Do Bigha Zamin to Lagaan: Films Focusing on Farmers' Issues

Here are a few films that have highlighted farmers' plight.

5 min read
Stills from Do Bigha Zamin and Lagaan.

Over the past several days, we have seen farmers protesting against the Narendra Modi government's recently passed farm laws. The protests, referred to as Dilli Chalo, are seeing farmers braving the cold in Delhi to sit on the streets and make their voices heard. Support has been pouring in from across the country, with people arranging food for the farmers to raising their voices against the farm laws on social media.

There have been quite a few films in Bollywood that have addressed farmers' plight - be it exploitation in the hands of zamindars or suicides. Let us take a look at few such examples:

Do Bigha Zamin

A still from Do Bigha Zamin.
A still from Do Bigha Zamin.

Bimal Roy's 1953 film, Do Bigha Zamin, is about a poor farmer who gets trapped in the web of a zamindar’s debt when he refuses to sell his small land holding. Served with a court order to pay the zamindar Rs 235 in three months, Shambhu (Balraj Sahni) moves to Calcutta to secure a job, despite having a pregnant wife Paro (Nirupa Roy), an ailing father and a young kid, Kanhaiya (Rattan Kumar), to care for.

However, Calcutta is not too kind to him either. He has to deal with the brutality of the big city in an economy that does not have much to offer. Finally, Shambhu is forced to take up the job of a rickshaw puller. But destiny has only the worst in store for him during his stay in the big city.

Do Bigha Zamin explores how farmers were exploited by the zamindars and treated with no respect.

Mother India

A still from Mother India.
A still from Mother India.

Released in 1957, Mother India is a Hindi epic drama directed by Mehboob Khan. The film is a remake of Khan's 1940 directorial, Aurat. Starring Nargis, Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar and Raj Kumar in lead roles, the story follows a poverty-stricken village woman named Radha (Nargis), who in the absence of her husband, struggles to raise her sons as well as survive against a cunning money-lender. The film is a saga about the plight of farmers in the country.

Apart from the story Mother India was hailed for being among the first women-centric films in Bollywood. t was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film, becoming the first Indian film to be ever nominated.


Aamir Khan in Lagaan.
Aamir Khan in Lagaan.

The 2001 film is directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar and has an ensemble cast, including Aamir Khan and Gracey Singh. Set in the early 1890s during the late Victorian period of India's colonial British Raj, the story revolves around a small village in Central India whose inhabitants, mostly farmers, have been burdened by high taxes and several years of drought.

An extraordinary situation is presented in front of them after an arrogant British Army officer challenges the locals to a game of cricket as a wager to avoid paying the taxes they owe. The villagers are faced with a challenge to learn a game they have never heard of, but which is the only way their destiny can be altered.

Peepli Live

A still from Peepli Live.
A still from Peepli Live.

A farmer family in the fictional village of Peepli is in trouble when they find out that they are going to lose the only thing they own - a piece of land - because they have failed to repay a loan. The men of the family, Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri) and his brother, Budhia (Raghubir Yadav), go to the local politician Bhai Thakur (Sitaram Panchal) and plead for help. However, they are treated with utmost apathy, and one of the politicians actually go on to suggest that maybe they should consider suicide. A new Government scheme pays a sum of one lakh to the family of a farmer who has died by suicide as compensation. It's meant as a joke, but Natha's situation is such that dying seems to be the only option left.

On the other hand Rakesh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a local stringer, chances upon the story. It leads to a small report in a vernacular newspaper and before long, has snowballed into something else. Anusha Rizvi and Mahmood Farooqui's film is a satirical take on farmer suicides and how tragedies are abused for political gains.


A still from Upkar.
A still from Upkar.

The 1967 film is directed by Manoj Kumar aka Mr Bharat. The movie was inspired by the slogan 'Jai Jawaan Jai Kisan' given by then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. In the film Manoj Kumar plays a villager, Bharat, who sacrifices everything to get his brother educated. Upkar reportedly held the top spot at the box office in 1967.

Naya Daur

Do Bigha Zamin to Lagaan: Films Focusing on Farmers' Issues

BR Chopra's 1957 film, with the man versus machine theme, is still relevant to us. Naya Daur follows a man introducing a bus service in order to make quick profits, in turn jeopardising livelihoods of local farmers and workers.

With SEZs (special economic zones) threatening to throw farmers out of their jobs, shopping malls razing livelihoods of local vendors, Naya Daur portrays the picture of social discontent.


The cast of Kisaan.
The cast of Kisaan.

This film also focuses on farmers' suicides in India. Directed by Puneet Sira, it stars Jackie Shroff, Sohail Khan, Arbaaz Khan and Dia Mirza. Set in Punjab the film follows the story of a father and his two sons - while the elder moves to the city to chase his dreams the younger stays back to help in tending to his father's land. Kissan did not fare well in the box office.

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