November 15, 2006


old school Bollywood TEESRI MANZIL

If it wasn't for the comments section of this blog I'd never learn terms like "tumbleweave" and I never would have heard the plaintive cry of a few readers who want to know what Bollywood movies to watch. There're a lot of Bollywood movies out there, they're all on region free DVDs with English subtitles, and they all look exactly the same. Every single movie, be it love story or revenge thriller, has the cover of a bad Harlequin romance. So here's a cheap attempt for me to justify the hundreds of hours of Bollywood movies I've watched by giving you a list of ten films you should see from Bollywood.

DIL SE - the first Bollywood movie I ever saw and still the best movie about terrorism ever made. A full-blown musical about suicide bombers starring Manisha Koirala and Shah Rukh Khan, two of Bollywood's biggest stars. Everything about this movie is perfect.

COMPANY - cold and tight, like the death grip of a corpse, Ram Gopal Varma's masterpiece is an exceptional gangster flick that'll send you scurrying out to find his other works. Try SATYA (his first Bollywood gangster movie), EK HASINA THI (female revenge film produced by Varma), AB TAK CHHAPPAN (corrupt cop movie produced by Varma) and read more about his career here.

MAST - Varma again, but this time he's making a poisonous love letter to the big Bollywood masala movies that he loved as a fan. It's sick, and weird, and very very glam.

BOMBAY - Mani Ratnam of DIL SE fame made this Hindu/Muslim love story and while it ends like a Coke commercial there's no denying the two hours plus of great acting, riot scenes, and people being burned alive that precedes the finale.

DISCO DANCER - if wacky is more your taste then please treat yourself to DISCO DIDDY. Movies don't get any more head foggingly weird than this one which features guitar trauma and the finger snap attack.

MUTHU MAHARAJA - okay, maybe Rajni in MUTHU is weirder. Take DISCO DANCER and MUTHU MAHARAJA together and feel your brain recoil in terror. There are no reviews I can find for this fine, fine film but that'll change soon.

NAYAK NAYAK - if you can find a disc of NAYAK that hasn't falled prey to digital decay then grab it. A news cameraman becomes Prime Minister of India for a day and fixes things by punching people in the stomach. Well-produced but bone-headed, this the fantasy film that features the infamous "naked MATRIX" fight scene.

DEVDAS - three of Bollywood's biggest actors swoon and suffer on Bollywood's biggest sets in this adapatation of Bollywood's most famous love story. Eyeball grabbing decor-joy and a plot that's lowest setting is "intensely tragic" make this my Bollywood guilty pleasure. Get some ideas on how to decorate YOUR villa here.

ABHAY ABHAY - the Hindi disc is a mess that freezes halfway through so order the Telugu version (same movie, different language) instead: AALAVANDHAN. This may not be to everyone's taste, but Kamal Hassan has made the definitive serial killer horror musical and his performance as the psychotic SWAT commander and his psychotic serial killer brother is totally ginchy. (note: there are apparently some minor edits of drug use in the Tamil version. Can anyone confirm this?)

TEESRI MANZIL - old school Bollywood the way it ought to be: a nutty plot, fabulous Dr. Seuss inspired musical numbers, Helen acting nasty just because she can, and lots and lots of strangeness from another dimension. That said, TEESRI MANZIL has a lot more going for it than you'd expect, including some great performances and a plot that actually makes sense. (Get some historical context for TEESRI MANZIL.)

And if any of these movies get you interested then there are millions more, literally tons of Bollywood fun, to be found. Try MARD (vampires! in colonial India?!?); MUGHAL-E-AZAM (a period epic that cost a zillion rupees to make); KABHI KUSHIE KABHI GHAM (family-sized melodrama); APAHARAN (kidnapping!), SARKAR (the GODFATHER remake!); OMKARA (OTHELLO goes to Bollywood!); AANKHEN (blind guys rob bank!) and on...and on...and on...

(And, yes, before people start getting boring: I know all of these movies aren't official Bollywood product, some are from other film industries in India, but they all are part of the Bollywood aesthetic)

November 15, 2006 at 09:40 AM in News | Permalink


I know I'll probably get a lot of flak for suggesting this, but a recent favorite of mine is "Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna," Karan Johar's follow-up as a director to "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Guam." It's a mature, beautiful, thought-provoking piece of work that totally took the home audience by surprise when it was released. It smartly utilizes the adultery angle in a sublimely entertaining film, all set in the tri-state area. I really urge more people to check it out and reverse all the bad reviews that it has been getting.

Posted by: Al | Nov 15, 2006 9:50:41 AM

"Koi... Mil Gaya". No question.

A retarded man with a bifurcated thumb and a gaggle of 12-year-old best friends. A dancing and singing magic alien that looks like the 'Inseminator'-- and it too has a bifurcated thumb!!

Dancing shadows! Smiling clouds! Drink coke! 'Interval'!

Posted by: Nicholas | Nov 15, 2006 10:58:51 AM

Aalavandhan is actually the Tamil version of the film, not the Telugu version.

Posted by: rk | Nov 15, 2006 12:43:17 PM

i'll nominate 'Main Hoon Na'

A nice debut effort by Farah Khan. It too has a clever use of the Matrix 'Bullet Time'. A truely 'paisa wasool', as they say.

Posted by: Rajesh | Nov 15, 2006 1:57:42 PM

My favourite Bollywood movie,… wait no, that's just an Indian movie not Bollywood, they're not singing and stuff,… anyway, it's »Mr. & Mrs. Iyer« by Aparna Sen and is kind of a road-movie-love-story that deals with the Hindu/Muslim-conflict. It's a very slow-paced, touching film and I always count it to my most favourite movies of all time (and genre). It has been on sale at amazon for quite a while, I don't know if it still is.

Posted by: Jonas | Nov 15, 2006 3:45:28 PM

You guys...
Badshah Khan...Benazir...swoon...

Posted by: misterblue | Nov 15, 2006 7:14:45 PM

I've only seen maybe a dozen Bollywood films, but MAIN HOON NA is a favorite. Easily my favorite SRK performance anyway.

Posted by: Josh Ralske | Nov 15, 2006 9:03:44 PM

Barood is a must see as well. Akshay setting himself on fire and dancing, Johnny Lever doind a mimic melody, and then Akshay re-creating the finale of Drunken Master II with a pair of big, black guys.

Posted by: Wes Black | Nov 15, 2006 9:53:23 PM

All right you guys: 'Kal Ho Naa Ho' is my all time favorite Hindi film. All though Americans tend to dislike it because of its stereotyping of New York (hehe) it is a great film ful of self irony, amazing music and drama like I have never seen before. I admit that the SRK 'Devdas' is coming pretty close in the drama department, but you guys should really watch 'Kal Ho Naa Hoo', a master piece starring SRK, Prity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan.


Posted by: Katrine Brøndsted | Nov 15, 2006 11:52:40 PM

Some more essentials (and everyone should see Mard and Aalavandhan):

Maqbool - the Indian Macbeth, tight, gripping, perfect for the anti-musical crowd

Mr. India - breakdancing orphans, Chaplin parodies, invisible man antics, and even a gratuitous robot. Dave khush hua!

Siggapu Rojakal - Kamal Hasan in a 70s serial killer frakout

DDLJ - THE modern romantic comedy. Still can't be beat.

And if you like Indian movies AND ninjas (and who doesn't):

Posted by: David Austin | Nov 16, 2006 7:31:44 AM

I'll second Grady's recs of BOMBAY, COMPANY, DEVDAS, OMKARA, and KABHI KHUSHI KABHIE GHAM and add:

HUM DIL DE CHUKE SANAM – Bhansali’s stunning warm-up to DEVDAS. That’s pretty much all you need to know. The stars, sets, costumes, story all glitter like crown jewels.In

KANDUKONDAIN KANDUKONDAIN – Ash, Tabu, A.R. Rahman music, killer cinematography, incredibly well told remake of Jane Austen's novel "Sense and Sensibility" that tightens it grip on the viewer in the last 45min like a tiger biting it’s prey!

WATER – Has Deepa Mehta ever made a bad film? Engaging, perfectly acted, with just the right amount of relevant politics. And then there's John Abraham.

Also after having seen SHOLAY for the first time this weekend I'd say it's a must as well - especially if you get to see it with a rowdy crowd of super fans who dance in the aisles and quote all the dialog!

Posted by: Jennifer | Nov 16, 2006 1:47:12 PM

Dil Chata Hai, hands down.

Posted by: Vasco | Nov 16, 2006 4:02:52 PM

I think LAGAAN is the best Bollywood film I've ever seen. I recently saw KRISH and I loved it. Superheroes. And Roshan is terrific. But of course SRK is the man, I like everything I've ever seen him in.

I'm psyched for Dhoom 2 in a couple weeks =)

Posted by: Alison | Nov 16, 2006 8:04:00 PM

This is a great list.. you can't go wrong with Company and Satya

Posted by: Victor | Nov 16, 2006 9:58:47 PM

Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1977) has an amazing qawaali sequence, plus a great "battle of the bands" part with lots of wah-wah guitar. I second the nomination of Disco Dancer. Check out the Mattel Synsonics drum machine on the soundtrack! Love the masala.

Posted by: Adam Douglas | Nov 17, 2006 8:52:50 AM

Just a note -- The Aalavandhan disc is censored. Several scenes are edited to remove depiction of drug use. I don't know if there is a working uncut version of the film. There's a third region-free disc, but no one I know has seen it to verify the quality or whether or not it's uncut.

The best we can do -- The Abhay disc plays until about the halfway point. So you can watch the first half of that disc, then the second half of the other (I don't think anything has been cut from the second half of the film, but then, I don't really have anything to which I could compare it).

Posted by: Keith | Nov 17, 2006 9:30:11 AM

Aplaud Mr & Mrs Iyer.
Agree wholeheartedly with Rajesh;
it too rates as a "best seen" film.
A very special cinema experience.

Posted by: jane turpin | Nov 18, 2006 5:17:28 AM

Why do you persist in referring to Muthu as a Bollywood movie? Not to mention the commentor who claimed Alavandhan and Sivappu Rojakkal!

I realize we all look alike to you yts, but we aren't, and Kodambakkam is rather far, in both geography and taste, from Bollywood.

Balaji of Balaji's Thots covers movies very thoroughly, here is his Muthu review: http://www.geocities.com/bbreviews/rewind/muthu.html

Posted by: thamizhachi | Nov 18, 2006 12:54:16 PM

I second Hum Kisise Kum Nahin (1977)--the story is thin, but Tariq and Rishi are just fun to watch.

I'd also add TRISHUL (1978)--revenge, frolicking in the park, fight scenes, romance, great dialogue...man, I love that movie!

Posted by: Aimee | Nov 21, 2006 6:41:29 AM

Is there anyone who can telle me what happened with the Oldboy-Zinda lawsuit? I am dying to know if Gupta got sued for copying an entire film.

Posted by: Katrine | Nov 23, 2006 5:01:26 AM

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