Quarantine Watchlist: Serious Bollywood Edition Part 2

Now is a really great time to overcome the subtitle/language barrier and explore foreign films. You have time, I have recommendations. Some of my favorite Bollywood films are ones that don’t hinge on romance as the main plot. Here are some Bollywood movies that stray from the rom-com/musical/pointless action cookie-cutter mold, Part 2: friend flicks.

  1. 1.   Rock On (2008, 2 hours and 25 minutes)

    Rock On!! movie soundtrack album cover

    Available On: Netflix, Youtube (for rent), iTunes Movies, Einthusan

    Summary: After ten years the estranged members of rock band Magik reunite. Though life has taken them each in very different directions, they all manage to come back together to compete in the same contest that caused their initial disbandment. 

    Ratings: 7.8/10 (IMDb), there are only 2 reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes site so I omitted this rating system.

    Best Song: All of the songs are absolutely phenomenal and are performed by the cast (mostly Farhan Akhtar, but damn does the man have a vocal range). My personal favorites are ‘Pichle Saat Dinon Mein’ and ‘Tum Ho Toh’, and I would recommend watching the video clip from the movie of ‘Sinbad the Sailor’ because it is such a great turning point in the movie.

    My Thoughts: This movie is an oldie but a goodie. Growing up this was one of my favorite films. Now I won’t deny, I was incredibly start struck by the multi-talented enigma that is Farhan Akhtar, but this movie was a breath of fresh air in a cloud of corny masala films and glitzy remakes. If you’re willing to overlook the cinematography, which admittedly is a product of its time and likely a smaller budget, it does a fantastic job of cutting between both the present and flashbacks. This movie is definitely geared more towards adults, who can relate to the sense of nostalgia and what is, but there is something so tragic about losing hope of your dreams and committing to doing what is practical but not fulfilling that will resonate with a much wider audience. Now, a final word of warning: do NOT under any circumstances bother with the sequel.

  2. 2. 3 Idiots (2009, 2 hours and 50 minutes)

    Available On: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Einthusan

    Summary: Farhan and Raju lost contact with their enigmatic roommate, Rancho, after college. Ten years later the two reunite, meeting their college rival Chatur, with the promise that Chatur has news about where Rancho is. The trio embark on a roadtrip to find their long lost friend and along the way reminisce about their wild college days.

    Ratings: 8.4/10 (IMDb) and 100% (Rotten Tomatoes)

    Best Song: Give Me Some Sunshine...try not to cry challenge 

    My Thoughts: Based on the book ‘Five Point Someone’ by Chetan Bhagat, this movie is arguably one of the most popular movies both domestically in India and internationally. If you haven’t heard of this movie you were probably living under a rock and now is the time to crawl out and join the rest of the cultured world. ‘3 Idiots’ is poignant yet still refreshingly funny as it subtly calls out the academia culture in India. This was honestly a generation defining film. It manages to tick all the boxes with a great soundtrack, an engaging plot, a phenomenal cast, and a great plot twist ending.

  3. 3. Dil Chahta Hai (2001, 3 hours and 3 minutes)

    Available On: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Youtube (for rent), Google Play Movies, iTunes Movies, and Einthusan

    Summary: Over time people come and go from our lives. Some bonds are broken and new ones formed, but the rarest and best friendship is the type where you can spend years apart and still have fun as if a day hasn’t gone by. Despite the different paths they embark on in life, Samir, Aakash, and Siddharth share a rare, unbreakable bond that withstands the test of time. Can their friendship handle the pressure of duty, love, and distance?

    Ratings: 8.1/10 (IMDb) and 95% Audience Score (Rotten Tomatoes)

    Best Song: Wall of the songs are iconic, Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe is my all time favorite and is one of those songs where you will have to physically stop me from playing it on repeat all day.

    My Thoughts: I won’t lie and say this is a particularly serious film, though it does have its moments where you hold you breath and hope for the best. This movie is a classic example of why so many people loved watching Bollywood in the early 2000s. It has that endearingly corny quality that is common in many other films, but manages to balance it out with more grounded scenes that aren’t entirely for shock value. The beauty of this movie is that it isn’t like Karan Johar’s films, which were what truly defined the decade. These characters are relatable, they live in the real world and experience real struggles, and lack the caricaturesque mentality of Johar’s films. And maybe, if you’re as much as a wimp as me, you might cry a little bit...brace yourself.

  4. 4. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011, 2 hours and 35 minutes)

    Available On: Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes (to rent), Youtube Movies (to rent), Google Play Movies (to rent), and Einthusan

    Summary: Three friends made a promise years ago to go on the trip of a lifetime and explore Spain to the fullest before settling down. Following the engagement of Kabir, Arjun and Imraan set aside their differences and make peace after an old fight in order to make this dream trip a reality. Along the way shenanigans ensure, as is normal, but what was meant to be a last ditch effort at freedom becomes a transformative trip that leaves none unaffected.

    Ratings: 8.1/10 (IMDb) and 92% (Rotten Tomatoes)

    Best Song: You dare ask me to pick one?! The entire soundtrack of this movie feels like it came from a European indie film instead of Bollywood and it’s honestly a vibe I live for. My favourite song is probably ‘Ik Junoon’, but it’s followed by a very, VERY close second of ‘Senorita’. That being said, I hate the remix of ‘Senorita’ with every fibre of my being and will happily tell you now that is worth neither a watch nor a listen. Fun Fact: the cast actually sang the song ‘Senorita’ themselves. 

    My Thoughts: I have waxed poetic about this movie far too often and too far too many people, but here I go again with the same spiel I’ve been spitting out for years. This movie is AMAZING. I cannot even begin to describe why it’s so great, from the fantastic soundtrack, the well fleshed out character backstories, the sometimes slapstick humor that had me in stitches, or the surprisingly well crafted romance subplot. The banter between the three friends to easy and believable, and despite being hilariously corny at times, the movie makes you feel like you were dropped into the lives of these characters when they’ve simply had an unfortunate turn of bad luck. This film almost doesn’t feel like a Bollywood movie and is reminiscent of a Western coming of age film. 

  5. 5. Kai Poche

    Available On: Netflix, Amazon Prime

    Summary: Cricket: India’s national sport, favorite pastime, and addiction. There’s no denying cricket has a important place in the heart of every Indian regardless of social class, but by the same token one cannot deny the politicking involved with the cricket industry. A victim of said politicking, Ishaan, wishes to nurture talent like himself in the hopes that they will succeed in making the selection where he could not. With his two friends, Omi and Govind, they work hard to start their own cricket shop and sports academy. However, success is not so easily earned in early 2000s India. Faced with many obstacles, including debt, religious tensions, and natural disasters, there is now way of knowing whether their friendship or their business will weather through. 

    Ratings: 7.6/10 (IMDb) and 78% (Rotten Tomatoes)

    Best Song: There is a grand total of three (yes, only three) songs. Composed by Amit Trivedi, who made my favorite Bollywood soundtrack for Bombay Velvet, the entire score is beautiful. The songs evoke a very nostalgic feeling and make for good background when studying. You will find no extravagant dance numbers in this film and that is OKAY.

    My Thoughts: By now you’re probably realising there’s a bit of a formula to these movies. A great and beautiful friendship, a tragic falling out, and a reunion a mere decade later. This might just be the case because this film also happens to be another adaptation of a Chetan Bhagat novel. This film was well received in India, and was the debut film of Sushant Singh Rajput (RIP). This film is a lot more gritty than the ones previously mentioned on this list, but it has the right cast of talented underdog actors to make it work. 

I hope you enjoy watching some of these films. I’ve had the great pleasure to watch every single one, and despite not having the best reviews I think they are still movies well worth watching. Disclaimer: I chose not to use Indian film critic reviews as they’re usually somewhat biased and overlook genuinely good movies.