Deepika Padukone© Bhansali Productions

7 Bollywood Movies Inspired By Real-Life Indian Royals

Salva Mubarak
Senior Features Writer

Bollywood movies are no stranger to glamour and grandeur. With elaborate sets and costumes being commonplace in most movies, it’s no surprise that filmmakers gravitate towards royals and their extraordinary lives for inspiration. Our history is rich with royals with life stories that seem straight out of a particularly entertaining period drama or a movie script which is why many filmmakers have mined the chapters of history books for scripts and given us memorable titles like Mughal-e-Azam, Jodhaa Akbar, and more.

Early last year it was announced that a series based on the life of Maharani Gayatri Devi is in the works with Bhavani Iyer (of Raazi, Black, and Lootera fame) scripting it. While we don’t know many details about the project, it’s safe to say that we’re super excited to see the life story of the legendary royal translated on screen.

But as we wait for it, here are a few Bollywood movies based on real-life royals that you can watch and enjoy till then…

Mughal-e-Azam (1960)

One of the most iconic Bollywood movies to have ever been made, this epic historical drama is a milestone of this genre. The story has been inspired by the legend of a love story between Mughal Prince Salim and court dancer Anarkali and how the disapproval of this relationship by his father Emperor Akbar leads to a war between the father and son. Directed by K. Asif, the movie starred Prithviraj Kapoor, Madhubala, and Dilip Kumar. Despite being historically inaccurate in many aspects (the very existence of Anarkali is hotly debated amongst historians), the movie is still praised by critics for some of its enduring themes, like the portrayal of the religious tolerance between Muslim and Hindu characters, father-son relationships, trials faced by women regardless of their social status, and the conflict between love and duty. In 2004, the movie became the first colourised full-length feature film to be re-released in theaters.

Watch Mughal-e-Azam Full Movie on ZEE5

Watch Mughal-e-Azam Full Movie on JioCinema

Jodhaa Akbar (2008)

While Ashutosh Gowariker’s grand historical retelling of the love story between Emperor Akbar and Queen Jodhaa Bai is memorable for many reasons (majority of them being a sweaty Hrithik Roshan taming a wild elephant as an impressed Aishwarya Rai watches from the sidelines), the fact that it was over 3.5 hours long became the butt of many jokes at the time of its release. While entertaining (if not a little exhausting), the movie’s subject became the topic of hot debate amongst different cultural groups and historians.

Watch Jodhaa Akbar Full Movie on Netflix

Zubeidaa (2001)

Although the titular Zubeida wasn’t a royal by birth, the actress went on to marry Maharaja Hanwant Singh of Jodhpur and proceeded to change her name to Vidya Rani for him. Director Shyam Benegal based his 2001 film on Zubeida Begum, with Karisma Kapoor playing the role of the actress and Manoj Bajpayee portraying the Maharaja. While Benegal’s movie was a loose adaptation, the story mirrored the tragic story of her life and end.

Watch Zubeidaa Full Movie on JioCinema

Padmaavat (2018)

Sanjay Leela Bhansali found himself in hot water when he started production on his take on the epic tale of Rani Padmaavat and her supposedly glorious end. The movie’s story was based on a poem by Malik Muhammed Jayasi from the 1540s which told the story of the queen known for her astonishing beauty and valour. Radical protestors stormed the movie’s sets and assaulted the director because rumours of intimate scenes between Alauddin Khilji (portrayed by Ranveer Singh) and Padmaavati (played by Deepika Padukone) were enough to anger the community the queen belonged to and the makers were taken to court. Death threats to Bhansali and Padukone followed violent protests but ultimately the movie got clearance from the courts and the censor board. Singh garnered widespread critical acclaim for his portrayal of the Muslim ruler.

Watch Padmaavat Full Movie on Amazon Prime Video

Bajirao Mastani (2015)

Before Padmaavat, another production of Sanjay Leela Bhansali faced trouble seeing the light of the day. Reportedly, Bhansali conceived the idea for the film in 1990 and announced it in 2003. The director spent the following decade in development hell with repeated changes in the cast, with many major celebrities, including Salman Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Katrina Kaif, Ajay Devgn, Kareena Kapoor, and Rani Mukerji, opting to drop out of the film for various reasons. But the movie finally started production in 2014 and released in 2015 with Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, and Priyanka Chopra in the lead roles. The movie was a fictionalised take on the life of Maratha Peshwa Bajirao I and his second wife Mastani.

Watch Bajirao Mastani Full Movie on Erosnow

Watch Bajirao Mastani Full Movie on JioCinema

Panipat (2019)

With Ashutosh Gowariker’s affinity toward historical subjects, it’s no surprise that another one of his movies found its way to this list. The film tells the story of the third battle of Panipat in the 18th century, considered to be one of the biggest clashes of two armies—the Afghans led by Ahmad Shah Abdali and the Marathas led by Sadashivrao Bhau. The movie was praised for its production values and recreation of the war scenes but received negative criticism for its portrayal of the Muslim characters, especially in the midst of the current political climate. The movie starred Arjun Kapoor, Kriti Sanon, and and Sanjay Dutt in lead roles.

Watch Panipat Full Movie on Netflix

Aśoka (2001)

Often considered one of the most underrated historical movies in Bollywood, Santosh Sivan’s Aśoka has gained a renewed appreciation amongst film buffs in the country. The film, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor, presented a dramatised version of the early life of emperor Asoka, who ruled over most of the Indian subcontinent in the third century BC.

Watch Asoka Full Movie on YouTube