Your Bollywood Streaming Starter Kit: 10 Movies from Hindi-Language Cinema to Watch Right Now

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Your Bollywood Streaming Starter Kit: 10 Movies from Hindi-Language Cinema to Watch Right Now

While most (maybe all?) U.S. filmgoers are familiar with the term “Bollywood,” for many, the closest they’ve come to exploring the genre might be Sumdog Millionaire. (I’m sorry to report … that does not count.) But that’s okay! It’s a daunting task, as the India-based industry churns out more movies than any other film industry in the world, at a rate of approximately 1,000 a year.

Used as a catch-all phrase for Hindi-language cinema—much like how Hollywood is meant to encompass every American theatrical film—“Bollywood” is a portmanteau of “Bombay” (the city now called Mumbai) and “Hollywood.” Bollywood is often characterized by its romantic themes, over-the-top song and dance numbers, and magical realism that are widely accepted as normal moviegoing experience. Bollywood films are escapist art, and are often a three-hour slip from reality.

At the center of all Bollywood films is the idea that love will guide you to happiness and prosperity. While traditional Bollywood focused solely on romantic iterations of love — swoons of blissful first love, then family interference and eventual heartbreak, and ultimate redemption via acceptance—new-age Bollywood is becoming more interested in the other variations of the phenomenon. Whether romantic, platonic, self, familial, cultural or societal, Bollywood holds steadfast to its values through the concept of love.

Here is your Bollywood Streaming Starter Kit with 10 essential films that showcase that throbbing power of love and are currently available for your immediate viewing pleasure.

1. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something … Something Happens) (1998)

Director: Karan Johar

One of the most popular Bollywood films of all time, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (KKHH) tells the classic tale of falling in love with your best friend and finding yourself in a love triangle. Anjali (Kajol) and Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) are inseparable at college until Rahul falls in love with Tina (Rani Mukherjee), driving Anjali’s true feelings to the surface. Over the course of the three-hour runtime, KKHH builds multiple love stories, dives into an extended flashback, and is basically a commercial for those popular colorful GAP sweatshirts from the ’90s. As far as Bollywood primers go, this one is a must.

Where to Watch: Streaming on Netflix

2. Dangal (Wrestling Competition) (2016)

Director: Nitesh Tiwari

Based on a true story, Dangal follows a former pro wrestler who, after getting married and failing to have a son to follow in his footsteps, decides to train two of his daughters instead and raises them to become champions. Dangal is a story of overcoming societal expectations and of female power and strength, and ultimately, is a feel-good story about the bond between a father and his daughters.

Where to Watch: Streaming on Netflix

3. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (You Won’t Get This Life Again) (2011)

Director: Zoya Akhtar

Cashing in on millennial anxiety and existential crises, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is Bollywood’s Euro Trip, except with more heart and less dick jokes. The story follows three childhood friends on a transformational bachelor party/road trip in Spain where they ultimately learn to appreciate each other’s friendship and the brevity of life, returning to their old lives completely changed. It’ll make you want to call your friends and plan your own life-altering getaway.

Where to Watch: Streaming on Amazon Prime

4. Taare Zameen Par (Like Stars on Earth) (2007)

Director: Aamir Khan

My go-to when I need a good cry, this tear-jerker shows us the power of love through the relationship of an eight-year-old child with dyslexia and his compassionate teacher, the only adult who is able to pin down his disability. Taare Zameen Par is one of the most unconventional Bollywood films on this list due to its lack of overly dramatized scenes and near-absence of song-and-dance numbers, but it veers as close to Bollywood’s thesis statement as possible: love conquers all, and love can save us, too.

Where to Watch: Streaming on Netflix

5. Lagaan (Taxation) (2001)

Director: Ashutosh Gowariker

An epic sports drama based in colonial India, Lagaan is the story of a group of Indian villagers who challenge their British colonizers to a game of cricket in exchange for the removal of their increasingly growing taxes. We get recruiting and training montages, drama amongst teammates, an intercultural flirtation, and a bangin’ soundtrack from the legend A.R. Rahman. Lagaan famously received India’s third-ever Academy Award nomination in 2001 and is an easy entryway into Bollywood for anyone who loves the entanglement of a high-stakes sports game and forbidden romance.

Where to Watch: Streaming on Netflix

6. Dil Chahta Hai (What the Heart Wants) (2001)

Director: Farhan Akhtar

A story of youngsters finding themselves, Dil Chahta Hai set the stage for many contemporary Bollywood films when it premiered in 2001. The film is an exploration of mid-twenties angst and unrest, of following unconventional desires, and of finding happiness amidst the madness. Similar to Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, it will remind you of your own friends, the fights you get in, and the unflinching way that you’ll always be there for one another.

Where to Watch: Streaming on Amazon Prime

7. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sadness) (2001)

Director: Karan Johar

Another classic film featuring Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan (one of Bollywood’s most prominent on-screen duos of all time), Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (K3G) is a tale of class warfare. When Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) falls in love with Anjali (Kajol), his father (Amitabh Bachchan) forbids him from marrying her because of her lower economic status. Driven by love, Rahul disobeys his father and is banished from his household and from the family. K3G embodies the Indian value of respecting your elders even when they’re wrong, and proves the idea that even the most stubborn people can come around when prodded by love. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll most definitely find yourself Googling the songs later.

Where to Watch: Streaming on Amazon Prime

8. Dear Zindagi (Dear Life) (2016)

Director: Gauri Shinde

An elegant portrayal of depression in 21st century India, Dear Zindagi is a rare mainstream Bollywood film to touch on mental illness and the way it affects the inflicted. Explored via a series of therapy visits, Kaira (Alia Bhatt) explains her discontent with life to her therapist Jug (Shah Rukh Khan) who ultimately helps her see life through a new lens. Dear Zindagi is an important entry into the self-love canon, and will have you reconsidering your own life choices at movie’s end.

Where to Watch: Streaming on Netflix

9. Rang De Basanti (Color it Saffron (Yellow)) (2006)

Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

A foreign filmmaker casts a group of friends in her film about India’s freedom fighters, but soon finds life mirroring art. After one of the friends is killed at the hands of the corrupt Indian government, the group trades in their passivity for the revolution. Rang de Basanti is about having love for your country even when it directly opposes your values, and in today’s political climate it will ignite the fire within you to stand up and do something.

Where to Watch: Streaming on Netflix

10. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Big-Hearted Will Take Away the Bride)(1995)

Director: Aditya Chopra

No Bollywood list is complete without Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (affectionately referred to as DDLJ by those in the know)—the film is such a staple in India that a Mumbai theater has been screening the film for over 20 years. Simran (Kajol) and Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) meet and fall in love while in Europe, and upon returning to India, Raj must convince Simran’s father to allow him to marry her. DDLJ distills every Bollywood prerequisite into one film, capturing the feelings of sweeping love, crushing loss and ultimate familial acceptance into one package.

Where to Watch: Streaming on Amazon Prime

Radhika Menon is a pop culture-obsessed writer and filmmaker living in New York City. Her work has appeared in NY Post’s Decider, Brown Girl Magazine, and Syndicated. She is a proud alumna of the University of Michigan and is one-half of the comedic video duo, PromRad. She loves puns and thinks she’s funny on Twitter.