There are so many amazing Hindi-language films it‘s hard to know where to start. We’ve curated the list of must watches for you, here is part 1: essentials!

Written by: Riddhima Dave – August 13th, 2021 1:06 pm pst

Hindi Lannuage films you need to watch

Credit: Excel Entertainment

Growing up in Mumbai, Bollywood’s motherland, my film diet consisted almost entirely of Hindi movies. My memories of 2000s moviegoing were only partially sprinkled with some animated English movies. In fact, I preferred not to watch many because I always needed subtitles. American accents were difficult for me to understand. It was not until I crossed the age of 10, that I began exploring Hollywood.

By 16, I was a full-on movie buff with a voracious appetite for not only Hollywood movies but all kinds of foreign cinema. Bollywood movies took a backseat during my later teens and I hardly watched any. When I came to the US in 2018, I started rewatching some of the movies from my childhood in a desperate need for culture and nostalgia. Today Hindi movies offer much comfort to me.

After living in the US for three years, it is easy to feel disconnected from your people and your language sometimes. Hindi is not my mother tongue and it is the language I have conversed in the least during the past three years. Hindi movies somehow help me stay connected not just to India but also to Hindi. I have come into a habit of trying to get people to watch Hindi movies with me and recommending them in order to show off my culture and my country’s impressive film industry. Bollywood aka the Hindi-film industry, is perhaps the largest in the world shelling out an average of 1200 movies per year. By comparison, Hollywood shells out close to 800.

If you want to get into Bollywood’s alluring world, here are eleven essential movies to get you started.

Sidenote: Most Indian movies are musicals and will have several dance numbers and songs in them. You can always fast forward to the content but if you are a first-time watcher, I recommend viewing and enjoying them as they were intended.

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (You Only Live Once)

This buddy comedy is about three friends who have embarked on a bachelor trip to Spain and in the process end up finding themselves. Kabir is soon to be married to Natasha and wants to go to Spain with his two best friends for his final stint as a bachelor. The three battle internal conflicts on this trip with respect to their expectations and responsibilities in life. As the title suggests, they learn about their true desires through the course of the film. The movie is very entertaining and quite funny, you can imagine the pranks and jokes that appear when three best friends get together. The beautiful backdrop of Spain inspires some serious #wanderlust in all of us. At the end of the day, the movie celebrates life, love and friendships.

Watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Rang De Basanti (Paint it Saffron)

The color saffron is significant for its use during the Indian Independence Movement. It is one of the three colors on the Indian flag apart from white and green. It also signifies bravery, honor and patriotism. Rang De Basanti is close to my heart because it always inspires a sense of patriotism for my country. The political drama starts off on a lighter note as British film student Sue McKinley comes to New Delhi to film the story of freedom fighters in the Indian Independence struggle. She enlists a group of college students to play historical freedom fighters. The students are carefree and have no real interest in the revolutionaries until they experience a personal tragedy at the hands of the government. Soon, the students become involved in a political upheaval targeting India’s corrupt government and become revolutionaries in their own sense.

Watch on Netflix.

Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India

One of three Hindi movies to have been nominated for an Oscar, Lagaan tells the story of Bhuvan and the inhabitants of Champaner. Set during the British Raj, they must pay the agricultural tax and due to the dry season and failing crops, they have been under duress. During a certain cricket game, Bhuvan belittles the sport and the British company captain overhears him. He challenges Bhuvan to a game of cricket, which if he wins, will lead to them excusing the tax. On losing however, they must pay triple the amount. The gripping narrative about Indian villagers during the British struggle and their attempt at more prosperous days is touching. Lagaan is emotionally gratifying at the end and remains one of my favorite Hindi movies of all time.

Watch on Netflix.

Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (Happiness and Grief)

If you want over-the-top Bollywood, look no further than Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham made under the banner of Dharma films. I watched this movie every Sunday when I was a kid and had a strange obsession with it. I have not watched it for the past 10 years but only because I am saturated with it at this point. I will still recommend it to anyone who wants to try out Bollywood. This is one of the most popular Indian movies of all time and features an ensemble cast of major superstars. Blue blood Rahul falls in love with common girl Anjali and is shunned by his father. Years later, Rahul’s brother Rohan sets out to unite his family. While the melodramatic storyline may not be common to Western viewers, this movie is a typical big-budget blockbuster with grand sets, elaborate dance numbers and extraordinary outfits.

Watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Chak De India (Shine Bright India)

Chak De India was one of the first women-centric sports movies I have ever watched and it has quite an impact on eight-year-old me. The national women’s hockey team is being coached by a disgraced ex-hockey player who was falsely accused of being a traitor. This movie is inspired by the 2002 Commonwealth victory of the actual women’s team. An engaging watch, the movie focuses on the several challenges these women face in getting to the World Cup- from trying to establish a team spirit, to the ever-present sexism in sports. While Shahrukh Khan’s coach Kabir Khan is the center of this movie, the team still receives substantial attention and their issues are empathetically shown. Undertones of religion and the exoticization of northeastern Indians is also briefly addressed in the narrative. It is an entertaining, and finally, gratifying watch for all ages, especially sports lovers.

Recently there have been more women-centric sports movies made in India namely blockbusters Dangal and Mary Kom- both based on real people.

Watch on Amazon Prime.

Raazi (Willing)

Turn on CC subtitles for this trailer.

Spy thrillers are usually enthralling but I often find myself unable to connect with the characters enough to become invested. Raazi was one of those movies where I was extremely emotionally invested in the characters and for this reason, was also tensed as to what might happen next. A young Indian girl is married off to a Pakistani family. The goal? To garner information regarding the Pakistani defense’s move on India before the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 war for Bangladeshi liberation. Sehmat attempts to gather information through her in-laws and husband, who are members of the Pakistani defense while also maintaining her role as a housewife. The gripping story is based on Hanrinder Sikka’s novel Calling Sehmat. The empathetic treatment of all the characters, including the Pakistani side, gives us a very real depiction of war and its impacts on everyone involved.

Watch on Amazon Prime.

Sholay (Embers)

One of the most popular Bollywood movies of all time, Sholay depicts revenge, friendship, love and one of the most iconic Hindi film villains. Jai and Veeru are best friends and a duo of conmen. They are employed by an ex-cop to capture dacoit Gabbar Singh who is terrorising the village. There is drama, action, comedy, romance and tragedy all in Sholay — all hallmarks of an old time Hindi film. A strong storyline and memorable characters come together in this evergreen 70s classic.

Watch on Amazon Prime.

Taare Zameen Par (Like Stars on Earth)

Disabilities are still something people do not like to discuss in society. When Taare Zameen Par came out, discourses about dyslexia and such were still pretty unexplored. Young Ishaan Awasthi struggles with his studies due to dyslexia. He has difficulty with numbers and words but due to embarrassment, passes it off as being careless. His parents send him off to a boarding school because they believe their child has a discipline problem and will fare better in a more structured environment. He struggles dearly while at boarding school due to separation anxiety, especially from his mother and bullying by teachers due to his educational troubles. Then comes Professor Nikumbh, a substitute art teacher. He also works as a special ed teacher for underprivileged kids elsewhere. Nikumbh instantly identifies Ishaan’s struggles and goes on to help the child learn on his terms and through methods more applicable to him. He also sees Ishaan’s inherent creativity and talent in the arts. The movie drives the message that standardized education does not work for everyone and that intelligence measured through traditional methods is not a testament of a child’s abilities. It also throws a spotlight on normalizing disabilities and ending such stigmas.

Watch on Netflix.

Gully Boy (Boy from the Streets)

Turn on CC subtitles for this trailer.

Gully Boy is a dramatised retelling of the real life stories of Indian rappers Divine and Naezy. Murad lives modestly in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, and makes a living as a driver for the privileged. The young boy from the streets, however, harbours a secret desire to become a musician and writes powerful rap songs on the side. One day he comes across MC Sher who inspires him to try and pursue his passion. Pursuing dreams, however, is not as easy for people who belong to the more humble sections of society. Gully Boy is a story of dreams and one man’s journey through disappointments, passions and hope and features an excellent soundtrack originally produced by the streetboys themselves.

Watch on Amazon Prime.

Kahaani (Story)

Pregnant Vidya Bajchi comes to Kolkata to look for her husband Arnab who has gone missing. She enlists the help of local cop Rana in doing so. The electrifying mystery thriller shows us Vidya’s determination to look for her husband culminating in a harrowing plot twist. Kahaani succeeds in keeping you at the edge of your seat until the very end and ends on a shocking note.

Watch on Netflix.

A Wednesday

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A Wednesday is “the story of a common man.” Police commissioner Rathod receives a call from a man who says he has placed five bombs throughout the city of Mumbai. He demands that the militants responsible for the 2006 Mumbai train blasts be freed else he would detonate said bombs. We learn that the man responsible for these threats is working under motives previously unassumed. Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher’s excellent performances and the narrative of the motive places this as our final essential Hindi movie watch.

Watch on Netflix.

About The Author:

Riddhima Dave is a senior journalism student at Emerson College. Originally hailing from Mumbai India, she has previously worked at Harper’s Bazaar India and wants to build a career in multimedia journalism. Along with entertainment, she is interested in social issues, fashion and culture.

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