By Pankaj Sachdeva

There is a treasure trove of references from which Hindi films take their inspiration. Real-life stories, ancient texts, personal anecdotes and imagination, books, people, and other movies provide material for filmmakers to create their own vision on the big screen. It is fascinating to observe and dissect these inspirations to better understand the film and its maker. These also provide a vast collection to trivia lovers. The purpose of this post is to recollect another particular type of this trivia treasure—movies in movies.

Often, films show us characters where they are seen watching another film. Hindi cinema is considered to be one of the powerful sources of influence on the population that watches it. It is then only natural that movie characters also get influenced by other movie characters. This meta relation helps understand the motivations of the characters, and provides an evidence of their state of mind and their thought process. Many a time, movie characters are able to see themselves and portions of their life in other movie characters. The other important purpose that this also serves is that it provides a wonderful opportunity to the film’s directors and its script writers to pay a tribute to the films and the makers who inspired them. The films in films point to a biographical narrative of the filmmaker. And, sometimes, characters watch movies where the context is to just fill time as it happens in real life. After all, in a country with limited entertainment options, films fulfil that need. The following are some instances where this meta relation of movies in movies was observed with a possible explanation of its purpose.



In Sriram Raghavan’s noir drama Johnny Gaddaar, the James Hadley Chase-reading Vikram hatches a plan to rob his friends by taking inspiration from Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Parwana that he watches on the televisionVikram (or Johnny) uses the same technique that was used in Parwana where to have an alibi, Amitabh Bachchan’s character Kumar takes a train, gets down at some station before the final station, gets the work done, and flies to another place to catch the same train that was boarded earlier. Johnny uses the same method to fool his friends in the film. This utterly fascinating way paid a tribute to a film that few people remember now, and was released before Amitabh Bachchan became a big star. In another film of Sriram Raghavan, Badlapur, Raghu goes to a lodge in Pune and tells the manager that he wants to stay there for twenty years. In the next scene, the criminal Liak (who had killed Raghu’s wife and son) and the other prisoners are watching Sholay in the jail, where Thakur is discussing with Gabbar Singh that he will be in prison for twenty years. Raghu is a mental prisoner, like Thakur, who plotted revenge for killing his family, while Liak, like Gabbar, never seems to stay in prison for long. Besides this, there is some dark humour in showing a bunch of prisoners the film Sholay; after all, it is a film that also showcases the incompetence of the police.


Inspector Ashwin and his wife Reema are going through a process of separation in Meghna Gulzar’s Talvar. At one point, Reema returns Ashwin’s things to him, which includes their wedding pictures. Ashwin takes them back and asks her if she has seen Ijaazat. At a later point, Reema is seen watching Ijaazat. There is a famous song in Ijaazat called Mera Kuch Saaman where Maya asks Mahendra to return not her physical things but the memories of the times they spent together. Ashwin and Reema’s relationship takes a cue from that song where Ashwin gives a hint to Reema about their own time spent together. Also, director of Talvar Meghna Gulzar pays a tribute by referring to Ijaazat, that was directed by her father Gulzar.


In Anurag Kashyap’s DevD, Leni is often seen watching Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas. She is fascinated by the dances of Chandramukhi, who becomes her inspiration. Leni takes the name of Chanda, and she becomes the prostitute with a golden heart in the neon-lit alleys of Paharganj. Anurag Kashyap, in fact, often refers others films in his films. In the surreal No Smoking, K’s wife Anjali is seen watching Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. The climax of the film by Anurag Kashyap in the gas chambers referenced the same scene that Anjali was watching earlier. This technique of giving a premonition of the film’s climax was again used by Anurag Kashyap in Bombay Velvet. At one point, Johnny is watching James Cagney’s classic gangster drama The Roaring Twenties. The film inspires him to become a ‘big shot’. In a particular scene, Johnny is watching the film in a theater at the sequence when James Cagney is being shot, after which he dies. This is exactly what happens to Johnny, too, in the climax of Bombay Velvet.


Karan decides that he will join the Indian Army after he watches Arnold Schwarzenneger’s Commando in Farhan Akhtar’s Lakshya. At an earlier point, he had asked his US-based brother to send him the Jurassic Park DVD. In Farhan Akhtar’s first film Dil Chahta Hai, after he gets punched by Rohit, Akash is seen watching Speed on his giant television, completely in line with his character, and later, he is seen having a racing competition trying to overtake the train running parallel to the road while on the road trip to Goa.



In Saawariya, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali pays a tribute to his favorite film Mughal-E-Azam. Imaan, Sakina and Badi Ammi go on a movie night to watch Mughal-E-Azam and Badi Ammi remembers all the lines from that film. Sanjay Leela Bhansali has often said that Mughal-E-Azam is his favourite film, and he has seen it countless number of times since his childhood.

In Ashutosh Gowariker’s Swades, the people in Charanpur gather around to watch Yaadon Ki Baaraat, as if the trip was Mohan’s own procession of his memories of his old days. The plot of that movie is based on brothers separated by fate like Mohan is separated from his land of birth, and now that he has finally come home.

Shashi goes on a trip to New York and enrols in an English-learning class in Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish. She makes a bunch of friends including one called Laurent, a French chef. She goes to watch Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s The Last Time I Saw Paris. The story of the film where at some point, Helen flirts with Paul, even though she is married to Charles could be Shashi’s own story, and it is also the case that Shashi’s suitor Laurent is also from France. New York will be the last time where she sees her Laurent.


There is a running gag on Salman Khan in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider. At one point, the camp inside the empty Finaz theater where people were tortured by the police, plays the song Main Hoon Deewana Tere Pyar Kya from Salman-starrer Sangdil Sanam. In the end, the violent and the brutal end of the two Salmans was as if it is some statement on the cinema that the real Salman Khan does.

In the story by Zoya Akhtar in Bombay Talkies, Vicky struggles to get even the smallest basics of football correct. His family goes to watch Tees Maar Khan in a nearby multiplex and when the song Sheila Ki Jawaani plays on the screen, Vicky is thrilled. It was as if he finally found his dream, and Sheila will help him reach that dream.

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, directed by Shashank Khaitan, is a modern day retelling of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. Humpty is often seen crying while watching the film, and the story of his own romance with Kavya mirrors that of Raj and Simran in many ways. Twenty years later, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge continues to inspire a generation of film makers.



In Ayan Mukerji’s Wake Up Sid, Ayesha believed that Sid is a kid and he is not mature like her. At some point, her boss Kabir laughs at her, and tells her that there is maturity in her writing, but deep down she is like a kid, which is coincidentally the same way she keeps berating Sid. It suddenly hits Ayesha that he is saying the truth. When the iktara in her heart echoes, she sees Sid enjoying and laughing while watching Mr. India with the next door kid Sanju, and there is a child in her that she is reluctant to accept and embrace. In Rajshree Ojha’s Aisha, a movie inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma, Aisha is seen eating ice-cream and crying while watching the college fight scene of Rahul and Anjali in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. This comes during the song Lehrein, as a reminder after Aisha had fought with her own best friend Arjun who questioned her habit of interfering in other people’s lives.



In Maneesh Sharma’s Shuddh Desi Romance, Raghu starts dating Tara, the girl whom he ditched at his first wedding. During the gorgeous song Gulabi, they go to watch Jab Tak Hai Jaan, not from inside the theater but from its projection room. In Jab Tak Hai Jaan, the lovers discussed about the right time for love, ‘har ishq ka ek waqt hota hai‘. Fear of God, and lack of memory stopped the lovers in Jab Tak Hai Jaan, while it is the lack of commitment in Shuddh Desi Romance. But a particular thing to note is that more often than not Yashraj Films typically carry references from their own films. Not a rule, but often references are from their banner only. In Habib Faisal’s Daawat-E-Ishq, Gullu and her first suitor Amjad go on date to watch Band Baajaa Baaraat.

Meera and Zeenat form an unlikely friendship in Nagesh Kukunoor’s heartwarming Dor. They both go to watch Meenakshi Seshadri and Jackie Shroff-starrer Hero, and Meera remembers all the dialogues of the film by heart. In Kunal Kohli’s Hum Tum, Rhea’s mom, Bobby Aunty, watches Shammi Kapoor’s dance moves in the thriller Teesri Manzil. In Shakun Batra’s Kapoor & Sons, Since 1921, Dadu is thrilled that he can see Mandakini in the white saree in her iconic song from Ram Teri Ganga Maili. In Yash Chopra’s Lamhe, a grieving Viren sees himself and Pallavi in Raj Kapoor and Nargis from Shree 420.

At many times, characters actually go and watch a film inside cinema halls. In the coming of age drama Udaan, directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, Rohan and his friends are expelled from school while watching C-grade sex film Kanti Shah Ke Angoor, giving a tribute to the cult film director Kanti Shah. Suri and Roshni go to watch Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal in the psychological thriller Talaash, if only to forget for some time the immense grief of their son’s death. No greater way to escape than Hindi films. In Zoya Akhtar’s fascinating meta drama Luck By Chance, Sona and Vikram merrily enjoy Singh Is King. An out and out commercial film is being watched by characters of a film, belonging more to a genre similar to parallel cinema; even this simple watching makes a statement.

In Sanjay Gadhvi’s Dhoom 2, Sunehri is shown to be complicit with Jai in catching A when they meet at a theater that is playing the animated film Cars. In Anand L. Rai’s Raanjhana, Kundan realizes that it is the time to tell Zoya that he loves her after he and his best friend Murari are watching a screening of Saajan. In Sachin Kundalkar’s wacky Aiyyaa, Meenaxi tries to impress the mysterious Surya by learning Tamil language and its culture. She watches Midnight Masala on the television, and learns her crazy dance moves in Dreamum Wakeupum from Chiranjeevi and Silk Smitha in O Gundelu Teesina from Goonda.

In additional to real films, there is another set of movies in movies that are fictional, and exist only in those movies. In Dil Chahta Hai, Sameer and Pooja fall in love while watching Woh Ladki Hai Kahan, a film that was written, produced, directed, and edited by Ritesh Sidhwani, who is also the producer of Dil Chahta Hai. In Ram Gopal Verma’s Mast, Kittu is in love with the film star Malika, and he goes to watch her film Pehli Nazar Mein Pyaar Ho Gaya that also stars Shah Rukh Khan. In Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om, Om and his friend Pappu go to the premiere of their favourite star Shanti Priya’s film Dreamy Girl. Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance has a whole set of fictional films, with the prominent one being Pyaar Hua Tumse starring Rani Mukerji and Akshaye Khanna. Of course, it also has Romy Rolly’s Dil Ki Aag starring Vikram and Niki. In Punit Malhotra’s I Hate Luv Storys, art director Simran falls in love with assistant director Jay while they make Pyar Pyar Pyar.


The above instances are not in any way an exhaustive source for movies in movies. There are, perhaps, another hundreds and hundreds of movies in movies references. The ones above are limited to those where characters are actually seen watching a film. There is another set of movies in movies references, based on the presence of a song of another film, a poster of another film, and an act that is reminiscent of another film, which makes for a post for some other day.

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