The world of Indian cinema is so ginormous and, quite frankly, overwhelming, that choosing the best Bollywood films feels an impossible task. To celebrate and appreciate mainstream Indian movies – the biggest and most significant films that have shaped Bollywood, Kollywood and beyond for decades – we needed a helping hand.
It’s why, to help us find our top 100 films, we asked a bunch of Bollywood experts and Time Out writers to whittle them down. The results aren’t all strictly Bollywood films, but they are all incredible, spanning classics like 1957’s ‘Mother India’, the first Hindi film to be nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film at the Oscars, to blockbusters like the ‘Bahubali’ saga, two films that sized up Hollywood and said, ‘We can do that too!’.
Rich Hindu adolescent lad Raja (Kapoor) falls for Bobby (Kapadia), the 16-year-old granddaughter of his Goan Catholic nanny. When his snobbish parents object to their ‘friendship’, the young lovers decide to elope. This landmark film was a resounding success as Indian audiences had rarely ever seen teenage love expressed so sensuously on screen. The lead duo was believable too, and Kapadia became a national sensation with her mini-skirts and halter tops – an exposing bikini sequence was especially eye-grabbing. Laxmikant Pyarelal’s fresh soundtrack added to the appeal of this sweet film, with every song remaining a hit to this day.
Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! (1994)
This 1990s blockbuster was directly responsible for audiences in India and elsewhere returning to Bollywood after a drastic drop in attendance in the 1980s due to video piracy and disillusionment with the crude action films of that era. Expect 14 songs, two weddings and a cremation. Nothing else really happens, yet its shameless lavish depiction of every celebration of a perfect north Indian family, and especially their elaborate colourful Hindu wedding rituals, sucked audiences into cinemas again and again. ‘HAHK’, as it is known, is the film which kickstarted the global awareness of modern Bollywood.
Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013)
This romantic comedy fits the Bollywood template perfectly: it boasts flamboyant colours, songs and dance and, more importantly, a big fat Indian wedding. It tells of two characters, Bunny (Kapoor) and Naina (Padukone), and their group of friends, who we first meet as they leave university before the film flashes forward to the end of their twenties. What made the film doubly successful was that its two stars were former lovers in real life, lending them a special chemistry onscreen.
Yash Chopra, Bollywood’s most successful and respected director, delivers a groundbreaking musical romance on an epic scale. Will the love that Indian Hindu Veer (Khan) and Pakistani Muslim Zaara (Zinta) feel for each other be able to overcome cross-cultural, emotional and physical borders? Chopra employs his trademark ‘chiffon sari in the Swiss Alps’ style while including progressive political and social messages about Indo-Pak unity, women’s rights, inept justice and hope for the future. The late composer Madan Mohan and Lata Mangeshkar’s tunes achieve lyrical perfection. The result is an uplifting, colourful and soulful gem.