Satyajit Ray, regarded the greatest Indian filmmaker of 20th century, is the pioneer of artistic cinema in India, his films ‘Pather Panchali’, ‘Aparajito’ and ‘Apur Sansar’ are considered among the earliest artistic films of the country. Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha of Bengali Cinema were the other pioneers of artistic cinema in India. Ritwik Ghatak was also a Bengali film director and a professor at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). Ghatak, however, did not garner international fame like Satyajit Ray did. His internationally acclaimed film ‘Nagarik’ (1952) was perhaps the earliest Bengali art film, preceding Ray's ‘Pather Panchali’ by 3 years, but was not released until after his death in 1977.
Chetan Anand and V. Shantaram were such early artistic filmmakers of Hindi cinema. Anand’s debut film ‘Neecha Nagar’ was awarded the Palme d'Or (Best Film) award at the first ever Cannes Film Festival in 1946. V. Shantaram’s 1937 film ‘Duniya Na Mane’ daringly critiqued the treatment of women in Indian society.
Filmmakers Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt were credible directors of art cinema who also ideally and successfully incorporated elements of commercial cinema in their movies, most notably in ‘Do Bigha Zamin’ (1953) and ‘Pyaasa’ (1957). Hrishikesh Mukherjee, one of Hindi cinema's most successful filmmakers, was named the pioneer of “middle cinema” and was renowned for making films that reflected the changing middle-class ethos. Basu Chatterjee also built his plots on middle-class lifestyle and directed films like ‘Piya Ka Ghar’, ‘Rajnigandha’ and ‘Ek Ruka Hua Faisla’.
Eminent filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan infused artistic films into Malayalam Cinema, followed by acclaimed filmmakers Shaji N. Karun, T. V. Chandran and Bharathan. Karun is the only Indian filmmaker who has taken consecutively 3 films to recognition at Cannes, all being his first three. K. Balachander, J. Mahendran, Mani Ratnam, Bala were art filmmakers in Tamil cinema, while K. N. T. Sastry and B. Narsing Rao pioneered Telugu art cinema. Girish Kasaravalli, Girish Karnad and B. V. Karanth led the way for artistic films in Kannada Cinema.
Modern filmmakers of artistic movies include Nagesh Kukunoor, Gautam Ghose, Ketan Mehta, Jahnu Barua, Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane. Directors like Zoya Akhtar, Abhishek Kapoor and Neeraj Pandey have been successful in making artistic-cum-commercially noted films.