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  • Writer's pictureSuryani Lee

A Beginner's Guide to Bollywood Films

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

Known for its melodramatic musical sequences and colourful productions, Bollywood is in a league of its own. However, you might feel intimated by the untranslated titles and notoriously long run times. Well, you’re in luck because this guide was made for you! But first...

What is Bollywood?

Bollywood is named after the Hindi film industry, which is based in Mumbai, previously known as Bombay. Classic Bollywood was all about love but over the years, it incorporated a blend of different genres to cater to more audiences.

However, because of how mainstream it became, Bollywood’s success is a double-edged sword.

With the amount of films churned out every year, around 800 to be exact, not all of them will be up to standard. With poor acting and production, some films are mediocre at best and at worst, it could be a three-hour long torture. However, there are plenty of films out there that are massively entertaining and will reward you for the time spent watching it.

At least, the ones on this list definitely will!

Where to watch?

Most of these films are available on Netflix. You can also stream it from einthusan, an online streaming platform for South Asian films and they also have subtitles!

Start with...

3 Idiots (2009)

This was the first Bollywood film I watched and I fell head over heels for it. Personally, 3 Idiots represents the best of Bollywood. It’s a comedy-drama that follows the friendship of three engineering students in college.

It may not sound like much but when it first came out in 2009, the film’s critique of India’s education system and its scrutiny of toxic success culture was revolutionary. In fact, the movie was so universally appealing that it was the most watched movie in the United States during lockdown, a decade after it was released! It’s not hard to see why.

Being a student is a universal experience and this film was bound to struck a chord with many. Besides its relatable storytelling, the film has great emotional depth. Funny moments will make you ache with laughter but there are also heartbreaking moments that well, make you ache for entirely different reasons. The film is one that feels familiar and relatable, making it perfect as an entry movie.


Note: Remember to turn on captions for subtitles!

If you’re in the mood for love...

Om Shanti Om (2007)

This isn’t your typical romance but the elaborate plot more than makes up for it. Along with a star-studded cast, there’s an unresolved murder, a romance that prevails in different lifetimes and to top it off, a film within a film. Om Shanti Om sounds like a lot and it is unapologetic about it. This film is a love letter to Bollywood yet it also pokes fun at Bollywood conventions. Confused? Well, you’ll just have to watch and see for yourself!


Note: There are no subtitles in this trailer! If you have Netflix, try watching the trailer there.

If you want something powerful...

Thappad (2020)

Should you end a marriage over a single slap?

Thappad can be translated to “Slap” and it follows a housewife’s journey after getting slapped by her husband. It also weaves in different narratives from different women to show how they deal with the contempt of the men around them. The film explores how women silently cope with the violence and power dynamics that come with the patriarchy.

I absolutely loved watching how the women in this film take agency over their lives. It’s an empowering story that does justice to its characters. Watch this if you’re in the mood for something inspiring!


Note: Turn on captions for subtitles!

If you want some family drama...

Dil Dhadakne Do (2014)

No, this is not one of those Indian Soap opera edits! Dil Dhadakne Do takes place on a cruise trip and explores the cracks within a picture-perfect family. As the cracks widen, this family needs to figure out how to rebuild themselves before everything comes crashing down.

Yes it sounds cliché but there’s something captivating about watching everything unravel. And who doesn’t love watching rich people tear each other apart?

The film’s selling point is in how it breaks the illusion of success and attempts to redefine it, in just a single cruise trip! It’s a worthwhile watch. Plus the tea from all that family drama is piping hot.


Note: There are no subtitles in this trailer! If you have Netflix, try watching the trailer there.

If you want some queer stories...

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga: How I felt when I saw that girl (2019)

One of the first mainstream Bollywood movies to tackle LGBT relationships, this film is criminally underrated!

LGBT representation is rare and even if they are represented, sometimes they’re reduced to one-dimensional caricatures (Cough, the token gay best friend). Or they’re just a footnote in the main character’s story.

However, this was one of the first Bollywood films to tackle the heavy issues faced by the Queer community all while maintaining light-hearted humour. The film follows Sahil, a struggling playwright as he falls in love with a young woman, Sweety. But Sweety is very sweet for someone else...

It was so fun rooting for these characters as they navigate complex feelings and issues. This is a great coming-of-age movie and it’s delightfully wholesome.


Note: Turn on captions for subtitles!

If you want something thought-provoking...

PK (2014)

Is God real? Where is God? These are heavy questions for a film to answer. However, PK tries to do so with a comedic twist.

The film starts with an Alien landing on Earth for a mission. Unfortunately, his ship’s remote gets stolen and he’s stranded. He tries asking around but people tell him “Only God Knows” so the alien goes on a hilarious quest to find God. It may sound campy but the film is a scathing critique on how religion has been manipulated by men. It never dismisses God or religion but it questions blind faith and its consequences. It’s a must-watch if you need a food for thought!


Note: Turn on captions for subtitles!

If you want something like Eat, Pray, Love...

Queen (2013)

Who doesn’t love a journey of self-discovery? In Queen, our main character, Rani gets dumped by her fiancé and goes on her pre-booked honeymoon trip to Paris and Amsterdam alone.

The story is all about Rani, with no pesky romantic interests taking away the spotlight. It solely focuses on her experience as she immerses herself in a new environment with new people. We live vicariously through her and boy, are we in for a ride!

Also, the pandemic has not been kind to our wanderlust so watch Queen to sate it!


Note: There are no subtitles in this trailer! If you have Netflix, try watching the trailer there.

If you want something dark...

Bulbbul (2020)

At a glance, Bulbbul resembles a fairytale setting but the dark tones hints that there won’t be a happily ever after. Set in the 1880s, our main character, Bulbbul is first introduced as a child bride. She starts off as a meek, innocent girl and the film jumps forward in time, where she’s reintroduced as a much fiercer and more cunning version of herself.

The film walks you through the reasons behind her dramatic change. As a horror-thriller, supernatural elements are introduced but the real horror is very much executed through its human characters.

At its heart, it’s a tale of tragedy but it also blazes furiously with hope. If you’re still not convinced, the stunning set pieces should be enough to compel you to watch it.


If you want classic Bollywood...

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995)

This film is what people picture when they think of Bollywood and it was certainly emblematic of that. The breathtaking scenery, the chemistry between the actors and the predictable plot all check the boxes for a classic Bollywood film.

DDLJ is a good old romance about a girl and boy who fall in love and fight against an arranged marriage. You already know the outcome but you’ll still be rooted to your seat as you watch the lovers fight for their romance. The cozy viewing experience also makes it perfect for a comfort movie!

This is best enjoyed as a late night watch so you can cry yourself to sleep afterwards as you pine for your big romance :”)


Note: Turn on captions for subtitles!

Final Thoughts...

Hopefully, these films will encourage you to start your Bollywood Binge. Of course, it’s not an exhaustive list and there are plenty of good Bollywood films out there so keep exploring!

It’s also important to note that Bollywood does not represent Indian Cinema (Yes, the film buffs reading this can untwist their panties now). Indian Cinema comprises of film industries from different regions and each region has their own niche. You could try expanding your horizons by watching films from other Indian film industries!

If you’re into intense action movies, watch something from the Tamil film industry, or Kollywood. If you want something dramatic, try the Telugu film industry, or Tollywood! If you like Indie films, the Malayalam film Industry, or Mollywood, would scratch your itch.

Previously, we have also discussed Hollywood and European Cinema, do check it out if you’re interested in those film industries. Happy watching!

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