(Updated: August 22, 2020) From politics to culture, films to social issues, here are 6 Indian documentaries on Netflix worth your time:
1. Madness in the Desert (2003)
Director: Satyajit Bhatkal
Madness in the Desert captures what went behind the making of Lagaan — the madness, the mayhem, the magic, from the point of view of Satyajit Bhatkal. Bhatkal let go a lucrative career in law to be part of the production design team of Lagaan, at the behest of his childhood friend Aamir Khan.
A turning point for modern Indian cinema, Lagaan challenged stereotypes while setting new benchmarks for films that were to follow. For a film that was rejected by every big actor and producer in the industry, including Aamir Khan initially for a seemingly outlandish concept to Ashutosh Gowariker’s persistent efforts in not just bringing Khan on board but winning wide acclaim globally, the journey of Lagaan is indeed, commendable. And like the film, the documentary is an experience in itself. Don’t miss it.
2. Meet the Patels (2014)
Director: Geeta Patel
Meet the Patels trails the life of soon-to-be 30, Indian-American Ravi Patel torn between the love for his parents and life’s choices. The documentary derives its charm from situational hilarity than contrived gimmickry. Expect no melodrama in here. It’s a rather funny, charming family that has its share of disagreements and misunderstandings yet sticks up for each other. Love is a full blown family affair in India and Meet the Patels is proof!
Full review: Finding Love, The ‘Indian’ Way
3. In Their Shoes (2015)
Director: Atul Sabharwal
The documentary takes us to a time when Agra was home to the largest shoe industry in the country. It captures the rise and fall of an industry that goes back to the Mughal era. From when shoes were made from the wasted leather pouches that carried heeng (asoeftida) from Iran. To the domestic leather industry’s decline post China’s entry in India with leather substitutes and the government’s push to the export industry.
Sabharwal presents how the political situations that arose world over through the 20th century shaped the graph of Agra’s shoe industry. The filmmaker juxtaposes this with a personal angle of why his father who’s been in the same business for years doesn’t want to involve his son in it.
Full review: In Their Shoes (2015): Tracing Lost Footsteps
4. Placebo (2014)
Director: Abhay Kumar
In one of India’s most prestigious colleges, Kumar, through roughly 1000 hours of footage, brings out the disturbing, yet not surprising, reality of student life. It was to understand the cause of his younger brother Sahil’s self-inflicted injury that Abhay had initially set foot on the AIIMS campus. Little did he know that the institution’s innards had another story brewing, waiting to be told.
The documentary shows the dark side of academia in India. The side no one tells us about. The side we refuse to acknowledge or conveniently brush under the carpet for the fear of not keeping up with the world. For the fear of isolation.
Full review: This Undercover Documentary Is A Necessary Watch
5. Inshallah, Football (2014)
Director: Ashvin Kumar
The documentary captures the struggle of 18-year old Kashmiri boy and aspiring footballer Basharat. He’s been selected to play in Brazil but he’s unlikely to make it there. Reason? His father is an ex-militant. And the government of India has denied him a passport.
The narrative juxtaposes the boy’s struggle to achieve his dream with the conflict in the valley. It underlines the aspirations of a new generation. A generation that dreams and hopes of a future that carries no imprints of the past.
Recommended: 12 Films On Kashmir That Are An Essential Watch
6. Fireflies in the Abyss (2015)
Director: Chandrashekhar Reddy
Fireflies in the Abyss takes you into a world home to Nepali immigrants, who earn a livelihood in the unmonitored, unregulated coal mines in Meghalaya. Chandrashekhar Reddy shot the documentary two years before the National Green Tribunal banned ‘rat hole’ coal mining across Meghalaya in 2014. The dangerous rat hole mining involves working in narrow pits under the earth that see no rain or sun. The documentary presents a dark grim world of the industry that not only employed child labor (there’s a scene where the filmmaker questions his subject about the future of our 11-year-old protagonist Suraj. “A for all, B for Ball, C for Coal,” replies Suraj in a sing-song manner), but also posed health and environment hazards. Even after being banned, the illegal practice is believed to continue.
There we are. These are some of the most noteworthy Indian documentaries on Netflix! Watch this space for more interesting recommendations.
By Mansi Dutta
Recommended: 10 Best Documentaries On Netflix India Worth Your Time