Starter movies


People are always asking me what movies I would recommend to them so they can become more familiar with Hindi movies. Of course, that’s like asking what Hollywood movies one would recommend*; obviously it depends on personal preference for genre, etc. but I’ve done my best to come up with a “one size fits all” list. These are not here just because they are favorites of mine (although they all are), but because I think they are also easily accessible to the western sensibility while remaining true to the culture they come from.

In no particular order (and subject to change without notice), here is my list:

Sholay: One of the classics in Hindi cinema; a western inspired by Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti westerns” — great cinematography, action/stunts, acting, music.

Lagaan: Goes without saying, Oscar-nominated in 2001 for Best Foreign Film.

Munna Bhai MBBS and Lage Raho Munna Bhai: Two wonderful characters in two separate stories. MBBS was one of the first Hindi movies where I laughed out loud throughout, and didn’t feel hampered by my non-desi genes in appreciating the humour. Heart-warming, funny, and best of all meaningful without being preachy.

Teesri Manzil: Shammi Kapoor, frothy romantic comedy combined with atmospheric murder mystery a la Hitchcock — and Helen in an actual role…what more can anyone ask for?

Chori Chori (2003): As I’ve said before on these pages, my favorite Hindi film. Sweet romantic comedy about following your dreams, great chemistry between the lead pair, wonderful music, and a lovely family of assorted quirky characters. See here for more details.

Parineeta: A great story (based on a Bengali novel) with beautiful songs, cinematography, and Rekha in an item number!

Hum Tum: Another funny romantic film (yes, I admit it — my favorite genre)…

Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II: I know nothing about Part I (if there is one), but this is a fun movie to watch with great performances by Arshad Warsi and Prashant; a dark but funny film in the spirit of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers.

Bunty Aur Babli: Two con artists on a spree from Lucknow to Mumbai. It doesn’t get sillier than this! Great songs, and lots of fun.

Life in a Metro: See here for more details.

Chak De! India: See here for more details.

*a common misconception about Bollywood is that all the movies are alike: nothing could be further from the truth!

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27 Comments to “Starter movies”

  1. Hi Greta,

    Good list, for starters anyway. I would definitely add the superhits Kuch kuch Hota hai and Veer-Zaara. I mean, if you are really trying to sell Bollywood, I think the masala Blockbusters have to be put forward. Lots of people have enjoyed Kabhie Khushi khabie Gham, also, in spite of the love-hate response…
    What do you say?

  2. KKHH is one of my favorites, but I’ve found that it’s difficult for someone who is completely new to Hindi movies to tolerate the first half…it’s too over-the-top in terms of what college life is like (a common comment is that college in India seems to be like high school in the US) and SRK’s hamming is a little much as well.

    I personally can’t sit through VZ or KKKG again, so that’s why they aren’t on this list :-)

  3. So far, I’ve had the best luck with Jhoom Barabar Jhoom and Jab We Met. Every girl I’ve seen them with has absolutely loved them. Now, guys I haven’t tried to convert as much. Maybe at all. Hmmmm.

  4. How can you have only one bachchan flick?and dat too sholay..which is almost not a bachchan flick…must add to the list..
    1)deewar(1975..i think)..Big B and Shashi kapoor are two warring brother against and for the system respectively as a soon-to-be 30 India struggles for answers.
    2)Hum(1992)….Stars Amitabh,Govinda and Rajnikant(wish he would have done more bollywood).A complicated plot about lost love,mistaken identities and patriotism..wat more can you ask for? A 50+ Amitabh askimg Sexy Siren Kimi Katekar for a chumma since its a jumma(gimme a kiss since its a friday.
    3)Disco Dancer(1977…again not sure)…Birth of a phenomenon Called Mithun Chakroborthy…Bappi Lahiri gives disco to India while Mithun gives Dance…

  5. I don’t think novices to Bollywood are ready for that many Bachchan films, truthfully. Deewar, maybe, but Govinda is just annoying to most westerners that I know, and Disco Dancer…well Disco Dancer is a unique film, but I don’t think of it as representative of Hindi films.

  6. Hmm…instead of starter movies I went more in the direction of different flavours of Bollywood…

  7. That’s an excellent idea for another post! How to get the full range of Bollywood experience in ten films or less!!!! :-)

  8. You fan of Rani Mukerji or something? Only asking because three out of ten movies in your list feature her:-) Not a fan of the movie Chori-Chori myself, but she was a riot in, both, B Aur B and Hum Tum.

    My top two of your list would be Sholay and Teesri Manzil without a shadow of a doubt.

  9. Well, yes I love Rani. But I think it’s just coincidence that she’s in so many of them! I think she’s a total riot in Chori Chori as well, but each to his/her own :)

  10. Hi Greta, I was looking for a Teesri Manzil link on your site but could not find one so I am posting this here since there is a reference to TM here.

    I just stumbled upon a piece today – and found it a fantastic and enthralling read. It is about the making of Teesri Manzil, the experiences of Vijay(Goldie) Anand, Shammi Kapoor and Nasis Hussain. Considering that Shammi + Vijay Anand = Memsaab’s most potent combo, I thought you might like to read it. I will not be the slightest bit surprised if you have already read this (considering how knowledgeable you are) but anyway here it is.

    Hope you like it.

  11. Ooh, I love Screen India articles. I don’t think I have seen this one (and I haven’t written a whole post on Teesri Manzil yet, but it is one of my favorites :-)

    Shamm + Asha + Helen + Vijay A. + Nasir Hussain = FAB-U-LOUS!

  12. Hi…New to your blog as well as blogging but your blog’s so good that I couldnt stop myself. I posted my first comment ever on any blog on your blog yesterday. Thats how much it inspired me.
    If possible, watch the movie “Socha Na Tha” (2005). I loved the movie and it was “so very hatke”. hope u like it too.

    • Thanks Prerna, that is very nice :-) I really want to watch Socha Na Tha, need to get it…Have been wanting to see Abhay Deol in something and haven’t managed it yet.

      • “Socha Na Tha” simply for the storyline not so much for the acting. Abhey Deol has grown by leaps and bounds since then as an actor. Watch him in “Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye” and “Manorama Six Feet Under”. Have u watched Naseeruddin Shah’s “Jaane bhi do yaaron” ? Superb Superb movie.

  13. Interesting list. I was delighted to read that you’re not a big fan of Veer-zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzaara. I think that even though Sholay left me underwhlemed I would agree that it would make a good intro film for some viewers. I can’t agree on Teesri Manzil which was also underwhelming for me. I would definitely suggest Shree 420 for the light-hearted social genre, and Socha Na Tha is a sweet soft movie to break people in. I think Jodhaa Akbar has the enough colour and spectacle to work despite being almost a compilation of steotypes and preconceptions of BW. Teesri Kasam would be a good intro for filmophiles and Amar Akbar Anthony would suit those who like silliness. And Chaudhvin ka Chand would work for anyone with an appreciation for beauty, since it’s basically a Waheeda modelling shoot. :)

  14. I just watched Teesri Manzil again the other night and I ADORE it :) It’s funny for me to see this list again, because I’ve seen an awful lot of great films since I wrote it. I would probably replace some of them with some of the older films I’ve grown to love, like Solva Saal and even some of the loony Arabian Nights ones that are considered B and C grade but are fantastic fun.

    • Word on the Teesri Manzil love. But what is this about you not caring for Veer Zaara? If you really didn’t like it, then you might be a long-lost sister!:-) I started twitching about 5 minutes into V-Z and by the 30 minute mark, I was desparately scanning the theater for a bored kid I could offer to take out into the hall and babysit for the remainder of the movie.

      • I know, Veer Zaara was just dull. If you’d been at the one movie theater here in northeast New England that screens Indian films you’d have had lots of rambunctious bored kids to choose from ;-|

  15. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Hindi movies of this decade that I have seen.
    But on my last trip to India I caught Socha Na Tha on telly.
    Had no expectations from it, had never even heard of Abhay Deol or the heroine (I don’t even remember her name now).

    You know what ? I really really loved the movie.
    Very cute, romantic, current, soft, empathisable (I know there is no such word but you know what I mean :-) ).
    Would be very good as a “starter” Hindi movie.

    Btw, in my limited no of post-Y2K movies, is Bunty & Bubli.
    I thought it was Ok till about half-time but then I lost interest in it.

    • Well, I must see it then. Such strong recommendations cannot be ignored!

      I like Bunty Aur Babli a lot, it makes me laugh. It’s not great art though, I’ll agree on that score!

  16. Memsaab… Have you ever heard of AMOL PALEKAR do watch his movies

    Golmaal (Ram/Laxman Prasad)
    Rajnigandha (1974) (Vidya Sinha)
    *****Chhoti Si Baat ** (1977) (Vidya Sinha, Asrani, Ashok Kumar)

  17. there is no part one for wesa bhi hota hai. that part II is also pun intended. brilliant movie. unfortunately, people remember it more for Allah ke Bande than the acting and story. every character did full justice to the role. i loved Gangu Taai.

  18. Considering that this was posted in 2007, I think the list of starter movies needs a revamping. :D

  19. LOL!!!!! It seriously does, Atul. Although now it would be much harder to make!

    Agree with you Sami—wonderful film, story, acting. And now since you’ve put it in my head I will be singing “Allah Ke Bande” all day!

  20. yeah, there’s no ‘part 1’ of waisa bhi hota hai.. the ‘part 2’ was intentional and I’m glad my frnd Prashant did this movie… though I’d like him to be recognized more n more!

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