December 16th, 2009


ten Bollywood movies to watch instead of Slumdog Millionaire

About a year back Slumdog Millionaire came out to much fanfare and hype. I'd bristle every time someone told me they'd watched their first Bollywood movie. Ugh.

Don't get me wrong, I like Slumdog Millionaire. I thought it was an okay movie. The narrative and cinematography were interesting. Two things irk me about it: 1) Some people think this is a Bollywood movie. It's not. It's a British written, British directed move, with British actors, filmed in India. If this exact film were directed by an Indian director, I don't think it would have received as much attention. There are so many great Bollywood movies that deserve more attention than this one. If you're interested, I've listed them below. Btw, that dance number at the end was pathetic. 2) This one is a minor but.... Some people think the movie portrays everyday India. Indiana Jones Temple of Doom presented India as the land of elephants and snake charmers. Slumdog replaced that stereotype for another, now we're the land of slums and call centers. While the poverty and violence shown isn't an exaggeration, it's just some of the worst. And of course all this crazy stuff happens to one person. Yea, right.

Here are some real Bollywood movie recommendations you can rent from Netflix or your local library. They all come with English subtitles. I've kept it to the last 20 years or so of Bollywood. I've left older classics out, because they're a diffrerent class of Bollywood altogether. I've included the link to the Wikipedia articles for each and kept my personal notes brief. These are in no particular order:

1. Tare Zameen Par - This movie really moved me. It's the best performance I've seen of any child actor. I just read on Wiki that it's being released under an English title Like Stars on Earth in Jan 2010.

2. Lage Raho Munnabhai - A wonderful comedy about the power of truth and humanism. And it's inspired "Ghandigiri protests" around the world. Read about it in the wiki.

3. Dil Chata Hai - I'm a sucker for a good romance, and this is my personal favorite. Might be more of a typical Bollywood "bubblegum blockbuster" that critics wouldn't include in their list, but I can't help but like it. Good songs too! Ladies, you'll want to watch this one for sure.

4. Rang De Basanti - Great story, themes of repatriation, political activism and a mix of history.

5. Black - One of Sanjay Leela's best movies. It's an adaptation of Hellen Keller's story, told beautifully.

6. Lagaan - Set in Briish raj, about the game of cricket. You have your football movies, we have cricket. :) THIS one was nominated for Best Foreign Film. Wish this had won instead of Slumdog.

7. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ) - One of the biggest bollywood movies of all time, and longest running at 700 weeks in Mumbai, and 15 years of non-stop running. It's long, it's typical, it's about love and marriage and I just can't help but like it. If you like Dil Chahta Hai you'll like this one too.

8. Salaam Bombay - Mira Nair's movies about slum life, released 20 years before Slumdog. This one is better.

9. A Wednesday - Not typical Bollywood, but an interesting thriller drama.

10. Swades - this one didn't do so well in the box office or with critics, but it has all the right pieces for me. Grassroots Bollywood, some comedy/romance, an AR Rahman soundtrack, and a repatriation theme.