Top 10 Indian Themed Movies

India may be the home of Bollywood, but the lights, camera and action doesn’t stop there. Hollywood film-makers have used the sub-continent not only as a backdrop for many classic productions but more and more Indian themed movies depicting values, cultures and lifestyle have inspired writers, directors and producers to weave the Indian culture and it’s themes into entertaining storylines. In the last decades, there have been a variety of films depicting a mix of Indian and western culture highlighting how Indian culture has seeped its way into popular culture. With talents of Meera Nair, Deepa Mehta, Gurinder Chadha, showcasing Indian culture in their productions, Hollywood directors and stars are becoming more involved in Indian themed films, slowly more diversity is being seen in cinemas globally, and second generation Indian actors are flying the dramatic arts flag high and proud. Here’s a selection of some of my favourites…

  1. The Darjeeling Limited

Three estranged brothers, Francis , Peter and Jack who haven’t spoken in over a year after the passing of their father. They decide to reunite for a train trip on a “spiritual journey” across India, with the hope of connecting them together. The brothers each have their own personal melodramas, and they soon fall into old patterns of behaviour as the real reason for the reunion is revealed as a visit to their mother in a Himalayan convent. Director Wes Anderson brings together a cast of his usual suspects, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman. Typical of Anderson movies, Darjeeling Limited is quirky, clever and full of classical and nostalgic indian charm. Get on board with this movie!

2. Bend It Like Beckham

You don’t even know how to cook Aloo Gobi!“. This hilarious comedy by Director Gurinder Chadha is a Brit-Indian movie classic. Bend It Like Beckham is about Jess (Jasminder Bhamra), the daughter of a strict Indian family who dreams of playing football but her mother is more interested in her mastering the technique of how to make a round chapatti. Jess meets Jules (Keira Knightley) who convinces her to play for a semi-pro team and whilst Jess’s sister is preparing for a big fat Indian marriage, Jess also deals with her romantic feelings for her football coach. Bend It Like Beckham is a refreshing comedy about bending the rules to reach your goal. Featuring Keira Knightley and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in their early acting careers, it’s a classic second generation indian culture clash film with a timeless soundtrack and packed full of corker one-liners.

3. A Suitable Boy

Vikram’s Seth’s novel ‘A Suitable Boy’ has been described as ‘a masterpiece for the 20th century’. Adapting this impressive work to the screen was a risk, but director Mira Nair has again, worked her magic to bring one of the best novels to life. In this adaptation, the story follows university student Lata Mehta, and her mother’s quest with finding her a suitable husband, amidst the backdrop of India’s post partition. From the unsuitable to the unlikely candidates for Lata’s heart, the story also shares in the wider family politics of the Mehta, Chatterji, Kapoor and Khan families and see how the threads of these separate families weave into together to create a rich and complex tapestry of tales. 

4. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The cast for the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel includes British favourites Dame Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel to name but a few. A comedy drama about a group of seven elderly British retirees responding to an ad to travel to Jaipur where they find residence at a run down hotel managed by young, optimistic and exuberant character. As their stay at the hotel goes by, the retirees are impacted and influenced by India in different ways. Whilst they share experiences of their trip with each other, the hotel manager frantically tries to impress not only the seven residents in a bid to keep the business afloat,  but also the approval of his mother and affections of his girlfriend with the best intended and lavish plans but with very little cash to see the plans through. This movie is worth a check-in with the follow up movie featuring Richard Gere.

5. Fire

Fire forms part of writer and director Deepa Mehta’s trilogy along with ‘Water’ and ‘Earth’ and takes girl power to another level. Way beyond it’s time, this is a ground breaking masterpiece which was met with much controversy when it was released in 1996. With music by A.R.Rahman, Fire is a beautiful and romantic drama film which tells the story of two Indian wives married into the same family. Each having been shunned by their husbands and driven to desperation for unfulfilled longings, they find solace in each other as lovers.  Fire is one of the first mainstream films to explicitly show homosexual relations, and the first to feature a lesbian relationship. On it’s release in India, the film set off several protests and discussions around homosexuality and freedom of speech for Indian women. Since then, the film has been celebrated and described as “simply a triumph” and rightfully so. 

6. Monsoon Wedding

As the preparations for an arranged marriage of a modern upper-class Indian family’s only daughter are underway, there are culture and family clashes in Mira Nair’s Bafta award winning Monsoon Wedding. The usual emotional baggage which comes with any large indian arranged wedding is unpacked as we see the enormity, chaos and expense which goes into an event of this scale. Set entirely in new Delhi, this  is an exuberant celebration of colour, indian values, tradition and an endless supply of marigolds! 

7. Kama Sutra

This racy li’l tale of love is an Indian historical erotic romance film. Co-written, directed and produced by Mira Nair in 1996, it’s a stunning production which transports you to 16th-century India. It tells the tale of Tara a princess, and Maya her beautiful servant. Growing up as best friends, there is an undercurrent of jealousy and resentment which unfolds as the girls head for marital age. In attempts for the love and attention of suitors, the film shows how seduction techniques are played, won and lost. An impressive cast featuring Rekha, Indira Varma, Naveed Andrews along with opulent wardrobes, classical indian dancing and magnificent location settings, this film compliments the ancient classical text that is the Kama Sutra.

8. Bhaji On the Beach

Directed by Gurinder Chudha and written by Meera Syal, Bhaji on the Beach was one of the first successful outings of a Brit-Indian film when is was released in 1993. The film takes us on a bus ride journey with a group of Indian community women of all generations from Birmingham who have arranged a day trip to Blackpool. As the day unfolds, the differing opinions of traditional indians and second generation indians result in tensions and personal issues and upsets of the women surface to boiling point. Bhaji on the Beach was one of the first films to capture issues affected by female second generation Indians and an entertaining, nostalgic glimpse of Indian community life.

9. Lion

A heart breaking, heart warming and heart melting true story of five year old Saroo who accidentally takes a wrong turn and gets lost on a train which takes him across bustling India far away from his mother and brothers. Saroo learns to survive on his own and finds himself in an orphanage where he is adopted by an Australian couple who take him to their small home town in Adelaide where he begins his new life. Struggling to find a true sense of identity, disconnected from his heritage and haunted by childhood memories from his native India, Saroo embarks the search to find his birth mother and family in India with only the help of google maps and his childhood memories. Have your tissues ready.

10. The Namesake

The novel ‘Namesake’ by Jhumpa Lahiri was first published in 2003. A sublime tale of a couple originally from India delicately trying to balance honouring the traditions of their Indian culture and their need to fit into American culture with their two children. The film adaptation from Mira Nair tackles the novel’s theme of formation of identity. It’s a beautiful depiction of the sacrifices parents of a native India make for their children to have opportunities in a different cultural environment and how second generation Indians strive to forge identities without forgetting their Indian heritage.  As Jhumpa Lahiri wrote ‘The greatest journeys are the ones that bring you home’.

Grab your popcorn, poppadoms, pickle dip and settle in for an Indian themed movie night! Enjoy!

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