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Bollywood Movies: Why You Should be Watching Them

As he accepted his Golden Globe for Parasite, director Bong Joon Ho made a wise statement: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” As the director of many acclaimed films, Ho is no stranger to the glorious world of international cinema. From Korea to France to Russia, there’s beautiful movies from all over the world.

Growing up as an Indian American, I was introduced to Bollywood by my parents early on. Though we spoke Telugu, a South Indian language, I was no stranger to the Hindi blockbusters that everyone loved. From classics such as 1998’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to modern love stories that grace the screen, I fell in love with the style and concepts of Bollywood films.

When Priyanka Chopra crossed over to Hollywood and began starring in the show Quantico, I thought of her as a well-established, famous Bollywood actress. However, I quickly realized that most people around me saw her as a new movie star that wanted to make it big in Hollywood. Seeing this discrepancy made me realize that most people were blind to an entire industry I had idolized for so many years. So, for those of you who have never seen a Bollywood movie, here are some reasons you should try watching them and some suggestions to get you started!

First and foremost, Bollywood is magical. From the elaborate sets and musical numbers to the dreamy, “cliché,” and unrealistic love stories, you’ll fall in love with it for its glitz, glamor, and relatable humor. As you watch Shah Rukh Khan, a famous Bollywood actor known as the “King of Bollywood,” chase yet another girl across the countryside, you feel his pain and root for his love story. Yes, it might be fully unrealistic, but it’s a movie – who cares!

That’s the point of it all, honestly. Where Hollywood does fantasy in true fantasy-style (with dragons, mythical creatures, etc.), Bollywood’s fantasy is rooted in reality. Every movie is like its own mini-musical, where everyone somehow knows the choreography and lyrics, and each character gets their own dancing troupe. Even though it’s impractical, it’s impossible not to follow along and get lost in the fantasy yourself.

Along with all this, Bollywood movies show the fun side of Indian culture. If you’re someone who’s unfamiliar with the culture, you’ll get an introduction to cultural costumes, food, and values through the films. 

Despite the cultural context, you can still relate to the storylines in some way. In the end, we’re all human and experience many of the same emotions in life – love, loss, failure, success, etc. – all of which transcend the language barrier.

Now that I’ve gone on and on about the movies, let me give you some suggestions! Here’s a few of my faves:

3 Idiots

This is one of the first movies I remember watching in a movie theater. It’s a story about friendship in which two best friends search for their third best friend from college, while remembering all their crazy memories together. Although it involves a stereotypical love story, the biggest theme of the film is friendship. 3 Idiots will make you both laugh at the characters’ antics and cry at their losses. Oh, and the songs are amazing!

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

This is THE classic Bollywood movie of the 1990s. This three-hour long film involves a love story that’s complicated by friendship, jealousy, and loss; in it, a young girl tries to reunite her widowed father with his former love. Even though the movie is long, you won’t notice time passing as you dance along to the musical numbers and become enthralled with the story. Plus, this is a classic Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol movie – these actors were the famous on-screen Bollywood couple of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

This is my personal favorite Bollywood movie! It follows the main character, Naina Talwar, a goody two-shoes pre-med student who goes on a trip with a group of friends to gain independence, freedom, and, of course, lifelong friendship! Full of iconic songs, dancing, and the amazing Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone, it’s a modern movie that’s a fun watch for the entire family!

Dil Dhadakne Do

If you’re reluctant to watch Bollywood movies or still feel overwhelmed, I would start with this one. This film focuses on a family that goes on a cruise and ends up finally tackling their problems while growing closer together. To me, this is the movie most similar to a Hollywood flick on this list. While it’s fun and lighthearted, it also just makes you feel good inside. And of course, Priyanka Chopra (a familiar face!) lights up the screen!

Hopefully, my introduction to Bollywood has interested you. As our entertainment becomes more diverse, it’s fun to look outside of our comfort zones and get immersed in the cultures of others. Often, there’s so much out there we miss just because we’re unwilling to look further. To echo Bong Joon Ho, there’s a whole new world out there, as long as you’re willing to read a few subtitles.

Dhatri is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania who is majoring in Networked and Social Systems Engineering. She's from Michigan, but she's super excited to be spending the next four years in Philly. When she isn't journaling or cooking, you can probably find her somewhere eating ice cream, painting her nails, and listening to Ariana Grande.
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