Bollywood : suggestions for beginners

I have been interested in Bollywood movies since my first travel to India back in 2015. I started watching them with friends in dorm rooms. Then, my companions took me to see them in the theater : three hours, no subtitles, I ain’t scared of anything !
Nowadays, I catch up on the classics and impatiently await the new releases. Until now, I have kept this interest of mine private. By that I mean I have not tried to convert any of my loved ones. Until now.

Bollywood is an extremely successful well-oiled machine which produces and exports hundreds of movies every year, creating mega stars and generating enormous revenues. It belongs to the World’s cultural heritage and you would be missing out on a lot by ignoring this industry all together.

Many people I know are prejudiced against Bollywood films. They expect to find frustrated love stories, many exuberant playback dance numbers and many many overly dramatic dialogues.
I thought exactly the same going to Kolkata. And today I am sharing with you a short selection of my absolute favorites and hopefully my enthusiasm. By the way, if you ever find yourself in a movie theater in India, it is very likely that they will play the national anthem before the film starts : make sure you stand up for the whole duration of the song as you might offend people by not doing so.

In the following list, you will find frustrated love stories, exuberant playback dance numbers, overly dramatic dialogues… but also incredible performances, daring actors and directors and true and moving stories. These seven movies are all relatively recent, a personal preference, and tell stories which challenged my believes about India, about cinema and about life. And I really hope to tickle your curiosity and that you will give some of them a try.

Bollywood : Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit, Devdas
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit in Devdas (2002)

Disclaimer : I am aware that Bollywood only represents a portion of the movies made in India; great films are produced in other languages than Hindi in other places than Mumbai and for smaller budgets. I also believe that since I do not understand Hindi, I am unable to appreciate the finesse of some dialogues, songs and movies altogether. I have only seen 50+ movies and tastes and preferences are nothing but subjective. If you have suggestions or comments, I would love to discuss them in the comments !

3 Idiots by Rajkumar Hirani with Aamir Khan et Kareena Kapoor (2009)

The friendship between three students in engineering school and a harsh satire of the destructive pressure that poisons competitive school systems.
It is THE movie I have heard recommended to anyone who wants to give Bollywood a try. It is funny and colorful with endearing characters. Few songs, romance under control. It is available with English subtitles on Youtube.

Movies about sports

In real life, you will not see me staying still for two hours to watch any kind of sports on TV. But I appreciate when little stories get together to make the big one. Furthermore, I enjoy the passion that shows through movies like Million Dollar Baby by Clint Eastwood (2004).

In sports movies made in India, national pride is a key topic and there is a recurrent political message : in order to have athletes of international calibre, the country has to invest in its infrastructures and to fight the corruption that affects the federations. In the following three movies you will immerse yourself in the worlds of hockey, wrestling and boxing and discover incredibly badass female characters.

Chak de ! India (Go India ! ) by Shimit Amin with Shah Rukh Khan (2007)

Dangal (Wrestling) by Nitesh Tiwari with Aamir Khan (2016) [Netflix UK and France as of  January 2018]

Mary Kom by Omung Kumar with Priyanka Chopra (2014) [Netflix UK as of January 2018]

Taare Zameen Par (Like stars on Earth) by and with Aamir Khan (2007)

A little boy keeps having problems in class. His parents send him to boarding school where he meets an unusual professor.
A poetic movie about dyslexia with the always brilliant Aamir Khan, it is available without subtitles on Youtube.

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (Crazy youth) by Ayan Mukerji with Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor (2013)

A group of friends from school go trekking, loses touch then meets again after a few years for a wedding.
This is my feel-good movie, the ultimate romantic comedy. I watch it often, the songs make me dance and the dialogues smile. It gives perspective on the aspirations of a modern youth from the upper middle class which is sometimes torn between the big wild world and their Indian anchorage. Above all, it features my favorite on screen couple : Deepika Padukone & Ranbir Kapoor.

Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (A game of gunshots, Ram-Leela) by Sanjay Leela Bhansali with Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh

This movie and others like Devdas concentrate the lushness and the pathos that some people cannot stand about the Bollywood style. Nonetheless, they are cinematographic masterpieces and if you feel like seating through three hours of heavily decorated scenes and intense speeches, you are in for a treat.
Ram-Leela is a Bollywood-meets-Shakespeare’s-Romeo-and-Juliet-kind-of-a-mix.

This type of films is not my favorite but I still admire the technical tour de force and I enjoy watching them in a movie theater.
And when all is said and done, the entrance of the gorgeous Deepika Padukone as Leela is one of my favorite scenes ever.

And you ? Do you like Bollywood movies ?

Do you have any recommendations ?

Title picture : Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh in Ram Leela

One thought on “Bollywood : suggestions for beginners

  • 13 January 2018 at 11:02 am

    Omg ! You know bollywood now… And I am amazed that you saw Dangal and the recent releases as well. That’s a nice little tour of bollywood… To add on to the list movies you saw in Calcutta…
    ZNMD – Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara…. Which stars the Greek God of Bollywood my Fav Hrithik Roshan ???????
    Plus Tamasha – wen someone ditch me and went to the theatre.. ?????

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