First of all – virtually all the films are MUSICALS!! Even a gritty urban drama about the criminal underworld is incomplete until the ringleader breaks into song and dance with his nefarious associates! And since each film has 6 to 10 musical numbers most of the films are three hours or longer. But if you make the time investment you can enjoy some of the most vibrant, colorful, and melodious entertainment you’ve ever seen!
And the HAIR!! All the heroines have long lush hair that is surely an enhancement to their considerable beauty. When it’s not down in all its glory, it’s up in some great style! In fact long hair is such an important component to a film heroine that if a woman character has short hair it’s usually a sign that she’s a bad guy – an unfortunate bit of hair bigotry.
These films have something for everyone – in fact they are widely known as “masala movies.” Masala is a term for blends of many different spices that are widely used in Indian cooking – so films usually contain comedy, drama, romance, and action (including some outrageous and implausible fight scenes), in addition to the musical interludes.
I should also add that Bollywood films are only one segment of Indian film output. They are shot in the Hindi language and have the widest play throughout the country, but there are many other regional cinemas in other languages (Bengali, Tamil, Telegu and Marathi among others) because India has at least 17 major languages within its diverse population.
Although this cinema is virtually unknown to most westerners, it’s an important cultural touchstone for people from India, wherever they live. In fact, some of the highest per screen grosses for films in the United States and the United Kingdom are for Hindi films playing to Indian expatriates and those of us who have stumbled onto this enjoyable pastime. If you live in an area with a large Indian population, there may be screenings right in your town that are only advertised to the local Indian community. Even if you don’t have theatrical exhibitions and you’d like to see some of these films, don’t despair. They are available for rental on DVD (usually with English subtitles) at most Indian markets – so check around your community for your source for some of the most exotic, romantic, and enjoyable movies in the world!
Some films to start with:
KUCH KUCH HOTA HAI (Something Happens…) This is an all-around crowd pleaser and was a HUGE hit in India a few years ago. Our heroine (Kajol) starts out a tomboy with a bob before she blossoms into a genuine longhaired beauty. It also stars my favorite actor Shah Rukh Khan, who has dominated Hindi cinema for the last decade.
MOHABBATEIN (Love Stories) A recent hit that features Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai (a former Miss World) as his lost love. This film also showcases Amitabh Bachchan who is a powerhouse of 30 years standing in Bollywood film. He also hosts India’s version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? For my money he’s got it all over Regis.
HUM DIL DE CHUKE SANAM (I Give My Heart to My Love) Also stars Aishwarya Rai in some excellent dance sequences and Salman Khan, Bollywood’s pretty boy (and reportedly Aish’s offscreen love, as well).
KAHO NA PYAR HAI (Say It, It’s Love) This is not as great a hair movie as some of these other films, but it’s a quintessential masala movie and the biggest hit of recent memory. It’s also the debut vehicle of hero Hrithik Roshan – India’s latest film craze. He is so good looking that when a friend of mine first saw him in this film he said, “Oh my god, was he made in a LAB?!”
I know we have several Indian women who regularly visit this site, so I’d be very happy if they wanted to add to this or, especially, correct any mistakes I may have made. If anyone has any comments or questions, or would like more recommendations from me, feel free to email me at email@example.com.