Sunday, April 12, 2009

An introduction to Bollywood

An American friend asked me the other day to recommend "some good Bollywood movies", and I must admit, I was stumped. How does one choose just a few films from a film industry that churns out 300 films a year? (And that is just in Hindi)

On vacation in Texas last week, I was reading Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games. More on the book itself in another post. In the 'Extras' section of the book, there was an author Q&A with that same conversation again. The interviewer (presumably an American) is talking to Chandra about the copious Bollywood references in his book. To someone who doesn't quite get all the allusions, the interviewer says, what movies would you recommend to get a feel for Bollywood over the years.

Now remember, Sacred Games is a gangster book. So there is a distinct gangster bias to the list Chandra comes up with. Still, I found the list extremely interesting.

Here then is Vikram Chandra's list of notable Bollywood films over the years:

1. Pyaasa (1957)
2. Kaagaz ke phool (1959)
3. Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
4. Sholay (1975)
5. Parinda (1989)
6. Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995)
7. Satya (1998)
8. Lagaan (2001)
9. Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006)
10. Rang de Basanti (2006)

He has persuasive reasons for why each film makes it on this list, but I will let the list stand on its own. For my American readers - you could do much worse than this list if you are looking for an introduction to Bollywood. For my Indian readers - What do you think? How different would your personal top 10 look ?


  1. I have to confess that I haven't seen all these movies (1-3 and 5). But I thought of applying a few filters like the following

    1. Does it cover movies of the superstars? Amitabh makes it. So does Shah Rukh, Aamir (2), etc. Not sure whether Raj Kapoor makes it to the list. Hrithik and Salman (sic) are also missing.

    2. Does it have movies of the more famous leading ladies? Probably indicating how hero-centric most movies are, we find Aishwarya Rai, Madhuri Dixit, Nargis, etc missing.

    3. Does it cover the stereotypes of India and bollywood? This would have made me include Hum Apke Hain Kaun (importance of weddings), Khosla ka Ghosla ?(corruption), Sarfarosh (terrorism), Border (war with Pakistan). The current list already has Satya (gangs), Lagaan (cricket), Dilwale (NRI), etc. Maybe it should also include Beta to get in the stereotype of mon-son love and just to get in the item number of Dhak Dhak by Madhuri (many birds with one stone!). I think we are still missing a movie showing the importance of religion in social life.

    Clearly adding all these would move it closer to the top 20 list than the top 10 list.

  2. S+M - First off, you HAVE TO see Parinda. It is a great gangster flick and Nana Patekar scared the bejesus out of me!

    I am totally with you on HAHK. On your Nargis point, I wonder whether Mother India should make the list. Also, in terms of modern films, I wonder whether Dil Chahta Hai or Black add to the list...