The Lucky 13: Biggest Hindi Blockbusters in Independent India

Salman Khan and Bhagyashree in Maine Pyar Kiya Photo: Publicity Photo

In the 75 years of Indian Independence, thousands of Hindi films have been made. The biggest hits are those that have, irrespective of their budgets, enjoyed maximum footfalls in the movie-hall, which until the era of satellite TV and multiplexes was the great equalizer! This is where the advance bookings boomed, and people could not wait to watch a film, if possible, first day, first show!

Films ran from anything between 25 and 100 weeks, some going beyond. Repeat watches were a norm, and emotional identification abounded irrespective of the cast and “current hot names” of every period. In almost all cases, great music also helped tremendously in getting the audiences in and even more so for people watching these blockbusters multiple times.

In the trade circles, the quantum of return on investment (ROI) is a factor in determining the biggest hits, but that factor now has varied complexities because of various new non-theatrical revenues (satellite, music, overseas) and spiraling costs in marketing and publicity. The films below are primarily going by footfalls.

Mother India (1957)

Mother India was the biggest hit of the 1950s and was a remake of Mehboob Khan’s own Aurat (1940). It is the first multi-star film ever made in India and also was filmed in Technicolor. The film narrated a farmer’s travails in Indian villages and focused on his widow as the epitome of the Indian woman. Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt and Raaj Kumar all became major stars after the release of this film that had top star Nargis as the protagonist. Naushad scored the music. It was produced and directed by Mehboob Khan, who reportedly had staked his last penny and property on the film.

Other mega-hits from 1947 to 1959:

1947-1949: Andaz, Mahal, Barsaat 1950s: Awara, Aan, Anari, Anarkali, Azaad, Baiju Bawra, C.I.D. (first Indian film to gross 1 lakh rupees per territory when admission tickets cost less than Rs 2!), Madhumati, Nagin, Naya Daur, Shree 420 & Tumsa Nahin Dekha

Dilip Kumar in the colorized Mughal-E-Azam. Photo: Sterling Investment Corporation,

Mughal-E-Azam (1960)

The K. Asif extravaganza, with some sections in color, was an epic historical featuring Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. It is said that some songs of the film alone were shot with a budget that would have financed many ‘normal’ films! The music by Naushad was also a sellout and the film remains among the biggest money-spinners even within this elite list!

Other mega-hits of the 1960s:

Ganga Jumna, Sangam, Dosti, Upkar, Ram Aur Shyam, Aradhana & Do Raaste

Dharmendra & Amitabh Bachchan in Sholay Photo: Trailer Video Grab

Sholay (1975)

This is, simply, the biggest success story in Hindi cinema ever! It ran for 250 weeks at its main theatre in Mumbai—Minerva—and its current bookings opened only after 75 weeks! The 70 mm format (in many theatres around the country) and long length necessitated a hike in admission rates by 25 percent and the reduction of daily shows from four to three in that pre-multiplex era. The characters—lead and supporting— and dialogues remain iconic to this day. And yes, the soundtrack (dialogues) records sold phenomenally well, dwarfing the music sales. Salim-Javed wrote this saga featuring Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini, Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan (as Jaya Bhaduri) and Amjad Khan. Ramesh Sippy directed this G.P. Sippy production.

Amar Akbar Anthony (1977)

In a plentiful decade at the movies, Amar Akbar Anthony, a family drama with terrific music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal, was the distant second to Sholay. The film established Amitabh Bachchan convincingly as the new Numero Uno, and changed his image in part from an Angry Young Man to a One-Man Entertainer. Manmohan Desai produced and directed this multi-star film also featuring Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh, Vinod Khanna, Parveen Babi and Shabana Azmi. It was the first film to celebrate Silver Jubilee (25 weeks’ run) at a record 9 cinema halls in Mumbai!

Other Mega-hits of the 1970s:

Johny Mera Naam (the first film to gross Rs. 50 lakh per territory when the highest ticket-rates were Rs. 3!), Haathi Mere Saathi (first film to make a crore per territory!), Saccha Jhutha, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Bobby, Roti Kapada Aur Makaan, Deewaar, Jai Santoshi Maa, Dharam-Veer & Muqaddar Ka Sikander.

Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985)

Raj Kapoor’s directorial swan song was at once a romantic story and a social drama, and at its core an allegorical tale. Mandakini made a smash debut and this film has the distinction of being Raj’s youngest son Rajiv Kapoor’s only hit as actor. Ravindra Jain scored the super-hit score, which, according to music label HMV (now Saregama) qualified for four times the Platinum Disc.

Maine Pyar Kiya (1989)

The film slalomed the one-film-old-in-a-supporting-role actor Salman Khan to instant stardom, and was a major breakthrough for composer Raamlaxman, who had been around for 12 years! S.P. Balasubramaniam was accepted widely in a Mumbai-made Hindi film for a Mumbai-based top star. Above all, Sooraj R. Barjatya, the director and principal writer, became a name to reckon with. Released on the penultimate Friday of 1989, it emerged as the highest grosser of the entire decade.

Other mega-hits of the 1980s:

Ek Duuje Ke Liye, Coolie, Pyar Jhukta Nahin, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Tezaab, Ram Lakhan & Tridev

Hum Aapke Hain Koun!… (1994)

Another film among the leaders in even this A-list, Hum Aapke Hain Koun!…, with Salman Khan, Raamlaxman’s music and Sooraj R. Barjatya all over again, was the biggest hit of the 1990s. With one of the best scripts written in contemporary Hindi cinema, this 150-week runner was the role-model for many future movies and filmmakers. As a major bonus, it starred Madhuri Dixit (now Nene) in the female lead.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995)

Technically the second biggest hit of the decade, the film is still running in matinee (12 noon) shows past its 1000th week at a theatre in Mumbai! The eternal romance that galvanized the overseas market had an epic score by Jatin-Lalit and lyricist Anand Bakshi. It was directed by Aditya Chopra for Yash Chopra and featured the youth icons-to-be for long—Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol!

Other mega-hits of the 1990s:

Aankhen, Raja Hindustani, Border & Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

Gadar—Ek Prem Katha (2001)

This surprise hit remains among the crème-de-la-crème of our blockbusters, vying with Mughal-E-Azam, Sholay and Hum Aapke Hain Koun!... for the highest footfalls. This cult film is now getting a sequel by director Anil Sharma—Gadar 2. Sunny Deol and Amisha Patel were in the leads in this film that had iconic songs like Main nikla gaddi lekar and Udd jaa kaale kaava.

3 Idiots (2009)

The second-biggest hit of a relatively tepid decade that saw the consolidation  of expensive multiplexes was directed by Rajkumar Hirani and produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra with Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor (now Khan), R. Madhavan and Sharman Joshi in the cast. It packed in several messages and homilies into its brilliant script and non-stop package of entertainment.

Other mega-hits of the 2000s:

Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…, Koi…Mil Gaya, No Entry & Dhoom:2

A scene from Bahubali 2—The Conclusion Photo: Spice PR

Bahubali 2—The Conclusion (2017)

The only dubbed film in this list, Bahubali 2—The Conclusion netted an incredible Rs. 510 crore in Hindi alone (and that’s only the Indian figure). The hysteria over it was palpable, thanks to the impact of Bahubali—The Beginning (2015). In a phase (thanks to high pricing of tickets) where it is difficult to compute the quantum of success, this was a clear mega-buster by Telugu whizkid S.S. Rajamouli and starring Prabhas, Rana Sagibatti, Anushka Shetty, Tamannaah Bhatia and Ramya Krishnan.

URI—The Surgical Strike (2019)

Aditya Dhar’s debut directorial was a re-telling of the savage Uri attack on our soldiers in 2016 and its exemplary retribution by our armed forces. Produced in a moderate Rs. 2.5 billion (25 crore), it made almost 12 times its cost.

Other mega-hits of the 2010s:

Dabangg, PK, Bajrangi Bhaijaan & Dangal

The Kashmir Files (2022)

Another real saga, this time minus any sugar-coating, this Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri film had no stars, no music of any note, but gripped audiences around the globe. Made on a shoestring budget of under Rs. 2.5 billion, the film has again done business of over 12 times that amount.

Another mega-hit between 2020 – 2022:

Tanhaji—The Unsung Warrior







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