Friday, December 23, 2011

Bollywood 101

I am going to try impossible here. After coming to US and starting this blog, many of my American colleagues and friends here at university, have asked me to give them couple of movies which will represent Hindi Film Industry. Every time I have found it impossible to do that. I probably can give you names of some of my favorite films, but they are not necessarily a reflection of Indian Cinema as a whole. However, after a lot of deliberation, I have decided to give it a try. But, then again, I am taking a little bit of Liberty and do it in 10 movies rather than just a couple.

Let me set some Ground Rules here. Now, since I am trying to give the glimpse of Hindi Film Industry,  I am going to try and choose these films so that they cover as much of turf as possible. Different actors, different directors, different time periods, different genres as well. Some of them will be cheesy, typical Bollywood-ish romances and there will be also be something groundbreaking at least for Hindi Movies. They may not be 10 best Hindi films made ever but in my opinion, for someone who does not have a clue about Indian Film Industry, they should be able to sum up the whole "Bollywood Experience". Also, Dancing and Singing comes as an essential part of any movie. In many cases, it is the best part of the movie(e.g Taal(1999) or Yes Boss(1997)). So, you have to bear with that. They might also be tad longish for your taste. And lastly, It is possible that there might be one more film, just like this, made somewhere in the other corner of the world. As much as I hate it, Bollywood is Privy to plagiarism and there are movies which are pretty much Hindi Translations of the original version (e.g. Pretty much everything from Bhatt Camp and that is why the name - Bollywood). So, even if it is a copy, I assure you that at least it is a good copy.

Here we go, in no particular order:

1. Lagaan(2001): I know few people who seriously believe that this is THE movie to represent Hindi Cinema. I never thought so because I don't think that any movie can represent a complete industry. But more I think about it, more sense it makes. So, I still don't think it is THE movie though it is closest thing. It is story of a village in per-independence India or rather British India. An eccentric British officer challenges a villagers to a game of cricket on the terms that if villagers win, they do not have to pay any taxes for 3 years and if they lose they will pay double tax. You have almost everything in this movie. Great music, great acting, good direction and some pretty interesting characters. It has romance, comedy, inspiration, thrill. It is a great package.

2. Satya(1998): It is one of the most influential films made, many even call it a modern masterpiece. It tells the story of a small town guy, Satya, who comes to Mumbai to get a job but gets sucked into the Underworld. It shows his slow rise from being nobody to the most important person in his gang. It has some standout performances such as Manoj Bajpei as Bhiku and Saurabh Shukla as Kallu Mama. Shephali Chhaya, in a small role of Bhiku's wife also leaves a lasting impression. It marked introduction of new genre 'Mumbai Noir' which represents slick, underlying portrayal of Mumbai underworld including gritty and realistic brutality and urban violence.

3. Do Beegha Jamin(1953): Most Indians will remember this film for the epic cart chase scene in it. However, actually whole movie is as good and tragic as that scene. Directed by one of the greatest directors Bimal Roy, it is about a poor farmer and his small piece of land which local landlord wants to buy to construct a mill on it. Our farmer rejects the initial offer and hence landlord makes sure that his life is miserable. Inspired by Italian Neo-Realistic style and Bicycle Thieves(1948), you can definitely draw many parallels between the two. However, Do Beegha Jamin(1953) goes beyond Bicycle Thieves(1948) to show their misery. Another reason it is very important for Indian Cinema is, just like Bimal Roy's another movie Madhumati(1958), movie was a trend setter in many ways and was one of the Pioneers of Parallel Cinema Movement.

4. Sholay(1975): Probably THE most important film in the history of Indian Cinema. Every aspect of this film has been Legendary. Story, Characters, Dialogues, Cinematography, Set and Music. It is an Indian version of Seven Samurai(1953) and probably only genuine Indian Western Movie. It is a story of Thakur Baldev Singh, whose family has been massacred by Bandit Gabbar Singh. So, he hires two outlaws to help him catch that Bandit. References to Seven Samurai(1953) are obvious. When released in 1975, it broke almost every possible box office record and no movie came any closer to it for next 2 decades. For any person associated with this movie, it is considered as THE movie of their career and there are many heavyweights associated with it.

5. Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge(1995): This movie is perfect example of what Bollywood is known for in the Past couple of decades. It is pretty much cliched Family-centric Romantic Musical which started the horde of many such movies. However, if you want to see one, at least what you can do is see the best one and DDLJ is definitely THE one. It is about a boy who tries to win the hearts of the family of a girl he loves after they oppose their marriage. It even sounds cliched I know, but it is a litmus test. If you can not stand this one, you will probably not be able to bare with 80% of the movies made since. I am yet to meet an Indian who does not like this movie. So, I figure that should mean something.

6. Pyaasa(1957): Any list of this sort probably will not be complete without any mention of Guru Dutt, one of the most celebrated Indian Directors on International Level. And what other film can represent him better than one of his dream Projects Pyaasa(1957). Like the Hero of this movie, our Poet Vijay, who gets his work published and gets recognised for his work after he is considered dead, Guru Dutt and many of his movies achieved Cult Status after his death in 1964. Even now when re-released Pyaasa(1957) has run to full houses especially in France and Germany. Guru Dutt and Pyaasa have found their place in almost every 'Best of Indian Cinema' list all over the world.

7. Jewel Thief(1967): if someone asks me to choose a book of all the Harry Potter books, I will probably choose Prisoner of Azkaban, for one that I think that it is a book that can stand tall pretty much on its own and most importantly because after reading around 250-300 pages, you are told that whatever you read till now, was all wrong, it was just an illusion. I might have just told you the whole story of Jewel Thief. It is one of the good Crime Thrillers. If you like the likes of North by Northwest(1959), this movie should have something for you as well.

8. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron(1983): There are few good comedy movies I was considering here. But the only reason I am choosing this over others is I think this Monty Pythonesque satirical comedy might appeal to wider audience. Though you might need a liitle background knowledge in the last scene, which in my opinion is probably the most hilarious sequence. It is a satire on corruption involved in almost every governmental department and has a stellar cast. It has even attained the status of Cult Classic by now, since even after 28 years it applies perfectly to the current situations.

9. Ardh Satya(1983): Another Landmark film in the history of Indian cinema and probably is the best cop movie made in India. It tells us the story of a policeman who is struggling to keep his morals intact when the whole world around him is telling him against it. If I have to, I can draw some parallels between this and Serpico(1973) or Sidney Lumet other Cop Trilogy though ending here is more devastating. Besides the ending, it also has a cathartic moment when our protagonist breaks down while reading a poem from which this movie derives its name. Brilliance !!

10. Rang De Basanti(2007): And to sum it up, I have a movie which was the last Indian movie to be nominated in BAFTA awards and which reflects upon the youth of India. In my own opinion, ending of this movie is over the top. But it deserves special mention just for the transition from first half, involving a of Bunch of college students who do not give a damn about rest of world to second half where they are out on the roads to change the system which has claimed one of them. And again our very own A.R.Rehman comes up with some of the unforgettable music to reflect the perfect mood.

I know it is a very long list. But hey, you are learning about Indian Film Industry which in unlike any other in the whole damn world. What else did you expect?? I am leaving you guys with a Taste of India this holiday Season.Hope you Enjoy it and Happy Holidays !!


  1. We are waiting for 102 seriously...

    Excellent work done...

  2. Awesome list! I've never seen Bollywood film, what a good place to start.

  3. Thanks Alex !! Apart from these movies in list, there is a movie called 'A Wednesday'. Its available on Netflix. Give it a go.

  4. This is a great list of films that ... I'm sure not many of us here in the states have heard of.

  5. Thanks Sam. I know, I don't think people who are really interested in foreign films as well usually see many Indian movies.

  6. I was "Indian by association" in college, so I am fairly familiar with Bollywood. I love me some DDLJ, Rang De Basanti and Lagaan. For Western viewers I would also recommend 3 Idiots, Earth, Salaam Bombay and my guilty pleasure - Dostana.

    1. Indian by Association - that's interesting :)

      Good to know that you found them worth. As per the movies you mentioned
      3 Idiots - I will rather not recommend it.
      Dastana - I stay miles and miles away from anything Karan Joher. Sorry !!
      Earth, Salaam Bombay - Really Fine Choices !!


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