Top 5 Bollywood Movies for Bollywood Newbies

It’s around this time of year that I no longer have the motivation or productivity to work on assignments and write my final papers for the semester. The holiday season is too close, and the cold makes me want to just snuggle up, drink hot chocolate, and watch movies all day long with my family. 

While many families love spending this time rewatching their favorite Christmas movies, my family is a bit different in our holiday traditions. A few years back during winter break, my mom and siblings started piling on the couch and watching old Bollywood movies that my parents had shown us as kids. These movies were such a near and dear part of my upbringing in my family’s early days in America. Being Pakistani immigrants, my family turned to these movies to show us a bit of what our culture and values were. Most of these classic movies have much to do with love, friendship, and family. I’d watch them over and over as a child and dance along to the songs and repeat the classic Hindi lines to my mom. After starting a few years ago, this has become an annual tradition in my household. So now, as the winter season lurks around the corner, I suddenly feel more of an urge to sit, grab some popcorn and watch classic Bollywood movies with my mom. 

I’ve realized that during my time at Kenyon, very few of my friends have ever seen a single Bollywood movie. It’s kind of hard to believe since my entire life I’ve known household Bollywood names like Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan more than I knew about Johnny Depp and Leonardo Dicaprio. As a Bollywood newbie, it may be hard to navigate the films and find where to start because Bollywood is just like Hollywood, where movies are released so frequently it can be overwhelming. Especially when movies are as long as 2.5-3 hours, you want to know that what you’re about to watch is something good. I know frequently after one or two bad Bollywood movies, some people choose to give up on the genre altogether. If you find yourself in this Bollywood predicament, look no further. As an experienced Bollywood fanatic, I am happy to help present you five of my top picks that have a variety in the range in style, length, and release date that can help start your journey into the wonder of Bollywood this holiday season.

5. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Big-Hearted Will Take Away the Bride), 1995

Starting off with #5 is the widely acclaimed movie, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ). Regarded as one of the best romantic films of its time, DDLJ is a classic for any regular Bollywood fan. Bollywood just isn’t complete without it. DDLJ follows two young Indians in England who fall in love on a tour of Europe and must deal with the consequences, especially when one of them is betrothed to an old family friend in India. The romantic story of Raj and Simran is so widely loved and known it is actually still running in a Theatre in Mumbai, India, making it the longest-running film in Bollywood cinema. This film also features the star pairing of the king of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, whose chemistry is unmatched. This classic should be on everyone’s list of movies to be seen!


4. Kal Ho Naa Ho (Tomorrow May Never Come), 2003

Perhaps what South Asians consider as the Bollywood equivalent of The Notebook comes this classic movie featuring Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta as its romantic leads. I have yet to get through the entire 3-hour film without shedding a single tear, but perhaps the emotional element is what makes this 2003 classic one of the best movies of its time. It follows Naina, an Indian-American living in New York City with her extended family. Naina helps her mother's failing restaurant, takes care of her adopted sister and younger brother all while facing the impending tension of her father’s suicide which has left lasting marks on her and her family’s happiness. Then enters Aman, who she refers to as “an angel” that she feels God has placed on this earth to teach her to love and laugh again. The movie is just as much a comedy with its hilarious moments and gives all of the elements of a traditional Bollywood movie while being set in the familiar terrain of America. It is a must-watch for sure.


3. My Name is Khan, 2010

Another movie that is near and dear to my heart is the 2010 drama film, My Name is Khan. Not only did this film reunite the Bollywood power leads from #5, Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan nearly nine years after their last collaboration, but it was a big hit in the States as well. This movie follows Rizwan Khan, an Indian-American immigrant who is also diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. The movie navigates his life in America both before and after 9/11 as a Muslim while he tries to win back the heart of his Hindu wife who is affected by the way his religion is seen in America at the time. The innocence of one mentally disabled man in a cruel world that is against him keeps you reeled into the film—it restores your faith in humanity and will tug your heartstrings. Strikingly shot in San Francisco, it is a great commentary on the struggles of Islamophobia and prejudice in America and can be eye-opening seeing through the lens of a man with Asperger syndrome.

2) Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (This Youth is Crazy), 2013

Slated in at #2 is probably one of my favorite movies of all time, although all of the ones on the list are near and dear to my heart. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani follows a fun bunch of young adults living out their early 20s. The movie carries a youthful energy, but I think I love it most because I relate strongly to the main character, Naina. Naina is a medical student who has always played it safe. She’s the ideal student and the ideal daughter, which leads her to feel unfulfilled with her life. To spice things up a little she takes a risk and makes an impulse decision to go on a hiking trip for young adults in the Indian mountains and village of Manali. Through her days on the trek, she reunites with some old acquaintances from her time in school, discovers herself, and makes some new unexpected friends. This movie is especially geared towards the fun and exciting nature of living your life as a young adult when the possibilities are limitless, which is why it’s a great flick for young adults or older audiences.


1) 3 idiots, 2009

I’ve probably rewatched this movie more times than I can count and it gets me every time. 3 idiots is a comedic masterpiece with an element of drama as well, something a lot of Bollywood movies like to strive to have but fail to achieve. I think the main kicker with this film is that it is a commentary on the Indian post-secondary education system as it follows three young engineering students who must deal with the stress of being in the nations top college of engineering. The story is told in flashbacks as the two students are striving to find the third who they had lost touch with. This movie is actually totally accessible on Netflix, and is great for my fellow college students who feel the burdens of pursuing higher degrees and the challenges that come with that. 

Honorable Mentions include: 

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something… Something Happens), 1999

Taare Zameen Par (Stars on the Ground), 2007

PK (Tipsy), 2014

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sorrow), 2003

Mohabbatein (Love of a Lifetime), 2000

Again, these are only the start of the list of Bollywood movies that are amazing. As a Bollywood fanatic, I have really come to enjoy the culture and different flavors these movies bring to storytelling. A lot of these stories also are very relevant to our time as young adults and comment on problems that all countries and people face, no matter where they’re from. It reminds us that once again, we are not so different after all. I hope this list can guide you through the expanding industry of Indian cinema, and you enjoy these films with family and friends just as much as I do this winter season.


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