he breaks his holy vows, Praneshacharya himself undergoes a moral dilemma.
VARUMAIYIN NIRAM SIVAPPU (1980) – Tamil - Idealistic Rangan finds the going tough in getting employment that does not compromise his integrity. His friends, however, have no such qualms. Finally, Rangan decides to not let his qualification come in the way of honest employment.
36 CHOWRINGHEE LANE (1981) – English/Bengali – Violet is an elderly English Teacher in Kolkata whose loneliness is disspelled when a former student and her boyfriend request the use of her house while she is away at school. It is only later, that Violet realises their deception.
CHANDNI BAR (2001) – Hindi – Mumtaz is a bar dancer whose life changes when Potiya, a gangster marries her. When Potiya is gunned down by the police, Mumtaz is at the crossroads, fighting to keep her children away from her former life, but fails.
BLACK (2005) - Hindi - Black is inspired by the story of Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Visual- and speech-impaired Michelle’s life is transformed when she comes under the unconventional tutelage of Debraj Sahai.
CHAK DE! INDIA (2007) - Hindi – Kabir Khan takes on the job of coaching the Indian womens' field hockey team in an environment of discrimination and favouritism. Under his mentorship, the young women learn to set aside personal differences and ultimately win the Gold at the Commonwealth Games proving their detractors wrong.
An edited version of the article was published in Culturama's May 2013 Issue.