Netflix has embraced Indian originals this year, giving us hits from varied genres. From the sweet rom-com “Love Per Square Foot” to the thrilling mystery of “Sacred Games” to the spooky “Ghoul,” it’s been a good run so far.
Perhaps it’s because of this, and because of an increasing number of people who are appreciating Indian cinema, Netflix has upped its game when it comes to Bollywood content. Over the last few weeks, the streaming giant has added a whole new slew of films.
We weeded through the long list to pick films that are actually worth watching, so you should add to your queue asap.
1. “Pad Man”
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte, Sonam Kapoor
Based on the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, an Indian activist who introduced low-cost sanitary pads, “Pad Man” is an inspiring tale. It delves into one of India’s most taboo topics; menstruation. Kumar plays a lowly village man Lakshmikant Chauhan, whose inventive mind goes unappreciated by his family. In order to help his wife, who has to use dirty cloth as a pad, he creates cost-effective sanitary napkins. The entire village is disgusted by this and casts him out. Lakshmi doesn’t give up, and this takes him on a journey from his village all the way to the United Nations. Everything about this film is wonderful, from the powerful message it sends to the ace acting by Kumar.
Starring: Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone
Imtiaz Ali is best known for directing modern, complex love stories like “Rockstar” and “Love Aaj Kal.” However, his best film to date, “Tamasha,” is one that is highly underrated. Kapoor and Padukone’s alter egos, Ved and Tara, meet while on vacation and enjoy a fun, carefree week together. This creates a lasting impression in Tara’s mind. A few years later, when she tracks him down, she’s surprised to find he’s just a regular office-goer leading a mundane life. Ved, it turns out, has been burdened by society and family pressures and struggles to let his inner artist out. Ali’s storytelling combined with Kapoor’s excellent performance, an organic love story, and A.R. Rahman‘s musical genius make “Tamasha” a real treat.
3. “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha”
Another Akshay Kumar film, another important subject matter. This time around, it’s the lack of clean toilets in villages. In many rural parts of the country, toilets aren’t created because the older generations believe it to be “unhygienic,” ironically. The women travel to nearby farms to defecate behind bushes. Kumar plays Keshav Sharma, son to the superstitious religious priest who believes toilets cannot be created in a home. After Keshav weds Jaya, she is surprised to learn of the situation. Despite struggling to adjust, she leaves him. It’s here that Keshav bands a team together to fight this ridiculous notion. “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” is not flawless but it packs enough of a gut punch to make it enjoyable.
4. “Rang De Basanti”
Starring: Aamir Khan, Sharman Joshi, Kunal Kapoor, Soha Ali Khan, Siddharth Narayan
A true Bollywood classic, “Rang De Basanti” weaves two wonderful stories together, merging India’s past and present in an emotional way. Documentary filmmaker Sue travels to India to make a film on five Indian freedom fighters: Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ram Prasad Bismil, Shivaram Rajguru, and Ashfaqualla Khan. She seeks help from Sonia (Khan) and her friends, all of whom are students at Delhi University. In the process of making this film, they go through something revolutionary; something that makes them take a stand against the government and fight for justice. Their story parallels those of the characters they’re playing in Sue’s film.
Starring: Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut, Mugdha Ghodse, Arjan Bajwa
This is not an easy film to watch because it dives deep into the nasty world of India’s fashion industry. We mainly see it through the eyes of Meghna Mathur, an ambitious newbie model, and Shonali Gujral, a leading model who suffers from alcoholism and depression. After several tribulations, Meghna finally ascends the charts, becomes a huge success, but in the process, loses herself to fame and fortune. “Fashion” is an eye-opening film which gives literal perspective to the phrase “not all that glitters is gold.” Chopra and Ranaut deliver excellent, probably one of their finest performances in the film.
Starring: Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh, Raghubir Yadav, Paul Blackthorne
A quintessential Bollywood film, “Lagaan” blends India’s love for film and cricket into a 3-hour opus. Set in the late 1800s when the country was in the throes of British colonization, the story revolves around the small town of Champaner, which is facing a bad drought. Due to this, they are unable to farm and pay the impossibly high taxes levied upon them. Khan’s Bhuvan leads the charge and ends up challenging the British officers to a game of cricket, a sport none of the villagers know how to play. If they win, they’ll have 3 tax-free years. In order to band together as a team, they have to overcome their own prejudices. “Lagaan” has some love triangles, monologues, and a climax that’s brimming with intensity. Like I said, quintessential Bollywood.
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Prateik Babbar, Tony Revolori, Smita Tambe
With this film, Director Prashant Nair touches on the subject of why so many Indian migrants consider America to be the land where anything is possible. In the 70s, a village boy named Udai leaves his home to settle in the USA. His mother and younger brother Ramakant wonder why they haven’t heard from him for months after until his letters start pouring in. It’s only when Ramakant becomes older does he learn that Udai actually disappeared after leaving the village and wasn’t the one sending the letters. He travels to Mumbai with the goal of figuring out what exactly happened to his brother. The film is structurally flawed at times but highly relevant nonetheless.
Starring: Vidya Balan, Parambratta Chatterjee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Indraneil Sengupta
If you’re in the mood for a rock solid mystery, “Kahaani” is the way to go. Director Sujoy Ghosh’s unwavering commitment to building up a narrative makes this a film a twisted treat. Balan plays Vidya Bagchi, a pregnant engineer who arrives from London to Kolkata to search for her missing husband. She is aided by a local police officer and an Intelligence Bureau official. Set against the backdrop of the festival of Durga Puja, “Kahaani” will keep you at the edge of yoru seat until the very end.
9. “Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran”
Starring: John Abraham, Diana Penty, Boman Irani, Vikas Kumar
This historical drama tells the fairly unknown story of India’s first successful nuclear bomb tests, conducted in Pokhran, Rajasthan, in 1988. Abraham plays engineer Ashwat Raina, who has drafter a plan on how to carry out these tests. However, his superiors fail to follow this plan and the mission fails, with Ashwat as the scapegoat. Dejected, he becomes a professor and moves his family to the hilltown of Mussoorie. Years later, he gets the chance to finally carry out his plan with support from the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary. The catch is they have to be secretive about their mission because American drones are spying on them constantly. “Parmanu” is just dramatic and emotional enough to keep you intrigued in the plot.