For time immemorial, Bollywood and Hindi films have been accused of plagiarizing content – be it the entire story, dialogues, music or the latest of them all – movie posters. The past decade has seen a drastic improvement in the quality of content that Bollywood has delivered despite not having a humongous budget or a stellar star cast for that matter. Actors like Rajkummar Rao, Ranveer Singh, Ayushmann Khurrana are household names now, thanks to the shoestring budget good quality movies they have acted in.
India is the largest producer of movies in the world, but still generates far less revenue from movies alone, thanks to the dearth of outreach and the compromise in quality of content. Though Bollywood has more than 30 regional film industries, all producing movies in different languages, yet, India isn’t as prominent on the world cinema stage as it should be – at least in terms of recognition. Bollywood may still have a long way to go before it is compared with the likes of Hollywood films.
Off late, Netflix has been silently adding good quality Bollywood movies – movies that will make you cry, swoon or laugh out loud, thanks to the catchy dialogues, defining music or rib-tickling humour. Although the collection on Netflix cannot be called as “exhaustive” right now, it still is pretty comprehensive in terms of its spread. Here’s a list of what we think are the best Hindi films on Netflix that are available to stream right now. You can watch several of these Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime or Hulu.
29. Fandry (2013)
Love. Without a thought of colour, caste, creed or society. That simply is the nucleus of this 2013 film directed by Nagraj Manjule who later rose to fame with the enormously successful ‘Sairat’ (the absence of which from this list is sure to get me death threats!) Jabya lives on the fringes of the village with parents who do menial jobs. He falls head-over-heels for Shalu, whose parents are saving money to get her married. But their financial gap isn’t the only problem; Jabya is a Dalit whereas Shalu belongs to an upper caste. the failure of Jabya’s innocent attempts to woo Shalu, while being oppressed and humiliated by the society (who call him ‘Fandry’ or a pig), make him reach a boiling point of exasperation post which he hurls a stone at one of the perpetrators, but the stone is shown hurling towards the audience as credits roll, as we are the true perpetrators of the caste system still lurking in our lives. A hard-hitting statement.
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28. Music Teacher (2019)
Co-written and directed by Sarthak Dasgupta, ‘Music Teacher’ has slight influences of films like ‘A Star Is Born‘. The protagonist of the story is a small-town music teacher, Beni, who once had aspirations to be a famous musician, but his dreams never managed to see the light of the day. Now he suffers from despair and a feeling of hopelessness. This unhappiness within him is triggered further when his former student Jyotsna, with whom he shared a romantic affiliation as well, comes back to town. She is a well-known musician, and her success constantly reminds our leading character of his failure. There is another female character in the film, Geeta, with whom Beni gets to share all the troubles of his heart. The film subtly explores life in small-town India, and how economic instability and responsibilities sometimes kill the dreams of many talented individuals.
27. Upstarts (2019)
An indie drama with mostly unknown actors, ‘Upstarts’ is a film about three college students, Kapil, Yash and Vinay, who create a startup without putting much thought into the project. Kapil comes up with the idea of creating a company which would supply medicines, and a rich businessman shows interest in it. It is with the latter’s investment that they start turning their idea into a reality. Soon enough the company flourishes, but the three friends have a high price to pay because of the same. Their interpersonal relationships go through various changes, and the three close friends grow apart from each other. The film does not only deal with struggles of running a startup, but also of the several challenges modern, city-bred youth face in the world. Each of the four friends’ characters is written with a lot of nuances and thus they appears to be very real and relatable.
26. Masaan (2015)
‘Masaan’, which recently won two prestigious awards at Cannes, is a bold debut from Neeraj Ghaywan who assisted Anurag Kashyap on ‘Gangs of Wasseypur.’ Ghaywan takes a narrative that could have turned out trite and infuses it with freshness and originality. The film draws the audience in and compels us to care about its characters as they experience love, loss, grief and hope. What is special about ‘Masaan’ is its lyrical quality; everything is understated, yet the film is replete with memorable moments. There are gut-wrenching moments as well as wonderfully relatable, humorous moments.
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25. Rajma Chawal (2018)
In this day and age of social media, it is increasingly becoming hard for parents to reconnect with their children. This is the exact situation that Raj Mathur is going through after the death of his wife. His son Kabir is upset with him for moving away from New Delhi, and with every passing day, the father and son duo keeping growing further apart. Raj decides that he can reconnect with his son using social media, and goes on to do exactly that. He pretends to be a girl called Tara and connects with his son on Facebook. Meanwhile, there is one particular girl whom Kabir presumes to be Tara. Will the relationship between the father and the son shatter if he comes to know what his father has been upto? ‘Rajma Chawal’ is a comedy with a heart. There are characters you will be familiar with if you have ever been around New Delhi or Chandni Chowk. However, the performances here are a bit too loud and the humor also becomes quite slapstick at certain places. A more balanced script could have done the story some justice.
24. OMG: Oh My God! (2012)
A movie that rightfully challenged the various preconceptions surrounding religion, blind worshipping and beliefs that are wrongfully carried on even by professional companies, ‘OMG: Oh My God!’ was a game-changer and an audacious attempt to speak boldly against those naysayers. The movie is the narrative of Kanji Lal Mehta, a staunch atheist and a seller of idols of Gods and Goddesses in an antiques’ shop in Mumbai. While his family is a believer, he is of the opinion that God doesn’t exist the way we believe him to be. After a low-intensity earthquake strikes Mumbai and his shop is destroyed, he heads to the insurance company to claim for his losses, but is denied stating that an earthquake is an “Act of God”. Mehta then goes against everyone and “sues” God, because he doesn’t believe in one. A defining satire, ‘OMG: Oh My God!’ has Paresh Rawal playing Mehta and Akshaye Kumar playing Lord Krishna. A must watch!
23. Special 26 (2013)
This Indian heist crime thriller by Neeraj Pandey was a beginning of sorts of a fruitful cinematic association between Pandey and Akshay Kumar. They are very often referred to as the Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio of India by their hardcore fans. The film was unique in the sense that it had a very indigenous feel to it as it was inspired by the 1987 Opera House heist in Mumbai where a group of fraudsters masquerading as CBI officers executed an income tax raid on a jewelry shop. It had everything that you look for in a heist thriller – a tight narrative, clever twists and turns and plenty of cat and mouse chase. Only an unnecessary love story added to the story slows down the pace of the narrative.
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22. Ugly (2013)
The best part of this gripping, dark thriller – when Chaitanya and Rahul head to the police station to file a complaint about the latter’s missing daughter and a shrewd, corrupt police station in-charge inspector Jadhav makes allegations on them and questions them of their negligence while learning to take selfies on a phone. A speck of realism I must say. ‘Ugly’ begins with a sullen housewife, who is unhappy with her current marriage with Shoumik Bose, the police chief, and has a 10-year-old daughter Kali with her previous husband, a struggling actor Rahul. Rahul is taking Kali along with him, while he stops at his friend Chaitanya’s place for a work-related appointment. Kali is abducted and there begins a gripping narrative on who took Kali, with everyone having a dark, inexplicable motive of their own. ‘Ugly’ might have been an average hit by box office numbers, but in my opinion, it is one of the best works of Anurag Kashyap to date.
21. Highway (2014)
What happens when a rich girl is abducted a day before her wedding? If it were a regular movie, we need not even think of the consequences. ‘Highway’ begins with Veera, the daughter of a rich businessman, who is abducted from a petrol pump a day before her wedding while her fiance does nothing. One of her captors is Mahabir, who keeps moving from one city to another to avoid detection by the police. Veera initially doesn’t like this newfound life of hers, but soon gets used to it and realises one of her lesser dreams of living at a hilltop, away from all hassles. She then reveals to Mahabir how she was abused by her own uncle when she was nine and hence finds solace in this newfound freedom. When police raid their house and shoot Mahabir, Veera breaks down in front of her family and uncle – perhaps one of the emotionally touching moments of the film. ‘Highway’ was a sleeper hit and boasts of a remarkable performance by Alia Bhatt.
20. Guru (2007)
I personally think this is one of the best works of Mani Ratnam in the Hindi language, featuring Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in lead roles. The movie is the narrative of Gurukant Desai a.k.a. ‘Guru’ – a young lad from Gujarat in the ’50s, who goes to Turkey and earns big, comes back and dreams of commencing his own business, in spite of his father’s resentment. Once back to India, he gets initial support from Manik Dasgupta, the publisher of a newspaper “Swatantra” and his granddaughter – a wheelchair-ridden Meenu. Enter Shyam Saxena (R. Madhavan) who vows to break Guru and his lies down, something that has a critical response from Guru’s supporters and his wife, now that he’s a well-established businessman. The movie was a massive commercial and critical hit, with commendable performances from Mr. and Mrs. Bachchan.
19. Soni (2018)
It can be said without a doubt that new doors have surely been opened since Netflix started producing content in India. The country has never been known for producing many gripping crime thrillers, but ‘Soni’ is a film that might change the scenario. The film is a rather grim look at the state of lawlessness that prevails in India when it comes to influential people or even their acquaintances. The eponymous central character is a hot-headed police officer who is honest and sincere about her duty. But her honesty is not rewarded by her seniors, and instead, it becomes a hindrance in her career. The performances and direction of the film are quite impressive. But it must be pointed out that the writing misses a certain spark and sometimes becomes too documentary-esque. If the characters were written with some more nuance and depth, the film would’ve been even better than what it is.
18. Tanu Weds Manu (2011)
More than the first instalment, the second one made more news and minted more money. Regardless, speaking of the best Bollywood flicks on Netflix, ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ is the story of Tanuja Trivedi and Manoj Sharma. While Tanu is a happy-go-lucky girl living in Kanpur, Manu is an NRI doctor who is on the prowl for an Indian bride. The duo meets with the help of Pappi, Manu’s friend and despite Tanu’s initial resentment for an arranged marriage, they happen to fall for each other. A lot of other supporting characters play their part well, including the likes of Jimmy Shergill as Raja Awasthi who wants to marry Tanu at any cost, Swara Bhaskar as Payal, Jassi’s bride to be and Tanu’s friend and Jassi, Manu’s friend. ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ received accolades for powerful performances and rib-tickling humour.
17. Dangal (2016)
This Aamir Khan featurette was one emotional tale of a father-daughter duo, loosely based on the life of Indian wrestling champion Mahavir Singh Phogat from Haryana and his daughters Geeta and Babita. The film portrays Aamir as the strict father, who once aspired to win a gold medal for his country but failed due to family responsibilities, and how he later materialized his dream by training his daughters in the sport. The film was a smash hit and debutantes Fatima Sana Sheikh, Sanya Malhotra, Zaira Wasim, and Suhani Bhatnagar, all of whom earned praises for their respective roles.
16. Dev D (2009)
Perhaps one of the first commercial successes of Anurag Kashyap as a director, ‘Dev D’ is simply the modern-day retelling of ‘Devdas’ – the classic novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Paro and Dev are childhood sweethearts, while Paro belongs to a middle-class family, Dev is the spoilt brat of a rich businessman. Dev heads to London to complete his studies and comes back arrogant and egotistical. He starts doubting Paro’s fidelity towards him and Paro agrees to marry another man of her parent’s choice. A tormented Dev then finds his solace in Chanda, a student-turned-prostitute. The audacious visuals and an experimental style of filmmaking earned ‘Dev D’ many accolades and remain to be the choice if you’re looking for romance, drama and emotions in a single film.
15. Kahaani (2012)
One of the best thrillers of recent times, ‘Kahaani’ is a one-woman story revolving around Vidya Bagchi, a pregnant lady who has arrived in Kolkata and looking for her missing husband. She claims to have arrived from London in search of her husband Arnab who came to the city on an NDC (National Data Center) assignment. The course of events takes place after a vicious poisonous gas attack in Kolkata Metro, killing all the passengers onboard. Little did the police and the Intelligence Bureau officials had known that Vidya is one of them and is looking to seek vengeance for her now deceased husband. ‘Kahaani’ is a simple narrative complicated by compelling storytelling and a power-packed performance by Vidya Balan who is the core of the story.
14. Lust Stories (2018)
‘Lust Stories‘ is an anthology film comprising of four shorts, each made by a different director. The four filmmakers who came together for this project are among the biggest names in the Hindi film industry- Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, and Dibakar Banerjee. Each story deals with sexual and romantic desires in one form or another. The first film by Kashyap tells the story of a sexual relationship that forms between a teacher and a student. While the former takes it as nothing more than quenching one’s needs for sex, the latter falls in love and creates a mess of the entire situation. The second story, by Banerjee, depicts a love triangle with all the complexities and insecurities that come with middle age. Akhtar captures undercurrents of sexuality in the third story shot entirely in a small apartment, where a maid who has a passionate sexual relationship with the owner of the house serves tea and snacks to his fiancee’s parents. Last but not the least, Johar breaks out of his melodramatic zone and tells a story of a newly-wed bride’s sexual desires in a conservative Indian family. All four stories are fresh, modern, and have quirks of their own. The film wonderfully shows how Indian filmmakers can flourish if the production houses and distributors give them that breathing space.
13. Taare Zameen Par (2007)
No other movie in this list is as emotionally asking as is ‘Taare Zameen Par’. Directed by Aamir Khan and featuring Darsheel Safary as Ishaan Awasthi in a leading role, the movie is the narrative of an eight-year-old who despises school and studies and everything else his overbearing parents ask him to. Except for the fact that he has a penchant for noticing small things and having a zeal for painting. After getting complaints from his teachers about his poor performance, despite his brother’s exemplary academics, he is sent off to boarding school, furthering his despise for his parents. Ram Shankar Nikumbh is an art teacher at the school who sees talent in Ishaan despite poor academics and takes it upon himself to make Ishaan’s talent known to everyone. The painting competition, in the end, is eventually won jointly by the teacher-student duo. ‘Taare Zameen Par’ highlights the stressful life of a dyslexic student and how he gets lucky and gets noticed despite a lot many others whose talent seldom comes to the fore.
12. Baahubali: The Beginning (2015)
S.S. Rajamouli’s magnum opus, Baahubali: The Beginning is Indian Cinema’s answer to Hollywood’s epics. Made on budget of over 250 crores, Baahubali is one of the costliest films ever made in India. Although ‘Baahubali: The Beginning’ cannot be classified as a pure Bollywood film, its Hindi-dubbed version still ruled the charts as well as the box office revenues. Baahubali is the tale of two brothers who vie for the throne of Mahishmathi Kingdom. ‘Baahubali: The Beginning’ marked a new beginning in Indian Cinema. Known for its action sequences and extensive VFX, Baahubali broke many nuances on the art of Indian film-making with its never-before-seen computer graphics in India’s history.
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11. Drishyam (2015)
Vijay (Ajay Devgan) is an illiterate man who loves his family of four – a beautiful wife and two equally gorgeous daughters. In spite of dropping out of the fourth standard in school, he has a sharp mind and learns about everything around him through Cable TV. When her elder daughter gets in trouble with a rich spoiled brat and accidentally kills him, he goes out to do what seems impossible. Vijay sets in motion a well-thought-out plan to evade the police and throw them off their scent. Investigators eventually catch up with them, but even when they are sure they are the culprits, the police can’t find one shred of evidence against them. The biggest mystery of them all: Where did the dead body go?
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10. Madras Café (2013)
‘Madras Café’ stands out for its sheer honesty and lack of pretentiousness in portraying a period in Indian political history which has not been dealt with in any mainstream Bollywood film before it. Director Shoojit Sircar holds nothing back in showcasing the complex relationship between India and Sri Lanka and what led to the ultimate assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. It’s a dark, engrossing piece of cinema that entertains as well as it is informative. However, it’s the selection of actors like John Abraham and Nargis Fakhri in the lead roles that raised questions but to give credit where it’s due they did a convincing job in playing their parts despite being limited actors. Apart from John Abraham, everything in ‘Madras Cafe’ stands out and makes it unmissable.
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9. Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994)
Shah Rukh Khan himself admits this being his best film to date. He has become an expert at portraying one-sided lovers on screen and this film is just a testament to that. It follows Sunil who loves Anna and tries to separate her from her lover. Later, he instead chooses to help the two reunite. Filled with plenty of twists and heart-touching scenes, ‘Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa’ particularly received praise for its idealistic ending which saw Sunil meet another girl and show that everything becomes alright in the end.
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8. Love Per Square Foot (2018)
Vicky Kaushal and Angira Dhar are both powerful performers and their prowess in front of the camera is there for everyone to see in the film ‘Love Per Square Foot’. Here the actors play the characters Sanjay and Karina, who meet as colleagues and then enter a marriage of convenience. Sanjay is in an illicit relationship with his own boss, but the latter does not want to come out of her marriage in any way. On the other hand, Karina plans to buy her own house while her mother insists that she should get married first instead of having such dreams. Seeing no option left, the two of them decide to own a house together and opt for a joint housing scheme. How a close friendship, and eventually a romance grows up between these two characters becomes the central theme of the film. The way the relationship between these two characters is depicted is touching, but it must be said that the premise of the film itself is a bit unrealistic. But the characters are so lovable that you will forget about such factors and will get lost in their journey itself.
7. Andaz Apna Apna (1994)
Easily the funniest Bollywood movie ever. It will make you guffaw at the antics of its protagonists and with some impeccable comic timing from the leads and Paresh Rawal, it was a brilliant movie. But it wasn’t promoted too well and hence it didn’t do too well. This movie has an immense recall value. 23 years have passed by since it released but the dialogues of the movie are really fresh in our heads. It is truly an iconic movie.
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6. A Wednesday (2008)
One of the most defining thrillers in the history of Bollywood cinema, ‘A Wednesday’ is also probably one of the movies on this list with the highest ROI, as far as the box office is concerned. The movie begins with a man who carries a bag of explosives into a police station in Mumbai and hides it in the restroom. He then climbs on top of an under-construction building and calls Prakash Rathod, Mumbai Police Commissioner, that he has hidden five bombs across the city, including the one at the police station which they later located, and demands the release of four militants if the police don’t want the bombs to explode. Later, everyone realizes that the militants were released only to be killed systematically before the law takes its course. ‘A Wednesday’ has never been made in the history of cinema, which is why it stands out to be even the more special.
5. Paan Singh Tomar (2012)
Easily and obviously one’s favorite choice for a movie, ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ is a biopic based on athlete Paan Singh’s life during the ’50s and ’60s when he was in the army, followed by a family feud that turned him into a dreaded, vengeful bandit. The movie follows a non-linear storyline when bandit Paan Singh is being interviewed for mass-killing of people belonging to a community for turning informers for the police. He reiterates his story beginning from his army days when he loved eating and running, and was chosen to compete for Steeple Chase competition, which earned him national and international accolades. Following a land dispute with his brother, he picks up the gun to shoot real people this time, while trying to be just, morally upright and conscious about his actions. The movie received critical acclaim, both for Irrfan Khan’s performance in the titular role as well as Tigmanshu Dhulia’s direction, along with great attention to detail. A must watch!
4. Queen (2014)
To regard ‘Queen’ as just a comedy flick would be grossly undermining its nuanced brilliance. Within all its glorious simplicity, lies an incisive, scathing commentary on the mindset of countless Indian men who think their wives to be their property instead of a partner. But that’s not all that the film is about. It’s also about friendship, which knows no boundaries and can happen anywhere, with anyone irrespective of the differences we might share. One of the other great aspects of the film is how subtly it encourages racial equality. The movie revolves around a girl named Rani (a.k.a. the titular ‘Queen’) who sets off on a lone-honeymoon to Paris following a break-up with her fiance and makes new acquaintances in the city of romance. Not only ‘Queen’ has been an award-winning affair for Kangana Ranaut but, it had also received critical acclaim for her pathbreaking performance.
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3. Rang De Basanti (2006)
Perhaps Aamir Khan has to be credited to have appeared in pathbreaking films one after the other. ‘Rang De Basanti’ joins the bandwagon of his many greats. Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, the film is the narrative of DJ, Karan, Aslam, and Sukhi – four college students who roam around carefree and aimless in life. Sue is the granddaughter of McKinley, a British officer who oversaw the execution of the revolutionary Bhagat Singh. She comes to India in search of actors for her documentary on these revolutionaries – Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev, Ashfaqullah Khan, Chandrashekhar Azad, and Ram Prasad Bismil. She meets with Sonia, one of her friends who helps her with the casting and the four – DJ, Karan, Aslam, and Sukhi end signing up for the documentary. After a MIG fighter place scam that kills their fighter pilot friend Ajay, they take it upon themselves to avenge his death in the same way the revolutionaries did more than 80 years ago.
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2. Brij Mohan Amar Rahe (2018)
A dark comedy directed by Nikhil Bhat, ‘Brij Mohan Amar Rahe’ is quite unlike the generic Hindi films that release by the dozen every year. The central character of the film is a thirty-something North Indian man called Brij Mohan who is unhappy with his mundane life and wants something to add some doses of excitement to the same. He goes through a series of misadventures before chancing upon the idea of faking his identity and going by the name of Amar Sethi. However, it so happens that Mohan himself falls a victim to his plan, having been charged with the murder of his earlier self. What the film scores positively with its humor and its quirky leading character, it loses because of the loose structuring of the story and the lack of a sense of unfolding drama within the narrative.
1. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)
When Bhuvan says, “Sarat Manjoor Hai” meaning “I accept the wager“, the goosebumps that you get are priceless. ‘Lagaan’ was also longlisted for India’s official entry for Oscars and has since gained cultural and aesthetic importance, as far as Indian movies are concerned. The movie is a fictional saga set in the 1890s when British Raj was at its peak in India and farmers were oppressed with double and triple Lagaan a.k.a. taxes, thus leaving them in penury. Bhuvan is a small-time farmer in the village of Champaner in Gujarat, where Captain Russell has decreed to double the taxes despite the drought. Bhuvan and his mates are intrigued by a cricket match and Captain Russell challenges them to beat his team in a cricket match, after which, if they win, they would not have to pay taxes for the next three years. Should they lose, they will have to triple the tax. Bhuvan, with the assistance of Russell’s sister Elizabeth, learns the ropes, builds a cricket team and defeats the Britishers once and for all. A triumphant tale comprising emotions, drama, comedy and tragic moments, ‘Lagaan’ is considered one of the greatest movies India has ever produced.
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