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July 31, 2012

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On DVD/Blu-ray – Bollywood Starter Pack

by HELEN GEIB

Curious about Bollywood, but don’t know where to begin? These five movies (with five recommendations for further viewing) are accessible and easy to find.

Entry Point: Bride and Prejudice (2004)

Before you say anything, no, this isn’t a Bollywood movie. Writer-director Gurinder Chadha (a British filmmaker of Indian ancestry) transplanted Pride and Prejudice to modern-day India, like Austen’s England a stratified and hierarchical society where arranged marriages are routine. The heroine is played by Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai. Her Darcy is an American businessman with a desi English best friend. Most of the action unfolds in India with side trips to Los Angeles and London. East Meets West hybridization carries over into the storytelling and visuals. Most striking to Western eyes are the musical numbers, a Bollywood staple given a Hollywood twist through the choreography and staging. If you’ve never seen a Bollywood movie, Bride and Prejudice is a winning introduction to the form.

If you like it, try… Bend It Like Beckham (2002), Chadha’s hit comedy about an Indian-English girl who just wants to play soccer

Something for Everyone: Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001)

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sadness) was my own introduction to Bollywood. I went to see it out of curiosity and fell in love. It’s still my favorite Bollywood movie, and the first movie I turn to when I need a pick-me-up… providing I have four hours (movie plus intermission) to spare. Your typical Bollywood movie isn’t short. It is, or at least aspires to be: colorful, tuneful, dramatic, romantic, sentimental, funny, exciting, patriotic, sexy, and respectable. It has a happy ending. And it has Movie Stars. K3G has Shahrukh Khan, Kajol, Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, and Rani Mukerji. Learn those names.

If you like it, try… Shahrukh Khan and Kajol in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Brave of Heart Will Win the Bride), or DDLJ (1995), India’s longest-running movie

Big City Life, No Singing, No Dancing: Kaminey (2009)

Saying Bollywood movies have musical numbers is like saying Hollywood movies have heroes: usually the case, but not always. Bollywood’s audience isn’t monolithic any more than Hollywood’s is, and like its American counterpart, Bollywood makes different kinds of movies to cater to different tastes. A socially conscious action thriller, Kaminey (Scoundrels) (my review) is an example of a recent trend towards- for lack of a better term- the Western mode of cinema. These are movies for a (domestic and diaspora) market that is increasingly educated, urban, and technologically sophisticated. Less sentimental and more interested in confronting pressing social and political issues, these movies are also shorter, faster-paced, and dispense with the song and dance routine- or at most give it a token nod.

If you like it, try… Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (2009), a slice of life look at the daily price of doing business

Boy Meets Girl Is Universal: Hum Tum (2004)

All great popular cinemas know to remake a good movie when they see one. Bollywood is positively notorious for quick turnaround remakes of hit movies from the other Indian national cinemas. Hum Tum (You and Me) is one of the industry’s occasional remakes of Hollywood hits; sometimes authorized, often not. Its makers took the story of When Harry Met Sally and made it their own for one of the best romantic comedies of the decade- from any popular cinema. There are also charming short animated segments (the hero is a cartoonist), and fans of Broadway and Hollywood musicals will appreciate that the songs are fully integrated into the book.

If you like it, try… the lovely romantic comedy Jab We Met (How We Met) (2007)

Everybody Loves the Movies: Chandni Chowk to China (2009)

Just because they do things their own way doesn’t mean they don’t know what everyone else is doing. Chandni Chowk to China takes a comic hero from a Bollywood comedy/musical and re-imagines his story as the starring part in a vintage Hong Kong kung fu movie. The plot is a mix of low comedy and high melodrama peppered with musical numbers and martial arts fights. (Read the rest of my review.) Eat your heart out Quentin Tarantino.

If you like it, try… Tees Maar Khan (2010), an easygoing, affectionate Bollywood on Bollywood (and Hollywood) spoof also starring Akshay Kumar

Note: I recommend renting or streaming over buying as the video and sound quality of retail DVDs of Bollywood movies is more miss than hit. The good news is that Netflix offers a surprisingly large number of Bollywood movies for instant play, including several of the titles on this list.

This post was published in conjunction with Foreign Chops: Modern Bollywood edition at the Large Association of Movie Blogs.

New releases this week: Damsels in Distress, Le Havre


3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken
    Jul 31 2012

    Thanks for putting this together. I’ve been working more Chinese and Japanese movies into my viewing lately, but have neglected Bollywood for the most part. I know I should be expanding into this area too. These are on my Netflix list now.

  2. Aug 3 2012

    Good choices.

  3. Aug 3 2012

    @Ken: Let me know what you think, I have plenty more recommendations (and a good few to avoid too). The resistance point for most American movie fans is the musical numbers. That was never an issue for me- more a point in Bollywood’s favor, in fact, since I really enjoy musicals and it’s been a disfavored genre in Hollywood for decades now.

    @Squasher88: Thanks! I’ve been meaning to write a post like this for ages. The LAMB foreign chops feature was the spur I needed.

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