Documentaries being made by Indian filmmakers are finally getting the attention they deserve, be it through OTT platforms or through recognitions at festivals. As independence week begins, we bring you documentaries to watch on Indian history.
Pradhanmantri is an Indian television political documentary that was hosted by actor-director Shekhar Kapur on a Hindi news channel. It first premiered in 2013 with an aim to bring to audiences the unknown facts of Indian history. Actor and filmmaker Shekhar Kapur hosted the TV series. The series attempted to showcase the changes that happened in the country with 13 prime ministers taking charge over the past 65 years. The series was initially conceptualised for 23 episodes but extended to 26 episodes, and the last episode aired in January 2014. The show was also re-telecast in regional languages later. Its second season was aired on ABP News in 2020 in January, again hosted by Shekhar Kapur.
The Indian television historical documentary series was telecast on ABP News and was hosted by actor-director Anupam Kher in 2016. The show presented the journey from ancient India to 19th century India and also brought the thoughts and ideologies of imminent personalities in the 5000-year-old history of India. The show was well received and its episodes on Buddha and Chanakya were also telecast in schools for students.
Great Indian Railway Journeys
The British television documentary series by BBC Two was presented by Michael Portillo. He travelled on the railway networks of India and visited various destinations, guided by Bradshaw’s Handbook of Indian, Foreign and Colonial Travel that was published in 1913. The travel documentary was telecast in 2018. In the series, he travelled to Jodhpur, Delhi, Chennai, Mysore, Shimla, Amritsar, Lucknow, Kolkata, the Himalayas, and many more places in India. The show was well received with the Indian audiences. A similar documentary was telecast in the year 1995 titled The Great Indian Railway by National Geographic.
Inshallah, Football is a 2010 documentary by Ashvin Kumar that talks about an aspiring footballer who was denied the right to travel abroad as his father was a former militant. The film was first banned by the censor board but later released. It had its first screening at the India Habitat Center in Delhi. The film was shot by Kumar using five different camera formats.
Children of the Pyre
The 2008 documentary film was directed and produced by Rajesh S Jala. It documents the stories of seven children from Varanasi who cremate dead bodies and steal cremation shrouds at Manikarnika Ghat, on the banks of the Ganges. The director shot over 100 hours of footage of the crematorium and its surrounding sites and did candid interviews with the children that have been portrayed in the film. The filmmaker later launched a project in the year 2009 to improve the living conditions of 300 children who worked at the crematorium. The documentary received the Best Documentary award in 2008 at the Montreal World Film Festival, 2008, Sao Paulo International Film Festival, 2008, among other wins.
Bharat Ek Khoj
The historical drama Bharat Ek Khoj is a 53-episode series which was based on the book The Discovery of India (1946) by Jawaharlal Nehru. It covers the 5,000-year history of India from its beginning period to its independence in 1947 from the British. Shyam Benegal wrote, produced and directed the drama in 1988 for Doordarshan channel. The script was written by Shama Zaidi. The documentary starred Om Puri, Roshan Seth, Tom Alter and Sadashiv Amrapurkar. Roshan Seth portrayed the role of Jawaharlal Nehru. Later, he was also picked to portray the same role in the Oscar-winning film Gandhi.
Samvidhaan: The Making of the Constitution of India
The ten-part television mini-series is based on the making of the Constitution of India, was directed by Shyam Benegal, known as the ‘pioneer of parallel cinema’ and one of the greatest filmmakers post the 1970s. It premiered in 2014 on Rajya Sabha TV and is also available to watch on YouTube. The series has been written by Shama Zaidi and Atul Tiwari. The show was hosted and narrated by actor Swara Bhaskar and the material for the show came from debates, committee meetings and biographies of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi and it was largely shot at Film City in Mumbai.
The Story of India
The BBC documentary series on the history of India was written and presented by historian Michael Wood. It was initially telecast on BBC Two in six episodes in 2007 to mark 60 years of independence of India. Wood travelled to the places where historical events took place to talk about them and examine archaeological and historical evidence. He also interviewed historians and archaeologists, as well as the locals.