For better or worse, India has often tried to copy Hollywood. That being said, they’ve turned in some masterpieces. But they’ve also copied and remade films with little to no understanding of what made them popular in the first place. That’s what makes Bollywood so entertaining – a lack of cultural relevance mixed with just the sheer joy of making and films. They’re so excited that they can’t help but dance.
And oh, how they dance. Some of their choreographed dance scenes are legendary. In the 2001 film Ghost World, the disaffected youth (Thora Birch) can’t help but fall in love and express herself replaying a scene from Gumnaam. It’s the only real joy she gets out of life. And we can get the same from appreciating Indian entertainment and culture.
Here are seven of the most famous Indian movies for audiences of all kind:
1. Sholay (1975)
Sholay is considered one of the 50 best films of all time by the Filmfare awards, and for good reason. Hired by a retired police detective, two criminals set about trying to capture a ruthless bandit. It was originally released at 198 minutes, but since has been restored to it’s glory at 204 minutes.
At its time, this was the highest grossing Indian film ever made. And it holds up quite well. Bleak and disturbing, romantic and fascinating, Sholay should be viewed by anyone who loves movies.
2. Aryaaman – The Warrior of the Universe (Indian Star Wars) (2002)
Sometimes, even though there heart is in the right place, culture clashes in all the wrong ways. Aryaaman is a clear ripoff of Star Wars, it’s confusing, it’s bizzare, but it’s honestly just a blast.
Whether you’re watching it ironically or are seriously appreciating the effort put forth, it’s a worthwhile endevour. And there’s plenty to watch – close to 90 episodes. Just try and detatch it from George Lucas’ classic. It’s impossible, especially when you see the C-3PO clone, whose only difference is silver, not gold.
3. Mother India (1957)
A widow struggles to raise her children while fighting back a cunning money lender. Simple story, but this Indian classic is one of the finest films the country produced. It has considerable weight to it, as there are numerous allusions to Hindi mythology.
The title itself is taken from a book by American writer Katherine Mayo, which thought of Indian culture as evil. For a film released in the 50s, it’s more provacative than anything that came out of the North. It is one of the most famous Indian movies and considered an old classic.
4. Lagaan (2001)
If you love Indian cinema and sports, this is your go-to film. Lagaan tells the story of a community during the British occupation, poverty stricken and taxed to obscenity. An officer, full of himself, challenges them to a game of cricket (i.e. the most British thing to do next to having a cup of tea).
It’s truly touching watching the Indians fight such a small battle that represents a much more horrifying one. It was the first foriegn language film from India to be nominated since Mother India. And it proves that sometimes, the small battles we fight are all we can celebrate.
5. 3 Idiots (2009)
We often, in our culture, joke about telemarketers and customer assistance calls that are clearly based in India. This is insulting, like telling an Asian he should know math. 3 Idiots is a coming-of-age tale about engineering students uncertain of where to go next, and it celebrates the same uncertainty we often feel in the west – that vast, unknown great beyond.
This film actually had an impact on how engineering is taught in the country. Known as one of the most famous Indian movies, it had an impact on the market as well. This was the highest grossing film of the year and remade in other countries.
6. Black Friday (2007)
This docudrama about the Bombay blasts of 1993 tracks one of the darkest days in recent Indian history, from the moment a citizen claims he has knowledge of major targets to the police and is ignored to the tragic explosions that occurred.
Full of backhand dealings and inert political beauracracy, a cop is infuriated, left alone in his quest. It’s a nightmare of a film, but it’s up there with The Looming Tower in documenting just how things went so wrong.
7. Salaam Bombay! (1988)
Day-to-day life in the city of Bombay has never been more fully realized cinematically than director Mira Nair displayed in Salaam Bombay! It won the audience award at the Cannes Film Festival, and with good reason. It’s one of the most famous Indian movies with international reach.
This was only the second film from the country to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Proving true to its cause, most of the supporting cast were actually street kids from the city.