Bollywood is undoubtedly one of the biggest movie industries in the world and is the pride of India. It is widely perceived, especially by people in the west, that Bollywood movies are filled with melodrama. It’s believed that they are all about larger than life heroes who bash up a bunch of goons while exchanging metal-plate like sounding fisticuffs to save the damsel in distress while tiptoeing to colorful song-dance sequences. However, the Indian film industry has been evolving rapidly over the years and the age old formulaic potboilers are slowly starting to fade away. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Indian filmmakers have created many path-breaking movies that have attained cult statuses over the years. They have been thronged by the masses for their realistic portrayal of the common Indian man. These flicks have redefined Indian cinema and have even managed to give the typical commercial potboilers a run for their money. Many of these movies have also earned awards and recognitions at various international film festivals. Here are top 10 Bollywood movies that depict an Indian from an Indian perspective.
1. Salaam Bombay
Acclaimed filmmaker Mira Nair revolutionized Indian cinema with her story of slum dwellers living in the city of Mumbai (then known as Bombay). The movie was a breath of fresh air for Indian cinema lovers, during the 1980’s, a decade known for an overdose of melodrama and a string of disappointing, forgettable films. Salaam Bombay narrates the tale of a little boy named Krishna, who manages to survive by distributing tea in chawls. One also gets a sneak-peek of brothels and the relatively unexplored dark side of Mumbai. The movie was also nominated for an ‘Academy Award’ in the ‘Best Film’ category and won many awards at numerous film festivals around the globe. Ironically, Shafiq Syed, the boy who played the protagonist Krishna, makes ends meet by working as an auto rickshaw driver.
Although a dozen films have been made about India’s freedom struggle, Lagaan was poles apart from the rest. The world of the film is a sleepy Indian village named Champaner, which is inhabited by uneducated, poor villagers, as well as British officers who govern the place. The villagers are cornered by an officer named Capt. Russell who challenges them to defeat him and his colleagues in a game of cricket. Although the farmers feel it’s an uphill task to learn the game, the determined lot does everything possible to learn the game and defeat the officers in a thrilling match. The movie subtly conveys the message that hard work, dedication and perseverance helps people in achieving the impossible. Lagaan was also nominated for an ‘Academy Award’ in the ‘Best Foreign Film’ category. However, it failed to win the famous Oscar statuette.
Swades is another masterpiece from filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker, who wonderfully portrayed the sorry state of affairs in rural India. The story unfolds through the eyes of protagonist Mohan Bhargava, an NRI (played by the renowned actor Shahrukh Khan), who visits India to meet his nanny, Kaveriamma. During his stay at his nanny’s village, Mohan discovers many harsh truths about the underprivileged lifestyle in rural India and this inspires him to contribute towards the growth of his country. Shahrukh’s portrayal of Mohan Bhargava is top-notch and is considered to be one of the best performances of his 20-year-long career. The movie has gained a formidable status across the world over the years.
4. Taare Zameen Par
This 2007 flick dealt with a largely unspoken social issue in India – Dyslexia and the ignorance of Indian masses about the seriousness of this disorder. The protagonist of this flick is a child named Ishan, who faces humiliation at school and is often at the receiving end of his father’s anger for being a below-average student. He later encounters a teacher named Ram Prakash Nikumbh, played by actor Aamir Khan, who discovers the boy is actually dyslexic and helps him get over the problem by nurturing his budding talent in art. Taare Zameen Par was considered to be a great eye-opener, especially parents of school going kids and stressed on the fact that every child is special in his/her own ways.
5. The Lunchbox
Love letters, a famous song of the 1990’s and the hustle-bustle environment of the typical Indian workplace, ‘The Lunchbox’ has all the elements that spark nostalgia. This heart-warming story of an accountant from a middle-class economic background and a homemaker, who tries to rekindle the romance in her marriage, was both critically and commercially acclaimed. The movie was praised for its realistic portrayal of the average Indian who works for a monthly salary to make ends meet and the Dabbawalla system of Mumbai. The performances of its actors, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur are just spectacular.
6. English Vinglish
This heart-touching tale of an Indian mother’s attempts to be a better speaker of the English language, was well-applauded by critics and audiences globally. The movie was more like a tribute to the average Indian mother who ends up sacrificing her dreams, due to her family responsibilities. The film revolves around Shashi, a homemaker, played by Sridevi, who travels to the United States to attend a wedding, but ends up enrolling for English classes at an institute in Manhattan. Unlike the commercial potboilers, English Vinglish was loved by everyone because it was tailored to connect to the typical middle-class Indian.
7. A Wednesday
This 2008 thriller is based on a telephonic conversation between a police officer and a common man, who pretends to be a terrorist. The movie was way ahead of its time and was praised for the performances of seasoned Indian actors Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher. The movie looks into the safety concerns of an ordinary citizen of Mumbai, who is always vulnerable to disasters such as bomb blasts and other forms of terror attacks. A Wednesday was considered to be a path-breaking effort and was lauded by both critics and the audiences.
This precious gem of Indian cinema is loosely based on the life of acclaimed filmmaker Anurag Kashyap and deals with the conflicts faced by urban teenagers. The protagonist, Rohan is thrown out of his reputed school in Shimla after being found guilty of watching an adult movie at a hall outside their campus. Rohan returns home and faces the wrath of his father, who frequently abuses and humiliates him. The boy aspires to be a writer, but is forced by his father to pursue engineering, a norm in India where parents decide on the career choices of their children. The end of the film will surely leave you speechless and will touch your heart. Udaan also received a nomination at the renowned ‘Cannes Film Festival’ in 2010.
9. 3 Idiots
3 Idiots is a cult movie which made Indians sit back and think about the career choices they make. It conveys the message that one should not succumb to peer pressure and follow a herd and instead embark on leading a life he/she always desired. The story revolves around three friends. The star of this blockbuster was Aamir Khan.
While most Indian movies glorify the big fat Indian wedding, Queen narrated the story of a failed marriage ceremony in a humorous way. Rani, a young woman from Delhi, who dreamt of a fairy-tale wedding, is jolted when she is ditched by her fiancé. The young woman then travels to Amsterdam, where she shares an accommodation with three different men belonging to different nationalities. This tale of an Indian woman from a middle-class family, living an alien life at a city far away from home captivated the hearts of the Indian audience and also kept the cash registers ringing.