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CULTURE: 6 Bollywood Flicks to Watch if You’re Just Getting Started

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

(and You’re Sick of People Telling You to Watch DDLJ)

Artwork by Michelle Dong, staff artist

… Or Kabhie Kushie Kabhie Gham. Not that there’s anything wrong with cozying up to a classic, but these movies just don’t represent the industry today. Whether you’re looking for something refreshing or just starting to dip your toe in the Bollywood scene, you’ve come to the right place! 

  1. Udta Punjab (2016)

Literally translating to ‘flying’ Punjab, Udta Punjab explores substance abuse in the state of Punjab. It is rife with dark humour, swearing, coked up drug addicts, local drug mafias, and political agendas. Featuring a star cast of Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, and Kareena Kapoor, the film shows us the ugly side of a Punjabi pop star’s drug addiction, a migrant worker who gets tangled up with the wrong people, and a doctor’s efforts to run a functioning rehabilitation center in a country that chooses to look the other way. The Indian censor board (CBFC) refused to release it without major cuts due to the excessive drug abuse and ‘vulgar’ language, but eventually budged and gave it an A rating. 

  1. Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016)

A black comedy female-centered film, Lipstick Under My Burkha was unafraid to push the boundaries, resulting in the Indian censor board (CBFC) actually banning its release in India. It consists of a phenomenal cast, including one of my personal favorites Ratna Pathak Shah. Directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, it explores the average Indian woman’s sexuality in an oppressive patriarchal society. The film has an incredibly diverse cast and gives the viewers a nuanced look into the unquestioned traditions that often make their way into your typical Bollywood movie. 

  1. The Sky is Pink (2019)

Directed by Shonali Bose, The Sky is Pink is a biopic based on the life of Aisha Choudhary, a motivational speaker who succumbed to her terminal illness at the age of 18. Bose, who lost her own child, depicts the heartbreaking journey of the bereaved Choudhary family with a passionate conviction, as they cope with the turmoil and fear of losing Aisha, played by Zaira Wasim. This film will make you cry. Multiple times. But you’ll also find yourself smiling through the tears. With their undeniable chemistry, stars Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar truly bring the young Choudhary couple to life. 

  1. Secret Superstar (2017)

Secret Superstar follows the journey of 14-year old Insia, and her aspirations of becoming a singer. Fearful of her abusive father, she secretly uploads her music on Youtube and instantly becomes a sensation, attracting the attention of a controversial agent who promises to make her a star. It’s a powerful narrative, and yet again features the talented Zaira Wasim, as Insia, who empowers her own mother to create a new reality for herself. 

1. Hichki (2018)

Based on Brad Cohen’s autobiography, Front of The Class, Hichki is a feel good comedy/drama that introduces us to the happy, go-lucky Naina Mathur suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome. Her dreams to become a teacher are constantly impeded by her uncontrollable ‘hiccups’, but she finally gets an opportunity to teach a class of underprivileged teenagers at the prestigious St. Notker’s school. Although predictable, Hichki feels like a win for every underdog who will relate to Naina and her rambunctious yet wholesome class of students. 

2. Karwaan (2018)

Looking for an unconventional road trip full of quirky characters on their path of self-discovery? Look no further! The Irrfan Khan, Dulquer Salmaan, and newcomer Mithila Palker film follows the journey of IT worker, and aspiring photographer, Avinash as he travels across the country when he receives the wrong body for his father’s funeral. Things get complicated when he meets the two would-be-helpful sidekicks along the way. As he embarks on a mission to return it to its rightful owner, Avinash finds himself rebuilding his relationship with his now deceased father in the process. It’s dark, cynical, but will leave you in splits over the trio’s antics. 

3. Gully Boy (2019)

This critically acclaimed Zoya Akhtar film stars Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt in the slums of Dharavi, Mumbai. Murad’s parents pressure him to study engineering, but he aspires to be a rapper. He finds himself plunged into the Mumbai rap scene after a chance encounter with a local rapper ‘MC Sher’. The film delves into the wide social divide between the rich and poor, clearly outlining the different expectations and dreams one is allowed to have. Featuring an 18-song Hinglish soundtrack, Gully Boy has the rhythmic power to inspire even non-Hindi speakers into jamming along. 

4. Sanju (2018)

Sanju is a autobiographical drama/comedy that depicts the life of Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt. It takes us through his struggles in the industry as a star kid, his drug addiction, his arrest and imprisonment for the alleged involvement in the 1993 Bombay bombings, and his eventual comeback to the industry. As we learn how the Indian media labelled Dutt a terrorist, we’re also pressed towards greater reflection on the sensational power of the press. Sanjay Dutt may not be everyone’s favourite Bollywood actor now, but the film is definitely intriguing and is a must watch as an expose on the worst aspects of Bollywood. Featuring Ranbir Kapoor as Dutt, and Vicky Kaushal as his sidekick, the two share an undeniable bromance that will fill your heart. 

5. Hindi Medium (2017)

Starring Irrfan Khan as Raj Bhatra, Hindi Medium tackles the elitism of the private Indian education system. Raj and his wife Mita dream of affording their only daughter a prestigious English-medium education, something they didn’t have the privilege of. Despite their efforts to adjust to the posh life of Delhi suburbia and create a convincing image of the kind of family that goes on annual vacations to Europe, they fail the admission process. Backed into a corner, they attempt to scam the system by entering through the Right To Education (RTE) quota for underprivileged children, but begin to question the education system as a whole. The story is heartwarming and Irrfan Khan’s acting shines through. 

6. Raazi (2018)

Featuring Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal in the lead roles, this spy-thriller film set before the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 is based on the true account of Harinder Sikka’s novel Calling Sehmat. When Sehmat’s father plans her marriage to a family of Pakistani military officials, 20-year-old Sehmat is trained to be an Indian intelligence agent in order to relay Pakistani war secrets. Sehmat proves herself more than capable, despite the doubts of her superiors, but things go awry once the plan is put in action. Nerve-wracking, suspenseful, and super engaging, Raazi released to critical acclaim and became one of the highest-grossing Indian films featuring a female protagonist. 


Vaishnavi Naidu, a rising sophomore at NYU, is the Journalism Editor and Research Strategist for the Critical Writing Team. She studies Journalism and Psychology and is the Deputy Editor for Under The Arch, a student run magazine under Washington Square News that focuses on personal prose and poetry. She’s also the President of the Liberal Studies Theatre Club. In her free time, you’ll find her exploring New York City or looking for a place to hang just one more memento up on her wall. You can find her @vaishoe_16 on insta or twitter. 

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