Friday, November 27, 2009

Favorite Bollywood films of the 2000s

In response to theBollywoodFan's list of his favorite films of the 2000s, I offer my own selections for the past decade.

Five favorite Bollywood films, plus one ringer (in chronological order, and yes, five out of the six feature Shah Rukh Khan):

Devdas (2002): Sanjay Leela Bhansali's retelling of the tragic loves of Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan), his childhood sweetheart Paro (Aishwarya Rai) and the courtesan Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) is one of the most sumptuous movies ever filmed. Madhuri Dixit's dances are highlights, but all of the songs are integrated into the story with unusual care.

Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003): Three friends (SRK, Saif Ali Khan, and Preity Zinta) learn about laughter, life and love in modern-day New York--but one of them is concealing a tragic secret. Karan Johar's tightly structured script, director Nikhil Advani's razor-sharp direction and the excellent performances of the cast are what made this the film that hooked us on Bollywood.

Veer-Zaara (2004): Veer, an Indian man (SRK) and Zaara, a Pakistani woman (Preity Zinta) meet and fall in love, but are separated for years by the political divisions between their countries. The lush, evocative score by the late Madan Mohan perfectly matches the sweeping emotions of Yash Chopra's love story.

Water (2005): The ringer, since this isn't really a Bollywood (or even Indian) film. But director/writer Deepa Mehta's story of an impossible love between a student (John Abraham) and a young widow (Lisa Ray) in pre-independence India is highly compelling, and both principals offer excellent performances.

Paheli (2005): A feminist retelling of a puppet-theater folk tale in which a neglected wife (Rani Mukherjee) finds emotional and erotic fulfillment with a spirit who takes the form of her absent husband (SRK). So gorgeously shot by director Amol Palekar and cinematographer Ravi Chandran that we forgive them for Shah Rukh's unflattering moustache.

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006): A brave experiment, in which director/writer Karan Johar tells the story of the disintegration of two mismatched couples (SRK & Preity, Abhishek Bachchan & Rani). No heroes and no villains, just complex, largely believable characters caught up in an emotional maelstrom. Abhishek's best performance to date, I think.

Six films that were worthy contenders for the favorites list, plus one ringer:

Kandukondain Kandukondain (2000): It's a Tamil (Kollywood) rather than Hindi (Bollywood) movie, I know, but I wanted to include this contemporary version of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility because it's so charming. A great story (of course) and wonderful performances by Aishwarya Rai and Tabu as the Marianne and Elinor characters.

Dil Chahta Hai (2001): The story of three young men (Akshaye Khanna, Saif Ali Khan and Aamir Khan) and their romantic involvements with three women (Dimple Kapadia, Sonali Kulkarni and Preity Zinta), this film was a major milestone for its youthful director/writer Farhan Akhtar and for many of its cast members.

Hum Tum (2004): Great chemistry in this romantic comedy between Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee. Unfortunately, the success of this one gave us the inferior Ta Ra Rum Pum (2007) and Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic (2008) (both on the List of Shame below).

Swades (2004): SRK is a NASA engineer who returns to India to bring his ayah back to the States, only to get caught up in trying to solve the problems besetting her village. Whatever happened to the lovely Gayatri Joshi, SRK's love interest in this one?

Black (2005): Yes, it's a remake of The Miracle Worker (1962), but when Amitabh Bachchan as the teacher and Rani as his reluctant student do such fine work, what does it matter?

Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006): The charming story of a gangster boss (Sanjay Dutt at his most appealing) who holds imaginary conversations with Gandhi, takes a vow of nonviolence and, together with his uncomprehending sidekick Circuit (Arshad Warshi), stands up for the residents of an old-age home. A prime candidate for an introductory film for Bollywood neophytes.

Om Shanti Om (2007): SRK and the appealing Ritesh Deshmukh Shreyas Talpade are especially good in the first half as scrounging "junior artistes" in 1970s Bollywood. The modern-day second half with SRK doing a self-parody as the superstar Om Kapoor doesn't hold up quite as well, but the film is an affectionate, tongue-in-cheek valentine to past and present Bollywood.

Seven films for which I have an inexplicable affection, even though they're all flawed in various ways:

Dil Hai Tumhaara (2002): In many ways this isn't a very good film--but the performances by Preity Zinta as an illegitimate daughter and by Rekha as her embittered stepmother make it compelling anyway. If you can stop watching during the final hour, you're made of sterner stuff than I am.

Munna Bhai MBBS (2003): Sanjay Dutt's second outing as the good-hearted gangster Munna finds the big galoot attending medical school. Some of the humor is predictable or strained, but Sanjay's a delight throughout.

Koi..Mil Gaya (2003): Affecting performances by Hrithik Roshan and the ever-lovely Preity Zinta make this remake of E.T. (1982) surprisingly endearing.

Chori Chori (2003): Add this one to the growing "actors transcending their material" pile. Rani is adorable as Khushi, a woman who is scamming her way through life when she encounters Ranbir (Ajay Devgan), an architect who is stalled both professionally and personally. Of course, we know where this is going long before the characters do, but it's still enjoyable to watch Rani get there.

Vivah (2006): Yes, director Sooraj Barjatya's story of the "journey from engagement to marriage" of the young, beautiful and well-to-do Prem (Shahid Kapoor) and Poonam (Amrita Rao) is lovely, but slow-moving and sentimental. And your point is...?

Aaja Nachle (2007): Madhuri Dixit's return to Bollywood, if not quite to Devdas-level dancing form, transcends its "let's put on a show" formula thanks to her engaging performance.

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008): OK, the premise stretches credulity past the breaking point. But SRK's performance in a dual role (especially as the introverted Suri) is delightful, and the number "Phir Milenge" brilliantly pays homage to Bollywood's Golden and Silver Ages.

Finally, ten movies that range from disappointing to flat-out awful (you get to decide which movie falls under which category):

Kaho Naa...Pyar Hai (2000)
Yaadein (2001)
Shakti: The Power (2002)
Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (2003)
Ta Ra Rum Pum (2007)
Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007)
Saawariya (2007) (Rani's sequences excepted)
Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic (2008)
U Me aur Hum (2008)
Chandni Chowk to China (2009)


  1. Came to your post via TBF. Good post and list of movies. Your list matches mine (though I don't have a formal one via blog or anything like that). The only exception was Devdas. I liked parts of it and the songs but found it OTT in some aspects. Also, I saw Vivah on the big screen - found it very boring - slow moving - typical Barjatya style with the movie picking up only in the last 20 mins. I found it a Yawn.

  2. Filmbuff, many thanks for your comments!

    For me, one of the things that makes Bhansali's Devdas work is its larger-than-life quality--everything (the sets, the costumes, the emotions) is more vivid than reality. I can see, though, why you might consider it to be too much. Which might be the response of many people to my SRK-centric favorites list in general.

    And yes, Vivah is essentially without drama for its first two hours or so. But I liked its low-key way of unfolding Prem and Poonam's developing feelings--the scene of their first meeting, for example, or their later "secret" rendezvous on the rooftop (that everyone in both families is conspiring to allow), are filled with amusing and touching details. But for sure, I can see that it wouldn't be to everyone's taste (and a couple of Madhuri Dixit's dance numbers aside, I'm certainly no fan of Barjatya's earlier Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! (1994)).

    Thanks again for your response!

  3. yeah Hum Aapke Hain Koun is another movie I did not like at all. I remember watching that movie on the DVD and fast forwarding songs that were coming one after the other wondering when this movie is really going to pick up until I realised that the movie is only a sequence of songs! I think I must be the only other person in blogland not liking this movie!

    BTW, I do like the SRK movies you have listed.

  4. Cool list you've got here, Pessimisissimo. You know of my list, of course (and thanks for the link!). From your top 5, I like the inclusion of Water and Veer-Zaara, which is the other SRK film I almost included in my list. Didn't enjoy Kal Ho Naa Ho much at all...ironically, the other SRK film from the decade I enjoyed considerably more was K3G :)

    I had no idea Black was not original, found it very moving (difficult not to, parts of it weren't kind to children at all). Enjoyed Om Shanti Om quite a bit, thought Shreyas Talpade and SRK did really well together.

    Gayatri Joshi was fantastic in Swades (I joke about her example being a big reason for why I'm single :D). Think she's been away because she married right after. And the rest is pretty easy to guess.

    Also like the idea of the flat-out awful films from the decade. Sadly, we'd probably remember more than 100 from the decade right away. But hey, they're what make the good ones look good! :)


  5. Filmbuff, you're right that you have to dig around a bit to find other Bollybloggers who have gone public with their skepticism about HAHK, but they're out there--for example, Beth Loves Bollywood. HAHK makes me really wary of Barjatya's Hum Saath-Saath Hain (1999), too.

    So I'm not sure why I enjoyed Vivah so much, except that I found the low-key script to be convincing, and Shahid Kapoor and Amrita Rao very appealing as the young people finding their way from attraction to love. I've also got a weak spot for movies that feature Alok Nath as a wise, kindhearted dad.

    Which is his role in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001), too--but somehow K3G didn't make my list of favorites or worthies. BollywoodFan, I understand why you (and most right-thinking people, probably) prefer K3G to KHNH. But despite the great cast and the excellent dance numbers, something about K3G leaves me a bit cold.

    It's not how glossy or emotionally manipulative it is--that's just part of the package. I think it's that Amitabh is playing the stern, angry dad, and it takes the whole movie to get him to unbend a little. Should it really take a decade for someone to come to terms with having Kajol as a daughter-in-law? (This was my problem with Mohabbatein (2000) as well--you'd think family estrangement, suicide, etc. might get this character to re-examine his self-righteous anger.)

    Also, Kareena's improved a bit, but early in her career I didn't find her to be a very convincing actress or a very good dancer. When SRK and Kajol virtually disappear and the focus switches to Hrithik and Kareena in the second half, I find my interest waning.

    All that said, I own K3G (of course--it features SRK and Kajol), I've recommended it to people looking for mainstream Bollywood entertainment, and I play the songs fairly frequently. But I couldn't quite bring myself to put it on my list of favorites.

    BollywoodFan, I also notice that you forbore to comment on the absence of both Lagaan and Rang de Basanti from my lists--perhaps that will be the subject of another post...

    Many thanks for your comment, and for the idea that inspired the post!

  6. I am so glad to see Paheli made it to your list - I LOVE the folk-tale aspects and all the pretty in it (and Rani+SRK). Hum Tum and Lage Raho Munna Bhai are two others that would definitely make my list, if I can ever narrow it down to 10 or even 12 movies from a whole decade! I think this decade has marked a significant change in Bollywood with more experimentation in main-stream masala (as opposed to more parallel cinema experiments in earlier decades) and much more feminist characters coming up in films compared to earlier decades. Some very fine films have been made (and no, I dont mean KJo/Bhansali films!) - so its a very tough choice to make. :-)

    By the way, your review of Vivah encouraged me to watch it and I was surprised to find myself liking it, too! This, from someone who has never been able to watch HAHK inspite of loving Madhuri to bits.

  7. Hi - I just found your blog from a link off Beth from Bollywood. Interesting picks on your list - I heartily agree with some (nice to see some love for RNBDJ - sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who likes that movies) and heartily disagree with others!

    Just a note for you: it was Shreyas Talpade who played SRK's sidekick in Om Shanti Om, not Riteish D :)

  8. Bollyviewer, I'd love to see your favorites list--I'm sure you'll point out some excellent films that I've overlooked. And I'm very glad that you also liked Vivah (but you're right to continue to avoid HAHK).

    Ness, thanks to you and theBollywoodFan for correcting my misidentification of SRK's buddy in Om Shanti Om. Of course it's Shreyas Talpade, and I've made the correction above. (I've seen the film a half-dozen times, but apparently didn't manage to read the credits even once).

    Thanks too for your comment about RNBDJ--I'm glad to find another fan (Memsaab is another one). And I'd be happy to hear about your disagreements with my list as well--I'm under no illusion that my tastes are universal or even, as I suggest in the subtitle of this blog, defensible.

  9. Heh well since you asked...(lol) I haven't seen all of the films on your list but a few of them are in my must watch soon pile! I agree with your top six except for Paheli - I thought Paheli was beautiful visually but I had issues with the so-called "feminist aspects' of the story - maybe I need to give it another go though!

    LOVE the inclusion of KANK on the list - I know there are some haters out there but I thought this movie was FANTASTIC, thematically, visually, and beautiful performances from everyone (and you're so right about Abhishek)!

    Big disagreements with JBJ being termed disappointing to flat-out awful - I'm in the group of people who has much affection for the zany weirdness of this movie (and Abhi as Ricky OH HE'S SO GOOD!) and also Aaja Nachle as being termed anything OTHER than flat out awful. That movie was one big mediocre suckfest, just a BAD film, covered by the fact it was Madhuri's comeback and she danced a lot so no-one noticed the complete lack of anything resembling a decent story/script.

    Now I am gonna investigate your blog further!

  10. Ness, thanks for giving some more details on your agreements and disagreements with my list.

    About JBJ, you can read more about my objections at my post on the movie. I know the film has its fans, but what I couldn't forgive were the lame dance numbers. "Ticket to Bollywood," "Kiss of Love," and the horrible dance competition (of the four principals, only Preity can actually dance) just threw the contrivances of the script into stark relief. I'm a huge Preity Zinta fan, and Abhi was pretty charming in this one...but it wasn't enough to make up for the inane dialogue and situations concocted by the scriptwriter.

    As for Aaja Nachle, I understand your dismissal, but I don't share it. Akshaye's devilishly attractive and self-aware "villain" and Madhuri's brilliant smile went a long way towards counterbalancing the cliche-ridden script. There's also the presence of Exotic and Irrational favorites Konkarna Sen Sharma, Kunal Kapoor and Irrfan Khan. But the movie really transcends its formula during the staging of the show--the haunting, minor key "Yeh Ishq Ishq Hai" is a mesmerising retelling of the Laila-Majnu story: (The story should be pretty clear even without subtitles.)

    Thanks again for your perspective!

  11. (Sorry to be so late to the game on your post!)

    It never fails to amaze me that people's tastes can be so different - you and I have had some great conversations about films over the years (plural! yikes we're old!) but our lists are SO different. And as I read, I realize that it's your "flawed but I love them" list where we really learn more about you as a viewer :) Maybe once 2010 rolls around and the 0X years are really done, we can get a massive blog thing going of people talking about THOSE. Explaining a love of the non-obvious or non-easy is way more fun.

  12. Beth, some people find enjoyment of Devdas, KHNH or KANK to be non-obvious, too :).

    I did want to be honest about the films I most enjoyed, even if almost no one else (apart from my SRK-fangirl partner) would include all of them on their favorites list. One of the humbling lessons of making my opinions public is that I've learned that people I respect can disagree with them so profoundly. On the other hand, like you I'm fascinated by the differences.

    It is the "flawed but I love them" films that are the most fun to write about. And yes, they are revealing--at least, of my hitherto-deniable mile-wide sentimental streak...:).

    I'd love to see your list of favorites (and your list of FBILT films)--have I missed something, or have you not yet posted it?

    Thanks for your comment!

  13. No, I haven't posted such a thing. This is partly because I spend so much of my mental energy in the 60s-early 80s that it didn't even register on me that a decade was coming to a close - and partly because I'm not sure I've seen enough films of the 2000s to really make a list, you know? If I did a favorites list, it'd most likely be by some other criterion, like director, theme, Maa characters, etc. so that I could have more meaningful choices.

    I just paused in writing this to see if I could easily figure out how many films of the 2000s I have seen. Apparently it's about 130 (rough count based on my index, since I'm at work and can't access my database) (yes, dork, but you understand, fellow library person!). Sooo...maybe that's enough to have a good sampling for a list (even though it's small in proportion to the output of Hindi cinema), but maybe 13.5 films per year on average is NOT enough. I don't know.

  14. I agree with you about "Konkarna Sen Sharma, Kunal Kapoor and Irrfan Khan". Have you seen Konkana in the recent movie "Wake up Sid"? She was very good as expected. I have seen most of her movies except Page 3 and Traffic Signal (was she in it? - dunno)

  15. Beth, according to my own database (of course I also have one, though I've probably forgotten to record some films) we've only seen 85 films from the 2000s--but I didn't let an even smaller sample size stop me! :) Of course, I don't make any claims for the films on my favorites list other than my own enjoyment.

    I think any survey of the films you've seen from the 2000s (however you decided to organize it) would be really interesting. So while I respect your hesitation, I hope you'll decide to write about what you enjoyed (and didn't) from the past decade.



  16. Filmbuff, I share your appreciation of Konkarna Sen Sharma. I haven't yet seen Wake Up Sid or the other two films you mention, but just based on her presence in the cast (and she is in Traffic Signal, at least according to the IMDB) I'd say they're probably worth seeing.

  17. "Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna" is my very favorite movie of the decade. "Black" is amazing (Rani is spectacular)and "Aaja Nachle" was wrongfully panned by critics - it's a well done very enjoyable movie. I also like "Guru", "Devdas", "Dhoom 2", and am I the only person that really enjoyed "Saawariya"??
    "Drona" gets my vote for worst movie....I love Abhishek but I couldn't even finish the movie it was so awful...

  18. Jade, thanks for responding, and for listing some of your own favorites. I'm not sure whether you're the only person who enjoyed Saawariya (I enjoyed the parts featuring Rani, at least), but it seems the entire world shares your disdain for Drona. I haven't seen the movie myself and after your warning don't plan to, so I can't really comment. But the IMDB user comments for the movie make it sound painfully bad...

  19. Hey, just came across your list. Some great choices there. I created a similar list over at my blog

    Let me know what you think!

  20. Sid, I liked your list, and your analysis of why the sort of gritty urban dramas that populate it were made by mainstream directors and studios. I will say that I don't find most self-consciously gritty dramas to be any more "realistic" than, say, a movie like Vivah--they just employ a different set of movie conventions. a Metro, on your honorable mention list, for example, is practically a scene-by-scene remake of Billy Wilder's The Apartment, and still invokes, rather than critiques, the double standard about men's and women's infidelity.

    Life a Metro does, though, feature Konkarna Sen Sharma, as do Mr. and Mrs. Iyer and Luck By Chance, which both made your Top Ten. It's nice to see her generally excellent work receive recognition.

    I also liked that you pointed to the positive aspects of international influence on Indian cinema. I've been bemoaning the Hollywoodization of Hindi movies, whether done poorly (Chandni Chowk to China) or well (Taare Zameen Par, which I hope to write about soon). But you point out that it's not just Disney, but visual stylists like Wong Kar-Wai that Indian filmmakers are currently drawing inspiration from. So international influence doesn't only lead to blandness (and the influence is not only in one direction, as the song-and-dance sequence in a movie like (500) Days of Summer (2009) shows).

    Thanks for your comment, and your thought-provoking list!