I've been wanting to do this entry for a while, if only to share my own experience with something people have a very limited exposure to. It also happens to be my 200th entry (I honestly don't even remember when I made the other 190+, but whatever ).
Anyway, I don't know how familiar y'all are with Bollywood. You've probably seen Slumdog Millionaire, but that one doesn't really count because it was made by a British filmmaker and just had Indian actors and was set in India (at least, it doesn't count for me. ) The other things you might have heard are that Bollywood is full of mindless comedies that make no sense, often relying on overused tropes and slapstick humor that is in the loosest sense of the term, "funny". That, plus the music and the dance numbers. Ever present and in abundance in almost every movie that's released.
Some filmmakers tend to stick to the age-old, tried and tested formula of a "comedy" with the occasional catchy (and often exploitative) song to draw the audiences in. Then, there are others who use the medium of film to tell smart, compelling stories that are miles removed from the other films that tend to fill the space of Bollywood.
I wanted to use this entry to share some of the movies I'd seen recently that are able to remain uniquely Indian, and are not just "good" in the Bollywood sense of the term (which honestly isn't very hard), but good films in general. They tell their stories well and use music to accentuate themselves, rather than as standalone crowd-pleasers. I was planning to do a series of these sort of entries. There's a lot of gems that get lost in the sea of generic films that are released almost every week, and I don't think I'll be able to cover them all in one entry. Let me know if you want to see more of these.
The following are movies I've seen and loved, so I might miss out on some that I haven't seen but are equally good or better (I'll probably talk about those later). If you're interested, you can probably find most, if not all, of these films on Netflix or something. OK, enough rambling, onto the list:
Kahaani ("Story"): I don't want to spoil too much because this is after all a mystery. It is a beautifully shot movie set in the city of Calcutta. I would say she goes against the grain and tends to portray strong, independent female characters that do not rely on a male lead. This was the first movie of hers I'd seen and the ending blew my mind (it was a little contrived, but not like anything audiences had seen before). The journey is amazing and tells you a lot about the city and living in it, and the performances are exquisite. If you're into foreign films at all, pretty much all films starring the lead actress Vidya Balan, and the actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui are worth a watch.
Mardaani: The title literally translates to "manly", but this film is entirely centered on the life of a female police officer in Mumbai. It deals with some strong subject matters and is quite ruthless in its depiction- not something I'm used to seeing. Again, I don't want to say too much, but it does a good job in dealing with an issue that is a serious problem in society, not just in India, but the world. Like any film, it does have a feel-good ending, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that it is a great movie nonetheless. I would argue that after seeing or learning about the things depicted in the movie, you need to end on a high note. This movie released only a few months ago, btw.
Queen: Another movie released recently that centers around the life of a girl named Rani (queen). I don't know what to say about this movie, except that you're missing out by not watching it. Think of it as a sort of coming-of-age movie, with some actual self-realization and character development thrown in. It's progressive by almost any standards you apply to it, which is a huge step for Bollywood. It also helps that the music is pretty amazing and if anything accentuates the film, rather than being a standalone thing.
Chak De India: Released a while ago, in 2007 I think? But it was a huge success. It starred Shah Rukh Khan (you may have heard of him) in an actual, serious role. It is a sports film, and one that deals with the Indian national women's hockey team and their coach. This was unheard of because a) it is a women's sports team and, b) the sport is hockey, which despite being the national sport of India, is sadly neglected in favor of cricket (which is almost like a religion now). Again, this is a feel-good movie but in a way that almost anyone who has been part of a team can relate to. It does a good job of shedding light on the plight of women's sports and this is a problem not just isolated to one corner of the globe. I don't know, but I felt super awesome after watching the movie. This one is definitely available on Netflix.
So there it is. This is just a fraction of the movies I could talk about, but if you guys want, I could make a series or something out of this (and maybe even include some music?). Let me know. If not, that's fine, I just wanted my 200th entry to be something semi-important.