A lot of Bollywood is senseless song and dance, and always has been, so much so that this has become the face of Indian cinema in the wider world.
I’m not ashamed of that, maybe a little embarrassed, but not ashamed- I laugh at the unrealistic plot lines, the romanticised festivals, and even the sexist projections of characters- but I still love Bollywood. I’ve poked fun at movies like Hum Saath Saath Hain and Mohabattein, but I watch them each time they’re on television, because sometimes I enjoy mind numbing song and dance, and I doubt I could ever thank Bollywood for giving us that, a dimension of films that has now seeped into the very core of our celebrations, of weddings, and birthdays, and even office parties.
A lot of Bollywood is senseless song and dance, but that’s not all Bollywood is. There’s another side, most of which is tucked away under non-mainstream cinema, and it’s beautiful.
Indian cinema is going through a transition, pathbreaking films have always been made, but today they’re getting a much wider audience than before, and consequently, more of them are being made each year. The song and dance hasn’t entirely left the stories, and I hope it never will, but it’s now one of the many elements in films, which are also characterised by well etched characters, strong plotlines, and almost flawless direction and images.
As someone who has spent two years now poking fun at the innane cinema of the 90s and early 2000s in blog posts, I think it’s time to acknowledge and celebrate the other side, the one that is now coming into its own, in India and, hopefully, in the world.
So here’s a list of Bollywood films made in the last ten years, in no particular order, that deserve more appreciation than they have been given, and represent what Bollywood is capable of being, and is hopefully becoming, when it sets its mind to it.
The title of this film literally translates to ‘Youth’, and successfully captures the spirit of an entire generation through the use of three parallel, very different, plotlines. Also, never has Ajay Devgan been so appealing.
For any Indian living abroad, for a year, or all their lives, this is a movie will make you want to pack your bags and go home. Shah Rukh Khan delivers an unexpectedly brilliant performance in this one, which makes you wonder why he spent all that time doing romcoms (albeit not so bad) when he was capable of this.
Beware. This will make you want to join the army.
For anyone who loves a good thriller, Khakee is a must watch. With an exciting storyline, and people like Tusshar Kapoor and Ajay Devgan delivering one of the best performances of their careers, this movie changes the meaning of ‘Good Evening’ forever.
Dealing with the sensitive topic of the 2002 Gujarat riots, Dev is one of the few Bollywood films to focus on the isolation of Muslims in a city that has been torn apart by communal violence and bloodshed.
Based on a book by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Parineeta is, by far, Pradeep Sarkar’s best. Poetically capturing Calcutta at the turn of the 20th century, this film, revolving around a love story that transcends class, served as the launching pad for Vidya Balan, a face that went on to launch a thousand films.
A career best for Shreyas Talpade, Iqbal is the story of a deaf and mute boy who dreams of playing cricket for his country.
8. Rang De Basanti
With flawless performances by lesser known actors like Atul Kulkarni and Kunal Kapoor, this movie struck a chord with the Indian youth, capturing on reel the spirit of a generation disillusioned by the government and politics of the country, but unable, often unwilling to attempt, to alter the way things are done. Although melodramatic in parts, this movie deserves a watch, maybe two (possibly more).
9. Lage Raho Munna Bhai
A new, fresh take on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, by exploring his relationship with a, ironically, good hearted underworld don.
10. A Wednesday
A thriller, this movie revolves around a police commissioner and his conversations with an anonymous caller who is demanding the release of four terrorists. The inclusion of remarkable actors like Naseruddin Shah and Anupam Kher is an immediate giveaway of the quality of the film, and the buff Jimmy Shergill only adds to it.
11. Rock On
Rock On tells the story of the four members of a band, focusing on the dynamics they share and how they alter as they cross the threshold into adulthood. It’s about growing up, friendship, and Arjun Rampal’s long locks.
12. Taare Zameen Par
With a remarkable performance by child actor Darsheel Zafarey, Taare Zameen Par revolves around the life and mind of a dyslexic child and his relationship with a man who changes his life.
Loosely based on the life of Dhirubai Ambani, Guru tells the story of a business tycoon, with some of A.R. Rahman’s best work for accompaniment.
14. Gandhi, My Father
A phenomenal film, that got nowhere near as much credit as it deserved, Gandhi, My Father revolves around the troubled relationship Gandhi shared with his eldest son, Akshay Khanna playing the latter, and proving he’s got some serious acting chops. `
15. Band Baaja Baarat
Band Baaja Baarat deserves a mention, largely, because of its unconventional hero. Based in the capital, the film successfully captures the essence of the city through its narration of the love story between a young boy and girl, who are friends, and partners in their wedding planning ‘Binness’.
16. Jodhaa Akbar
Although excruciatingly long by the end of it, Jodhaa Akbar deserves a watch, for the hitherto untold love story, the talent (and looks) of its lead actors, and the beautiful music by A. R. Rahman. But you can turn it off once Aishwarya Rai gets off the elephant.
17. 3 Idiots
3 Idiots is a hilarious take on the Indian Education System, in which knowledge is quickly becoming second to the pursuit of marks. With some of the most lovable characters ever captured in cinema, and a refreshingly idiotic take on the much beloved “old mother, unwed sister” story of Bollywood, this is a pathbreaking film that handles a serious issue by generating laughter.
18. Love Aaj Kal
With Saif Ali Khan, as the sardaar, delivering one of his best performances yet, this movie contrasts the older concept of pure, romanticised love with the apparently more practical notion of the emotion held by today’s youth. This movie has one of my favourite love stories, and some scenes and songs that are very likely to cause goosebumps.
One of the best films I have ever seen, Udaan deals with the complex relationship that a young boy shares with his oppressive father, but the real delight of the film is his little stepbrother, who immediately became one of my favorite characters on film.
20. Love Sex Aur Dhokha
A very unconventional film for Bollywood, this movie deals with three sub plots, throwing light on some serious ideological and social issues in Indian society- an honour killing, an MMS Scandal, and a journalist’s attempt at a sting operation.
21. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
The best road trip film Bollywood has ever come up with, this movie revolves around three (incredibly good looking) friends as they travel across Spain, on what becomes a journey of self discovery. Their story includes impeccable music and Katrina Kaif’s best performance yet.
22. Do Dooni Chaar
A very non commercial movie, Do Dooni Chaar has at its core a middle class family of four, and their struggle to fulfill their desire for a car, with the limited teacher’s salary the breadwinner earns. Neetu and Rishi Kapoor are absolutely brilliant in this hilarious film. If you have a heart, this family will steal it.
23. Kai Po Che
This production improves Chetan Bhagat’s novel, 3 Mistakes of My Life, to create a phenomenal film, revolving around three men trying to set up a business. It focuses on their friendship, and has at its core the famous Gujarati work ethic. Watch out for the earthquake scene- not all men run to check on their beloved.
24. English Vinglish
For an industry that barely acknowledges the existence of older women, English Vinglish was pathbreaking. It tells the story of Shashi, an Indian woman who is continuously humiliated by her husband and daughter because she can’t speak English, and has at its core her attempt to learn the language (and to love herself) when she goes to attend a wedding in New York.
Lootera is sheer beauty. The scenes are poetry in motion, and the music that accompanies them is flawless. Sonakshi Sinha and Ranveer Singh play the protagonists of this love story based on O Henry’s The Last Leaf. This is Bollywood at its best.
26. The Lunchbox
With stellar performances by Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur, Ritesh Batra’s film tells the story of a housewife and a man she accidentally befriends as they write to each other, penning some of the most beautiful lines anyone has ever come up with.
Fukrey isn’t a film for everyone, as proved by the mixed reception it met with, but if you understand Delhi, and its people, this is the movie to watch. With fresh (though not necessarily very young) faces as protagonists, this movie revolves around four very different boys, brought together by a single thing- money. Varun Sharma is absolutely phenomenal in this film, which, though questionable in parts, definitely deserves a watch (and many more). I’m hoping it’s fate will be a little like Andaz Apna Apna- rejected at birth, but going on to become a classic.
28. Ankhon Dekhi
Ankhon Dekhi has to be one of the best films of the decade. It isn’t a typical Bollywood film at all, but it is one of the best. Sanjay Mishra finally gets a role he deserves, as a man who decides to only believe in what he sees, much to the exasperation of his family, and the delight of his friends. If you don’t become incredibly fond of the protagonist, you don’t have a heart.
In the same league as English Vinglish, Queen tells the story of a naive young girl who sets off on her honeymoon alone after her groom calls off their wedding a day before the ceremony. We follow her through Paris and Amsterdam as, terrified, she struggles to manage on her own. The protagonist of a heartwarming, hilarious film, Rani is one the most loveable characters Indian cinema has come up with yet.
30. Detective Byomkesh Bakshy
This movie is Dibakar Banerjee’s take on the famous Bengali detective, etched out by Sharadindu Bandhopadyay in his stories. The plot is thrilling and exciting, with Sushant Singh Rajput in the lead, some high adrenaline, unconventional music as second lead, and one of the most interestingly frightening villains in recent times. Anand Tiwari shines yet again in a supporting role, eliciting more affection for his character in the hearts of viewers than the director may have intended.
And then there’s others which come very highly recommended, but have yet to be removed from my ‘to see’ list, like Omkara, Gangs of Wasseypur, and the recently released Dum Laga Ke Haisha.
Bollywood has always churned out mainstream, mind numbingly ridiculous films, but it has also produced timeless classics, like Teesri Manzil (who doesn’t love a good ol shimmy with Shammi), Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Chupke Chupke, Andaz Apna Apna, Legend of Bhagat Singh, Monsoon Wedding, and Dil Chahta Hai. But it has never been appreciated for it.
Indian cinema has never really got its due – it has been loved and scoffed at in turn, for its dance, music, and some seriously dramatised action, but it has never been respected. Hopefully, with unconventional films finally finding a place in mainstream cinema, and an increasingly wide audience amongst people, Bollywood will finally get the appreciation and acclamation that it deserves.