While waiting to discover its own productions in 2019, Netflix offers a catalog of at least 150 Indian films. Massala, auteur films or historical saga, here are our recommendations, in chronological order.
“Dil Se”, by Mani Ratnam (1998)
Dil Se is the third part of a trilogy devoted to terrorism. This film met with immense success abroad, in particular thanks to the music of Allah Rakha Rahman and the songs mixing everyday Hindi and sought-after and poetic vocabulary borrowed from Urdu. The story relates an impossible love: that of Amar, a radio journalist, and Meghna, a terrorist from Kashmir. More than twenty years after its theatrical release, as India and Pakistan clashed militarily (after a terrorist attack that killed 46 Indian paramilitaries in Kashmir on February 14, 2019), Dil Se is still relevant. Note that the song Chhaiya Chhaiya, shot on the roof of a moving train and inspired by Sufi poetry, is one of India’s most beloved film songs.
“Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai”, by Rakesh Roshan (2000)
This big Bollywood production, which met with enormous success at the box office, is a “real” masala film, that is to say a romantic family comedy with action scenes and comedy. In short, there’s something for everyone ! Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai is the very first film of Hrithik Roshan, who would become a superstar. To see, if you like this actor… or to discover a typical Bollywood. Like many films over the past twenty-five years, Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai is also aimed at the Indian diaspora, who assiduously frequent the dark rooms and considerably inflate the income of the Bombay studios. One of the characters lives in New Zealand, where approximately 200,000 Indians and people of Indian origin reside.
“Lagaan”, by Ashutosh Gowariker (2001)
Don’t know cricket or just don’t understand it? Never mind ! Lagaan perhaps reconcile you with this particularly popular sport throughout South Asia. The film takes place in a small village in the province of Champaner at the time of British colonization. Crushed by unfair taxes (the « lagaan ») and suffering under the yoke of the unsympathetic Captain Russell, the villagers led by Bhuvan, played by actor Aamir Khan, accept a deal with the settlers: if they win a game cricket, tax will not be levied. The Indians, who do not know this sport from abroad, initiate themselves to it with the means at hand… The film was a very big success abroad, but beware, it still lasts nearly four hours ( 3h44)!
“Asoka”, by Santosh Sivan (2001)
Asoka (or Ashoka) was the third emperor of the Maurya dynasty. He reigned thirty-seven years in the third century BC. Converted to Buddhism, he was the first to unify much of present-day India. His empire stretched from present-day Afghanistan in the west to Bengal in the east, and covered from north to south an extensive territory from the Himalayas to Karnataka. Part of its seal, more precisely the wheel of dharma, appears today on the Indian flag. This big production is a (very) fictionalized version of the life of this historical character, embodied on screen by the superstar Shahrukh Khan.
“Paheli”, by Amol Palekar (2005)
paheli is both a romantic comedy in traditional costume and a fable. The plot takes place in a large and rich mansion in Rajasthan, within a family of merchants, at a distant and indeterminate time. Paheli is the name of a ghost – nice, not to worry about, and very much in love – who takes the appearance of Lachchi’s husband, who left for five years after his wedding, in order to seduce the lonely young woman. The scheme works like a charm…until the inevitable return of the husband. Fortunately, everything ends well. The women wear magnificent saris, the men wear turbans and the action takes place against the backdrop of the Rajput desert and traditional wells.
“Rang De Basanti”, by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (2006)
Rank of Basanti tells the adventures of a band of students who play a historical reconstruction of the independence struggle during the day and party the rest of the time. Rank of Basanti is very popular among millennials. This generation, which came of age at the turn of the 21st century, is both fiercely nationalistic and totally disillusioned with the corruption of the Indian political class. How can we believe in the ideals that presided over the birth of the Indian republic in this context? This is the question that attempts to answer Rank of Basanti.
“Taare Zameen Par”, by Aamir Khan (Like Stars on Earth, 2007)
Critically acclaimed, Taare Zameen By was selected to represent India at the Oscars. This film produced and directed by star Aamir Khan is an auteur film, with no choreographed songs. He evokes the suffering of Ishaan, an 8-year-old dyslexic boy misunderstood by his family. Sent to boarding school, cut off from his family, he suffers terribly until « Nikumbh Sir », a drawing teacher, enters his life. Very beautiful interpretations in the service of a cause still very little known and misunderstood in India. On March 2, 2019, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, for example, publicly made fun of dyslexics. Too busy with politics, maybe he didn’t see Taare Zameen By ?
“Raajneeti”, by Prakash Jha (2010)
A hell of a cast for a film dedicated to Indian politics and corruption. The characters are completely fictitious but we easily recognize Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Congress party. Upon its release, this had earned the film the wrath of the government, at the time led by Congress. A film that makes politics rhyme with corruption, populism, murder and intrigue… to see, as the world’s largest democracy prepares to go to the polls in April and May 2019 to elect its next government.
“Manto”, by Nandita Das (2018)
Biopic devoted to the great Indo-Pakistani writer Saadat Hasan Manto, this film is written and directed by committed actress Nandita Das. The action, interspersed with stories written by Manto himself, takes place in Bombay in 1946, a year before India’s independence, and in Lahore, on the other side of the border, in 1948, a year after the creation of Pakistan. Manto was selected in the Un Certain Regard category at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival to notable critical acclaim.
“Firebrand”, by Aruna Raje (2019)
fire brand is an independent regional film shot mainly in the Marathi language (the language of the state of Maharashtra, of which Bombay is the capital). Broadcast only on Netflix, it addresses, through the character of the lawyer Sunanda Raut, the relationship between women and men, the question of divorce, rape, domestic violence. Produced and directed by two women, respectively Priyanka Chopra and Aruna Raje, this film aims to be feminist. The men still have the (too) good role, but the performance of Usha Jadhav in the role of Sundanda is to be welcomed. fire brand illustrates both the wave of Indian films devoted to women’s rights in recent years and Netflix’s desire to conquer the Indian market in 2019 with its own productions.