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Guest Post: Bollywood for Beginners

By July 25, 2012 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hi everyone! Meet my friend Erin - she's a veritable Bollywood aficionado and has a blog where she provides her spot-on reviews and insights on Indian movies. When I was thinking about how to initiate a Bollywood beginner (Bolly-Newbie) into the world of scintillating dance at spellbinding locales, over-the-top drama, and larger-than-life characters, I thought...who better than Erin? Read her post below!
When I was asked to write a post about what films are best for a Bollywood beginner, I jumped at the chance. Besides tackling a question I usually struggle with, I thought it was a great opportunity to highlight some films that sometimes fall by the wayside. Below you’ll find some of the predictable classics alongside some hopefully unsung heroes of the Indian film Industry.

The Epic:
Nothing quite chronicles a saga like the stories of Jodhaa-Akbar and Salim-Anarkali. Each holds enough dramatic fodder for countless of retellings but for beginners, I recommend the stand-out classics: Jodhaa-Akbar, Anarkali, and Mughal-e-Azam. All three films tell the generation-spanning tale with their own beauty. Personally, I prefer the lesser known Anarkali to Mughal-e-Azam. It’s more concise and piquant without so much of the spectacle that makes Mughal-e-Azam such a massive movie. All three films have beautiful soundtracks but the music from Mughal-e-Azam is timeless and on a different level than the other films’ music. While she cannot rival the perfection of Madhubala, Aishwariya Rai sparkles in Jodhaa-Akbar with a performance that showcases her strengths. The steamy chemistry with Hrithrik Roshan doesn’t hurt either.

The Ones Everyone Grew Up On:
I’m loathe to mention them because these films are so commonplace; yet their staying power and popularity are testaments to how important they are in the Bolly-Newbie’s film catalog. When I’m introducing someone new to the world of Indian Cinema, I tend to start with one of these. They translate well, have emotions that resonate, and the music is catchy. The enigmatic coupling of Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan of Bollywood, sizzles on the screen. Personal opinion: watch KKHH first and follow with DDLJ; DDLJ can be heavy-handed and pedantic, a trait that KKHH lacks for the most part.

I never want to understand what people in the Indian film industry were on during the '60s and the '70s. To understand would ruin the magic that this time period boasts. At its height, the Masala Genre was full of mistaken identities, long lost twins, swanky villain lairs, and incredibly insane costumes. I found these decades completely overwhelming at first—each film just has so much going on that it can be difficult to keep a grasp on what you’re watching. For a primer course, Deewaar, Sharmeelee, and Raffoo Chakkar are must-sees for this era. Each is dramatically different from the others while still being true to the tropes of Masala films. These are just some of the over-the-top, absolutely madcap films from this time period that are purely enjoyable after you get your feet wet.

Modern Goodness:
There is a shake-up going on in Mumbai these days and studios are churning out really great, fresh, modern stories. Production quality, relatable characters, and effective melodrama are the focus and movies are doing all the better for them. Full out song-and-dance numbers have taken a backseat (in some films) and now music is used more as a background score rather than a stop to the action (while keeping one or two songs for a full-on dance break). While I originally bemoaned the lack of dancing, it does clear up a lot of pacing and relevancy issues that are common in Indian films. At the top of my recommendations for “new stuff” are Ek Main aur Ek Tu, Rockstar and Band Baaja Baarat. Each film has something delightful to offer while being fresh, unique and delightful.

Bonus Points:
The rest of my recommendations are films that I wanted to include in my list, but couldn’t figure out how to work in a greater theme. Barsaat ki Raat is a gem from the 1950s, another Madhubala film that is packed with stunning imagery and beautiful qwwalis. Sholay is an obvious classic of the Masala genre, excellent from beginning to end. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and thrills you non-stop. Delhi Belly is a film I could watch over and over again. With its rough humor, it is not the film for everyone but it nonetheless entertains and makes you laugh. It gives Masala a modern-day facelift and adds spicy flavor to a usually pandering genre in Indian films. Aamne Saamne is suspenseful to the point of stress-inducing but also features a very, very pretty Shashi Kapoor and groovy Beatles-esque music. It’s totally a win.

Links to my film reviews can be found at my blog: Fairy Filmi Ending

Reviews for films discussed here:

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  1. Cool post! Although I feel Old when I don't relate to KKHH and DDLJ as 'the movies I grew up on':-). I consider Hrishikesh Mukherji cinema as the quintessential Indian Movies, the characters, the language, the mindset, the situations and the social dynamics- that is the India and bollywood I relate to and understand - (may be my small town experience) - DDLJ and KKHH is just 1% representation of Indian lifestyle and mindset- urban metros mostly (DDLJ was for the most part the story of 2 NRI families). But I see the appeal!
    BTW, thanks for visiting my blog! Following you now..Keep in touch!

    1. Oh yes, films by Hrishikesh Mukherji are a whole genre by themselves! It's interesting to hear everyone's insights on Hindi films and what they think makes a good movie. Thanks for your comments!

  2. What a great post! I love all these movies and personally, I miss the out-and-out, over the top entertainment of yesteryears. I don't miss the ugly fashions though so I'm glad Hindi cinema has come a long way in terms of fashion :) On an aside, for truly realistic cinema, check out some Malayalam movies. They don't veer so much towards fantasy as Hindi does, but thats why I love hindi movies!

    1. Oh yes, the ugly fashions of the 80s especially!
      I haven't watched many films from the South. Perhaps the last one I might have seen were those that were translated into Hindi (like Jeans and Appu Raja - remember them?!). Anyway, I will definitely look into more recent ones! Thanks for visiting the blog and for your comments. :)

  3. ohh haha done with the guessing. too simple. http://www.turtok.com/


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