Indian Films and Bollywood Cinema
The following list is our unofficial primer on Indian films and Hindi movies. For the uninitiated, these lengthy films invariably contain a dozen major song and dance sequences and a little something for everyone. This is true of mysteries, horror films, and suspenseful dramas as well as romantic stories. The love scenes in Hindi movies range from turgid to highly erotic, but you will never see a completed kiss on the lips in a two or three hour Indian film. The following recommendations were collected by surveying the people who work at our three favorite Bollywood rental stores. If you do not have access to an Indian video store, most of these titles are available on the Internet.
One of my favorite Korean films is Oldboy. Zinda is a Hindi remake or mutation of Oldboy, in which an Indian software developer Bala disappears and is held hostage for 14 years. He is in a cell where he is cared for and fed fried wontons and basically kept alive, He struggles to stay sane in his captivity, training his body all day, but he’s slowly going crazy. He can't figure out who is imprisoning him or why. Then one day he is simply released without an explanation. He wakes up in Bangkok on the street. He vows he will track down his kidnappers and extract vengeance, but he has no place to start. Then he finds a cell phone, and his tormentor calls to say he has been released from his small prison to a bigger one,. His only connection with his captors is the fried dumplings they fed him in captivity. So he sets off for Bangkok's Chinatown and keeps eating dumplings till he finds the ones he’s eaten for the last 14 years. From there it is simple work to track down his jailers. The results are none too satisfying. Zinda is long but surprisingly good. I figured there is no way a Bollywood film will copy the brutality of Oldboy, but Zinda comes surprisingly close.
Khosla Ka Ghosla
Mr. KK Khasla has one dream, to buy a plot of land and build his dream house to accommodate his whole family. He's picked out the property, and when retirement approaches, he takes his life savings and plunks it down in cash 35 lahks with a rather sleazy real estate developer. When he takes the family out to survey the property, they find it has been fenced in and inhabited by Khurana ,a mafioso who demands 12 lahk before he will vacate the land. They try all legal means and a few not so legal maneuvers to regain control but nothing seems to be working. Finally the second son, Cherry, employs a group of actors to outscam the scam artists. In a kind of unorthodox comedy, the troupe does an excellent job of beating the thieves at their own game. Advertised as a black comedy, Khosla Ka Ghosla is perhaps dark by Indian standards, but is funny . Directed by Dibakar Banerjee and written by Jaideep Sahni, this offbeat story has landed a number of awards. Hindi. 136 minutes. Unrated. 2007. Subtitles.
Awara Paagal Deewana
Loosely translated as "Honey Crazy Love", Awara Paagal Deewana is a rather non traditional Masala film with a Kung Fu plot, complete with monster trucks, flamenco dancers, murder, subterfuge, diamonds, wife swapping, blonde belly dancers and lots of gunfire. When Babu, the criminal underworld boss dies, he leaves 10 billion rupees worth of diamonds to split between his son, daughter, and her husband. Whoever gets to New York alive can claim them. Vikrant is the evil son who plots to kill his brother-in-law Guru Gulab Khatri. They fight on both sides of the Atlantic, and comic relief is provided by two hen-pecked dentists from New Jersey. Hindi w/subtitles. 150 minutes+.
Were you wondering where that bizarre dance sequence was in the beginning of Ghost World? It came from this Hindi classic, Gumnaam. The song was "Jaan Pehechaan Ho" by Mohammed Rafi, a well-known singer who dubbed for hundreds of Indian musicals. Gumnaam is a lengthy suspense thriller where six people win an all expenses paid vacation in a nightclub contest. The trip turns out to be an evil scheme, and they end up stranded on a desert island. The group discovers a house run by a comic caretaker who has been awaiting their arrival. While seated around the dinner table, it becomes apparent that each guest has something to hide. They begin to die one at a time in a script similar to And Then There Were None. If you are unfamiliar with Bollywood films, Gumnaam is a good place to start. Stars include Manoj Kumar, Mehmood, Helen, Pran, Madan Puri and Nanda, Directed by Raja Nawathe and produced by N.N.Sippy. 1966. Unrated. B&W. Hindi with subtitles. Really long.
Buddha Mar Gaya
Also titled in English as "You will die laughing", Buddha Mar Gaya might well be the Hindi version of Weekend at Bernie's. A highly irreverent look at Indian funeral practices and low comedy. It was difficult to really know what we watched, since our copy of Buddha Mar Gaya was bought on the street in Bombay and had no discernible sub titles. It may actually be a decent film, but we don't have a clue. Directed by Rahul Rawail.
If you think Americans invented Superman, you've never seen a Hanuman film. This monkey god star of the epic Indian poem Ramayana, has all the superhero moves without having to moonlight at the Daily Planet. Bajranbali is in color and the extra-special effects will compensate for the hard to assimilate myth. Do not watch Bajranbali under the influence of mind altering drugs. It could prove fatal. Starring the incomparable Dara Singh. 175 minutes. Unrated. Hindi w/subtitles.
We are beholden to Adam Dugas for bringing this gem to our attention. Disco Dancer must be the Bombay equivalent of Saturday Night Fever, complete with disco dance extravaganzas that will make your head spin and leave you hysterical. Johnny is a natural performer, a musician and a dancer. The reigning disco king of India, Sammy, is a drug addict and his manager (Om Puri) replaces him with Johnny. A grudge ensues, and Sammy tries to electrocute his rival by running wall current through his electric guitar. Things get nuts and Johnny gets his legs broken by some goons just before the world disco championships. What tension. If your a fan of Indian odd films, Disco Dancer is your cup of tea. 2 hours+.
Mughal_E-Azam (King of the World)
King of the World is a Hindi classic love story of a Mughal prince's wish to marry a beautiful commoner over his father's objections. Prince Salim is so smitten by the consort Anakarlai that his incites a civil war to overcome his father's refusal to permit their marriage . She undergoes prison and repeated threats, but she will not give up her love . Very long, very romantic and the war scenes are worthy of Cecil B. DeMille.
Jai and Veru are two criminal brothers who save a cop during a robbery and get arrested in the process. The police inspector asks their help in ridding his village of a bandit gang that is sucking them dry. He offers them a sizeable reward and a pardon if they can free the town. They both fall in love with village girls and fight a deadly duel with the dacoits. Real action with lots of gunfire and non stop action. Lots of fun. Directed by Ramesh Sippy. 1975. Hindi w/subtitles. 190 minutes.
Haqeeqat (The Reality)
This 1964 war movie is a heroic portrayal of India's 1962 war with China over the disputed Ladakh border. Rather graphic, director Chetan Anand set out to glorify the soldiers who fought in this remote outpost. Today The Reality may appear as much an anti-war movie as the political set piece it was meant to be. The scenery is stunning even if the camera work is shaky. Look for the Jewish/Hindi actor Levy Aaron in this stark war film. 1963. 172 minutes. B&W. Hindi w/subtitles.
Post Box 999
It's hard to tell when Post Box 999 was made. Since it's the timeless story of girl meets boy, when it was filmed is really of no consequence. They meet at the train station. He's a wise guy newspaper reporter in a fedora, and she is a ladies' maid. When he goes looking for a story, he meets her again and decides to help her out. It seems another servant's son has been unjustly convicted of murder. The woman offer 10,000 rupees if he can use his detective skills to free her son. Neelima decides to give him a hand and they unravel the true story by delving into the Bombay demimonde. The effect is a slowly evolving murder mystery/love story/ courtroom drama directed by Ravinda Dave. The music was by the great Kalyanjee Veerji and includes his hit " Ara ra ra ra ra ra main to giree re giree re giree re". I swear I'm not making this up.
Dil Chanta Hai
Three friends, Sameer, Sid and Akash are inseparable college students who share their hopes for the future. Sid is an artist who falls in love with an older divorcee alcoholic. Akash is a wise guy who spends all his time joking around and doesn't take too much seriously. Sameer is forever falling in love while his parents try to set him up in an arranged marriage. Dil Chanta Hai is a pretty good story with some major dance routines. The second half of Dil Chanta Hai was shot in Australia, and it is basically a second movie within this 3 hour long film. The production and photography are better than usual. The title means "What the Heart Wants".
One of countless Indian movies that deals with the lives of prostitutes and their relationships with their clientele, Pakreezah opens with Nargis marrying Shahub. When he takes her home, his father flips out and throws her out. She goes to live in a cemetery where she gives birth to a daughter, Sahib Jaan. The child is discovered by her aunt, who raises her as a nautch dancer in the red light district of Delhi. She dances for these middle aged Muslims, and they all go wild and throw bags of money to her. Some guy, Saleem, falls in love with her feet when he sees them during a train trip. He maintains his foot fetish throughout Pakreezah and keeps showing up a crucial times. When he finally tries to marry her, he discovers that his uncle is her real father, and it was his grandfather who threw her mother out of the house. Got that? It is probably the first Indian Muslim film we have reviewed which makes it interesting as the moral issues are much different from their Hindu counterparts. There is even an amnesia sequence in this puppy, which is always a sign of a good screenplay. Directed by Kamal Amrohi.
Ankur (The Seedling)
This excellent film, nominated for best foreign film in 1974, is the emotional tale of Laxmi, a poor woman who has an affair with Surya, the landlord's son. Their love affair comes to an abrupt end when Surya's wife arrives at the farm. Ankur exposes the tensions between caste and poverty in rural India through this well written, well played and captivating drama. 125 minutes. Unrated. Hindi w/subtitles.
We thought Godmother might be an Indian mob movie, but in fact it is the true story, directed by Vinay Shukla, of a lower caste woman who rises to political power. Her husband, Veenam, comes to the aid of a fellow Mer caste member who is being beaten by a boss. A friendly policeman gets him off, and he goes into the bootlegging business. He continues to fight for his community and rises in power through a rough path. Eventually he gets killed, and his wife Rhambi (Shabuna Azmi), steps in to fill his shoes. She wins the local election and proceeds to upset the local establishment. She takes on the local pols and resorts to killing and mayhem to beat them at their own game. She starts smoking, driving, drinking, using firearms and other unfeminine things. In the process, her only son becomes a thug, and she starts to lose him. The moral is that it's tough being a tough girl in Baroda. Not bad and a minimum of awful music. Godmother was adapted from the novel Valopat by Mahendrabhai Desa.
Classified as an art movie, 1947 earth is the tale of the Indian partition see through the eyes of a young Parsi girl with polio. She spends her day with her attractive young Hindu aya who has a half dozen suitors. As tensions rise, life in Pakistan becomes uncomfortable for the local Hindus. Soon there are daily riots and murders throughout the city, and life starts getting a little scary for the little girl. 1947 earth displays a trifle more sex and violence then you'll find in most Indian films. The scenery and photography are stunning, and the soundtrack is also notable.
Wow, what would Edgar Rice Burroughs make of this version? Ruby goes into the jungle with her dad and is saved from various perils by the ape man. We want to know how the wet t-shirt scenes made it past the censors. Unbelievable.
A toy maker who lives with mom has a little problem with the booze. His girlfriend tries her best to reform him, but with little effect. He leaves town in shame, works hard in the big city, and reforms his ways. Then he comes home just in time to save mom from eviction. Like a Hindi Andy Hardy movie. B&W. 2 hours+.
Bees Saal Baad
This is supposed to be a spooky film about a guy who returns to his family's cursed estate and falls in love with a local maid. Lots of nighttime photos of people walking around in the weeds. The subtitles are so ridiculously bad that you might as well make up your own dialogue. It's undecipherable and not highly recommended. B&W.
A retired school teacher and his wife are devastated when they hear their son has been killed in New York. They each handle the loss differently: she reverts to mysticism and awaits the reincarnation of her boy. Her husband is far more practical, and he lets out their spare room to a young actress, Sujata, so they can have some company. When their lodger becomes pregnant, Mrs. Pradhan is delighted and convinced she is carrying her son's reincarnation. Their lives become inextricable intertwined as they all take on one another's battles. Not to be confused with the Bollywood big production films, Saaransh is a well written drama and worth your time. 132 minutes. Unrated. Hindi w/subitles.
Gautam may be a bad dude ("badmaash" in Hindi), but he loves his family and will do anything to protect them. When his sister gets accosted at school, he beats up the offending punk and starts a gang war with the kid's criminal father. The bad guys kill his sister, drives his dad insane, and pisses off Gautam and his cronies. They fight back. Badmaash is pretty much three hours of an eye for an eye, with a few dance sequences thrown in. Think Indian Charles Bronson. Starring Jackie Schroff, Shilpa Shiradkar, Paresh Rawal. Pran and Bindu. About 160 minutes. Unrated.
Woh Kaun Thi?
Director Raj Mohan's eerie thriller opens in a rain storm with Manoj Kumar stopping his car by a cemetery to pick up a hitch hiking apparition. As soon as the ghost enters the car, the windshield wipers on his Ambassador stop working. In the blinding storm, his supernatural passenger directs him to her destination in spite of the monsoon. She then exits the car and disappears into the downpour. Like most Hindi films, Woh Kaun Thi? includes spontaneous outbursts of song, but with patience you'll find a decent tale underlying the standard format. B&W. 1964? 2 1/2 hours. Hindi w/subtitles.
The Raj Kapoor feature Sangam is considered a classic from one of the most famous names in Indian film. He wrote, directed, edited and stars in this film whose title (Sangam) is the meeting place of India's three sacred rivers. It is a Shakespearean tale of three friends who separate and meet later in life. This triangular love story is complicated by their mutual respect and the strictures of arranged marriage. Hindi w/subtitles. B&W. Insufferably long.
This is a beautiful desert film about people leaving someplace and going somewhere else. We bought the DVD without English subtitles so we really can't tell you too much about it . The photography was excellent. The guys at the video store assured us it's good. Starring Abhishkek Bachan and the stunning Kareena Kapoor. Directed by J.P.Dutta . 1995. Color. Unrated. Hindi, supposedly w/English subtitles, but we couldn't find them.
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
This award winning Bollywood blockbuster may well be director Karan Johar's Hindi version of Grease. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is essentially a high school love story with memorable music and three gorgeous stars. Anjeli (Kajo) is a tomboy who has the hots for Rahul (Shakrukh Khan), who in turn has designs on Tina ( Rani Mukherji) . Eventually Rahul marries one of them and has a kid. His first wife dies, so he gets to marry his second choice too. The weird part is the scenery; which is supposed to replicate an American high school. I saw Kuch Kuch Hota Hai dubbed in Burmese, and I still got most of the story. The title means "something's happening" in Hindi. 1999. Rated PG. 177 minutes. Hindi & English slang, w/subtitles.
Kind of like A Man from UNCLE, but a comedy in which the evil Mogambo wants to rule the world by creating an invisible army. Arun Varmu is a poor soul with seven adopted kids who he struggles to feed and clothe. He takes in an attractive female reporter, Seema, to help make ends meet. It seems his father invented an invisibility device that he left hidden in his house. Arun finds the device before Mogambo's thugs can evict them. Arun then uses the device to become a super hero called "Mr. India." Mr. India is a slapstick comedy and a good kids' movie. Directed by Shekar Kapur. 1987.
Hum Aapke Hain Kaun
This very popular contemporary story revolves around two brothers and two sisters who are brought together through an arranged marriage. Director Sooraj Barjatya does a great job of showing how an arranged Indian marriage is really the joining of two families, not just the bride and groom. Hum Aapke Hain Kaun is similar to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in that the loving couple is split by the tragic death of the wife, and he must go out and find a replacement wife to raise their child. This seems absurd by western standards, yet it provides the basis and tension in many Hindi films. His family chooses his wife's sister as his next spouse and being a dutiful daughter, she agrees. The problem is; she is madly in love with the brother, but she keeps silent for the sake of the families. It sounds crazy, but this type of deferral to family needs is not uncommon and because they are modern films, true love usually triumphs. Hum Aapke Hain Kaun is very colorful and flashy, with lots of songs and dancing and of better than average quality. Maybe we are watching too many Hindi films. The excellent dog part is played by Tuffy. Hindi. Color. 2000. Unrated.
Jaanidushman is a classic horror story beginning with a flat tire in a rainstorm. The handsome, soaking newlywed couple seek refuge in an abandoned house, and a ghost appears. The next thing you know some guy is mutating into a werewolf and chasing the woman through the woods. They escape by train, but their compartment mate also mutates into a wolf and kills them. It seems this wolfman has a thing about brides. He shows up at a number of weddings throughout the film with predictably gruesome results. There are some incidental shows of horsemanship but really not much that would make us recommend Jaanidushman. There are plenty of equally bad American horror films that do not require you to read subtitles.
Sanvri Devi is a potter's wife in a small village in Rajastan, but she is far from ordinary. After standing up to a crooked contractor, she is offered a government job as a Saathin (friend) to help educate the village women. She has an underage marriage ceremony halted and incurs the wrath of the upper caste village elite. The male elders beat her husband and gang rape her to show who's in power. She stands up to them, and with the aid of some well connected women in Delhi, she brings them to trial. Bawandar was directed by Jag Mohan and is based on a true story.
Ghaath-Waiting to Kill
None too bad, Ghaath is the tale by director Akash Deep of a group of friends who join the Indian police force. The young trainees have their careers cut short when a corrupt cop accosts them in the street. The friends then become vigilantes and try to set things right, fighting corruption wherever they find it. There is of course a love interest and a few song and dance routines, but , you'd expect that now wouldn't you? Ghaath features lots of stars: Om Puri, Manoj Bajpai, Tabu, Raveena T, Shheba and Johny Lever. 3 hours or so. Unrated. Hindi w/subtitles.
A Raj Kapoor classic in which he plays an educated hobo, not unlike Chaplin's 'Little Tramp'. You can see the standard Hindustani film format in this classic, but the great Kapoor's charm and wit make it worth watching. Unrated. 3 1/2 hours. B&W. Hindu w/subtitles.
Such A Long Journey
Such a Long Journey is not a Bollywood production, but rather a film adaptation of the Rohintan Mistry novel of the same title. Om Puri plays Ghutam, a Parsee bank clerk who is contacted by his long lost friend, Jimmy. Jimmy wants him to perform a shady money transaction for the Indian Secret service under a cloud of strictest secrecy. Meanwhile, Ghutam is battling with his son over his university plans and his son runs off. Such a Long Journey features lots of tension and superb acting. You'll also gain some insight on the powerful Parsee community in Bombay. Unrated. 113 minutes. 2000.
Haathi Mere Saathi
Loosely translated as "Elephants are my friends", Haathi Mere Saathi is the tale of Raju who as a kid is saved by some elephants. He takes the three elephants home to meet his daddy. His father dies from the shock, and he ends up being raised by the pachyderms. Time goes by, and Raju is soon flirting with Tanu in her red Chevy convertible and singing love songs from atop his elephants. He loses his family estate due to some legal treachery, and he takes to the road with his elephants rather than sell them to an evil circus owner. He and his elephants are soon back in the money, love conquers all, and good triumphs over evil.
Krishnagopal Reddy (Deep Kitdare) is anxious to get out from under his immigrant parents' control so he can shed the last remnants of his Indian heritage. He and his friend head off for their freshman year at Middlesex College in New Jersey with great excitement and big plans. Kris, as he prefers to be called, is horrified to find his three roommates are a Sikh, a Muslim, and an Indian homeboy. He tries to distance himself from Indian culture only to alienate his roomies, who refer to him as an ABCD (short for American Born Confused Desi). It's not until he falls in love with India born Nina (Purva Bedi) that he comes to terms with the value of his roots. American Desi is well written and quite funny. The Canadian film Marsala is similar to American Desi, but it takes a different slant on this same theme. Directed by Piyush Dinker Pandya. 90 minutes. English. 1999. Unrated.
Dev and Anjeli are in love. The problem is Dev is the child of an unwed mother, while Anjeli's parents are stolid middle class. They arrange for her to marry a member of her own social strata, and she caves in to their wishes, giving Dev the boot. When Dev's mom finds out, she dies of shame. Meanwhile Anjeli marries a wealthy businessman who is both patient and loving. By the time Dev reappears as a fabulously wealthy rouge, he wrecks her husband's business and tries to win her back. Pretty pat stuff. Dhadkan was directed by Dharmesh Darshan. 3+hours. Unrated.
Director Shyam Benegal has produced this drama about the social relations inside a brothel in a small Indian town. Mandhi is considered an "Art Movie" in India, and it really is a serious film about the life of prostitutes and their place in the social order. Mandhi is a pleasant diversion from Bollywood dance films.
A school teacher and his beautiful bride move to a small rural village run by a landlord and his three degenerate sons. The sons kidnap the young bride and repeatedly rape her while keeping her prisoner. The teacher desperately tries to enlist the aid of the police and anyone who will listen, but to no avail. The wife, meanwhile, feels she cannot return home after all that has happened. So she starts to settle into her role as concubine. Nishant is an excellent insight into village morality and injustice with great scenery and photography. Also directed by Shyam Benegal.
Hari Bhari (Fertility)
Another Shyam Benegal film that centers around five women from three generations who live in the same household. Hari Bhari is an excellent peek into the petty annoyances and wonderful support that comes from such close family arrangements. Hari Bhari is well written and a cut above the competition.
Dattak (The Orphan)
In Dattak, Sunil returns to Calcutta after a fifteen year absence in America. He is surprised to find the family house shuttered and no sign of his aged father. He canvasses the neighbors, but no one knows where the old man has gone. Sunil is distraught and goes to see his sister, who has also lost touch with Dad. He then seeks out the old family servant who is equally as clueless, but he does give Sunil a few more clues. He then flies to Bombay to see his now wealthy brother. It turns out the brother had a falling out with their father and has also ignored the old man. As he travels around India ,Sunil becomes aware of how alien a place it has become, while he recollects his wonderful childhood. Dattak is fairly moralistic about the dissolution of family values among the yuppie generation, but it has some bright spots and some great scenery. There is no singing and dancing in this one, guys. 150 minutes.
Khoon Ka Karz
This may be more confusing than a David Lynch film. All we can tell you about Khoon Ka Karz is that three bad guys band together when they find out that they all came from the same orphanage. They are fighting the corrupt police, singing and dancing, and creating mayhem, all while they earn money for their alma mater. Khoon Ka Karz may have been made from snippets found on the cutting room floor, or perhaps the subtitles are from a different film. If you figure it out send us a review.
Life in the big city has many attractions and distractions for the newly arrived starlet wannabes. Like so many Hollywood renditions of this same tale, there is alcohol, prostitution and sleeping your way to the top, only in Bollywood, the high moral ground always wins. Honestly, Bombay Girls is a stinker.
Pyaar Hai Rohit is a wannabe singer/car salesman who falls in love with Sonia when he delivers a red convertible on her birthday. They meet up again on a cruise where Rohit was hired to sing. They get drunk, get stranded in a lifeboat, and end up on a desert island. The loving couple are rescued. Her wealthy father tries to quench their romance, but he finally agrees to their marriage if Rohit can make something of himself. Her father then has Rohit killed. She gets shipped off to relatives in New Zealand only to meet up with Rohit's double. Kaho Nara offers plenty of the expected musical scenes. but they are far more electric and sexually charged than their cinematic predecessors. Kaho Nara is loaded with blatant plugs for a major cola beverage. Hindi&English w/subtitles. It may be 3 or 4 hours long.
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