When I first started getting into Bollywood movies a little over two years ago, I was immediately intrigued. The color. The music. The over-the-top acting. What’s not to like? Well, actually, a lot of things. For starters: the lack of dynamism in female roles, misogynistic undertones, predominantly fair-skinned actors featured, and so on.
The Bollywood industry churns out thousands of movies a year, but not every movie contains these problematic issues (or at least not as heavily). You can find movies that are entertaining, but also deep and astoundingly beautiful in both design and story.
Now I’m no Bollywood expert by any means, but as an American who grew up with Hollywood cinema, I like to think I know a thing or two about what non-Bollywood movie goers would like, especially when they’re first starting out on this cinematic journey. Luckily, most of these can be found on Netflix or your local public library. My library has a whole section dedicated to Indian movies; I was over the moon with happiness when I found out!
Here are some of my favorite Bollywood Movies, but not a definitive list by any means!
Band Baaja Baaraat
Band Baaja Baaraat was the movie that made me fall in love with Indian cinema. Maybe it had something to do with Ranveer Singh’s boyish charisma that’ll melt you on the spot or Anushka Sharma’s extreme likeability, but whatever the case, this movie is one of my all-time favorites.
While not as introspective or ground-breaking as many of the other films on this list, Band Baaja Baaraat is just really good fun with a strong female lead on a mission to fulfill her dreams as a successful wedding planner. Indian weddings have always been fascinating to me, so to see the “behind-the-scenes,” even if fictional, is a delight. Also, the soundtrack is amazing!
Khabi Khushi Kabhie Gham
Khabi Khushi Kabhie Gham (K3G) is Bollywood gold. Starring heavyweights like Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan, this film is an epic love story and family drama. It’s long, it’s emotional and it’s downright heart-wrenching.
The set and costumes are just as much a part of the story as the actors. Throughout the film, clothing, decor and color are used strategically for the purpose of tone setting and character revealing. You can see clearly how the worlds of the two star-crossed lovers differentiate through these cinematic devices.
Also, the soundtrack is iconic and filled with many beautiful and melodic songs. The recurring usage of the movie’s “theme song” (for a lack of a better word) always makes my heart skip a beat, especially when the screen pans to the look on the mom’s face. GETS ME EVERY TIME.
Jab We Met
Jab We Met is a lighter Bollywood dramedy starring Kareena Kapoor as the infectious and stubborn Geet. Also a part of the K3G cast, Kareena’s acting really shines through in this film.
What I really liked about Jab We Met is how it consistently uses the metaphor of a train journey to reflect life’s journey. Aditya, the leading man, has no intended destination when he gets on the train but through several situations way out of the control of himself, he finds a destination has been forced upon him by his new companion, Geet. That’s how life works. When you don’t make a decision, life makes one for you.
My favorite scene in the entire film is watching Geet decide on which “train” (decision) she’ll catch (decide on). The scene is a beautiful medley of visuals and sound that’s more profound than cheesy. Some Bollywood films just cross the line over into kitsch, but the love story in this movie feels a little more organic and subtle than many others.
Queen is probably one of the most ground-breaking films that Bollywood has produced in the past few years and it’s a movie that I found incredibly enjoyable to watch.
The opening scene is gorgeous as the viewer rejoices alongside Rani during her lively marriage celebrations that come with all the usual pomp and circumstance that traditional Indian weddings have. The fun and happiness of the scene only makes it that much more painful to see the unfortunate turn of events unfold in the following scenes.
This movie is powerful because it’s realistic in the most fanciful of ways — a description I think I can directly apply to the way life works, if you really think about it. It’s not your routine “fish out of water” tale by any means, but more like an endearing coming of age story that’ll have you embracing the twists and turns of your life with a little more excitement!
The Lunchbox is probably one of the most serious Indian films on this list containing zero musical numbers and not a single ounce of comedic flare found in most Bollywood movies. It’s also one of the most unconventional love stories, even by Bollywood standards.
What makes this movie so great is that the two characters of the film who are both living unhappy lives, but so deserving of happiness, find each other and create a much-needed connection — not based off looks or lust, but of heart.
Another Bollywood classic on the list, 3 Idiots will have you crying one moment and then laughing the next. It’s profound, comical and one wild ride! Its social commentary is also very unsettling but only because it’s so true.
3 Idiots is credited with being one of the highest grossing Bollywood movies of all time. The film tackles the topics of death, academic stress and the bonds of friendship without coming off tacky or too forced. The actors are brilliant and you can really feel the love between the three “idiots.”
And the most famous line of the movie: “All is well.”