Hindi movies, known as Bollywood, have been on the rise internationally for decades. As the South Asian diaspora continues to spread around the world, it has brought food, song, dance and film with it for new audiences. In the same way that Hallyu and Korean entertainment have dominated international screens, educating audiences about Korean culture and identity, Bollywood has become a soft diplomacy tool to present a broader and constructed picture of Indian culture and people. These films popularized a particular type and brand of musical film, a characteristic that carries over to industries like Hollywood.
In the 2010s, however, Bollywood films sought to deconstruct the picture-perfect images of life in India and tackled the most difficult subjects. A movie like Ravine Boy presented life from the perspective of a young Muslim adult in the slums of Mumbai, while other films, such as the 2015 Dried, used ensemble casts of female characters to tell the story of society for contemporary Indian women. Bollywood is still very Indian in nature, but it has produced major global hits over the past decade. These are the best Bollywood movies of the 2010s, ranked.
2014 Queen is a journey about empowerment and not needing a man. A young Punjabi woman from Delhi, Rani (Kangana Ranaut) is shy and sweet, but one day before her wedding, her fiancé cancels her. After hearing the devastating news, Rani decides to go on her pre-booked honeymoon alone anyway. She flies to Paris, then Amsterdam, and discovers new pieces of herself in the people she meets. Queen is a universal character story, as Rani evolves from someone who bends back for others to someone who is able and willing to stand up for herself.
seven Dear Zindagi
Major Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt appear in Dear Zindagi, a heartfelt coming-of-age film set in Goa. Bhatt is Kaira, a young cinematographer with dreams of advancing her career to the point of being able to direct her own films. But after a series of life events involving an ex-boyfriend and her owner, she finds herself lost in the mainstream of life. She decides to meet with a therapist (Khan) and get to the root of her problems, as she is now insomniac, with an underlying trauma holding her back.
6 The lunch box
The lunch box is the late Irrfan Khan’s most successful Bollywood film, despite his career spanning several countries and decades. A young woman (Nimrat Kaur) decides to try to fix her marriage by cooking home-cooked meals for her husband, then uses a famous delivery system in Mumbai to try to get the lunches to her work. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned and the meal ends up in the hands of Saajan (Khan), a widower about to retire. Once the mistake is realized, the two begin a correspondence, leading to a prolific relationship between the two.
5 Kapoor and sons
Kapoor and sons is the family drama the world never thought it needed. Two brothers, one in the UK and the other in the US, are separated until their grandfather in India has a heart attack. Their parents are also struggling with their relationship, which makes this family seem very dysfunctional on the surface. It’s a family story that many can relate to: there are difficult times when you just don’t know what to say to someone after certain events have happened; there is jealousy; and then there is a desire to escape everything. It also offers a rare slice of LGBTQ+ representation in mainstream Bollywood cinema.
On the Ganges, is the holy city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. A young woman (Richa Chadda) is a teacher, but after she is caught having sex with one of her students, the student commits suicide in the bathroom. The detective who finds them blackmails her with a recording he made, forcing her into a terrible situation she cannot afford. On the other hand, a boy (Vicky Kaushal) from a lower caste tries to escape his family’s situation by studying civil engineering, but he falls in love with a girl from an upper caste. Both stories coalesce in a poetic meditation on life and the notion of being truly free.
Released in 2016, Dangal was a resounding success all over the world, especially in China. It is based on the true story of the Phogat sisters, two girls who became competitive wrestlers despite the odds. Their father is played by Aamir Khan, and he too was a former wrestler. Dangal follows the journey the family has taken as he decides to train them in wrestling, as he never had a son to pass on his skills to. Sexism and discrimination are only two components of their formation, but, at bottom, Dangal is a family story about never giving up.
2 Ravine Boy
Mumbai is home to one of India’s largest slums, but its occupants have big dreams despite the circumstances. Ravine Boy is just one of those stories. Murad (Ranveer Singh) is in his final year of college, but he turns to rap music to express the grief he feels about being in the slums and dealing with his abusive father. He begins to receive attention for the work he does, leading him down a path where people feel a sense of visibility. It’s an incredible slow burn that perfectly builds the relationships between the characters to propel the emotional and personal storytelling stakes even higher.
by Shakespeare Hamlet is adapted in Haider. The tragedy tackles the history of Kashmir in the 1990s; even today, Kashmir faces the endemic violence of its occupants. Haider Meer (Shahid Kapoor) comes home from college to uncover the secrets behind his father’s disappearance. He discovers that his mother is growing closer to his father’s brother, but as he begins to unravel the reasons why his father was ripped off, Haider becomes more radical and willing to resort to violence. Haider is a political film disguised as an epic literary adaptation, bringing to life the daily suffering of Kashmiri people.