Bollywoodmania! A dozen of the best Indian musicals on Amazon Prime

Shah Rukh Kha and Kajol in the Bollywood musical

Bollywood is more than a genre. It’s more than a film industry. It’s a culture in its own right, and Amazon Prime has hundreds available to stream. Which gives subscribers an opportunity to discover a cinematic way of life.

In the most general of descriptions, the Bollywood movies of India tend to be long (around 2 ½ hours of more), are filled with songs and production numbers, and lean to the melodramatic. The emotions are big, the stars glamourous, and the screen awhirl in color. That’s an oversimplification of a massive film industry—one of the biggest in the world over the past 50 years—that produces almost as many films as Hollywood. There are romances, thrillers, comedies, family melodramas, social dramas, crime movies, and pretty much every genre you’d find in any vital industry. What Bollywood adds is music and scope and a full evening of entertainment.

Now I’m a dabbler in the genre. I’ve seen a few in the theater (including some of the greats) and a number of others on home video, and they’re just a drop in the ocean. Bollywood is huge and I’m just a distant observer. So, being an amateur myself, I turned to some expert opinions (as recommended by Time Out London in their “100 Best Bollywood Movies” list) to pick a dozen of the most celebrated and popular Bollywood movies available to stream on Amazon Prime.

All unrated (most are fine for all audiences) and with subtitles.

I present the list in chronological order:

  • Silsila (India, 1981) turns a real-life scandal into a musical melodrama and filmmaker Yash Chopra casts the actual participants (Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, and Rekha) in the (alleged) affair to recreate their roles onscreen.
  • Tezaab (India, 1988), an award-winning romantic drama of starring Anil Kapoor as a college student who turns to crime, made Madhuri Dixit a star and became a box-office smash.
  • Andaz Apna Apna (India, 1994), which pairs future superstars Aamir Khan and Salman Khan as slacker buddies competing for the affections of an heiress, leans heavy on comedy.
  • The award-winning Bombay (India, 1995) works the real-life Bombay riots into a romantic tragedy about a Hindu man and a Muslim woman who defy religious difference to marry in a volatile time.
  • Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (India, 1995), starring Shah Rukh Kha and Kajol as opposites who fall in love on vacation, has been called the definitive Bollywood romantic comedy and it ran continually for almost 20 years in Mumbai’s Maratha Mandier cinema.
  • Dil To Pagal Hai (India, 1997) – Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit find true love while working together in a dance troupe in this box-office smash.
  • Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (India, 1998) begins as college romantic triangle (with Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, and Rani Mukerji as the three sides) and turns into a tearjerker melodrama. It was reportedly inspired by American “Archie” comics.
  • Dil Chahta Hai (India, 2001), a coming-of-age romantic drama about three college friends (Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Akshaye Khanna) looking for love, went for a more realistic portrait of everyday life than the usual blockbuster.
  • Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (India, 2001) pours on the schmaltz for a family melodrama filled with music, set pieces, and Bollywood superstars (including Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, and Hrithik Roshan).
  • Chak De! India (India, 2007) is a musical sports drama starring Shah Rukh Khan as the coach of a women’s field hockey team.
  • Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (India, 2011) is a buddy movie about three friends who hit the road for Spain to give a groom to be (Abhay Deol) a bachelor party he won’t forget.
  • Ek Tha Tiger (India, 2012) – Salman Khan is torn between duty and love as a spy who calls in love with enemy agent Katrina Kaif.

Add them to your watchlist and add a little musical romance to your daily drama.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears in Vulture, Turner Classic Movies online, Keyframe, and Parallax View.

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