I grew up watching mostly American and European films on my own. Aside this, there was a constant drip-feeding of Satyajit Ray films from a young age by my parents.
I’ve worked on and off in India for many years now, so it has a very special place in my heart. I came late to more mainstream Indian cinema – out of some inexplicable fear of how ‘different’ it was to anything I was familiar with.
And it was/is different – the syntax, the ‘intermission’ in the middle splitting the story arc into two halves, the song-and-dance aspect of it, the sheer length of them (previously never less than 3.5 hours – now getting shorter).
It was particularly during my last two+-year spell in Bombay while working at Disney that I finally became better acquainted with Indian cinema, thanks largely to my lovely friends, Suprotim Sengupta and Rohit Vedprakash.
I still need to watch them with subtitles and I’m guilty of fast-forwarding through many of the songs (sorry), but because they truly take me a new place and because I think of them in a special way, I’ve put these titles in their own category.
Mahanagar (The Big City)
All of Satyajit Ray’s films have so much humanity in them. Many are classics frequently listed in various critics’ Top Ten, but I love this one because it shows how a middle-class woman gets a job to help her family, only to unbalance it. In Bengali.
South India’s finest film in recent years. A larger-than-life epic adventure/action/romantic extravaganza that is unlike anything I have ever seen. It was the craziest ride imaginable. In Telugu.
Vintage ‘Bollywood’, this is deservedly considered one of the best Hindi films ever made. With a stellar cast, including Dharmendra and the inimitable Amitabh Bhachchan, this raised the bar for Indian cinema. In Hindi.
A story about the first Indian filmmaker. The charming tone never stalls or fails. In Marathi.
Even if we’re not familiar with ‘Bollywood’, we think we are – song and dance routines, heaving bosoms, boy meets girl plots, three-hour extravaganzas that go from the streets of Bombay to the hills of Switzerland. That’s why I love this film for being so bold as to have half of it in English (which is, after all, one of the two national languages of India) and for not showing all women as stereotypes. It even shows the importance of oral sex for women… now, that really is bold! The song in the chase scene is one of my favourite songs ever. In Hindi and English.
The finest Indian actress today, in my opinion, is Vidya Balan. This showcases her talent impeccably. A heavily pregnant wife goes searching for her husband who has vanished. In Hindi.
- 3 Idiots The highest-grossing Indian film in history in its time – only recently beaten.
- Aradhana Sharmila Tagore gives a mesmerising performance.
- Angoor Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors brought to India by Gulzar.
- Kaminey Scenes from this film have stayed with me for years after I watched it.
- Do Dooni Chaar A fractured middle-class Delhi family come together.
- Taare Zameen Par (Like Stars on Earth) A firm favourite of many; I would have loved it more if the first two hours had been speeded up. But the last hour is one of the finest in contemporary Indian cinema; directed by the industry’s powerhouse, Aamir Khan.
- Welcome to Sajjanpur Shyam Benegal’s feisty take on small town life.
- Lage Raho Munna Bhai A sequel that I much preferred over the original, which is still insanely popular – a gangster turns good by channelling Gandhi.
- Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd Reema Kagti’s fun, light bus trip filled with honeymooners.
- Band Baaja Baaraat (Wedding Planners) About a couple of wedding planners in Delhi who have insanely awesome chemistry together.
- Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India Everyone’s favourite movie.
- Peepli [Live] An astute, intelligent film about farmer suicide; it’s not as depressing as it sounds.
- Parineeta Vidya Balan in a gorgeously layered story set in 1960s Calcutta.