A Beginner’s Guide: How well do you know Bollywood

For Bollywood beginners, here are some must-see films to start getting to know the genre.

As an increasing number of Bollywood actors cross over to Hollywood and American television, there has been an influx of widespread interest in Indian cinema. Producing more than a thousand movies a year—many of which have success at major film festivals— Bollywood has a huge international audience. A number of Bollywood stars have been commanding the global arena for years, including Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, and Irrfan Khan, to name a few. The latest Indian star to achieve notable international acclaim is Priyanka Chopra, who captivates viewers on the ABC series Quantico (2015 -). In addition to its bevy of international stars, Bollywood’s collection of variegated cinema is perhaps best known for its frequent use of elaborate song and dance sequences.

Here are some must-see Bollywood films for those looking to break into the genre:

1. Mughal-e-Azam (1960)

An epic historical drama based in India’s colorful Mughal era, this movie boasts amazing picturised sequences. With a star-studded cast including Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, this movie portrays the unlikely love story of Prince Salim and Anarkali, a court dancer, much to the chagrin of the emperor Akbar. Adding to its laurels are the awe-inspiring dance sequences and the powerful scores delivered by India’s nightingale Lata Mangeshkar and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. It remains one of the highest grossing Bollywood movies of all time.

2. Sholay (1975)

This 1975 hit produced some of the most famous dialogue in Indian cinema. Sholay is centered around a village traumatised by the local dacoit gang and its leader, the atrocious Gabbar Singh. Set in the backdrop of simple village life are two subtle love stories. This movie has the distinction of being ranked first in the British Film Institute’s 2002 poll of the “Top 10 Indian Films” of all time.

3. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995)

One of the most popular movies of the ‘90s, this movie is the longest-running film in the history of Indian cinema; twenty years after its release, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is still being shown at the Maratha Mandir theater in Mumbai. In the film, Raj Malhotra has to convince the conservative Baldev Singh Chaudhary of his love for his daughter Simran. The biggest hurdle of all, however, is Simran’s impending wedding to another man. With colorful wedding preparations as the backdrop, it’s no surprise that this film has been captivating audiences for twenty years.

4. Golmaal (1979)

In this cult comedy, a desperate employee proves he will go to any lengths necessary to keep his job. But at the end of the day, he finds himself sandwiched between his conservative yet eccentric employer and his employer’s modern, headstrong daughter. There is hardly a scene which fails to light up the audience’s face with smiles.

5. Lagaan (2001)

No list of classic Indian films can be complete without Lagaan. A historic sports drama, it was the third Indian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film is set in the Victorian era of the British Raj’s rule in India. When faced with the opportunity to exempt his taxes for three years, a villager with no prior knoledge of the game of cricket must assemble a ragtag team of eleven players and defeat the arrogant British officers.

6. Anand (1971)

Anand is one of Bollywood’s most poignant and emotionally harrowing films. In the film, a terminally ill man maintains a cheerful disposition and spreads happiness among those around him, even though he knows he only has a few months to live. Rajesh Khanna, known as the “first superstar” of Indian cinema, stars as the titular role of Anand.

7. Black (2005)

Black tells the story of a poignant relationship between a student and her teacher. The latter brings light to the life of his student, who is blind, mute and deaf. As the teacher develops Alzheimer’s disease, their relationship is tested and their roles reversed.

8. The Lunchbox (2013)

Like Black, The Lunchbox also tells the story of an unlikely friendship. When lonely housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) prepares a special lunch for her neglectful husband, the meal accidentally ends up in the hands of the widower Saajan (Irrfan Khan). Through their anonymous note-passing, the pair are able to maintain a moving friendship without ever meeting in person.

9. Piku (2015)

Starring the legendary Amitabh Bachchan, Piku follows the dysfunctional relationship between a grumpy father (Bachchan) and his short-tempered daughter (Deepika Padukone) as they drive to Calcutta. The cab driver (Irrfan Khan) is unfortunately—and hilariously - -caught in the middle of their antics.

10. Kahaani (2012)

In Kahanni, the protagonist (Vidya Bagchi), a pregnant software engineer, flies from London to Calcutta to look for her missing husband. With the help of a local police officer, the pair encounters surprise twists, turns and violence.