Bollywood Movies for Fans of Suspense and Crime Dramas

This week I am highlighting a genre of Bollywood movie that is relatively unknown outside Indian cinema: the crime drama.

The past few years especially have seen a plethora of high quality, well-acted, well-scripted films about ordinary people dealing with the heartache and mystery surrounding some of society’s most terrifying crimes. A common thread through all of these is family loyalty and the fear that a community can feel when it’s veneer of safety is wiped away.

All of the movies I will be discussing here are on Netflix and I would say to you, “Run, do not walk” to catch them before they disappear into the Netflix abyss.


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Guys. This movie amazed me. It is one of the most thoughtful, insightful, suspenseful, and critical movies I have ever seen. It begins with the kidnapping of a prominent national politician’s son and the chaos that ensues. Not only is the father of the missing boy a politician, he is the Home Minister charged with national defense. If his son is not safe, then whose is? We come to learn that the boy has been taken by a man named Nirmal, played by one of Indian cinema’s finest actors, Irrfan Khan. Nirmal leads the investigative team led by Nachiket Verma (Jimmy Shergill) on an incredible hunt with societal implications that cut to the quick. At points you want to cry, at others you are biting your nails, and a few times you feel the urge to cheer.

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Without spoiling anything, I will say that Nirmal’s backstory and motivations are what make the movie and are what I found most profound. This is not a kidnapping, race against time film just for the sake of some kind of adrenaline rush. It unfolds with much humanity and, yes, some adrenaline. Irrfan Kkan shows once again why he is such a highly respected actor. Catch Madaari on Netflix now.


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I had seen this movie so many times on my Netflix suggestions and kept skipping it in favor of more flashy sounding stories. But I was so wrong not to give this a watch earlier. Te3n (meaning three in Hindi), follows an elderly man (Amitabh Bachchan) as he searches for the person who kidnapped and murdered his granddaughter eight years earlier. Everyone else has given up on finding the culprit, including Martin Das, the police officer on the case that became a priest in the intervening years (Nawazzuddin Siddiqui). But when an eerily similar case emerges officer Sarita Sarkar (Vidya Balan) asks Martin for his help as they follow this mysterious predator around Calcutta.


This movie, like Madaari, unfolds with heart wrenching depictions of the experience of losing a child to tragedy. But it also has the pace and suspense of the best mysteries and a twist that I for one did not see coming. Without spoiling anything, this movie has a more satisfying ending than some of the others I will discuss this week. If you are interested in a realistic depiction of middle class Indians dealing with incredible circumstances, if you want to use your brain and your heart, this is a Bollywood  movie for you.

Drishyam (2015)

To what lengths would you go to protect your family, your daughter? In Drishyam, Vijay Salgoankar (Ajay Devgn) must answer that exact question when his wife and daughter are caught up in the accidental death of the police chief’s (Tabu) teenage son.


Vijay is not an educated man, dropping out of school at fourth grade. He is obsessed with films and uses information from them to help his neighbors. The local police are…not the most trustworthy bunch, particularly an office named Gaitonde who hates Vijay and looks for ways to trouble him.

The family’s strife begins when Vijay’s daughter Anju attends a school sponsored sleep-away camp. While there, a boy that harasses the female students takes video of her showering without her knowledge. He later uses this video to blackmail and attempt to rape her. I don’t want to spoil too much, but in the ensuing struggle between the boy and Anju and her mother he is accidentally killed. Unfortunately, he is the son of Inspector Meera Deshmukh, an officer known for using brutal methods to extract confessions.

Drishyam, like many of the other films on this list, follows the intersection of corruption and ordinary people’s need for justice. No one in the family once suggests that Anju turn this boy in to the police and tell them what he did. Although he would likely be punished, her reputation would suffer as well. Also, in the short term he is determined to use the footage to force either Anju or her mother into an assault. After the boy’s death, entirely in self defense, Vijay has to cover up the crime and protect his family. How he goes about this and whether the crime will be discovered leave the viewer in much suspense. For me, the injustice of the whole event and the helplessness that Anju felt to defend herself infuriated me. Sadly, this is the reality that many women face.

Once again, this movie centers on family and the importance of defending and disciplining children. “Drishyam” means “visuals” or “appearances” and in this movie things are not quite what they seem at first glance. It’s been on Netflix for a while so catch it while you can!


A pregnant woman arrives at the airport in Calcutta alone and immediately asks a taxi driver to take her to the police station. Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan)  is looking for her husband, who has not returned any of her calls for days while on a business assignment in the city. A policeman helps her retrace his steps but at no point can anyone remember seeing or knowing her husband. But the search gets Mrs. Bagchi and the policeman Rana caught up in the search for a mysterious man that the government is after as well. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who has managed to be in every movie on this list plays a gruff federal agent that tries to put Mrs. Bagchi off her search, but nothing will stop her from finding him, the father of her unborn child.

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I really can’t say more than that without risking spoiling some of this movie’s many twists. I love that the suspense and danger always feel real, but there is also a loveliness and humor brought to the film by Vidya Balan and the kind hearted Rana. I am always on the hunt for movies with strong female leads and this movie tops the list. Vidya Balan’s Mrs. Baghchi is funny, sharp, and insanely tough. I want sequels to this movie that just follow her kicking butt and taking names all over India. My favorite detail about Kahaani is that it takes place during Calcutta’s favorite festival, the Durga Puja. Th goddess Durga defends the world from evil and her influence in the story is strong. There are so many reasons to watch Kahaani. It’s got suspense, drama, humor, a strong female lead, and an awesome setting. Best yet, it’s on Netflix!

Note: I just discovered that there is a Kahaani 2!

Talvar (Guilty)

I mean it well when I say that Talvar might be the least satisfying of the movies listed here. The film is based on the true story of a double homicide that took place in Noida in 2008. A teenage girl and the family servant were murdered in one night. As you might expect, the search for the killer takes many twists and turns. When the girl’s body is discovered, it is assumed that the missing servant is to blame. But when his body is discovered on the terrace, no one has a clue who the culprit may be. The investigation is crippled by inept police work at the beginning and insatiable curiosity in the media. The case is eventually passed on to a national investigative team, led by Irrffan Khan’s character. We see the crime take place through the eyes of the different people involved, a list that grows as it is discovered that more people may have been there that night.


Because this movie is based on real life, the end has to follow the reality of what occurred and I personally felt crushed by the ending, having formed my own opinions as the movie went on. Ultimately, though, you feel devastated for the victims. This movie is filled with really high quality performances and a peak into the pitfalls of the Indian justice system, something that Americans may find quite familiar. Check out Talvar on Netflix today!

More to come all week here at My Indipen!!

If You Are Getting Into Bollywood, Here Are Some Women You Need to Know

If you google top Bollywood actors, you’ll get a list of male Bollywood stars ranked by how much money they make. If you google top Bollywood actresses, you will get a list of women ranked by how beautiful they are. Bollywood puts an overwhelming value on appearances for all genders, but even more so for women. You may also notice that I have chosen to list more actresses here than I did on my post for actors. This is because there seem to be so many more women working alongside the same revolving door of male leads, or “heroes.” It is also that there are so many exceptional women working in Hindi film that are trying in fits and starts to transform the industry from the inside. In no strict order, here are five of my top 15:

Priyanka Chopra: PC is perhaps the most famous Indian woman in the world at the moment. Her Bollywood career has already spanned almost twenty years and now she is making a name for herself in America. She has graced many magazine covers and advertisements all over North America. Naturally, many Americans are wondering who this new star is and some mistakenly think she is new to acting or to the entertainment industry.


Priyanka Chopra won the pageant title of Miss World in 2000, proudly representing India. She began her film career in the Tamil-language movie Thamizahn in 2002 and her first Hindi movie came that same year in The Hero: Love Story of  a Spy. Her first commercial success came with Mujhse Shaadi Karogi in 2004 opposite Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan. Chopra now has 63 film credits to her name on IMDb, nearly all of them Indian. Her popularity was built on her beauty and dancing, but has persisted through the years thanks to her work ethic and commitment to proving herself in many different roles. In 2014, she played Indian boxer Mary Kom in a film of the same name. Some criticized the casting on the grounds that Chopra did not share any of Kom’s features or Assamese heritage, but the movie was a step forward for depictions of women athletes in Indian cinema. In 2015, Chopra was cast as the lead in the ABC series Quantico about an FBI recruit caught up in intrigue after a horrible crime. In 2017, she played the villain Victoria Leeds in Baywatch.

Priyanka Chopra has proven herself to be one of the most versatile, hard working, and marketable talents out of India even if her commitment to unpredictability has sometimes landed her in less than quality films. In her best performances she owns the scene, and her characters are complicated and determined. My favorite Priyanka Chopra performance may be as Kashibai in 2014’s Bajirao Mastani. Although Ranveer Singh and Deepika Paudukone play the star-crossed lovers, Chopra as Bajirao’s first love and wife is mesmerizing and the weight of her performance makes the romantic triangle spark with tension.

What to watch her in: Where to begin?! I’ll just go with some titles that are on Netflix. Big Brother (2007); Mary Kom (2014); Mujhse Shaadi Karogi (2004)

Kangana Ranaut: If Priyanka Chopra is the most recognizable Bollywood actress, Kangana Ranaut is the most controversial, but also one of the most interesting. She gave up on being a doctor to pursue modeling and acting in New Delhi. She is now one of the most awarded and successful Indian actresses, choosing movies with more developed female roles.


Her first role was as an alcoholic in Gangster from 2004. Her performance was a hit with the critics. Her most well-known roles include Krrish 3, Fashion, and Tanu Weds Manu (one of my favorites). She has a knack for playing the rebellious, vivacious, or misplaced. Perhaps he est role so far was Rani in 2014’s Queen, a jilted bride who goes on her European honeymoon anyway. I loved this character because she is a shy, conservative girl who goes on an adventure and becomes more herself. It’s a can’t miss and it’s on Netflix!

Recently, Kangana has attracted a lot of media attention for holding nothing back on what she thinks of how Bollywood works. As an outsider in the industry she has criticized Bollywood’s nepotism and has openly criticized exes like Hrithik Roshan.

What to Watch Her In: Fashion, Queen, Tanu Weds Manu, Once Upon A Time in MumbaiGangster. She has a new movie called Simran about a woman with mental illness coming out this fall. Queen and Tanu Weds Manu are on Netflix!

Deepika Padukone

Deepika Padukone is one of my personal favorites. If first saw her in the less than spectacular Shahrukh Khan starrer Chennai Express. The movie is cute but forgettable but I was totally captured by Padukone, one of the most striking women I’ve ever seen. She has since proved her acting chops in romantic dramas like Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani, and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Her first movie was the Kannada- language film Aishwarya. Her first Hindi movie then followed in 2007. Like many of the other women on this list Deepika won the Filmfare award for best female debut for her first film- Om Shanti Om. Many of her movies struggled commercially at first, but she has now starred in some of the highest-grossing films of the last decade.


Deepika keeps her personal life very much under wraps since her highly publicized break up with Ranbir Kapoor in 2009. However, it’s an open secret that she is in a relationship with actor Ranveer Singh. They’re one of the most “shipped” couples in Bollywood. Like Priyanka Chopra, Deepika has branched out into Hollywood. Last year she starred alongside Vin Diesel in the action movie XxX: The Return of Xander Cage. Her performance in this movie was popular with English-speaking audiences and had many asking who this “newcomer” was with no idea that she is already one of the most famous actresses in the world.

What you can watch her in: Cocktail, Bajirao Mastani, Yeh Deewani Hai Jeewani, Piku

Kareena Kapoor Khan

Kareena Kapoor is one of the queens of Bollywood. Her image and work has had much influence over not just the industry, but also the entertainment and beauty culture in India. Many credit her appearance in a black bathing suit in the movie Kambakkht Ishq with fueling the “size zero” craze. She recently became a mother for the first time and the anticipation of this event in India rivaled the birth of the British royal baby in 2013. However, we’re here to talk about her career.


Kareena Kapoor has starred in some of the most culturally influential movies of the 2000s and 2010s. Her role as Pooja (or, Poo) in Kabhi Khushie Kabhi Gham is an all time favorite among millenials who grew up quoting some of Poo’s best lines (“Good looks, good looks, good looks”).  3 Idiots, in which she stars, may be one of the most popular Bollywood movies of all time and is frequently recommended to people who are new to Hindi cinema. Kareena also managed to make the role of the manic pixie dream girl in 2004’s Jab We Met fun and interesting, sometimes outshining her co-star who is meant to be the main character.Another line from this movie, “Main apni favorite huun” (I am my favorite) is a self-esteem mantra. In an industry that used to kick out women over 35, the thirty six year old Kareena show no sign of stopping anytime soon and we’re all better for it!

What to watch her in: Kabhi Khushie Kabhi Gaam, Bajrangi Bhijaan, Chameli, 3 Idiots, Jab We Met

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is also Bollywood royalty, not only because of her fame but because she married into Bollywood’s most famous family, the Bachchans. She won the title of Miss World in 1994 and began acting in movies shortly thereafter. Her first film was actually in Tamil, in 1997’s Iruvar. Her first Hindi movie was Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya also in 1997. Perphaps the biggest movie of her career came in 2002 with Devdas, which also starred Madhuri Dixit and Shahrukh Khan (see my post: “Five Bollywood Actors You Need to Know Right Now”). She won Filmfare award for that role as well as for her role in Hum Dil Chuke Sanam. Holywood fans might recognize her from Bride and Prejudice (2004).


The first movie I saw her in was 2008’s Jodhaa Akbar in which she plays the determined and tenderhearted Hindu wife of Emperor Akbar. Perhaps its sentimentality, but I think this will always be my favorite role of hers. Like Kareena, Aishwarya has also become a mother and continued to work in Bollywood, drawing lots of money to the box office in movies like Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.

What to watch her in: Devdas, Jodhaa Akbar, Mohabbetein, Hum Dil Chuke Sanam, Sarbjit

This is only the tip of the iceberg for amazing women in Bollywood so stay tuned for more!

Essential Bollywood Vocabulary

Even if you don’t speak Hindi, if you watch enough Bollywood movies you’ll start hearing certain words over and over. Here I will be regularly updating my list of essential Hindi vocabulary with an informal definition and some context. You may notice a pattern, but trust me these are the most important ones!

Disclaimer: If you are a Hindi speaker please excuse some of these spellings! If you have ideas or suggestions please email 🙂

pyaar (प्यार)– love. It’s in every title, song, dialogue, even exclamations. (pyaar! pyaar! pyaar!) It fortunately rhymes with many English words like far and star. You don’t know Bollywood if you don’t know pyaar. See also (ishq, mohabat)

Ladki (लड़की)– Girl (also, ladkiyaan-girls)

Ladka (लड़का)– boy/guy. Ladki and Ladka are important because these are the people who are in pyaar.

Shaadi (शादी) – Wedding! (Also means marriage) Everything leads to this. First there was pyaar, then there was shaadi.

Dushmann (दुश्मन) enemy. You do not want to be the male lead’s dushmann.

Yaar (यार)– it’s kind of like “dude” or “bro” but everyone uses it, not just guys. It’s informal so it’s always between friends or young lovers. “Come on, yaar!” “I love you, yaar”

Chalo (चलो)- “Come on let’s go.” Usually needs a hand gesture to indicate the direction of the going.

Kuch Kuch (कुछ कुछ)- Kuch means “thing”, kuch kuch means “anything” or “something.”

Dost (दोस्त) – friend! 

Kya (क्या)- what or which. “Kya?!” 

Dil (दिल)- heart ❤️ 

Zindagi (ज़िंदगी)- life; this word is very important. Right up there with pyaar

More to come! Stay tuned, yaar.

Indian Movies for the Game of Thrones Fan

This Sunday is the season finale of Game of Thrones and I wanted to highlight some movies from Bollywood (and a couple of other Indian film industries) that the Game of Thrones fan might enjoy. I’ll be adding to this all week, so keep coming back!

#1 Bajirao Mastani: Released in 2015, this movie centers on a love triangle between the eighteenth century Marathi Peshwa (or Prime Minister) Bajirao and his two wives Kashibai and Mastani, played by Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone respectively. Reportedly in development for 15 years and directed by one of Bollywood’s most ambitious directors, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Bajirao Mastani is an epic that fans of larger than life heroes and battles will enjoy. It tackles themes of jealousy and the price of obsession.

Deepika and Ranveer have amazing chemistry, no doubt in part due to their real-life relationship off-screen. However, Priyanka threatens to steal every scene she’s in. Her Kashibai is at once sympathetic and alluring as well as ruthless. As they say, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Even better are the sparks that fly when Deepika and Priyanka share the screen. Their duo dance number in Pinga brought two huge female stars together, both at the top of their game. The friendship they seem to form in this song quickly fades however. Kashibai and Mastani are both women who know what they want. It is Ranveer’s Bajirao that appears the weakest of them all, unable to decide where his heart or duties lie. He begins to crack under the pressure of defending the Marathi empire and fulfilling his duties as a husband and father.

Why Game of Thrones fans will love it: Although it’s based on some actual history, this feels like a fantasy epic. From top to bottom, it’s scale is unique in Indian cinema. The eighteenth cetury time setting, the opulent sets and costumes, the enormous battle scenes and the sexual tension should appeal to fans of Westeros.

Where can you watch it: Unfortunately, this is not on Netflix, but is available to subscribers in multiple languages at

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Bajirao takes a wounded Mastani to safety.
Kashibai and Mastani dance together in the song Pinga.

 #2 Gangs of Wasseypur 


Gangs of Wasseypur is not just unique among Bollywood movies but in film generally. This two part saga traces bloody, ruthless family and gang rivalries across multiple generations in a town called Dhanabad. The plot is Shakespearean in its emphasis on revenge, loyalty, love, and land. Beginning just before Indian independence in 1947, it follows these gangs into the twenty-first century. Some have compared Gangs of Wasseypur to the Godfather trilogy in its impressive scope and quality. It was directed by Anurag Kashyap, one of the industry’s most respected writers and directors. His films usually center on crime and its consequences in the lives of everyday people. Many of his films have had delayed releases in India due to censorship issues.

Originally 319 minutes long, Gangs of Wasseypur was split in two parts upon commerical release to make it more palatable to theater audiences. It is currently on Netflix split into eight episodes. Gangs of Wasseypur features an ensemble cast, including Nawazzudin Siddiqui, easily one of the most versatile and interesting talents in Bollywood right now. His character, Faizal Khan, grows up influenced by Bollywood films and imitates them, offering an interesting commentary on the role of Hindi cinema in the development of both a young man and a young nation.

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Gangs of Wasseypur screened in its entirety at the Sundance Film Festival  and in Cannes in 2012. It received very positive reviews from both Bollywood and foreign critics. Danny Bowes at said of Gangs of Wasseypur and its incredible length:

“There is no other way to tell a story of this magnitude, covering eight decades of life in the town of Wasseypur in northeast India, examining the intersection of organized crime, capitalism, and civic government in as exacting detail as it does, in any less time. This is without even mentioning the scale on which Kashyap examines the futility of revenge over three whole generations, which is rendered all the more tragic by the film’s sheer scale.”

Please note that Gangs of Wasseypur has much more sex and violence than what will usually be discussed on this page. However, it is a must watch for anyone who enjoys riveting, honest storytelling.

Why Game of Thrones fans will like it: At its most basic level, Game of Thrones is a story about rival families trying to conquer a particular piece of land. There’s politics, violence, passion, and patriotism in Gangs of Wasseypur that fans of the tumultuous lives of kings and queens of Westeros will enjoy.

Where you can watch it: Gangs of Wasseypur is currently streaming on Netflix.

#3 Baahubali Part 1 and Part 2: These are the movies that I had in mind when I got the idea for this post. Baahubali Parts 1 and 2 are a cultural phenomenon in India that is difficult to overstate. These films are not technically Bollywood, since they were written and produced in the Telugu film industry and feature Telugu film stars Prabhas, Anushka Shetty, and Rana Dagubbati. However, this movie made more than any Hindi movie ever and is just as important and well-known in the Hindi speaking market.

Baahubali: The Beginning came out in July of 2015 and ended on a cliffhanger that riveted the world until resolving in Baahubali: The Conclusion, which came out this summer. This movie is unlike anything the Indian film industry has ever seen before, although attempts were made. Its sets and visuals are ambitious and for the most part are executed very well. Indian film industries do not have the same budgets as Hollywood when it comes to special effects. This is down to economics. Although Indian movies premiere to bigger markets, the returns are in rupees and can not support an industry that spends the extravagant amounts that Hollywood does, especially with movies like The Avengers. But Baahubali’s director S. S. Rajamouli has devised a way of getting around this. First, he made deliberate decisions about where to spend the money and where the effect could be achieved differently. He also recognized that much of the Hollywood film budget is spent on bureaucracy and logistics. He cut all that to spend the most he could on the effects themselves. Here is Rajamouli explaining this to Forbes Magazine:

After we started doing the film I wanted to do something more and at the time we weren’t in a position to calculate how much more it would cost and how much we had to pay. So we just made an agreement and Makuta said we will work how much ever you want and at the end we will tell you how much it cost us, and you’ll give us whatever additional money you can. That kind of agreement, I think it doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. It is just trust, how do they believe that the producer will pay them, because there’s no document or proof of the agreement. And how does the producer know that they’re giving him the actual figures. It just goes on trust, we believe in each other. As we are progressing, just because everyone’s focus is on the end quality of the film and nothing else, I think that relationship develops. So we were able to make the film within that budget primarily because of trust.


These two movies center on the fictional kingdom of Mahishmati, kind of a South Indian Camelot. The movie begins when a mysterious noble woman with a baby in her arms attempts to wade across a torrential river to safety. She succumbs to the waters but the baby is saved by a childless couple and raised under the name Shivdu. Years later, Shivdu is an incredibly strong young man with a strange obsession for the waterfall near where he was found. He tries hundreds of times to climb to the top of it and eventually succeeds (with the help of a vision of a beautiful woman to motivate him). At the top of the waterfall he meets and falls in love with Avanthika, a warrior whose people are in exile. For over two decades they have tried and failed to save their princess, Devasena from the evil king of Mahishmati, Bhallaldev. Shivdu offers to rescue Devasena and they infiltrate Mahishmati and succeed in kidnapping Devasena, who has been chained outdoors in a cage for more than twenty years. Every day she would gather sticks from around her and place them on a pyre, promising Bhallaldev that one day he will burn on that pyre.

After rescuing Devasena, Shivdu is pursued by the king’s son and his warrior/slave Kattappa. Kattapa is shocked to see Shivdu because he is the spitting image of Mahishmatit’s former king, Bhallaldev’s cousin Amarendra Baahubali. It is discovered that Shivdu is in fact Mahendra Baahubali, the son of Amarendra Baahubali and Devasena. The rest of the film is a flashback to the life of Amarendra Baahuubali, who was raised by his aunt Sivagami, the queen of Mahishmati. He was an incredible warrior and virtuous leader. But he was betrayed and murdered. The identity of his killer is a twist and the movie ends on this cliffhanger, promising to return in 2017.

Thus, the hype for this summer’s Baahubali: The Conclusion was huge. Everyone wanted to know why Amarendra Baahubali had been betrayed. I won’t detail the whole story here, but Part II is a spectacular resolution to the questions posed in Part I. We get to see how Amarendra Baahubali and Devasena met and fell in love as well as the powerful friendship between him an Katappa. My favorite character by far is Devasena, played excellently by Anushka Shetty. Devasena is fierce, opinionated, and loyal. Only in Amarendra Baahubali could she have met her equal.

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Don’t mess with Devasena

Finally, I love the music. Love love love it. And the best part is you can find the soundtrack in Telugu, Hindi, and Tamil on Saavn!

Baahubali: The Conclusion smashed records all over India. The Hindi-dubbed version became one of the highest grossing films ever in the Hindi market, unheard of for a dubbed version. Overseas, people like me  gladly paid ticket prices twice the usual to see it on the big screen.

Why Game of Thrones Fans Will Like It: Minus the adult content, Baahubali is Game of Thrones in my opinion. Although it does not have the same moral grey area as GoT (in Baahubali you clearly know who the hero is) the settings, battles, romance, and revenge feel a lot like the never ending family squabbles of Westeros. If nothing else, enjoy the visual treat.

Where You Can Watch It: Both parts are on Netflix!

#4 Devdas: Devdas (2002) is a bit short on battles and bloodshed but if opulence and troubled young men interest you, this movie may do the trick. Considered essential viewing for all fans of Shahrukh Khan, Devdas tells the story of a man in 1917 who returns home from abroad to marry his childhood sweetheart Paro, played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. However, his family will not consent to the marriage. Dev slips into a deep depression fueled by alcoholism. He finds refuge in the home of a prostitute, Chandramukhi played by the legendary Madhuri Dixit. This is a spoiler-free review, but I will say that if you’re looking for something lighthearted this movie may not be the right choice. However, if you want to see some of the finest sets, costumes, dance numbers, and acting that Hindi cinema can offer then find Devdas online right away.

All three of the leads are giants in the industry. Madhuri Dixit gave one of the defining performances of her career, particularly in the song “Maar Daala” Dixit and Rai Bachchan’s duet dance in “Dola Re Dola” inspired future numbers like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone’s “Pinga” in Bajirao Mastani (discussed above).


Why fans of Game of Thrones Will Like It: Dev lives in a cruel world that is similar to Westeros. Just imagine that Chandramukhi is a King’s Landing courtesan and the movie fits into the world of GoT.

#5 Udta Punjab (2016): I saw this movie in Punjab with some other American girls, that had never really watched Bollywood before. Throughout the whole movie, I thought, “Maybe this isn’t the best introduction to Bollywood.” Udta Punjab is intense, gritty, dramatic, tragic, violent, and unnerving. You know, like Game of Thrones. The movie faced an uphill battle being approved by the Indian censor board, but was eventually released nationwide and internationally.

While I don’t recommend it as a first ever watch in Hindi cinema, I do recommend it as a film and I do recommend it for those who have only seen the standard song and dance fare. This film will challenge your preconceived ideas about what Bollywood is and should be.

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The story follows the intersecting lives of a rock star, a migrant worker, a police officer (whose family has been touched by drug addiction), and a social worker in the Indian state of Punjab. Punjab is facing an ongoing drug crisis, with heroin being the deadliest substance abused, mostly by young men. Udta Punjab has an all-star cast made up of Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor, and Dilhit Dosanjh. They all offer good performances, although Shahid veers toward overacting at parts. The standout for many, including me, was Alia Bhatt. She plays a desperate Bihari migrant worker who gets mixed up in the drug trade when she finds a large pack of heroin. She becomes imprisoned by a cartel, abused, and made to get addicted to the drug. Alia gives a heartbreaking performance that contrasts sharply with her previous roles as privileged love interests for Bollywood’s young heroes. Kareena Kapoor shows once again why she is one of the most respected talents in the industry and Diljit Dosanjh also proves that he is up to more challenging roles.


Disclaimer: This movie is heavily profanity laden and depicts drug use, murder, sexual abuse, and trafficking.

Why fans of Game of Thrones will love it: If you can keep up with the multiple characters and storylines in GoT Udta Punjab will be a breeze for you. As mentioned before, this movie pulls no punches in showing the dark side of addiction and a cruel industry that preys on mental illness and young people. All it’s missing is a Ramsay Bolton. However, like GoT, you will fall in love with and connect with the characters.

Where you can watch it: Udta Punjab is streaming on Netflix.

#6 Sarkar (2005): Sarkar, starring Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan, is based on Hollywood’s The Godfather. As such, this is also a film for fans of crime drama and family-centered revenge. Bachchan plays the head of a powerful mob family whose two very different sons battle over his reputation and legacy. When an enemy of Sarkar frames him for the murder of a politician, Sarkar’s elder son Vishnu (Kay Kay Menon), with whom Sarkar has cut ties for killing a man that was sleeping with his wife, is convinced that his father is guilty. But Sarkar’s other son Shankar (played by Bachchan’s real life son Abhishek), knows Sarkar is innocent. There are many plots on Sarkar’s life, but the most deadly may come from his own son.


Sarkar was a critical and commercial success and, like its source material, spawned two sequels. It won several domestic acting awards for all three of the male leads.

Why fans of Game of Thrones Will Like It: Those who know Westeros are no strangers to family conflict, and even murder.

Where you can watch it:  Sarkar is streaming on Netflix.

If you are new to Bollywood, here are five actors you NEED to know 

  1. Shahrukh Khan: He’s not known as King Khan for nothing. Shahrukh Khan is probably the most recognizable Bollywood face and name around the world. He as made hundreds of movies and his star power alone will bring people to the box office. King Khan is most well known as the earnest romantic lead, although he has also done a bit of action and other types. As he advances into fifties some people are calling for a change in tone to his work but King Khan is not yet dethroned. Watch him in: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Swades (2004), Devdas (2002), Raees (2017)                                                                
  2. Salman Khan: Fans of this actor don’t call him by his name, they call him Bhai (brother). Salman Khan and Sharukh Khan both ascended to fame at about the same time and people tend to like one or the other. Salman tends to be known more as a meaty action type, although his movies always have a romance angle as well. He started out in the nineties playing the cute, shy love interest but ten years later was better known for his imposing frame and stunts. He’s run afoul of the law (*cough*) but that hasn’t slowed down Bhai’s biggest fans. What to watch him in: Hum Aapke Hain Koun (1994), Dabangg (2010), Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015)                      
  3. Aamir Khan: Ok, by now you’ve seen a pattern. The top three heroes in Bollywood are all named Khan, although I’m not aware of any relation between them. Aamir Khan is the Khan for the more discerning, cerebral Bollywood fan. While he has just as much muscle, his movies tend more toward the intellectual and historical. What to watch him in: 3 Idiots (2009) , PK (2014), Lagaan (2001)                                                                           
  4. Amitabh Bachchan: If the Bollywood film industry is family this man may be the patriarch. I have to admit that my knowledge of older Hindi cinema is lacking (working on that). But not only has this guy made some of the most iconic Bollywood movies, his family has as well. My favorite is daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai. We’ll discuss her in the post about actresses (upcoming). At any rate, you don’t know Bollywood if you don’t know Big B. Watch him in: Sholay (1975), Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001)                                                                                                                                  
  5. Akshay Kumar: Akshay Kumar probably works harder than anyone to portray the ideal of Indian manhood, as he sees it. His movies usually center on a virtuous lead with  a simple heart and an intense dedication to his country and community who will stop at nothing to make things right. Sometimes the movie is silly, but he’s always dead serious. Akshay is drawn to the more political themes. He’s a supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his latest movie, Toilet Ek Prem Katha, espouses the platform of the PM’s Swacch Bharat campaign. Still, he was also in Desi Boyz, a movie about two handsome guys “escorting” as many white women as they can to earn money for their families. He’s versatile, is what I’m saying. Watch him in: Namastey London (2007), Rowdy Rathore (2012), Airlift (2016)  
    What do you think of my list? Who’s your favorite?  

What Every Bollywood Newbie Should Know


I came to Bollywood having no background in Indian film or culture generally. In school I had studied some Indian history and was fascinated. Since then, I have studied it much more, even making it the focus of my master’s degree! But way back when, I knew nothing. Here are the basics for someone that is totally new to Bollywood.

top bollywood actors

Mainstream Bollywood is star-driven: You will see the same people in everything for a while, especially male actors. Bollywood has a nasty habit of pushing women actors to the side as they age, or even casting them as old from the start. Meanwhile, male actors play twenty-something romantic leads into their fifties. I’m not going to pretend that I understand all the decisions that go into casting but often Bollywood emphasizes the names attached to a film over the story or content. If you pay attention to Bollywood news you will see this immediately. A post on the essential contemporary stars to know is coming. There are some women in the industry who are doing some great things and making it more well-rounded and interesting female characters. I’ll discuss them as well.


Because it’s in Hindi, Bollywood dominates the North Indian film industry. The Bollywood industry is housed in Mumbai (or Bombay) in the central Indian state of Maharashtra. Hindi is the primary language of a few states across Northern India, including the capital Delhi. Bollywood is also a big deal in Punjab. South India has its own film industries that make thousands of films. I may even include a few here sometime!


It’s not all dance numbers, but those are important!

Often I have friends get confused when I tell them that not every single Bollywood movie has several song and dance numbers. This is because they think that “Bollywood” denotes a genre (musical) rather than a language and place of origin (Hindi, Bombay). Just like with Hollywood, you get all kinds of films. But it is true that many (maybe even most, I’m not sure) Bollywood movies integrate music and dancing. We could talk about the why of that for hours. For now, it will suffice to say that music and dance are incredibly important parts of Indian culture and the Bollywood industry is just as much a music empire as a film one.

Forget what you know about genre. Bollywood kind of defies typical genres as Americans think of them. Bollywood mixes styles and plots to make films that might be love stories in the first act, action flicks in the second, and tragedy in the third. This is often called a masala movie. When they’re done well, they’re a blast. Take what you like in movies already and you can find a Bollywood movie that probably has that and much more. That said, Bollywood loves romance. Even in an action or family drama centered movie there will be some sort of love story. So if you like those already you will need to think in terms of tone, the bright, typical Bollywood love story or some of the newer more realist ones? Netflix has tons. I’ll be doing a post soon on the Netflix options. Or just jump in like I did!


There’s (almost) always something to like: I think what keeps me coming back to Bollywood again and again is that you’re never done discussing it. When it’s good, there’s so much to like and you want to watch it over and over. But it’s almost more fun when they’re not. You can pick the movies apart, or let them stand on their own. But it’s never boring, at least not for me. There has only been one movie that I ever turned off in disgust. I’ll save that one for another day.

I fully expect that this list will expand and I would love to know what you think is important to know about Bollywood!

Jodhaa-Akbar: The First Bollywood Movie I Ever Watched

Jodhaa-Akbar (2008) is not a typical starting point for those interested in Bollywood. In fact, when people ask me where they should start I don’t recommend it as a first time watch. It’s a long, sweeping epic that might challenge those looking for a foray into the traditional song and dance numbers they expect based on pop culture. That said, this movie does have great music and dancing. But more on that in a bit.


I found this movie because I wanted to know more about Akbar the Great (1542-1605), the Mughal Emperor and his Hindu wife, whose name is debated. For this film they settled on Jodhaa. Bollywood loves forbidden romance and a Muslim Emperor with a Hindu wife is about as unusual as it gets, especially in the sixteenth century.

This is an Ashutosh Gowariker production, with the leads played byHrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Both are Bollywood superstars, but Aish is Bollywood royalty. Starting out as Miss India and Miss World in 1994, she married into the Bachchans, a family of Bollywood legends led by the patriarch Amitabh Bacchan. Of course, both Hrithik and Aish are insanely beautiful. So is the production. Gowariker is a legend in his own right, having directed Lagaan (2001) and Swades (2004) as well.

Jodhaa-Akbar begins with an epic battle and ends with a fistfight. The story unfolds slowly, but gracefully. It reminded me of the stories of Old Testament kings. There are kingdoms and feuds, family conflicts, battles, exiles and escapes.

However, it has all the same beats as your typical Bollywood fare. We meet the characters as they are before they know each other. Fate or design brings them together romantically. But there is an issue, an insurmountable one. Maybe it’s status, maybe it’s religion, or war. The male pursues the female anyway. There are numerous misunderstandings but there is resolution in a climactic final confrontation so momentous that all those who witness leave the scene convinced of the main characters love and their error in keeping them apart. Or something like that.

Do not come to this movie for a history lesson It’s not trying to be that and you would miss what it’s actually trying to do, which is  romanticize a fascinating point in India’s history with a very familiar story. At this, for me, it does very well.

Few combine tenderness and strength in a character like Aishwarya Rai. Her Jodhaa is Disney-princess esque in her beauty and connection with heritage and nature. As a Rajput princess, she knows how to fight for herself and she nearly destroys a critical political alliance by asking to see her groom before the wedding so she can make demands. Her most important requirement is that she be allowed to worship her god Krishna in the Mughal fort. (Spoiler alert: he agrees)

Hrithik is a bit unbelievable as Akbar but then he’s unbelievable as normal human male. He also does fairly well playing off the roles of both fierce warrior and tender lover. Despite the emphasis the movie puts on his physique. the tenderness comes across much more authentically. His angry moments sometimes feel more impetuous than imperious and many of the film’s central conflicts would be solved if his character would simply ask one or two questions.

The Music:

Jodhaa-Akbar has gorgeous, gorgeous music. My favorite is Jashn-E-Baharaa, a gentle and melodious love song that overlays the typical “they’re falling in love” montage.

There is also a great Sufi worship track, “Khwaja Mere Khwaja”, to which Akbar dances.  The movie stops completely for this scene, but it’s a welcome moment of relaxation. Jodhaa also has her worship song, Mann Mohana.

Where other movies might have an item number, this historical epic as “Azeem-O-Shaan Jahenshah”, an enormous musical number performed by hundreds of performers for the Emperor. This is the song featured in the trailer.

There are countless moments that reveal important information about the Indian outlook on marriage and religion, if not for everyone. The moments that linger most in my mind are those that occurred between Jodhaaa and Akbar once they were married. For example, Jodhaa refuses to utter her husband’s name. I learned that in traditional Hindu communities, this is still practiced. When Jodhaa enters her new home for the first time, she puts her red hand prints on the doorjamb and pushes over a container of rice with her foot. The movie took for granted that the audience understands these customs, presumably still in practice today.

I was surprised to learn later a few found  this movie a bit boring and unmemorable. I would definitely recommend it to someone looking to branch out in what’s possible for Bollywood movies.

What I took away: After I watched Jodhaa Akbar, I knew I needed more. More romance, more music, more images of India. Fortunately, I now knew where to go.

Next time: My first SRK, aka the real first Bollywood movie I ever watched

An Introduction to me and Bollywood

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First off, let me say that I am not qualified to define what a Bollywood movie is. Perhaps no one is. If you ever run into Priyanka Chopra she would be a much better person to ask than me. However, for the sake of simplicity, my working definition of a Bollywood movie is any movie produced by the Hindi-speaking film industry. That’s it. It’s quite broad, but notice that it does not encompass all of Indian cinema. India is a nation with over two dozen official languages and a film industry for seemingly all of them. With perhaps a few exceptions, I’m going to stick to Hindi because it’s where I started and where I spend the bulk of my time.

Now, me. I’m a twenty-something American with a penchant for being interested in unexpected things. I’m from a small town and didn’t have any personal Indian friends when I got into Bollywood. I’ve since gone to graduate school in a much bigger city and have many friends from various backgrounds, including India.  I usually can only discuss these movies with my Indian friends and hanging out on Bollywood gossip sites or podcasts. But my non-Indian friends and family were curious about this new interest, especially when they caught me watching Dilwale Dulhania le Jayenge alone in the living room. So what is it that I seem to like so much?

I have found these films interesting for both superficial and not-so-superficial reasons.

I find that the typical Hindi film is much more earnest and romanticized than much of what populates American cinema, even when the movie itself is not necessarily the typical romance-masala type of film (more on that later). I have seen some fairly gritty, realist Bollywood films that still managed to be less cynical (therefore sometimes more honest in my opinion) than Hollywood B-movies.

Then there’s the nearly ubiquitous music. Although not every Bollywood movie has song and dance numbers most do and these are often the most engaging portions of a film and the hype leading up to it. They’re what help connect you to that story and the time in your life that you saw it. Songs from Hindi films have become my go-to on playlists even when the movie does not become an all time favorite.

You can’t put Bollywood movies in a box and different kinds will be discussed here. But I have always loved the girl meets boy, girl and boy struggle, girl and boy live happily ever after story line. And for me no one does that better than Indian cinema. Add in a location and culture that I find endlessly fascinating and a great soundtrack and you have a recipe for addiction. That said, sometimes I love Bollywood because of how bad it can be. Just like English-language film, there are some real stinkers out there. Bollywood loves to go big so when it crashes, it burns. But there’s so much even in that that can teach you about a place and an audience. I should be clear though that it is not my goal or intention on here to bash Bollywood. I’m just one of an audience of over a billion and anything expressed here is my (hopefully well considered) opinion.

Finally, Hindi cinema and Indian cinema in general produces a staggering number of movies every year. No country matches India for the speed of production and sheer quantity of what reaches screens across the world. Bollywood movies are popular across South Asia and even in the Middle East, not to mention the Indian diaspora in Europe and North America. Together, we’ll wade through at least a few of these offerings and learn something about an ancient culture expressing itself through the contemporary mediums of music and film.

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