10 Must-watch Bollywood Movies for non-Indians
Bollywood movies are primarily made and produced in the big city of Mumbai, Maharastra India.
The term “Bollywood is a portmanteau (a blend of two words) of the word Bombay and the American film industry, Hollywood.
India has a colourful culture, from different kinds of festivities to all the beautiful varieties of sarees. A non-Indian can easily contemplate all these features through the screen in the comfort of their home.
Moreover, if you are learning Hindi or eager to learn the basics of the language, Bollywood movies are the best tool to start.
Watching them with subtitles, one can learn or improve colloquialism and even slang! Let the curtain rise.
Let’s take a look at 10 must-watch Bollywood movies for non-Indians.
Taj Mahal (1963)
Director: M. Sadiq
Cast: Pradeep Kumar, Bina Rai, Rehman, Veena
Historical movies are a source of knowledge and they shape a spectator’s perspectives of how and what fragments of history were presented.
Although historical movies may not entirely grasp the authenticity of some parts of history, they are worth watching. Taj Mahal is the epitome, the romantic historical fiction based on the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.
The main characters are Shehzada Khurram, known as Shah Jahan (Pradeep Kumar), his wife Mumtaz Mahal nee Arjumand Banoo (Bina Rai), and the Mughal Emperor Jahangir (Rehman).
The first scene starts in Agra Fort, a historical site in the city of Agra, India. Prince Khurram meets Arjumand for the first time at the bazaar. The Prince cannot stop laying his eyes on the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.
Arjumand also falls for him and they become inseparable. However, Emperor Jahangir’s wife, Nur Jahan (Veena) opposes their relationship.
Meanwhile, the love between Arjumand and the Prince grows stronger and stronger throughout their misadventures.
A user on IMDb praises the visual aspects of the movie when reviewing the film:
“Cinematographer S. Balakrishna and art director A.A. Majid have created the aura of the story in such an admirable manner that that centuries-old period appears to have come alive on the screen.
“It’s a visual treat and the complete milieu has been given an authentic touch.”
Although it is a fictional history movie, a non-Indian can grasp the timeline of how one of the seven wonders, the Taj Mahal came to place.
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995)
Director: Aditya Chopra
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Amrish Puri, Parmeet Sethi, Satish Shah
There are romantic comedies that seem to make people cringe. However, this Hindi movie expresses nothing but the power of love, making people fall in love instead.
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge translates in English to ‘The Big-Hearted Will Take The Bride Away’. it is one of the most famous Bollywood movies, which continues to play in Indian cinemas, despite releasing a while back.
The story depicts a pleasant encounter between Raj Malhotra (Shah Rukh Khan) and Simran Singh (Kajol) during a train journey around Europe.
By the time Simran goes back to India for marriage, she only thinks about Raj. He feels the same and wins her heart while impressing the Singh family.
A student from New Delhi, Lubhna Uniyal remembers her favorite dialogue from the film:
“Koi baat nahi Senorita, koi baat nahi bade bade deshon mein aisi choti choti baateinn hoti rehti hai.” (Never mind Senorita, never mind in big places such small things happen).
“This iconic line will always remain in our hearts.”
“Whenever something bad happens and it is not a big deal, and the person involved is worried, this dialogue is used.”
The film is a true lover’s dream, which non-Indian will can relate to. After all, love has no boundaries.
Dil Chahta Hai (2001)
Director: Farhan Akhtar
Cast: Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Akshaye Khanna, Preity Zinta, Sonali Kulkarni, Dimple Kapadia
Bollywood offers many genres of movies, and normally these are integrated into one movie.
In this instance, Dil Chahta Hai, meaning, The Heart Desires, is a rom-com musical. The story wanders around three childhood friends and their lives.
They are Akash Malhotra (Aamir Khan), Sameer Mulchandani (Saif Ali Khan), and Siddharth Sinha (Akshaye Khanna).
After their graduation, they plan a celebration trip to Goa. Then, they promise to come back again but are doubtful if their close-knit bond can last.
Several years pass on, and Sameer falls for Pooja (Sonali Kulkarni) the daughter of his parents’ friend.
Meanwhile, Siddharth takes a chance on Tara Jaiswal (Dimple Kapadia). With Tara being older than him, Siddharth’s family and friends are against his decision.
Akash wanders in Sydney, where he tries to make amends with Shalini (Preity Zinta).
Moreover, the movie includes nine songs that are considered the best soundtracks in contemporary Indian music. The most notable include, ‘Dil Chahta Hai’, ‘Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe’ and ‘Jaane Kyon’.
Swades: We, the People (2004)
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Gayatri Joshi, Kishori Ballal
A narrative that speaks about true events and the love for one’s country. It is a story that immigrants and those with a big heart can relate to.
Swades: We, the People perfectly portrays these aspects. It is a Hindi drama movie set in the United States of America and across remote villages in India.
A Non-Resident Indian (NRI) and Scientist, Mohan Bhargava (Shahrukh Khan) lives in the United States. He feels the urge of going back to his Swades (homeland).
He has intentions to visit his childhood nanny Kaveri Amma (Kishori Ballal) in India. When he arrives in India, he goes to a rest home in Delhi, thinking Kaveri will be there.
Upon arrival, he learns that she has left the rest home to live in Charanpur village. Kaveri resides with Mohan’s childhood friend, Geeta (Gayatri Joshi).
Mohan then heads back for the States before returning to India, helping Geeta to improve the living conditions of the villagers.
An anonymous viewer reviews the film in the Guardian, with simple yet powerful words:
“Superb storytelling, with a contemporary conviction.”
The movie perfectly captures the love Mohan has for India. It is one of those Bollywood movies that even non-Indians can connect with as they too honour their heritage and roots.
Jab We Met (2007)
Director: Imtiaz Ali & Dhilin Mehta
Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor
This movie, teaching you about life and love is a must-watch. Jab We Met (When We Met) is a musical romantic drama that conveys a meaningful message – despite hardships one should enjoy their life.
The first scene opens with a businessman Aditya Kashyap (Shahid Kapoor) carrying a big burden of depression.
He gets on a train leaving behind his job, meeting Geet Kaur Dhillon (Kareena Kapoor) along his journey. She is a goofy, optimistic woman who talks too much.
As the two are left stranded in a town, Aditya’s heart opens up to Geet. However, Geet has a boyfriend and wants Aditya to help them elope.
The scenes are mostly set in the countryside, creating an enchanting and lively atmosphere.
Beatrice Yeboah, a Ghanaian fan from Kumasi, exceedingly compliments this picture, despite, being from Africa. She also sees Geet in herself:
“This movie speaks to me and I am not even Indian. I’m an optimistic and cheerful person, people think I am a bit too much, but I don’t care. Because I am my favourite, as Geet would say.”
A non-Indian must watch this movie as it explores the importance of mental health. This thematic is most likely present in all different cultures across the globe.
3 Idiots (2009)
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Cast: Aamir Khan, Madhavan, Sharman Joshi, Kareena Kapoor, Boman Irani
3 Idiots is amongst the most popular Bollywood movies, featuring three lead characters. It teaches valuable life lessons such as “don’t chase success, chase excellence, and success will follow.”
In addition, the movie ridicules and outlines the social pressures under an Indian education system.
It stars three friends and engineering students. They are Ranchoddas ‘Rancho’ Shyamaldas/Phunsukh Wangdu (Aamir Khan), Farhan Qureshi (Madhavan), and Raju Rastogi (Sharman Joshi).
The story is narrated through flashbacks where Farhan and Raju reminisce their college memories and their friend Rancho.
Pia Sahastrabuddhe (Kareena Kapoor) is also a key character in the film. Daughter of the whimsically evil Dr Viru Sahastrabuddhe/Virus (Boman Irani), she falls for Rancho.
A Chinese fan, Yulin Liu, explains on Quora how she resonates with this film, particularly from an academic perspective
“It is a great movie in itself with its both humorous and touching plot.”
“I remember laughing and crying at the same time when I was watching it. Many students can relate to the movie immensely as both countries have similar education systems due to their huge populations.”
This movie features common themes that a non-Indian may have first-hand experiences like facing similar college or educational issues.
My Name is Khan (2010)
Director: Karan Johar
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol
My Name is Khan is one of the most dramatic Bollywood movies in an American setting.
It centres upon Rizwan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan), an Indian Muslim man with Asperger’s disorder.
The story depicts Rizwan’s life during his childhood and adolescence stages. When he moves to the States, he keeps holding on to a phrase his mom once told him:
“There are only two types of people in the world – good, who do good deeds, and bad, who do the bad deeds.”
Although Rizwan is a well-mannered, good man, he faces discrimination because of his beliefs. On the other hand, people mistreat him because he is different and considered not ‘normal’.
Rizwan meets Mandira Rathore/Khan (Kajol), a divorcee with a son Sameer (Arjun Aujla). Love blossoms between the two, and they decide to tie the knot.
Unfortunately, Rizwan’s life turns upside down after a terrible death of a loved one. Watch the film to see how the story unfolds.
Director: Anurag Basu
Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Ranbir Kapoor, Ileana D’Cruz
Do you have an interest in miming and slapstick acts in movies, especially the comedic ones? If so, Barfi! must be on your list then.
It is a funny, emotional story of Murphy ‘Barfi’ Johnson (Ranbir Kapoor). He is an optimistic, adorable deaf-mute man and a troublemaker.
Darjeeling is the setting for this film. It is a city situated on a narrow mountain ridge of the Sikkim Himalayas, presenting memorable top-notch cinematography.
The movie promotes inspiration and self-acceptance.
The protagonist is not ashamed of his imperfection and clearly shows this throughout the film.
A gorgeous girl, Shruti Ghosh (Ileana D’Cruz) arrives in this city, and her alluring aura catches the eyes of Barfi. Unfortunately, Shruti is engaged and will get married in a few months.
In the course of the story, Shruti gets to know Barfi and she falls for him. However, Barfi meets his childhood friend Jhilmil Chatterjee (Priyanka Chopra) and grows affection for her.
Jhilmil is a wealthy autistic woman, making her an easy target. Thus, she is kidnapped and held up for a ransom. Barfi sets off looking for her while the police are trailing him.
The Lunchbox (2013)
Director: Ritesh Batra
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Nakul Vaid
At times, one does not understand why things happen to them. Things happen in someone’s life without a prediction. Either bad or good, it happens for a reason.
The movie, The Lunchbox vividly and authentically conveys this philosophy. Ila Singh (Nimrat Kaur) is a devoted young wife and mother battling to restore her marriage.
Her husband Rajiv Singh (Nakul Vaid) does not show any affection or attention towards her. Ila tries her best with him by making delicious lunches.
Through dabbawallas (tiffin deliverers), she sends the lunchbox to her husband’s workplace.
However, the lunchbox never reaches her husband but a widower, Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan). Ila then writes a letter explaining it is a mistake.
Thereafter, the exchange of letters with the lunchbox, blossoms into a deep relationship between the two. Ila and Saajan write to each other about the highs and lows of their lives.
The storyline is simple, yet it evokes a great affection by inosculating loneliness with the love of food. A Google reviewer shares their thoughts on the movie, citing it as being different from the norm:
“It was much more than a typical Bollywood drama.”
“This movie is beautiful and you will smile, laugh, feel bad and then again smile.”
The art of exchanging letters has played a major role in history. It was the only way to communicate, and this movie brings back the old-fashioned communication.
Director: Rahi Anil Barve
Cast: Sohum Shah, Jyoti Malshe, Anita Date, Ronjini Chakraborty
The horror genre in Bollywood movies is not taken for granted as they are flawlessly scary. Tumbbad will certainly leave viewers with frighting chills on their skins, giving a real boosting excitement.
The motion picture is a mythological horror thriller set in Tumbbad in the 1920s. It is a mythological story, highlighting the entire universe.
Vinayak Rao (Sohum Shah) tells his son about the myth of a female deity who gave birth to 160 Crore (ten million) children after creating the universe.
He goes on to say that her closest child was her firstborn Hatsar. Then, the story takes us back to the past where Vinayak’s Mother (Jyoti Malshe) idolises Hatsar through a place of worship.
The movie is suspenseful, yet it lures the viewer to investigate the plot to find a conclusion. A user on IMDb summarises the plot of the movie, posting:
“The story is unique, bringing mythology and the moral subject of human greed.”
With excellent storytelling and captivating cinematography, this movie will have a good effect on the audience.
A non-Indian can resonate with each of these Bollywood movies. Even though the language or the diverse culture is different, they deliver valuable life lessons.
We all live under the same sun, after all. Try and watch these films, learning about Indian culture, history, and the region,