Beginner’s Guide to Bollywood: Add Indian Movie Classics to Your Must-See List

Dramatic close-ups, ferocious hair flicks, perfectly choreographed dance moves and colorful scenes—all of which are Bollywood day jobs.

As South Korean director Bong Joon-ho said, “Once you get over the one-inch-high subtitle barrier, you’ll be introduced to more great movies.”

The Bollywood genre is a mix of “Hollywood” and “Mumbai” and refers specifically to the Hindi-speaking sector of India’s vast film industry. However, India has more than one language – Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, etc. – they all have their own film industries.

If you’re a Bollywood beginner, this list of the industry’s most iconic classics is your ultimate introduction.

So get comfortable and pour yourself a cup of chai – not “chai tea” – literally “chacha”.

A few points to note:

First, meet the Golden Triangle of Bollywood

Get ready to lose all control of your emotions in these three industry crown jewels where you laugh, sing, cry and dance.

1. Khabi Khushi Khabi Gham (2001)

What is translation? “Sometimes happy, sometimes sad. “

For many newcomers to Indian cinema, Khabi Khushi Khabi Gham or K3G is known as “gateway cinema”.

You won’t find a Bollywood fan who doesn’t know it.

Family photo at wedding from Bollywood movie Khabi Khushi Khabi Gham
The 2001 cult classic has a run time of three and a half hours. (Provided by: Dharma Productions)

The lead singer of this 3.5-hour cult classic is Bollywood’s Shahrukh Khan.

With its timeless songs and moving stories about family, pride, love, and social prejudice, K3G is one of the greatest Bollywood movies – an absolute must start.

One sentence introduction: Years after his father cut ties with his adoptive brother for marrying a woman of lower social status, a young man embarks on a mission to reunite his family.

Songs to remember: Bole Chudiyan – When you hear the first note of the song on the dance floor, you know it’s about to drop.

2. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998)

What is translation? “Something happened.”

Similar to an 80s pop culture musical with a touch of grease, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is a movie for a lifetime and all ages.

Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is from the same K3G director, who is once again known for great performances by Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol Devgn. Their on-screen chemistry could easily have Ross and Jack fighting over their money.

Promotional photo for Bollywood movie Kuch Kuch Hota
Two love triangles separated by years: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai highlights chemistry like no other film(Provided by: Dharma Productions)

One sentence introduction: Anjali is heartbroken when her best friend and secret crush Rahul falls for Tina. Years later, Tina’s youngest daughter tries to fulfill her mother’s last wish to unite Rahul and Anjali.

Songs to remember: Radki Badi Anjani – We haven’t pressed the play button yet, there are already tears in our eyes.

3. Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003)

What is translation? “Maybe not tomorrow.”

A movie that you can watch once and still stick in your head for days (or years).

Kal Ho Naa Ho is a tearjerker and will have a lasting effect on you.

A girl living her everyday life finds new meaning in life when she meets a new neighbor.(Provided by: Netflix )

Once again, Shahrukh Khan stole the show and did a great job in this film, with comedy, romance and tragedy.

When you try to stop crying, another scene begins and you start all over again. seriously.

One sentence introduction: An introverted MBA student falls in love with her charismatic new neighbor who charms her troubled family. But he has a secret that forces him to push her away.

Songs to remember: Calhonajo – A song about dying and cherishing the moment? Get out your vision board, everyone.

4. Doom (2004)

What is translation? The Hindi word for noise is to make noise.

Let’s shake things up with an adrenaline rush. Meet India’s own Fast and Furious: Dhoom.

Filled with high-speed chases, extraordinary camera work, and technical effects magic, Dhoom is a really fun watch with some crazy visuals and high-energy songs.

Promotional movie poster for Bollywood movie Dhoom
Dhoom is an action-packed action thriller full of endless fun and delicacy – just look at the costumes. (Provided by: Abhishek Bachchan)

One sentence introduction: A group of mysterious motorcyclists go on a robbery spree in Mumbai. A police officer enlisted the help of a motorcycle mechanic to help him with the case. Over time, they have to catch criminals on the spot.

Songs to remember: Doom Machal – Movement, beat, energy. Everything is here, people.

5. Dir Chattahai (2001)

What is translation? “The heart is yearning.”

A romantic comedy with no shortage of drama. Dil Chatta Hai is a moving coming-of-age film about three college friends trying to navigate life and love after graduation.

Dil Chatta Hai, who won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi, was described as a breath of fresh air.

Promotional poster for Bollywood movie Dil Chatta Hai
Akash goes to Australia, Sameer is busy wooing a girl, and Siddharth devotes himself to art.

One sentence introduction: Three inseparable childhood friends have just graduated from college. There was no relationship between them until they each fell in love, when their very different ways of being in a relationship created tension.

Songs to remember: Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe – Justin Timberlake called and he wanted his Rock Your Body music video.

6. Koi… Mil Gaya (2003)

What is translation? “I found someone.”

One of the most unlikely pairings: Bollywood and sci-fi.

Hrithik Roshan plays a young man who tries to continue his father’s work in communicating with aliens in outer space, which leads to some magical and wonderful things.

Koi Mil Gaya centers on a blue-tinted alien that doesn’t speak, and is very similar to Steven Spielberg’s classic ET.

Image from a scene from the Bollywood movie Koi Mil Gaya
Koi Mil Gaya’s star: an alien named Jaadu.(Provided by: Netflix)

One sentence introduction: A mentally handicapped young man is trying to continue the work his father did, communicating with aliens in outer space, which leads to something magical and wonderful.

Songs to remember: Koi Gaya – We can’t help but feel some slight twilight vibes in this song.

7. Monsoon Wedding (2001)

You are invited to a big Indian wedding.

Filled with vibrant reds, oranges and yellows, the opening credits of “Monsoon Wedding” are as breathtaking as its story.

Pictures of scenes from the Bollywood movie
The BAFTA-winning film tells the story of a father trying to marry his daughter the traditional way. (Provided by: Netflix)

A fusion of Hindi and English, Monsoon Wedding depicts a modern, upper-middle-class, dysfunctional family in Delhi.

Director Miranelle doesn’t beat around the bush to present the reality to the audience, while still treating it with dignity and realism.

Oh, and it also won a BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film. No big deal.

One sentence introduction: The story takes place in India’s modern upper-middle class, where telecommunications and Western lifestyles are combined with age-old traditions, such as the wedding of a young daughter she embraces when she ends an affair with a married TV producer.

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