Education · Indian Culture

Learning through Films


Anyone who knows me knows that I am always interested in a good film, a good show. Of course,
‘good’ is a subjective term. But so are a whole lot of other things related to our lives, our interests and our learnings in life.

Over the last six months or so, we have spent many evenings at home watching a few good movies and some fascinating serialised shows. Some of these were mostly after-dinner entertainment (political thrillers or legal dramas), but some of these also served an interesting informative and educational purpose. In this latter category I include the following:

The Tudors:    British-Irish-Canadian historical fiction television series set primarily in sixteenth-century England. The series focuses specifically upon the reign of King Henry VIII, played by the intense young actor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

In my opinion, some of the key learnings to take from this show are — the highly difficult relationship between Church/religion and the State as an important part of England’s history; the hold that the Vatican had on the whole of Europe; the war-ridden history of Europe; the violent revolution that was Reformation and Protestantism and how it was crushed by the Vatican and rest of the Catholic Christian kingdoms; and a historical context for why the West, as in this case England and most of the Europe, because of its religio-political nexus had no other choice but to come up with what is now known as secularism – the separation of Church and State.

The Borgias:     historical-fiction drama television series created by Neil Jordan. The series is set around the turn of the 16th century and follows the rise of the Borgia family, an Italian dynasty of Spanish origin, to the pinnacle of the Roman Catholic Church and their struggles to maintain their grip on power. It stars Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI.

I’ll admit what drew me initially to this series was Jeremy Irons, an actor par excellence. But as I started watching it, it soon became obvious that through this show we also get a good glimpse of some of the serious problems that are bound to come up in an organised religion where the teachings of the religion are controlled by an all-powerful institution. We see some of the same historical context of the bloody revolution leading to Reformation, and also the greed for institutional, political and financial power corrupting an organised religion in almost unimaginable ways, all owing to the various imperfections, impurities and failings of human nature. We also get to understand how the ideas of secularism, rational enlightenment and individualism had to become critical necessities for the West in its journey toward a modern age.

Isn’t it interesting that one can get a really good sense of some parts of the European history through fictional dramas? Of course, you have to be mindful that some of the details and specifics in such shows are either exaggerated or fictionalised, but that is immaterial if one is interested in the lessons regarding the larger themes of the times in which these stories were being played out.

DaVinci’s Demons: historical fantasy drama series that presents a fictional account of Leonardo da Vinci’s early life. The series stars Tom Riley in the title role. The show follows Leonardo as he is implicated in the political schemes of the Medici and Pazzi families and their contrasting relationships with the Catholic Church. These events occur alongside Leonardo’s quest to obtain the Book of Leaves as he finds himself entangled with a mystic cult known as the Sons of Mithras.

A few key lessons to take away from this show are — how the quest for truth is always burdened with many battles with falsehoods of various kinds; how an outer search for truth is actually almost always a search for an inner truth; how an outer journey is an expression of the deeper inner journey a seeker must always take, going through the deepest recesses of one’s mind and its various parts.


Some of the movies which I have enjoyed lately and also found thought-prvoking and hence educative in some way are: (You may click on the titles to know more about the film’s plot.)

Ustad Hotel (Malyalam)
How Old Are You? (Malyalam)
Detachment (English)
The Imitation Game (English)
Whiplash (English) – One line from this film really sums up its essence – There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job”. (I laughed out loud when I heard this because it describes so well the cult of mediocrity that has taken over the mainstream popular culture, everywhere).
Still Alice (English)
The Theory of Everything (English)

There must have been a few more films, but I can’t remember them right now. Or perhaps they didn’t leave that much of an impact on me to remember.

Yes, there was no Hindi film that caught my fancy in the last several months, though last year there were a few interesting ones (though I wouldn’t necessarily call them all ‘good’ films, based on my subjective view of course). I wrote about two such controversial films here and here (though in the second post, I didn’t name the film, but Indian readers will surely understand which recent Hindi film compelled me to write that post).


Speaking of films and learning….I thought I will take this opportunity to highlight one little but important section of this blog.

If you have been exploring and reading this blog for a while or even off and on, you might have seen a section on the blog, titled  “Thought-provoking films”. You haven’t? Well, then scroll down to the bottom of the page and you will see links to some of the educational films that go with the spirit of this blog. Some of the videos included are actually talks given by well-known academics, thinkers or intellectuals. Most are documentaries, a few are animated films. None of them are commercial feature films.

Of course, there are many, many more wonderful films out there to explore and learn from, and I keep adding to my list as I go along. When I started the blog, almost two years ago, I had only listed two films. Since then I have added one every few months.

But in order to keep the list manageable and not overwhelm the interested reader or a casual visitor or explorer of the blog, I try and keep the list short by reshuffling or deleting links as needed. Not everything that appeals to me or catches my attention gets added to the list. Of course, the list, at any point of time still reflects the topics and themes I am interested in learning and exploring.

As of yesterday the list of beautiful dozen looked like this:

Barefoot College and Dalai Lama
Bishnois – A Religion for Environment
Faith Revisited
Hindu Nectar: Spiritual Wanderings in India
How societies can grow old better
Infinite Vision
Ken Robinson – Do schools kill creativity?
Living Stories of India
Myths about Sanskrit
Sacred Economics with Charles Eisenstein
Sanskrit – A Tryst with Modernity
The Empathic Civilization
The Truth about What Motivates People

(Click on the titles to go to the films).


Today, to mark the special occasion of Ram Navami, the day celebrated in whole of India as the birthday of Lord Rama, I have added two more films to this list. To bring the number to 14. (Anyone familiar with the story of Ramayana would understand the significance of the number 14.)

A film (less than half an hour) which has been one of my favourite educational films about Indian culture, appropriately titled The Genius of India is added.


Another one, which I have yet to watch, called The Quantum Indians, is also added today. It is the first time I am recommending a film without watching it but somehow the title is inviting enough and I feel certain that it will be an informative 52 minutes spent on watching this one.

Well, so now you all know which film I will be watching tonight!


Linking with ABCWednesday, L: L is for Learning

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