Bollywood is known internationally and more specifically in the United States for making movies with lavish song-and-dance numbers. Many audiences around the world turn to Bollywood for its escapist plot lines. Although this list contains some majestic song-and-dance movies, there are also some thoughtful and insightful surprises. The prominence of Shah Rukh Khan should be of no shock to readers who know him, since most of India and fans in other countries around the world are obsessed with him. And this columnist is no exception. In no particular order:
1) “Dil Se (With the Heart)”: There is one reason you should watch this movie—A.R. Rahman. Rahman is a music director who changed the face of music in Bollywood movies. Mani Ratnam, the director of the film, uses his music to not only tell the story of a female terrorist and a male journalist looking for the truth, but to also highlight the different stages of their relationship—attraction, infatuation, love, reverence, worship, obsession and death. The dream pairing of Ratnam and Rahman has produced films that cater to all of your senses, and this one is no exception.
2) “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something Special Happens)”: This saccharine movie features Bollywood’s power couple Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan. The story is about the friendship between Rahul (SRK) and Anjali (Kajol) during their college years and the secret love Anjali harbors for Rahul. After Rahul’s marriage to Tina (Rani Mukherjee) ends in tragedy, Anjali and Rahul reconnect. The main theme of the film is that friendship should be the main element of any relationship and that soul mates don’t necessarily have to be just lovers. Though sometimes clichéd, it is definitely a good date movie!
3) “Devdas”: The magnum opus of Sanjay Leela Bhansali made waves internationally after its release. Though the drunken spurned lover Devdas is played a little overdramatically by Shah Rukh Khan, the opulence of the film’s costumes and sets is something to see for itself. With magnificent music and accompanying intricate dances, “Devdas” is definitely a “typical Bollywood film.” The movie was marked as the comeback vehicle for Madhuri Dixit after her marriage and pregnancy, and she is definitely the star of the film with strong dialogues and exquisite dance moves. Aishwarya Rai captures the spirit of the stubborn, arrogant and yet vulnerable Parvati, with ease.
4) “Mr. and Mrs. Iyer”: The presence of beautifully haunting art films like “Mr. and Mrs. Iyer” is sometimes overshadowed by big-budget commercial films in Bollywood. However, this art film definitely holds its own, especially with the strong lead actors, Rahul Bose and Konkona Sen Sharma. Set against the backdrop of Hindu-Muslim riots in India, Meenakshi, a conservative Hindu Brahmin wife, and Raja, a liberal Muslim wildlife photographer, meet at a bus station as Meenakshi’s in-laws are bidding her and her son farewell. Raja is enlisted to watch after Meenakshi and her son during the long journey. The two develop a close bond, and a sense of understanding about their respective religions due to the sectarian violence that rages around them.
5) “Dhoom 1 and 2”: The introduction of high-octane action films like “Dhoom” in Bollywood marks a new generation of films that are more Western, namely more Hollywood. With babes in bikinis and motorcycle chases, explosions and tricks, these sequels show that Bollywood movies can be polished and cool. The main premise of both films revolves around police officer Jai (Abhishek Bachchan) and his harebrained sidekick Ali (Uday Chopra) trying to stop the various bad guys from breaking the law. With hot guys and girls in lush locales throughout the films, these movies are definitely great to watch for eye-candy!
6) “Omkara (Othello)”: A dramatic and violent interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Othello,” Vishal Bharadwaj’s “Omkara” is part of a series of films the director has interpreted from other famous works. Bharadwaj adapted the play to Indian culture and Bollywood seamlessly, and though some of the casting was surprising, (Kareena Kapoor in anything art-filmy? Right) all of the actors delivered their characters with subtlety. Interestingly, Bharadwaj didn’t maintain any of the difficult poetic language of Shakespeare, but instead chose to have his characters speak a dialect that uses very crass language, giving a very contemporary, gritty vibe to the film.
These six films represent the broad spectrum of Bollywood films out there, just as there is a diversity of cultural and religious groups in India. All of these films are available on DVD online and in your nearest Indian video store.