To get you started, I have handpicked some of the best of Bollywood, past and present, as a foundation to build on. For newbies, starting off with a recent release might be the easiest transition into Bollywood. I have also used a couple of favorites to hook even the most skeptical people into becoming Bollywood fanatics. Don't be surprised if, after a month or so, you find yourself reciting the lyrics to the songs you once found weird and amusing.
- Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (Sometimes Happiness Sometimes Sorrow, 2001). This very extravagant family drama starring Amitabh Bachchan and Hrithik Roshan is long even by B'wood standards, but you won't notice. It boasts an excellent soundtrack, and you'll know why I think this movie is "phat" after you see it.
- Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something's Happening, 1998). One of Bollywood's most popular films and one of my personal favorites. Starring a very underrated Shah Rukh Khan, the ever-evolving Kajol and the strep throat-inflicted Rani Mukherjee. Plenty of short-shorts and Speedo action here.
- Devdas(2002). An extravagantly beautiful film once again starring the great Shah Rukh Khan, alongside Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit. The most expensive Bollywood film to date, it features excellent music and dance choreography.
- Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai (Say That You're in Love, 2000). Here you'll come across a common Bollywood theme: love prevails over the sorrows of death. I'm not going to give any more away since most Bollywood movies are very predictable.
Also: Lagaan (2001). Taxes. Cricket. A nearly four-hour running time. Put all these things... out of your mind completely, because, while they may describe some elements of Lagaan, they shouldn't put you off. The film's subtitle, "Once Upon a Time in India," should be a clue to the film's sweep and humor (a reference to Sergio Leone perhaps). It's certainly not obscure, being an Oscar-nominee a couple of years ago and an international box office hit, nor is it cheap, rumored to be the most expensive film from India. Don't let that deter you, either - this is one damned entertaining movie, with something for everyone: singing, dancing, sport, political intrigue, suspense, historical perspective, and did I mention song and dance? -- Craig Phillips
After you've felt your way into the world of Bollywood, check out the following all-time classics that have shaped the genre.
- Sholay (Ramesh Sippy, 1975). In a recent poll, this grand canvas action-cum-family drama boasting the top stars of the 1970s was voted the most popular Hindi film of all time. An ex-police officer seeks revenge on a notorious bandit (in the Mexican mould) who has murdered his family. Sholay has terrific action, terrific heroes and heroines and a villain, Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan), who caught the imagination of a billion people.
- Rangeela (Ram Gopal Varma, 1994). This superbly made, light-hearted movie stars Amir Khan as Munna and Urmila Matgoankar as Mili. Mili dreams of being a movie star and, with a little help, becomes a top Bollywood heroine. Munna loves her but says nothing as he fears rejection. Love wins in the end. The film has brilliant dialogue and Amir Khan's exceptional performance made it one of the best of the 90s. Songs by A.R. Rahman put him at the vanguard of Indian film music.
- Mother India (Mehboob Khan, 1957). Masterly epic tells the story of Radha (played brilliantly by Nargis), a village woman who struggles to raise her two sons when her husband is estranged from her following an accident. In Radha, we have a strong and virtuous character embodying all the best qualities of womanhood. The film has the stature of Gone With The Wind in the Indian cinema context and is Mehboob Khan's masterpiece.
- Amar Akbar Anthony (Manmohan Desai, 1977). In the 1970s, action movies and revenge sagas dominated Hindi cinema. Amar Akbar Anthony was a big surprise hit from that genre. Three brothers, Amar (Vinod Khanna), Akbar (Rishi Kapoor) and Anthony (Amitabh Bachchan) are separated from their parents in their childhood by a combination of fate and villainy. They are raised as Hindu, Muslim and Christian respectively but are united at the end of this wacky and wild movie. Bachchan, popular as an action hero, shines here as the street-wise Anthony Gonsalves.
Suggestions for further reading:
- Bollywood: Popular Indian Cinema, by Lalit Mohan Joshi, is one of the best and most thorough books on the subject and boasts a ton of great pictures.
- Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema, edited by Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen, is an exhaustive but highly readable resource.
Suggestions for further clicking:
- Our 2002 interview with Mira Nair.
- Rediff.com: A lot of great interviews, features, individual movie pages, the latest news, and more.
Suggestions for further listening:
- The Rough Guide to Bollywood (World Music Network).
- Golden Voices From the Silver Screen (Globe Style).
- If you have Netscape Spinner Internet Radio, there's a Bollywood station which is fun to listen to.
Thoughts? Comments? Reactions? Suggestions? Discuss!
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