All-Singing, All-Dancing: Bollywood, the Gem of Indian Cinema

India boasts the largest film industry in the world, with nearly two thousand films released in 2017. Despite the recent economic slowdown, Indian Cinema still makes money—with the majority coming via Bollywood. Even if you’re not learning Hindi or Urdu or Tamil, or even any other language spoken in India, watching a Bollywood film can still help you connect with Indian culture, so in this post, we’ll explain what Bollywood is and suggest some films you might just enjoy!

Indian Cinema is the world’s largest film industry by number of feature films produced, with a whopping 1,986 films having been released in 2017. Its gross box office revenue came in at $2.31 billion in that year, but with 43% of this money having been made from Bollywood films, this is a part of the industry that absolutely cannot be ignored.

Bollywood, a portmanteau of Bombay and Hollywood, refers mainly to the films made in a mixture of Hindi and Urdu (Hindustani) or, increasingly, Hinglish (Hindi and English). The most popular genre of film in Bollywood since the 1970s has been the ‘masala film,’ which are those films that mix different genres in one work—named after the Hindi word for the spice mix used to prepare a curry. The masala film is the kind of film most people associate with Bollywood; a mixture of action, comedy, romance, and drama, with extravagant song and dance numbers. However, a film does not have to contain all of these elements to earn that title—many reviewers referred to Slumdog Millionaire (2008) as a masala film, due to the way that it “whips [the] familiar raw ingredients into a feverish masala,” despite the fact that its grittiness might not be what most people commonly think of when they hear the term ‘Bollywood.’

Of course, it’s all well and good us writing about Bollywood films—unless, of course, you can’t understand them! As mentioned, most Bollywood films are made in Hindustani or Hinglish, so as to appeal to a high number of people. Hindustani is the lingua franca (a language used as a common language) of Northern India and Pakistan; if the number of Hindi and number of Urdu speakers are added together to get the number of Hindustani speakers, then Ethnologue estimates that there are a total of almost 786 million speakers, which would make it the third most-spoken language in the world.

Hinglish follows a similar vein; albeit with Hindi and English, and can boast over 350 million speakers. Its use is increasingly on the rise, particularly among young people and those in urban areas, as well as on the internet, where English is the most-used language. 

Hinglish is not to be confused with Indian English, which is the particular variety of English spoken in India. Hinglish involves mixing Hindi and English words in sentences or phrases, such as the title of Bollywood film Shaadi Ke Side Effects (Marriage’s Side Effects). So, if you do know English, you might well be able to understand some Bollywood films—but maybe a little Hindi wouldn’t hurt!

Regardless, we’ve put together a little list of Bollywood films you might just enjoy—some recommendations from uTalk staff, some that are streaming on Netflix UK, and some that are just fun! Which one will you watch?

Hindi Medium (2017; Hindi)

– Recommended by Adi, uTalk’s Business Development Manager

Adi says: “[This] is an amazing one where a rich (Hindi-speaking) father and mother are unable to get their daughter into a good school in Delhi, so they pretend to know English and be posh—which they are not. Crazy funny movie with a good message.”

Queen (2013; Hindi)

– Recommended by Gina, uTalk’s Marketing and Sales Representative; currently streaming on Netflix

“It’s a brilliantly directed movie about a conservative-rooted girl deciding to go on her honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam alone after her fiance calls off their marriage just two days before the wedding. It’s a must-watch because of how refreshing the storyline is—where most directors would give the girl the role of a ‘damsel in distress’, this one allows the audience to fully immerse themselves in all the ups and downs of a woman’s journey to finding herself as a strong and independent individual.”

3 Idiots (2009; Hindi/English)

– Currently streaming on Netflix

Two friends are searching for their long lost companion. They revisit their college days and recall the memories of their friend who inspired them to think differently, even as the rest of the world called them “idiots”. This film did particularly well in East Asia when it was first released, grossing over $11,000,000 across all markets.

Love Per Square Foot (2018; Hindi)

– Currently streaming on Netflix

Individually, Sanjay and Karina don’t earn enough to be able to buy a home, so they enter into a marriage of convenience.

Chennai Express (2013; Hindi/Tamil/English)

– Currently streaming on Netflix

A man travelling towards Rameshwaram on the Chennai Express to disperse his late grandfather’s ashes unwillingly gets caught up with some goons after helping them and their boss’ daughter board the train.

Bend it Like Beckham (2002; English/Punjabi/Hindi)

While maybe not a Bollywood film in the traditional sense of the term, Bend it Like Beckham shows an insight into life for young British people of Indian descent, when the daughter of orthodox Sikhs rebels against her parents’ traditionalism and joins a football team.

Bride and Prejudice (2004; English/Hindi/Punjabi)

Also a very UK-centric production (despite the fact that much of the film is set in India), Bride and Prejudice is a retelling of Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, that features the lives of four unmarried daughters in an Indian family.

Which one will you choose? Remember that Bollywood films cross a broad spectrum—so if you fancy something with more action, or something a little scarier, then you’ll definitely be able to watch one that’s just to your tastes. Let us know on Facebook or Twitter what you’re planning to watch!

And if all these films have you interested in learning Hindi then you can, of course, do so via our app. Once you’ve learnt all of our around 2,500 words and phrases—and watched enough Bollywood films—then maybe you’ll be singing and dancing like a Bollywood star!

Or maybe not—but it’s worth a go!

1 thought on “All-Singing, All-Dancing: Bollywood, the Gem of Indian Cinema”

  1. Hello,

    I love Bollywood film for singing, dancing is the specialty of the Indian film industry.
    All the movies you have mentioned i have seen many times.
    Thank You for such a lovely post.


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