When you think of the best Bollywood films, your mind probably instantly thinks of your parents’ iconic favourites – Sholay, Lagaan, or even Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. However, I’ve decided to listed what the top films that have come out of Bollywood are in recent times, focusing on the more modern productions that you may have missed.
Raazi (2018) directed by Meghna Gulzar
Raazi (transl. ‘Willing’) is a 2018 Indian spy thriller film starring Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal. If you have been around me at all over the past year, you would know that this is one of, if not my favourite, film to have come out of Bollywood. Raazi tackles the delicate issue of the tensions between India and Pakistan in a realistic and well thought through way, leaving the audience breathless and broken hearted, but not antagonistic – a difficult feat that Meghna Gulzar manages to achieve flawlessly. Alia Bhatt provides a stunningly emotional lead as ‘Sehmat’, a twenty-year-old who is pulled out of her sheltered college life by her father and is sent to Pakistan to act as a spy. Her struggles with her conflicting personal affection for her Pakistani target and her duty to her country shine throughout this 140-minute movie which also boasts a flawless 100% rating on rotten tomatoes.
Padmavaat (2018) directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Continuing the trend of exceptionally beautiful epics directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Padmavaat became the centre piece of fierce rioting in India throughout its production. Notwithstanding the protests, Padmavaat is a powerful cinematic masterpiece, with Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapur co-starring in this engaging and well-crafted film. Though the Jauhar at the end has been criticised by the media, it is rather an empowering symbol of female defiance and self-preservation. Though more could have been made of Padmavati’s own skills as a warrior, the film is nonetheless a must watch – if only to see what all the fuss was about.
Veere di Wedding (2018) directed by Shashanka Ghosh
2018 was a good year for Indian cinema. Rather than fall into the stereotypical overly-sexualised tropes that Bollywood has now become famous for, many films (especially Veere di Wedding) provided a social narrative reflecting a changing status quo amongst millennials. Though this film was rejected by many within the elder generation, it is one that will resonate amongst our own. Following the story of four female best friends, Veere di Wedding openly discusses ‘taboo’ subjects such as divorce, sex and inter-racial marriages with a modern and relatable lens. The emotional chemistry between the leads Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar (my personal favourite) and Shikha Talsania is palpable and honest throughout the film and is interspersed with comedic moments and memorable music.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) directed by Kabir Khan
Bajrangi Bhaijaan is the second highest-grossing Bollywood film of all time. Similar in some regard to Raazi, Bajrangi Bhaijaan also seeks to ease some of the Indo-Pakistani tensions in India. It follows Salman Khan as ‘Bajrangi’, a devout Hindu and follower of Hanuman, embarking on a journey to safely take a mute six-year-old Muslim girl back to her hometown in Pakistan. The film explores a heart-breaking narrative that is saved by Bajrangi’s own resilience and perseverance to do right by the young girl. Bajrangi Bhaijaan is a beautiful movie that restores your faith in humanity.
Pink (2016) directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury
Pink follows the story of three young women fighting to pursue rape charges against three influential men. Though this is a shockingly common occurrence across most of the world, rape and consent are conversations that very few people want to have, especially in India. Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood legend, leads the cast as a lawyer who comes out of retirement to help the young women. They are forced to fight untrue allegations of their promiscuity and contend against the power and influence of the three affluent young men. A must watch in today’s social climate.
Dear Zindagi (2016) directed by Gauri Shinde
Dear Zindagi is a beautifully crafted film coming of age film starring megastars Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan. It follows Bhatt as a disillusioned cinematographer ‘Kaira’ who seeks a new perspective on her life through free-spirited psychologist ‘Dr Jehangir’, played by Khan. It is a feel-good film intertwined with moments of vulnerability and reflection that is executed brilliantly by director Gauri Shinde. Neither Bhatt nor Khan fail to keep the audience entranced throughout the production, which also boasts a glittery score by Amit Trivedi.
Cocktail (2012) directed by Homi Adajania
The oldest on the list, Cocktail still maintains a startling relevancy seven years on. Though the storyline is cliché (in the best way), the concept of the ‘ideal Indian girl’ is challenged and discussed parallel to the more modern lifestyle of millennials. Honestly, my favourite part of this film is the fun and catchy soundtrack, as well as Padukone’s phenomenal acting skills (though I have yet to find a film where she does not exhibit an exceptional performance). The tensions between the three protagonists is maintained effectively throughout the film and the story of love and loss remains universally relatable.