The first thing that springs to mind when we think of Bollywood is impromptu singing and dancing, lots of colourful costumes and a narrative in which the hero and heroine confess their love for each other. Whilst this does make up a significant portion of the movies in Bollywood, there are some wonderful films that aren’t all romance and songs. Well maybe only a little.
- 3 Idiots (2009)
A coming of age comedy, 3 Idiots revolves around a trio of friends (Farhan, Raju and Rancho) who meet at a prestigious engineering school. Rancho, the most unusual and brilliant of the trio, loves learning and criticises the rote-learning mentality of the institution, which earns him some enemies, particularly the headmaster. After graduation Rancho disappears and the remaining two (joined by school rival Chatur who is seeking to settle scores) go on a road trip to track down their old friend. The story is told in flashbacks, where we see the three friends at the engineering school sharing amusing escapades, revelations and touching moments. It will touch your heart and make you cry – often with laughter.
- Taare Zameen Par (2007)
Taare Zameen Par, also known as Like Stars on Earth, is a film about a very creative dyslexic child called Ishaan who is a talented artist. He is labelled stupid and a troublemaker until he is sent to boarding school where an art teacher recognizes his condition and gives him a chance, helping him to learn in a way that suits him. This is the first Bollywood film to use claymation and to raise awareness on the issue of dyslexia. Rather like 3 Idiots, it celebrates creativity and children’s capabilities.
- Rang De Basanti (2006)
Definitely an unusual one, Rang De Basanti (Paint it Yellow) is about a British documentary filmmaker, whose grandfather (an officer in the British Indian Army) kept diaries about freedom fighters in India. In her attempt to create a documentary about freedom fighters, she flies to India and recruits five young men to appear in her documentary. However, the documentary influences the group of friends more than they anticipated. One of their friends dies in a fighter aircraft crash, and it is revealed that government corruption is the cause, which galvanises the group to exact revenge. A film about social change and fighting for what you believe in, this film had a profound effect on Indian society.
- Sholay (1975)
This is quite an oldie, but a great classic in the Indian film world. Sholay (Embers) is the tale of two criminals recruited by an armless retired policeman to deal with a group of troublesome bandits, lead by the fearsome Gabbar Singh. With some old-fashioned singing and dancing (I know, I know but it couldn’t be helped), violent shoot-outs, some great comedy and excellent dramatic scenes, it is easy to see why this is such a classic.
- Lagaan (2001)
A film set in colonial India, the story revolves around a poor village forced, just like many others, to pay unfair taxes to the British. The villagers beg the arrogant English Captain Russell to skip the tax collecting as they are unable to pay. Instead he strikes a deal with the main protagonist Bhuvan, saying that he will cancel taxes for three years if the villagers can beat his officers at cricket. With help from Captain Russell’s sister, the villagers prepare for the game, dealing with issues of caste and colonial rule.
These five films show a different side to Bollywood, one that isn’t necessarily cheesy and romantic with cringe-worthy songs and predictable storylines. They are creative, with original plots, memorable characters and stellar acting. It is well worth watching these films to get a real idea of what Bollywood is like.