Bollywood has always garnered strong criticism from most people for being dismissive about picking up issues of pertinence, or banishing stereotypes, or not being so easy with entertainment.
Bollywood has always also been predictable, save for the arty movies that very rarely do well commercially. But there are few of these wonderful cinematic gems who have pushed boundaries and really carved a niche for themselves; movies that are successful, that are completely commercial replete with superstars, and yet so compassionate and sensible!
Here are 12 such movies.
There was an entire genre of movies back in the day where the protagonist readily sacrificed himself to fulfill the need of the script. Sholay was one of them; however the protagonist wasn’t just a simple superstar. It was Amitabh Bachchan, and this was during the 1970s, so the shock value was severe. To kill the angry young man and still manage a happy ending was so bittersweet, that we can’t quite believe that such a big risk was taken by a typical masala Bollywood movie. But then, they don’t call Sholay a masterpiece for nothing!
Another Amitabh Bachchan starrer, which also caused memorable ripple in his personal life for years to come. Speculated to be having an affair with actress Rekha, the movie Silsila not only cast a trio of actors who were embroiled at the helm of numerous salacious rumours, but also the movie gave infidelity a subtle softer touch. It was about openness, it was about ethics, but most importantly it was about love. The sophistication with which this subject was dealt with was commendable. No theatrics, no overdramatization, just simply dealing with the many faces of love.
Bollywood has also been notorious at romanticizing stalking and uncalled persuasion, and Darr nipped that in the bud, even though the stalker was Shahrukh Khan, a superstar unlike India had ever seen. It took great confidence and risk for Yash Chopra to turn Shahrukh Khan into a murderous lover who accosts everyone coming in the way of him and his true love. And instead making him get the girl in the end he actually is brought to justice. That is the ending we need, and we deserve.
4. Margarita with a Straw
A movie packed with so many issues with actors who we recognized as mainstream: Kalki and Revathi. You had a single parent, a daughter with cerebral palsy, the same daughter who was queer, and was studying abroad. It was quite different from the movies that we generally saw coming from Bollywood. With two headstrong characters involved in a loop of love, hate, rebellion, and togetherness is no less short to cinematic elegance! Bollywood rarely took a chance on such characters, especially if they were both women.
Another women centric movie that didn’t provide sermons and lectures about women empowerment, but just delivered that. This movie used violence as a means to the end, which even the most typically Bollywood movies shy from doing, and the violence was meted about a woman. Anushka Sharma’s character is so powerful and so impulsive, it was definitely relatable. This movie also brought to light an extremely contentious topic of honor killing without sugar coating it, or aiming at a happy ending. It had a realistic ending, and that is very unique.
A movie thoroughly successful without the added support of mega stars, and about a girl giving up on the idea of a man’s support to find her own path, was quite unheard. And with a popular actress Kangana Ranaut in the lead role. Not only did they glorify how important self-reliance is for all women, but they also debunked the theory of the age old good girl – bad girl conundrum. It really showed how we all should behave in the event of a personal tragedy. And what a message it was.
Pardon us wondering if this movie would have even been made, let alone passed without significant edits. This movie brought to light such important and timeless problems that plague our society under the guise of religion, it is shocking to see how well this movie did. Banishing the fake veneer of sweeping everything under the carpet it talked about stray youth, about political games, and about a sister searching for her missing brother. Plus the cast had popular “masala” stars such as Karishma Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan. To see a starcast that enjoyed dancing in the rain deliver such stunning performances was a breath of fresh air!
8. Dil Se
What we found significantly wow about this movie in unending. Firstly the movie had North-Eastern insurgency as an anchor to the movie which was so unheard of in Bollywood. Then the leading actress was planning to be a human bomb. Then the leading actor realizes this and decided to save his country, and his love and die with the actress. Shahrukh Khan and Manisha Koirala aced their roles to such perfection it was unparalleled. This movie continues to be avant garde in the milieu of typical Bollywood movies tackling with war, and regional disruptions.
The unthinkable bit? The movie scared the audiences! It literally shook us to core, and we are a hundred percent sure that our dreams were haunted by the light eyed Revathi. The story of a teenage girl being possessed by a violent spirit was nothing new in terms of the concept but its treatment was so nuanced, we still consider it one of the scariest movies to have come out of Bollywood.
10. Cheeni Kum
A quirky love story, not only because of the age gap between the two protagonists but because of how their romance was treated in an absolutely relatable manner. There weren’t over the top theatrics or typical Bollywood drama, but at the heart of it a couple trying to convince the father of the bride, to well, let her be the bride. Never had Bollywood before this been so gutsy with their love stories without coming across as “bold” or irreverent!
11. Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna
This movie legitimized infidelity. Unlike Silsila, there wasn’t an epiphany about morals but rather an ending about how two people who paved a way through hurt to reach their love. It was an ending most people regarded as unreal, but it was a very adventurous move to make people sympathize with people who cheat on their perfectly sweet spouses.
12. Monsoon Wedding
Oh this movie was so good! It showed Delhi in the most earnestly real light ever. It showed weddings similarly. The unthinkable thing about this was how a cast of theater artists, a movie that dealt with pre-marital sex, infidelity, financial woes, and child molestation still was annotated with factors of complete Bollywood masala.
13. Phir Milenge
Salman Khan and Shilpa Shetty playing HIV positive patients in a love story gone awry, eventually dealing with aftereffects of a society not ready to deal with the reality of AIDS. With stars such as the above mentioned plus Abhishek Bachchan as a lawyer safeguarding the honour of Shetty’s character is such a breath of fresh air in Bollywood. With popular actors the theme resonated even more with the audience, and that was very unthinkable!