50 Films Later - The Bollywood Experiment
When I first told a few people I was making a Bollywood* review site, they thought I was kidding. I sort of did, too. But at that point, I had already seen about 20 movies. I started earlier this year after I decided I was going to India to try to learn some Hindi. I had only seen Chennai Express at that point and thought it was pretty ridiculous. To this day, that’s still the movie I try to get people to watch since it’s so ridiculous (in a good way). Over the course of 50 movies, I haven’t learned a ton of Hindi (I can only read about 15 of 35 devanagari characters and hear a few dozen words), but I have learned a decent amount culturally. The biggest issue with my original goal was only watching Hindi movies when I’ve enjoyed South Indian movies so much. Telugu movies are very fun to binge watch, they’re more like watching a TV show than an emotionally charged story (they’re also all free on Youtube for some reason). Tamil ones have awesome fight scenes. And Malayalam movies are peaceful enough to end a stressful day. Movies are a bad tool for generalizing things about people, especially when some of the humor goes right over your head. Regardless, they can help you see the aspirations, the expectations, and the quirks of cultures that repeat themselves time and time again.
While I don’t stand behind my ratings in a serious sense, I really just wanted to give an idea what movies were enjoyable to me, an American, without too much exposure to Indian culture. I feel like I succeeded in that. Any of my movies with the “recommended” label are a great place to start. That covers several languages, several genres, and a wide variety of actors/actresses. The scores themselves are totally subjective. I generally avoided movies considered box office failures and almost always choose movies based on cast from other movies I enjoyed. It’s hard to be critical when you choose movies that seemed enjoyable from the start. If I had to pick my 5 favorites from the whole list, they’d be Highway, O Kandal Kanmani, Heropanti, Band Baaja Baaraat, and Ra Ra Krishnaya. But it’s hard to really pick favorites when movies are all so enjoyable in their own unique ways, and while I’d watch those all again, I’d happily pick another movie from my list of 100 to watch next.
One of my favorite things about all these movies is the music - my Bollywood playlist on Spotify is slowly growing. I’ve loved A.R. Rahman’s music. And one of these days, I need to spend some time making a Youtube playlist of all my favorite videos. The singing and dancing is what really catches people attention at first, but it’s really just like watching a broadway play - and it gives life to sometimes slowly developing stories (I think I’ve only seen one movie now shorter than 2 hours 15 minutes).
Here’s to the next 50 - I probably won’t get to that many before I finally arrive in India, but one of those could very well be in the famous Raj Mandir Cinema. What a treat that would be!
* I cover Tollywood and Kollywood as well, but to Americans, they’re all Bollywood!