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Felicity Warner / HCM

Beginner’s Guide to Bollywood 

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mich chapter.

I think my love for Bollywood stems from my grandpa’s avid movie-watching, and I have countless memories of watching Bollywood movies with him and my little sister growing up. For those who are unfamiliar, Bollywood is the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai, previously Bombay, India (Bombay + Hollywood = Bollywood). Bollywood has had a growing global presence in the last few decades, amassing viewers of all ethnicities.  

I love introducing Bollywood movies to my non-South Asian friends (or culturing my South Asian friends) and seeing my friends’ reactions to the classics I grew up with is always so fun. What surprises many people is that Bollywood movies are almost always musicals, with song and dance numbers integrated into the plot. In general, Bollywood movies and dance numbers are very extravagant and vibrant, with multiple costume changes and landscapes. However, actors do not sing their own songs, and playback singers featured in these movies are the equivalent of pop stars in America. As a result, Hindi songs are rarely released on their own but rather as a part of a film in which they are used. Bollywood movies are often promoted through one or more title tracks, and the music is a significant part of the movie.  

The themes for Bollywood movies originate from Indian mythology and classic Indian epics and aspects of romanticism are heavily prevalent. Most Bollywood movies have aspects of romance, action, and drama and historical dramas are also quite popular. In recent years, movies with themes of social justice are gaining more traction and making meaningful changes in the industry.  

Another important aspect of Bollywood movies is the length. These movies are LONG. It once took my grandpa and me three days to finish a movie called Mohabbatein because it is 3 hours and 36 minutes long and 9-year-old-me kept getting sleepy. Bollywood movies typically range from 2.5 – 3 hours and due to their length, usually feature an intermission. It often feels like one Bollywood movie could be split up into a movie and a sequel if it were Hollywood.  

Speaking of sequels, Bollywood’s use of sequels is also quite different from Hollywood. When Bollywood makes a “2,” “3,” or even “4” of a movie, rather than continuing the original story, a sequel usually features most of the same cast with a plot under the same genre as the original movie, but a completely different story. For example, one of my favorite Bollywood series Dhoom, features the same actors as a buddy cop duo who have a mission to catch a villainous mastermind in all three of its movies. However, in every movie, the villain, the love interests, and the subplots change, and there is no tie-in to the plot of the previous movie.   

Who’s Who in Bollywood: Bollywood has a wide variety of stars, but there are certain actors that have shaped the industry. These include the three Khans: Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, and Salman Khan. Shah Rukh Khan is considered the king of Bollywood and has been acting in romance and action movies since the 90s. Aamir Khan has branched out from his role as an actor to also direct movies, which not only feature drama and action but also social justice messages. Salman Khan is the “macho-man” of Bollywood and has also acted in a wide variety of movies. Known for their versatility and elegance, actors such as Aishwarya Rai, Kajol, and Rani Mukherjee ruled the 90s and 2000s producing hit after hit. More recently Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhat have skillfully acted in romance, drama, and action movies and have been featured as the main characters instead of just the love interest. Other actors are known for their dance moves, grace, and agility including Madhuri Dixit, Hrithik Roshan (my favorite), Shahid Kapoor, and Tiger Shroff.   

So, you’ve heard all these amazing things about Bollywood movies, but where do you even begin with an industry that produces nearly 1000 movies a year? Do not fear, I have created a list of iconic Bollywood movies and there’s sure to be a perfect movie for whatever mood you’re in. (The bolded titles are some of my favorites!)  

90’s and 2000’s classics: Dilwale Dhulania Le Jayenge (romance, family drama), Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (romance, drama), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (romance), Dil toh Pagal Hai (romance), Three Idiots (drama, romance), Main Hoon Na (action, drama)      

For when you want a good cry: Kal Ho Na Ho (romance), Veer Zaara (romance, historical), Taare Zameen Par (family drama)  

Rom Coms: Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, Jab We Met, Hum Tum, Salamee Namaste, Love Aaj Kal  

Action: Dhoom (1, 2, or 3), Don (series), Bang Bang!, War, Bhaagi    

Historical: Padmavat, Bajirao Mastani, Jodha Akbar, Lagaan, Airlift 

Movies with a social message: PK (corruption), Dabaang (women’s sports), Pad Man (menstrual stigma), English Vinglish (foreigners in America, women empowerment), Udta Punjab (corruption and drug use) 

I'm a pre-med student majoring in Biology, Health, and Society and minoring in Social Class and Inequality Studies! I'm interested in creative writing and personal essays. I love playing Just Dance, learning pop songs on the violin, and watching Jeopardy!