Of late there has been a glut of action movies that pack in meaningless sequences that stretch up to a quarter of an hour. There’s no reason or beauty to the scenes—for a good action sequence, despite the gratuitous violence and lack of finer feeling, can still be a thing of beauty. In the streaming show Farzi, for instance, there’s a beautiful chase through the streets of Mumbai, including jokes about the traffic, which ends with the counterfeiters releasing fake notes into the streets to get away.
Boys’ clubs often like nothing better than to dissect the scenes of some egregious film like Die Hard (yes, I can already see the trolls lining up) but rarely do we take Indian action films seriously. Over the last few years, however, Indian cinema started turning up the thrills with films that are inventive, creative and fun. So, Lounge’s film editor, Uday Bhatia, and writer Aditya Mani Jha decided to put together a list of the 50 greatest Indian action films. Of course our list isn’t exhaustive, of course it’s subjective, but it’s one compiled by critics with a deep understanding of the craft of film-making and the fact that a great action sequence is about more than just blowing things up and drawing blood.
Most of the films on our list have men in leading roles and are largely limited to southern and Hindi cinema. Action roles aren’t really written with the idea of putting women front and centre, though India had one of the world’s earliest women action heroes—Fearless Nadia, the whip-cracking, gun-toting action star who was considered Bollywood’s original stunt queen.
There’s a clip of a 1989 interview on YouTube of Nadia talking about working with lions in 1930. “I never knew when those lions would think ‘here is a lovely dinner’”, she says. “These were the kind of stunts and I used to do it all… no duplicates.” Very few women in Hollywood, Bollywood or elsewhere in the world perform such stunts even today but maybe this is set to change with Indian cinema’s openness to writing more diverse roles for actors of all genders and ages.
Until then, work your way through our definitive list of the 50 best Indian action films of all time. This issue is a keeper.
Write to the Lounge editor at firstname.lastname@example.org