While in India, I was lucky enough to be placed in a host family with a Mom who had a passion for movies. Every chance we got, we’d see whatever new Hindi movie was in theatres. I fell in love with Indian cinema! Back home, I’d completely fallen out of love with film – every movie was either a sequel or related to some lucrative franchise or property, all of which are exercises in empty nostalgia. Nothing interested me. But when I started seeing Hindi films with my host mom, my love for movies was re-ignited. Suddenly, the thought of going to see a new movie was exciting. While many Bollywood movies follow similar story structures and storylines, the stories and structure were new to me, which made them engrossing! Bollywood films also have an intermission, which is something I think all movies need – that 12 minute break in the middle of the movie is a great chance to get snacks or pee. This, among many other factors really helped me fall in love with both the movie-going experience and with Hindi-films this year.
Below is a compilation of mini-overviews and reviews of all the movies I saw in theatres this year while in India! I hope this inspires you to find a new favourite or step out of your comfort zone.
Bahaai Ho: A comedy which follows a young man and his difficulty coming to terms with the fact his middle aged mother has gotten pregnant. Much comedy ensues as the main character grapples (often in the form of wallowing in his own self pity) with this truth as he simultaneously navigates his own love life.
Somehow, I ended up seeing this one more than once while it was still in theatres: once or twice with my host family and friends and once with my Hindi class. I think each viewing made it less exciting than the first time, but nonetheless entertaining. It's a pretty funny and enjoyable movie! It makes it into my top 5 movies of the year. This is one of the movies I would recommend to people as a kind of ‘gateway drug’ for those interested in seeing a Hindi language movie!
Andhadhun: A thriller/comedy about a visually impaired piano player who witnesses a murder and becomes further entangled with the murderer and former movie star as she works to cover her traces. This was by far one of the most wild films I’d seen in a long time. I don't want to delve much further into the synopsis of this film as it would risk spoiling it.
The story had me guessing at every turn. The entire theatre would erupt in sounds of disbelief as each twist and turn occured. It wasn't until the end of the movie that I realized I was sitting on the edge of my seat with bated breath trying to guess what would happen next. Additionally, the majority of the film took place in Pune, where I was living at the time. It felt great to have an idea of where things were going down on-screen.
This was probably my favourite movie I watched this year – It constantly had me floored. I consider it a must watch for fans of thrillers and black comedies. Bear in mind this is not a stereotypical Bollywood movie full of colour and dance numbers, so if that's what you are looking for this is not the film for you.
Manmarziyan: A romantic drama film featuring the typical tropes of a love triangle, except this one follows a woman forced to choose between (a) her bad boy DJ boyfriend who drives a cool Jeep (b) or the good boy who went to school and is ready to settle down and start a family. The main character is then begrudgingly married to the good boy in an arranged marriage after a falling-out with the bad boy boyfriend. The girl then struggles with her choice to go through with the marriage as she attempts to decide which man she truly loves and wants to be with.
This movie was okay. It was the first Bollywood movie I saw while in India, but it didn't exactly set my heart ablaze. Watching the romance unfold was enjoyable, as was the ridiculous bad boy boyfriend the main character has, but I wasn't blown away by it. I think my lack of language skills when watching this one may have also acted as a barrier to my full enjoyment (but that’s mostly a ‘me’ issue).
Sui Dhaaga: A drama which focuses on a rural couple who acquire a sewing machine and attempt to make a life for themselves through creating a small sewing business. It follows a ‘rags to riches’ storyline as the characters battle adversity, eventually making it big through fashion.
Overall, I thought this movie was cute and had an enjoyable story. It just wasn't my favourite movie or the most engaging one I saw. This was likely due to its heavy focus on dialogue-driven drama and a predictable plot. This is the kind of movie that if i saw it playing on TV, I would put it on as I went about my day around the house.
Total Dhamaal (Dhamaal 3): A slapstick comedy movie which pokes fun at the tropes of both James Bond and treasure hunt-style movies. The cast is full of superstars and is a recurring cast between all the Dhamaal films. The plot of this one follows a motley crew of people as they race against one another in hopes of finding a buried treasure before the others.
This was by far my host sister’s favourite movie of the year. In fact, she actually went back to the theatre to see it again. However, my review would be drastically different. This is the third film in a series of comedy films featuring the same cast in a variety of wacky situations. This was an Indian version of a modern day Adam Sandler film – full of fat jokes, jokes about men being emasculated and general slapstick comedy – suffice it to say, not my thing. I’m not sure i’d recommend this campy comedy to the general north american public – watch if you want to be lost in a storm of Indian pop culture references.
Uri: Surgical Strike: A dramatic action packed retelling of India’s surgical strikes which were done in response to the 2016 Uri attack. The film follows major Vihaan Singh Shergill throughout the various event that occur as a result of the initial attack in Uri. The film is broken into five chapters each depicting a different set of events and actions.
This one had me Googling the plot while I watched it – I understood generally what was going on, but had no idea what was happening in any specific moment. I ended up reading the synopsis on Wikipedia as I watched. I experienced just about every emotion watching this one – I cried, I smiled, I laughed at an inappropriate moment due to the sheer levels of pro-India propaganda present. It was a rollercoaster. This was a fascinating movie to watch more so because of the crowd’s reactions to the film. Uri: Surgical Strike was the Indian equivalent of Western movies like American Sniper or Zero Dark Thirty. It also happened to be released during a time of political unrest and upheaval between India and Pakistan, which likely led to the crowd being especially vocal. If you are a fan of action movies or war films – this is a contender for you. This genre is not really my favourite – as a result the movie wasn't my favorite either.
Gully Boy: A smash hit drama which follows the rags to riches formula of a young man in college from a gully in Mumbai who works to become a successful rapper. The movie features a great soundtrack different from most Bollywood films and an enthralling story.
This is one of my big recommendations of the year. It stands out amongst many of the other films I watched this year. It’s got heart, drama and great music. If anything, watch it for the parts where they rap, which I found strange yet enjoyable. Choose this one if you want to witness the dramatized version of Mumbai's underground rapping scene and just an out of the ordinary bollywood flick.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga: A drama which follows the elaborate scheming of a young woman trying to come out to her religious parents through the means of a play following the story of her life.
This movie is kind of slow at first – but once it gets going it's very engrossing. It features a solid blend of comedy, drama and music and presents a good message and talks about content matter often forgotten in Indian (or any for that matter) media. This is a cute and heartfelt movie – worth the recommendation if you want a more chill film.
Manikarnika: Queen of Jhansi: A historical epic and biopic telling the story of historical figure Rani (Queen) Laxshmi Bai of Jhansi, who fought for the freedom of her land in the face of the British overtaking India.
Cheesy, sad, vaguely feminist and feel-good, all the while instilling a deep sense of nationalism in the viewers as they witness the heroine performing feats of bravery in honour of her homeland. I really enjoyed the bad Hindi (on par with my own) spoken by the evil British army characters and the weird CGI animals and fight scenes. If you are a fan of elaborate historical epics, load this movie up alongside the Wikipedia entry about it so you can keep up with what's happening (which is what I had to do when seeing it in theatres).
Luka Chuppi: A romantic comedy about a couple that chooses to casually live together, but when their families find out about their living arrangements, they assume the two have secretly eloped. The rest of the film follows the couple as they try to continue to convince the family they are already married while simultaneously actually trying to get married unbenounced to their parents.
I enjoyed the hijinks of the characters as they try their best to get secretly married in the face of a variety of wacky roadblocks to success, all of which usually result in punishment for the groom. The various attempt and subsequent failures build in such a way that make their eventual success satisfying. This is a movie for the rom-com lovers out there – I would recommend for a fun girls night in.
Badla: The last Bollywood movie I saw in theatres while in India. The story follows a lawyer as he interviews a woman who woke up trapped in a hotel room next to her husband's dead body and a duffel bag full of money. Through flashbacks and testimonials to her lawyer, we learn about the woman and her life leading up to her husband's death and the accusation of her being responsible for his death.
This movie makes sure to never let you fully trust its characters as it throws a variety of twists and turns at the viewer. Additionally, the movie is formatted in such a way that you get to experience multiple perspectives and retellings of what exactly happened, challenging you to choose the truth and solve the mystery for yourself. The movie has a rather slow pace and I even found myself losing focus from time to time. If you like a thriller mystery film, you might just enjoy this one.
If any of these movies piqued your interest, take a minute and see if you can find it online and please watch it. Who knows – you might get hooked and become a newly made Bollywood buff, not unlike myself.