I've received a couple of requests now to make a few recommendations on where to get started watching Bollywood movies. OH MY GOD YOU GUYS I AM SO HAPPY TO TELL YOU THANK YOU FOR ASKING I HAVE MANY OPINIONS.
First, the films referenced in my last mega post! That closing credits scene is from a film called Dil Bole Hadippa, which is about cricket, and believe it or not is basically a feminist sports film. I recommend it very much. You do not need to understand cricket in the slightest, though my husband was able to correctly deduce the rules of cricket by watching this film with me.
The second one is Chance Pe Dance, which is a terrible movie from a writing perspective -- the story is paper-thin. There also aren't any female characters to speak of, besides the love interest who is arguably not even a SEXY lamp, she's just a regular old lamp. But... there aren't any MALE characters to speak of in that film, either? The focus of that movie is on Shahid Kapur dancing and being hot and emotionally vulnerable, and *everything else* is an afterthought. So if it sounds like your thing, hey! Try it!
My first Bollywood film was Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, which is hilarious and weird and touching, and was the film that made me realize that any one Bollywood film isn't one genre, it's like three to five all mixed together. There are very strong religious elements, if you find that potentially offputting, and it's not an overtly feminist movie. (Though I've seen a stronger feminist streak out of Mumbai than I ever expected.) I deeply enjoyed this movie, and I think it makes a good intro to Bollywood. I should go back and watch it again, in fact, now that I get some of the film vocabulary and conventions a lot better.
My very favorite Bollywood film, though, might be Band Baaja Baaraat, though it's arguably not a classic Bollywood film at all. Actually -- in a sense, none of these are classic Bollywood. But this one in particular has ON SCREEN KISSING, SUPER SCANDAL. It's also a great way to spend a few hours of your time. The music is catchy, the choreography and costuming are amazing, the actors put in a good performance, the writing is pretty great, and the plot is convincing. A+++ would watch again!
If you want to watch the KING of all Bollywood films, though, and a true-to-form classic Bollywood film to boot, you want Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, which was released in 1995 and is STILL PLAYING IN THEATERS TODAY. No joke. It's the movie that made Shahrukh Khan the superstar he is today, and you'll notice that Shahrukh Khan is referenced in other films like Band Baaja Baaraat the way that, say, Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp are in a Hollywood joint. There are a few scenes in this one that you'll see referenced all over the place in other films -- in fact Dil Bole Hadippa pays homage to it, and I think Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi may as well. Watching Bollywood without having seen this film is a little like playing with light sabers without ever having seen Star Wars. You get it so much better once you have the baseline.
I don't enjoy Dilwale Dulhani Le Jayenge very much -- I think the main characters are both immature and kind of obnoxious, and there's a ton of super problematic gender stuff going on in that movie, above and beyond what you see in something like Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. But it is substantially older, and it's operating in a cultural context that American white-girl feminism has no standing to talk about. Regardless, it's an important movie to see so you know what these other movies are in conversation with.
A few other things about Bollywood you should know, if this is your first time. These movies are usually very long -- over three hours long, in some cases pushing four hours. There is an intermission in the middle! And the description of the plot you see in eg. Netflix basically describes what happens before the intermission -- indeed, in that second half, sometimes it transforms into a completely different film than you thought you were watching.
I should also add that these are my favorites based on what Netflix had available over the last year or two. They've sadly pulled a lot of films over the last couple of months, so you may need to go elsewhere to find these. It also means my taste is skewed toward Yash Raj films, presumably because they had the best distribution agreement with Netflix. These are probably movies made with an eye to the foreign and ex-pat market, and probably don't accurately reflect modern tastes and trends for domestic film in India proper.
Right! Bollywood! Get your snacks together and start watching! It's fascinating and fun and wonderfully different from the stuff you see out of Hollywood. Enjoy your movies, and let me know what you think!