What's the canon for Bollywood films?
August 26, 2004 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Bollywood films, for the curious white boy. What's the canon? Which ones best represent the for lack of a better word genre? Where should an interested outsider start?
posted by ook to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Bend it Like Beckham and Monsoon Wedding are probably the more palatable ones. Then getting deeper, there's Dil Chahta Hai and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Lastly, I high recommend Satya, a darker movie which isn't as "Bollywood" as the other ones, but very, very quality. There's also another flick that played at the Chicago film fest last October, but it escapes me at the moment (and my ticket stub is back in Chicago).
posted by hobbes at 9:36 AM on August 26, 2004

Raj Kapoor, he is certainly one of the more famous directors, and I have always found his films to be accessable and enjoyable, with good music. I believe that "love sublime" is his most famous. It is from 1978 though, I find the films from the 70s-80s are easier to understand, just personally, YMMV.

(on preview, I don't actually know if these older films are considered "Bollywood")
posted by milovoo at 9:38 AM on August 26, 2004

Bollywood has been around since the early 40s but I've only seen movies from the early 50s onwards. Generally, the time since then is characterized by who was/were the leading male actors, roughly speaking. So, Amitabh Bachchan (a demi-gawwwwd) ruled the mid-70s to early 80s, while Raj Kapoor was king during the 50s (although he was around for quite a bit.) Anyway, here's the list of leading male stars over the eras: Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Guru Dutt, Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan & Shah Rukh Khan. There are tons of others who were/are pretty popular but likely won't be remembered much 40 years down the line.
Some of these are: Rajendra Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, Salman Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Hrithik Roshan, Vivek Oberoi...etc. Just read up on these people and get a list of their notable films, that's the "canon". Just to make sure, you also get the best-made films, look out for Naseeruddin Shah as well.

As for film titles, well, Indian movies don't fit into genres. The Indian filmmakers like to apply the policy of 'paisa vasool' which means 'worth the ticket price'. That entails having all elements in a movie: (slapstick) comedy, romance, action, MELO-fuckin-drama, song & dance and most important of them all: illogical plot twists a happy ending. Be prepared for caricatures all the way through, though some recent and exceptional films have bucked that trend. Assuming you're in the US, the best places to rent DVDs are Indofilms and Eros. They have a collection spanning the canon.
posted by Gyan at 9:39 AM on August 26, 2004

Sorry to appear stupid but I don't understand what you mean by "What's the canon?"

As for recommended movies without knowing what precisely you are looking for:

Deewar (Starring Amitabh Bacchan)
Zanjeer (Starring Amitabh Bacchan)
Sholay (Starring Amitabh Bacchan, Dharmendra, etc)

Amar Akbar Anthony
Chupke Chupke

Kabhi Kabhi
Razia Sultan
Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India

Hum Aap Kai Hain Koon?
Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam
Dil Chahta Hai
posted by riffola at 9:46 AM on August 26, 2004

I'll second Lagaan. Bonus: if you didn't before, you will almost understand the game of cricket by the end of the film. Maybe.

When I think Bollywood, I think sprawling epic (3+ hours) that kind of muddles genres and has musical numbers. I don't think Monsoon Wedding really qualifies (though it is an Indian film), and Bend it like Beckham certainly doesn't. Maybe I'm being too rigid?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:48 AM on August 26, 2004

Yeah, I would define "Bollywood" as sprawling epics, however I figured the first pair would be more easily absorbed given our ever-shortening attention spans.
posted by hobbes at 9:55 AM on August 26, 2004

PST, you are right those two wouldn't really be classified as Bollywood movies.

I made a mistake, Lamhe should be under Drama. Like gyan says above most movies will have a lil of everything.
posted by riffola at 9:57 AM on August 26, 2004

Also I have to add this, Dharmendra is most definitely an Indian movie superstar, and will be remembered in the same breath as the rest of the A plus list leading heroes.
posted by riffola at 10:00 AM on August 26, 2004

TCM showed a whole bunch of bollywood movies last year..the ones i saw were great.
posted by amberglow at 10:13 AM on August 26, 2004

Response by poster: re "What's the canon?"

Basically I've seen exactly one Bollywood movie, Devdas, which we more or less picked at random. I really enjoyed it -- both the music and the cinematography rock my world -- but I know I'm missing an awful lot, out of unfamiliarity with the fim style and just plain old cultural ignorance, and "at random" doesn't seem the best way to remedy that.

So first off I'm wondering if there are any genre-defining "must see" films that everyone refers to -- the bollywood equivalents to Casablanca or Citizen Kane, if they exist -- or failing that if there are just particular actors or directors I should keep an eye out for as a good jumping-off point. No particular subgenre or time period in mind (comedy, action, romance, 50's, contemporary, all good). Thanks for all the recommendations so far; this is great!
posted by ook at 10:32 AM on August 26, 2004

riffola: Dharmendra is most definitely an Indian movie superstar

I half expected someone (especially you) to give me flak on that. We'll have to wait & watch. Dharmendra will be remembered, but not in the same breath as Amitabh.

ook: As far as leading actors go, my actors list should basically lead you to 85% of great movies. As far as the Casablancas & Citizen Kanes go, there's Sholay, Anand, Amar Akbar Anthony, Mother India, Shri 420, Teesri Manzil, Mughal-e-Azam, Pakeezah, Umrao Jaan, Deewar (1975), Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Shri 420, Awaara, Anari, Junglee, Kaagaz Ke Phool, Pyaasa. These are off the top of my head. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro is considered a very funny Hindi movie. I loved it when I saw it as a kid, hated it when I saw it a year back.
posted by Gyan at 10:42 AM on August 26, 2004 [1 favorite]

Dharmendra made some really awful movies, but then as have Amitabh, Dilip Kumar, et all. He was most definitely the leading man in the industry before Amitabh's rise to fame.

Another actor who has made some really awful movies, but in my opinion is one of the better leading men is Sunil Dutt.

Action stars: Amitabh, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, etc

Thespians: Dilip Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar, Naseeruddin Shah, Sunil Dutt, Raj Kapoor, etc.

Romantic heroes: Aamir Khan (although he could be considered a modern thespian now), Salman Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Rishi Kapoor, etc.
posted by riffola at 10:59 AM on August 26, 2004

Amar Akbar Anthony

This is the greatest movie ever made. Seriously. What other movie has a guy jump out of a fucking egg and sing a crazy song while dancing, and revealing a patch on the inside of his jacket that says "420"?

"Excuse me, please. MY NAME IS ANTHONY GONZALVES!"
posted by rocketman at 11:15 AM on August 26, 2004

420 is the Indian Penal Code for cheating.
Sec. 420 -Cheating - Ingredients required for the offence - Mens rea.
posted by riffola at 11:44 AM on August 26, 2004

ook, in addition to renting out the best bollywood films, I recommend seeing some in a theater. It looks like you're near Boston, which is home to the Bombay Cinema 2. It's possible they mainly play mediocre ones there, but even a mediocre bollywood film on the big screen can be entertaining.

Also, keep watch on your local film festivals to see if any bollywood-ish films are playing. (I saw that version of Devdas you mentioned at seattle's cinerama and it kicked ass there.)
posted by gluechunk at 11:55 AM on August 26, 2004

Thanks for this thread, ook and repliers. I've come close to asking this question here before. The Netflix Queue has grown.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:56 AM on August 26, 2004

Apunkachoice is a site offering reviews -in English- of new Bollywood movies with some movie gossip, interviews, etc.
posted by misteraitch at 2:39 PM on August 26, 2004

My favourite has to be Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. This film is actually part of the grade 10 curriculum in a school where I live (thanks to our tiny Bollywood film club!). It's got great dance moves, an impossible plot, and great costumes.
I have loads of other suggestions, but I'm pretty surprised I haven't seen KKKG mentioned before now.
As a resource for the uninitiated, I recommend BollyWhat? which calls itself "The guide for clueless fans of Bollywood". The film suggestions are very good, and the people on the forums are very helpful.
posted by nprigoda at 4:17 PM on August 26, 2004

nprogoda: I'm pretty surprised I haven't seen KKKG mentioned before now

This might come off as insulting, but after you've grown up with Bollywood movies, most of the recent movies barring a few, like Satya & Chandni Bar, don't really impress. KKKG is just another stereotypical lavish-budget absurd epic that I cannot distinguish in essence from the preceding 3 epics and the following 3 epics. If you're new to Bollywood, then KKKG might be an unique experience.
posted by Gyan at 5:27 PM on August 26, 2004

Salon.com's top 10 Bollywood movies.
posted by Vidiot at 9:44 PM on August 26, 2004 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed Mission Kashmir, with Sanjay Dutt, Hrithik Roshan, and Preity Zinta. Let me also say that it probably doesn't compare to most of the movies being suggested to you here, ook...I just like the occasional action flick : )

Speaking of East Indian actors, last weekend at a nightclub, I was approached by an East Indian woman who said, "Oh my God...you look SO MUCH like Amitabh Bacchan's son! You must get that a lot." Being raised in Saskatchewan, Canada...I don't : )
posted by bachelor#3 at 8:53 AM on August 27, 2004

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