March 5, 2024
Six Films From Pre-Independence India to Stream This Republic Day
Celebrate the 75th Republic Day with classic movies shot in India before Independence, which are available to stream on OTT. JioCinema and ShemarooMe have the maximum number of films from that time, Prime Video has one, and Netflix has none. You can also go for an Eros Now subscription, for more titles.

Republic Day movie recommendations are often a compilation of patriotic movies, which we have probably already seen a few times over the years. I was about to do the same when I got into thinking if there was another way of feeling more connected to our roots through the lens of cinema, and bingo! What could be a better way to do this than peeping back in time captured by the classic movies shot in pre-Independence India? These films were impacted by the ongoing struggle for independence and rightly capture the essence of that era.

However, to look for films shot before 1947 available to stream on OTT today isn’t an easy task. While most platforms have “retro” “classics” or “old” genres, you’ll probably wind up with hits from the later parts of Indian cinema – a brilliant array of films starring Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, or Dilip Kumar.

While I was counting on Netflix the most, I couldn’t find a single title from the era in its long list of recommendations (believe me, I tried every cheat code and hack). Even Prime Video had just one – Mehboob Khan’s Humayun.

JioCinema, however, will let you stream plenty of these classics, free of cost (of course, with some annoying advertisements at the beginning of the film) Besides the ones recommended below from JioCinema, you could also go for Shah Jehan (1946), Sikandar (1943), Tansen (1943) and Pukar (1949) available on the streaming platform.

Next in line was Sheemaroo’s own OTT platform SheemarooMe, which is still harbouring films from the bygone days of even 1920s. While you might still have to battle a few ads here and there, if you aren’t a subscriber, for an ardent admirer of retro films this could be their next favourite website!

While YouTube itself doesn’t have many films from the pre-Independent era to rent or buy, some channels like Ultra Movies and Shemaroo have uploaded complete films for cinema lovers including Neel Kamal (1947), Achhut Kanya (1936), and Amar Jyoti (1936).

If you have an Amazon Prime Subscription, you could also go for an add-on for Eros Now – which includes plenty of such titles like the iconic Devdas (1935), Khazanchi (1941), and Anmol Ghadi (1946). While the original Eros site and application are down, the Eros Now channel on Prime’s Video is working just fine.

With that being said, get ready to take a trip back in time this Republic Day with these rare cinematic pieces. Here are our picks for six classic Indian films shot before 1947, available to stream in 2024. Happy binge-watching!

Bhakta Pralhad (1926)

Where: SheemaroMe

By 1926, silent films had already been around in India for around 13 years. At this time, mythological and religious storylines dominated the cinema.

Bhakta Pralhad is yet another classic by the father of Indian Cinema, Dada Saheb Phalke. It tells the mythological legend of demon king Hiranyakashyap and his defiant son Prahalad, who is a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashyap did everything — from burning Prahalad with oil to getting him trampled under elephants — to stop him from worshipping Vishnu, but Prahalad’s faith remained unscathed. Per the legend, the film shows the Lord finally appearing to his rescue and killing his demon father. The film was later remade in most of the Indian languages.

Now, let’s not forget the fact that this was the time when the cinema was still relatively new to colonised India and the viewers were strongly associating the actors with their mythological roles outside of the theatre as well. Interestingly, this is also the time when buses were introduced in India, in the coastal city of Mumbai.

Dharmatma (1935)

Where: ShemarooMe

Dharmatma came to the Indian audience when social injustice and untouchability made the rule of the day. It is a biopic of Sant Eknath – a philosopher, saint, and poet from 16th century Maharashtra. The film particularly focuses on his humanitarian defence of the ‘untouchable’ castes.

Dharmatma provides a rare glimpse into the deeply troubling social fabric of that time. The bilingual film was shot in both Hindi and Marathi and was one of the only four films made on casteism at that time.

The film was originally titled “Mahatma”, but the name didn’t get a clearance from the certification board (probably because the term had become synonymous with Gandhi at the time?). This is also the year when The Government of India Act 1935 was passed by the British Parliament.

Pukar (1939)

Where: JioCinema

Get a taste of the bygone days and lengthy Urdu dialogues in a 4:3 aspect ratio with the black-and-white classic Pukar. One of the earliest Muslim social films of the time, Pukar follows the inner conflict of Mughal Emperor Jehangir – known for his “an eye for an eye” attitude – when a woman accuses his wife Noor Jahan of murdering a commoner by mistake.

It is worth mentioning that after a few months of the release – when people were probably still bringing up the film and its characters in their evening ritualistic tea breaks – British India officially declared war against Nazi Germany, during World War II. (Isn’t it intriguing to think how the timeline for wars and art co-exist?)

Kismet (1943)

Where: JioCinema

Kismet holds a special position in the history of Indian cinema for a lot of reasons. It was the first Indian blockbuster film, which grossed one crore and redefined the position of cinema in India. It is also the first one to show an anti-hero character in prominent dual roles. Packed with a bunch of patriotic songs, the film resonated with the ongoing struggle for Independence as well.

Here Ashok Kumar – an undisputed superstar of that time – steps into the shoes of a pickpocket, who doesn’t have an ounce of shame for his immoral acts. (You probably remember him from his role as Professor Sinha in Mr. India. Or is it just me?). Moral epiphanies, emotional breakthroughs, and strides of romance are in store.

Prithvi Vallabh (1943)

Where: JioCinema

Prithvi Vallabh is an ideal king for Avantipur- kind, just, and courageous; he bows his head before God and no one. Tailap, the ruler of his neighbouring state is just the opposite. Envious of Vallabh, Tailap hatches an evil plan to attack his estate and hold him captive.

Durga Khote of Mughal-E-Azam fame plays Tailap’s equally wicked sister, who plays accomplice in all his conspiracies.

Interestingly, the film was a remake of Manilal Joshi’s silent film of the same name from 1924 – which in turn was an adaptation of a Gujarati novel.

Humayun (1944)

Where: Prime Video

Another hit from Ashok Kumar around that time was this classic – the seventh-highest-grossing film of 1945. The movie brings a slice of history in the form of Mughal emperor Humayun, who was forced to flee to Iran after losing Delhi to his enemies, shortly after he was crowned after Babur’s death. Nargis (Mother India) plays Humayun’s Queen Consort Hamida Bano in the film.

Sadly, this is the only pick from the era which I could find on Prime Video. So, if the cinephile in you awakens and you decide to search for more on the platform, let me save you from the disappointing drill!