Today, I thought I’d do something different on the blog, and give you recommendations, but not book recommendations. Movies. And Bollywood movies, at that! Bollywood’s been a big part of my life ever since I was a kid; Indian cinema has a huge market in Pakistani audiences because we speak the same language, have extremely similar cultures, similar music styles, similar values and basically the same history. For these reasons, I’ve been exposed to so much Bollywood throughout my life, and there are stellar movies in Indian cinema that aren’t given a chance to shine outside of South Asia.
I did a post a few months ago about “foreign literature,” and the implications of that phrase – that anything non-Western (or Anglo-centered, to be precise) is shunned as “too foreign.” And the literary and non-literary entertainment from non-Anglo regions that are given some attention are 99% those narratives that emphasize our Other-ness, or the negatives in our societies. Slumdog Millionaire was such a mediocre movie, but it’s about the slums, so it’s going to get all the praise, all the accolades and win an Oscar while we’re at it. The films from Pakistan that get recognition are the ones that highlight the negative stereotypes. These things exist – of course they do, but it’s uncomfortable for me to see that my culture (and cultures similar to mine) are only given exposure when a certain type of narrative is being discussed.
Because of this general trend, I really wanted to spotlight some Bollywood movies that are near and dear to my heart, that present South Asian culture as it is without sensationalism, without a harsh emphasis on negative stereotypes but still discusses them from an #OwnVoices gaze rather than the Western-Gaze. Bollywood is fun – it’s vibrant, it has fantastic soundtracks, it has so much talent in acting and music, and I definitely think there’s something in this list for everyone. So with that unnecessarily long introduction, let’s dive into the post!
K A P O O R A N D S O N S
Kapoor & Sons was released last year, and it’s an incredible tale encompassing so many important themes – mainly the importance of family. When two brothers’ grandfather is hospitalized, they fly out to India and come home to a dysfunctional system, where their parents are constantly at each others’ throats. The two brothers have beef among them too, and when they both find a friend in the same girl, things are worsened. The performances in this movie are magnificent, from the violent parents to the shy, quiet younger brother to the charming, brooding older one. The music is fun and upbeat, and the story keeps going places you least expect. I cannot recommend this movie enough. It’s definitely one of my favorites.
K A L H O N A A H O
(No subtitles in the trailer, sorry, but I’ll tell you what it’s about. The movie has subs though!)
Kal Ho Naa Ho was probably the first Bollywood movie that made me cry, and I was a child when I saw it. Ever since it came out in 2003, I’ve watched it every few months – never get tired of it. It’s a story about a girl named Naina, who lives in New York with her widowed mother, her grandmother, her younger brother, and her younger half-sister. Naina has a lot of pent-up anger in her life due to her always-quarrelling mother and grandma, and the trauma of her father having taken his life not so long ago. When a ridiculously bubbly, larger-than-life neighbor named Aman moves into the house next door, he teaches her a thing or two about herself. But Aman has a secret that could destroy lives.
I can’t explain to you how much I love this movie – it’s heartbreaking, it’s entertaining, it has incredibly hilarious moments. It has probably the best love triangle I’ve ever experienced, and you all probably know by now that I despise love triangles. If there’s one Indian movie that I can watch over and over again without getting tired, it’d be this one, hands down.
3 I D I O T S
In South Asia, we have an epidemic – parents want their children to go into STEM fields. You can either be a doctor or an engineer – everything else lowers your worth. It’s something I’ve personally never had to deal with, but so many people around me have gone through the pressure associated with these expectations. And even though my parents never forced me to go into a certain field, academics are given an unprecedented importance. If I got a 95%, they’d ask me why I missed one or two questions – not in a mean way, but it’s something that comes naturally in our culture. We’re stuck in a race. Our academic systems are structured like they’re one massive competition, and if you’re not near the top, you fall behind.
3 Idiots was the first movie I saw that tackled this subject head-on. It’s fun and entertaining, and the fact that it’s centered around three university friends gives it that extra umph and relateability, but underneath it all, it packs a strong punch. It emphasizes the importance of learning above grades, even within STEM fields. It centers a dynamic character who values creativity over mechanics, knowledge over academic achievement, learning over memorizing. And it struck a chord so deep within me that it forever changed the way I studied, and it changed many South Asian parents’ perspectives on studying too. So many student suicides in places like India and Pakistan go unnoticed – the pressure is real, and for many people, 3 Idiots told us that we’re not alone, that there’s another way. It’s just really fucking good.
Q U E E N
For much of our lives, South Asian women are given the impression that our ultimate purpose is to get married, lol. For upper classes residing in the cities, trends are changing little by little, but for those women in smaller cities or rural areas, dependence on the patriarchy is not a way of life, it’s THE way of life. In comes Queen, a story about a simple young girl from a small city with a traditionally conservative set of values whose fiancée dumps two days before their wedding. She’s heartbroken, and for a while, she thinks her life is over. But in a moment of sheer boldness, she decides she’ll go on their honeymoon… alone.
Now that might not seem like a big deal to a lot of you, but it’s such an unconventional idea in that culture – for a girl to go off alone in a country she’s never been in on a honeymoon where her husband isn’t present, lol. But Queen is all about one woman embracing life, learning to break away from a conservative life and embrace confidence, embrace who she is without ever losing her culture either. It’s a feminist powerhouse of a film with a brilliant main performance, an adventure through Europe, and a character you learn to love with all your heart. It’s so, so, so good.
C H A K D E ! I N D I A
Similar to Queen, this is a movie that’s a feminist powerhouse. It explores patriarchal society and women doing unconventional things without spotlighting oppression, per se. Women’s sports barely gets funding in South Asian countries, because culture dictates that sports is a man’s profession. Chak De! India follows one women’s hockey team’s rise under the tutelage of a former-player-turned coach named Kabir Khan, who was shunned from the Indian hockey scene when he missed the winning shot during the World Cup. Kabir takes it upon himself – if he lost the match so many years ago, he’d do everything in his power to get India to win the World Cup. And he’d do it with a team of fierce, dedicated women – the best of the best.
This is another movie that speaks a lot to me as someone who always wanted to break free from the patriarchal nature of my society. Although I was never sporty, simply watching these fierce women do stuff that society deems unacceptable was inspirational. It’s a fun movie too – not just a typical sports movie because it focuses a lot on friendship and Indian culture on top of teamwork and sports. It’s one that I’d really recommend to everyone, and it’s easily available online for streaming and such.
So those are all the recommendations I have for today – when I sat down and actually started to compile the list, I realized that I had a shit ton of movies that I really love and think non-Bollywood watchers would enjoy too, so I might make this a series, and divide lists by genre or topic. If you’d be interested in that, please let me know. And if you watch Bollywood movies, leave your recommendations in the comments below!