Most people outside a specific culture rely on television and movies to learn about that culture, unless they get a chance to visit the concerned region. When it comes to India, some of us watch ‘Slumdog Millionaire‘, and ‘Life of Pi’, and take that to be India, but the problem is these movies are made from an outsider perspective, not Indian. If you want to get to know India closely, the best bet is to watch Indian Cinema instead of Hollywood, let it be the Hindi Cinema (Bollywood), Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Bhojpuri, Gujarati, or any other Indian regional cinema. India has a very different culture, especially compared to the western countries, and these Bollywood movies will have you seeing things from an Indian perspective. You can watch dubbed versions in English, or use English subtitles.
Bollywood, as a film industry, churns out a lot of movies, some magnificent, some other unfortunately outright crap. Here’s a list of 10 Bollywood movies that have minimal superficiality, but a strong storyline, that will leave you mesmerized:
10. Andaz Apna Apna (1994)
The comical masterpiece starring seven of Bollywood’s most acclaimed actors and actresses of all time, is the highest rated Indian movie on IMDB. The storyline is nothing out of ordinary, as two guys attempt to woo a girl, by pretending each as a blind person and a doctor. The story gets complicated as the story moves, as the movie combined all the typical aspects of Bollywood movies in the story; people falling in love, an evil twin, villains, a girl getting kidnapped by the villains, the heroes trying to save the girl, and all ending well. The movie is one of the masterpiece comedies of Bollywood. Every character in the movie is a laugh riot in his or her own right, while the character of ‘Crime Master Gogo’ became the ever invincible comic villain in the history of Bollywood.
9. Udaan (2010)
Lacking any leading Bollywood actor, the film became obscure after its release in the cinema halls, only to travel through India with word of mouth later, and became a cult film.
The movie tells the story of the never ending problem of Indian students belonging to economically middle-class families. Rohan, a high school student, gets expelled from his school, after getting caught watching an adult film by his hostel warden, leaving him with no choice but to return to his drunk abusive father, who was forcing Rohan to pursue Engineering even though Rohan wanted to become a writer.
The movie is full of laughter in the beginning, but takes a serious turn soon, and ends at a happy note as Rohan finally takes his ‘udaan‘ (flight). The movie gives a good insight into the life of an Indian student, and his struggle to live his life his own way!
8. Queen (2014)
In India, marriages are a big deal, and arranged marriages are very common; but what happens when a day before your wedding, your fiancé tells you that he can’t marry you? You go on your honeymoon solo! That’s right. When Rani’s fiancé runs out on her a day before her wedding, leaving her in awe and shock, the girl born and brought up in a conservative environment flies to Paris and Amsterdam on her preplanned honeymoon alone, without knowing either French or English. During her solo honeymoon stint, Rani rediscovers herself, and figures out the real value of independency and freedom, through cross-cultural exposure and external support, as she befriends Vijaylakshmi in Paris, and later shares a hostel room with 4 guys of different nationalities in Amsterdam. The movie has a simple plot, made extraordinary by brilliant acting and direction.
7. 3 Idiots (2009)
The movie has the central theme of the Indian education system, which produces too many engineers, without inculcating in them the curiosity to learn and innovate. The film focuses on the stories of three engineering college students, Rancho, Raju, and Farhan. Rancho is an inquisitive learner, Raju is under stress to get a well paying job after graduation as his family lives in terrible poverty, while Farhan is pursuing engineering to please his parents even though he wanted to be a wildlife photographer. The movie also has the side story of a romantic relationship between Rancho and Pia (their college director’s daughter).
The plot touches on many emotions in an entertaining way, as it elaborates on many social issues faced by students in India, such as, suicide rate among Indian students, stress to perform well because of poor family background, peer-pressure, pressure from the society, ragging by senior year students, among others.
Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, described 3 Idiots among his favorite movies of all time.
6. English Vinglish
The movie starring the ever gorgeous veteran Indian actress Sridevi, narrates the story of Shashi, an Indian house-wife, who is constantly mocked by her husband and daughter for her lack of English speaking skills. Tired of the mockery, on her visit to New York to attend her niece’s wedding, she enrolls in an English speaking course. The movie was inspired from the real life story of the movie’s director Gauri Shinde’s mother’s story, who used to run a pickle business from her house. The movie covers prominent issues such as superior-inferiority complexes arising from which language a person uses to communicate in, the way teenagers behave with their parents sometimes, family values, and acceptance of sexual minorities. The film also touches on the theme of romantic feelings arising due to complete acceptance by another person, as Shashi shares some moments with her French classmate Laurent at the English learning class in New York.
The film and Sridevi’s acting were applauded internationally, and the film also became one of the highest grossing foreign language film in Japan.
5. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)
Unable to pay the high taxes imposed by the British, the people of a small village in British India stake their future on a game of cricket, to get their tax laid off. Set up in Victorian India, the plot revolves around the cricket match, and the villagers’ team learning the game, and preparing for the match that will decide their destiny, along with reflecting on the brutality of the colonial rule in India, the persisting untouchability and caste discrimination at that time. The movie has a side story of a love triangle between Bhuvan (the leader character and the captain of the villagers’ cricket team), Gouri (a villager who is in love with Bhuvan), and Elizabeth (sister of the British officer Russell who is also the captain of the British team). The movie is enthralling, with suspense lasting until the very last moment, and as if that’s not enough, the award winning (two Oscars, two Grammy, one BAFTA, and one Golden Globe) composer AR Rahman’s will make you jump on your feet.
4. Salaam Bombay! (1988)
Listed among the “Best Thousand Movies Ever Made” by The New York Times, the movie bagged two awards at Cannes Film Festival, three at Montreal World Film Festival, and was also nominated for Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film Category.
The movie narrates the story of Krishna who, tired of his brother’s bullying, in a fit of rage set alight his motorbike. The mother leaves Krishna at the Circus, and asks him only to return home after he has earned enough money to get his brother’s bike repaired. Krishna faces many problems earning the money, as the Circus owner turns out to be a fraud, and later Krishna is robbed of his money by thieves when he moves to Bombay. He lives with a drug addict, and falls in love with a prostitute who doesn’t love him back, while all this time, he keeps nurturing his dream to return home to his mother one day!
The movie is both enthralling and appalling, definitely a must watch for lovers of Hindi Cinema!
3. The Lunchbox (2013)
Named after the famous lunchbox delivery man of Mumbai (known as ‘dabbewalas’), the Lunchbox is perhaps one of the most serene movies ever made in Bollywood! The movie received a much deserved standing ovation at its premier at Cannes Film Festival, and later also won the Grand Rail d’Or award at Cannes itself, along with many other international nominations and awards.
A small mistake of a lunchbox deliveryman incites an exchange of letters between Mr. Fernandez and Ila, a housewife whose husband is having an extramarital affair. The two fall in love without ever meeting each other. The movie narrates the story of loneliness, and hopelessness in life. Great storyline and effortless performances by the actors make this movie a worthwhile watch for everyone, as anyone who has ever tackled loneliness, or depression in life, will be able to connect with it.
The movie has an English version available.
2. Taare Zameen Par (2007)
Ishan, a dyslexic child who is considered by everyone around him as lazy and troublemaker, who doesn’t put enough efforts in learning, until one day when he finds the right teacher who has the passion and compassion to understand the problem behind his inability to learn. Unable to cope up with what his father considered was his stubbornness, he puts Ishan in a boarding school, where he initially finds it difficult to settle in, but later finds a friend, and a new art teacher who previously had worked with differently-abled children.
The movie has the potential to make anyone cry and feel for Ishan, as he, with the help of his art teacher, battles dyslexia. There’s an English version of the movie available by the name of “Like Stars on Earth” distributed by Disney.
1. A Wednesday (2008)
The astounding drama thriller film’s story covered only a short time span of 4 hours, between 2 P.M. to 6 P.M. on a Wednesday afternoon. The film has a very simple plot, with plot twists that will astonish the audience. That’s why we are not describing any details of the movie here at Toptenz, as that would spoil the movie for you, in case you plan to watch it! However in the basic essence, the film is about an anonymous person having planned 5 bombs in the city of Mumbai, and demanding 4 terrorists’ release in return of not detonating the bombs.
The film inspired many remakes including the English remake, ‘A Common Man‘, starring Oscar winning Ben Kingsley. However, the English remake failed to achieve the level of the original movie by a margin, and it is recommended to watch the original movie.
Neer Varshney can be found at his homepage.