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Bollywood: inside India's billion-dollar film industry

Recently updated on July 19th, 2023 at 03:14 pm

If you’re not overly familiar with the big world of Indian cinema, welcome to our guide to Bollywood for beginners.

If you grew up in the west, it could be easy to think that Bollywood is a sub genre of Hollywood or just a term to describe all Indian cinema, but you’d be wrong. The fact is, Bollywood produces around 1000 films every year, which is almost double the output of Hollywood. And Bollywood is just one sector of the Indian film industry.

From the best movies to the best actors, our guide will help you uncover the biggest and best of the Hindi film industry and provide inspiration for your next trip to incredible India.

What is Bollywood?

India is a big country that speaks many languages. Bollywood is the popular nickname given to mainstream Hindi-language films. Mostly based out of Mumbai, every year Bollywood creates at least 800 films and sells four billion tickets. Yes, four billion! And this is only a small part of the larger Indian film industry. 

When you think of Bollywood, you probably think of dancing and cheesy plotlines. Maybe music, romance, song, drama, comedy and action too, or all of the above! Historically the genre has been focused on family-friendly fun with elaborate dance scenes and plenty of songs. Each film plot has a heroic storyline with a love interest to create plenty of drama. More recently though, the genre has stepped things up with stronger themes and less predictable plotlines while staying true to its roots. 

Where to watch Bollywood movies?

Hit the search bar in Netflix and you’ll be surprised by just how many titles are there ready to watch. Of course it depends on your location, but some amazing films are available on the streaming platform, or you could try Amazon Prime (which even has an add-on channel called Heera with the best Bollywood movies). Or you can rent titles from iTunes or Amazon.

Hindi films are also often show at big cinema chains. While they might not have the long seasons and big posters of a Hollywood blockbuster, read between the lines and you will likely spot Bollywood movies showing a few sessions for a week or two at your local cinema. 

RELATED CONTENT: 9 reasons why you’ll fall in love with the culture in India

Which Bollywood movies should I watch?

With so many titles released each year it can be hard to know where to start. This is Bollywood for beginners so let’s start with the best Bollywood movies since 2000. 

The highest grossing film

The biggest grossing Bollywood film ever was created in 2016 and is called Dangal. The story is a biopic of Mahavir Singh Phogat, a former wrestler who taught his daughters the sport too. One went on to become India’s first female wrestlers to win at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Anything with an unusual plot

Another flick called 3 Idiots was the most successful Bollywood film of 2009. The movie highlights the struggles of a strict education system in India, gender roles and the resulting consequences. It’s also worth watching other movies by lead actor Aamir Khan.

Aamir Khan also starred in the top 2014 Bollywood movie, PK. In the quirky film he plays an alien who lands in India to look at religious tension. 

Yes, some plots are quite unusual with interesting lead characters. Crime-thriller Kahaani (2012) features a pregnant woman as the central character, and the same year English Vinglish was released, which follows a middle-aged mum who rediscovers herself through learning English.

Films with Shah Rukh Khan

Bollywood’s most respected director Yash Chopra, released Veer-Zaara in 2004 with actor Shah Rukh Khan playing an Indian Hindu that falls in love with a Pakistani Muslim (Preity Zinta). The hit includes progressive political and social themes around Indo-Pak unity, women’s rights, justice and hope. Khan has appeared in more than 80 films, making him a great actor to follow in our Bollywood for beginners guide.

Khan and also stars in the 2013 hit Chennai Express, Swades (2004), Dilwale (2015), and Kal Ho Naa Ho. The last one is a favourite from 2003 known for its humour, great songs, family drama and plot twists.

Lastly, don’t miss Dhoom, Bollywood’s most successful modern franchise that started in 2004. It kicked off in Mumbai where a sophisticated gang of robbers on motorcycles are sweeping through the city. A humble police officer ropes in a local mechanic to help solve the case. This is Bollywood cops and robbers.

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Who are the best Bollywood actors?

Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan are three names that you’ll see popping up again and again. Yes, Bollywood is ruled by three Khans. Another very famous Bollywood actor is Akshay Kumar, who is also skilled at martial arts.

As for actresses, the current favourites are Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, Shraddha Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor Khan, who has plenty of titles out there after nearly two decades in Bollywood. 

And that was our Bollywood for beginners guide. Now that you have an idea about the best Bollywood movies, which film will you watch first? Let us know in the comments…

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