Bollywood
Masala films contain many different Bollywood elements such as music, dancing and romance to create both cultural and aesthetic diversity. (Image via Pixabay)

For starters, I would like to clear the air and affirm that I am Indian. I would like to further state that, as an Indian, I spent my childhood watching Bollywood movies, so I have the proper credentials for advising people about them. I say this because a lot of non-Indians like to think they know which Asian films constitute as Bollywood movies, such as “Slumdog Millionaire.” This movie is not a Bollywood film mainly because it was not produced or directed by a Bollywood production agency. In fact, it was produced by Warner Bros and directed by Danny Boyle.

In order for a movie to be fully considered a Bollywood film, it doesn’t need to just be produced by a Bollywood agency. There are other factors that make up the franchise, such as music and dancing, modesty (though this factor is currently transitioning due to today’s culture), traditionalism, fabulous costumes and intense melodrama. These attributes combine to create what I like to call “masala films.”

Much like what happens when you mix the five Indian spices to create a whole new delightful flavor, a masala film is the result when many genres are thrown into a pot and stirred together. Here are my top five picks for masala films for you to enjoy over the weekend.

1. “Welcome”

The overall synopsis of “Welcome”: An ordinary man falls deeply in love with a beautiful woman, yet he has no idea that her brothers are gangsters. I will say flat out that “Welcome” is my absolute favorite movie. The reason for my high praise is that it’s an incredibly hilarious movie. Every time I see it, I end up laughing constantly. Every incident the characters get themselves caught in is so ridiculous that viewers must view the movie as absurd.

Additionally, some of the jokes portrayed in “Welcome” are culture-based, meaning if you are in the loop of Indian values and culture, then you will know why certain parts are funny. However, needing to have a cultural understanding in order to get some of the humor shouldn’t prevent you from watching the movie.

The humor is great, but the actors are even more of a reason to watch. There are 20 actors in the film, but I will list the top five, highest-rated Bollywood actors that are portrayed: Akshay Kumar as Rajiv Saini, Katrina Kaif as Sanjana, Anil Kapoor as Sagar Manju, Nana Patekar as Uday Shetty and Paresh Rawal as Dr. Ghunghroo. The movie was released in 2007 on December 21. Though it is an old movie, it still carries a lot of charm today. What makes this a great masala movie is that it implements drama, crime, comedy and romance. Some great news for you is that if I convinced you to watch this movie, you can watch it in full on YouTube.

2. “Bunty Aur Bubli”

Bunty Aur Bubli” is also one of those charming romance movies that has a lot of varying aspects. The synopsis: When a girl and a boy meet up, both of whom are ambitious dreamers and schemers from dead-end towns, team Bunty and Babli is unleashed on the world, giving rise to a series of increasingly wild and wacky activities.

From spiritual gurus to gangsters, from business partners to vagabonds, the duo runs circles around rajahs and millionaires, ministers and explorers, but the policeman, Dashrath Singh, most of all. One of my favorite elements about this movie is the music and choreography. Unlike “Welcome,” which is more comedy-focused, Bunty Aur Bubli implements romance, adventure, mischief and inspiration.

Furthermore, the music combined with the beautiful scenery and gorgeous costumes create the perfect image of what most people expect when they think about “Bollywood.” Only Bunty Aur Bubli has adventure and mischief mixed in with the dancing, music and romance to create its own individuality.

I would also like to point out that Bunty Aur Bubli breaks code in terms of modesty by including a steamy scene. Most western viewers would see this as a no-biggie, but viewers must remember that Indian culture, even today, is still modest to varying degrees. I have noticed with more recent movies and shows, however, that the Bollywood industry is breaking this boundary. Bunty Aur Bubli was released in the U.S. on May 25 in 2005.

The main actors and their characters are: Abhishek Bachchan as Rakesh Trivedi, Amitabh Bachchan as Dashrath Sing and biological father to Abhishek and finally Rani Mukerii as Vimmi Saluja. You can watch the movie with Amazon Prime or YouTube for $1.99.

3. “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom”

I remember often watching Jhoom Barabar Jhoom as a child and thinking that it was one of the greatest movies of all time. A man and a woman create a fictitious lie of being engaged but end up falling for each other. Problem is, is that neither person knows the truth about the other’s feelings. What was supposed to be an innocent lie turns into a complex web of deceit.

The only question is whether the man and woman end up together. Spoiler alert! This is Bollywood: of course they do! Still watch the movie, though, because it lives up to the hype surrounding Bollywood film industries’ affinity for music and cinematography.

Released in the U.S. in 2007 on June 15, “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom” also implements modernity and diversity by having the story take place all over Europe. The film also breaks the norm of modesty in that it showcases open communication between a man and a woman, a thought that can be considered non-traditionalist when put in the context of patriarchy.

The main actors, whose “love square” (as opposed to a love triangle) creates opportunities for unforgettable cinematic moments, are Preity Zinta as Alvira Khan. Anhishek Bachchan as Rakesh Thakur, Bobby Deol as Satvinder and Laura Ditta as Anaida. You can find the movie on Amazon with a subscription to Prime or on YouTube for 99 cents.

4. “Aaja Nachle”

For dance instructor Dia, New York City has been home for 11 years. But when she’s told her guru in India is dying, she rushes back to Shamli to be by his side only to find out that he has passed away, leaving behind an endangered legacy: the Ajanta Theater. This theater, where she learned to dance before emigrating to the U.S., is in danger of being torn down by politicians, namely Raja Uday Singh. To save the theater, Dia must prepare a production in two months.

What I find fascinating about this movie is the inspirational effects put on by the main character, Dia Srivastav, who is otherwise known as the one and only Madhuri Dixit. Dixit conquers the impossible by tackling the Indian view of westerners and proving to the locals that theater is still alive. When first watching the movie (back in 2007 when it was released), I felt inspired to take on the impossible myself. I now use this movie as a motivator to get me through impossible times. “Aaja Nachle” was released in the U.S. on November 30, and you can find this movie on iTunes for $2.99 or YouTube for $1.99.

5. “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi”

After the two characters Surinder Sahni and Taani get married, Surinder discovers that his new wife cares little for him. When Taani decides to enter a dance competition, Surinder disguises himself, joins the class and tries to befriend her. Taani soon falls in love with her new dance partner, Raj, but is unaware that he is in fact her husband. Talk about dramatic irony.

This grand masala mix is comedy, romance, action, drama and mischief all tossed together into the pot. This movie is absolutely charming for many reasons, one being that viewers feel sympathetic for Sahni when he tries to spice up (pun intended) his marriage. His disguise is merely a shaved-off mustache and gelled hair, but somehow it’s fully convincing to Taani. I believe this was intentionally funny, so when you watch this movie, don’t think too hard about the disguise.

One of my favorite actors since childhood, Shah Rukh Khan, stars as Raj Kapoor, the main character in the film.  The other actors include Anushka Sharma, who plays Taani Sahni, Vinay Pathak, who plays Balwinder and Aneesha Dalal who plays the dance instructor. The movie was released in the U.S. in  2008 on December 12 and you can watch the movie on Amazon Prime or YouTube for $1.99.

I hope you enjoy my top five picks for masala films. I grew up with this genre, and I still enjoy watching them every chance I get. The nostalgic memories always come racing to my mind every time I sit down and watch any of these old Bollywood movies, partly because I can empathize with the culture and values. My empathy for tradition has grown stronger since I moved away from the people who taught me everything about being an Indian, and these movies remind me of what that is like.

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