With the BBC adaptation of A Suitable Boy garnering rave reviews, it’s time to revisit the best box office hits set in India:
Slumdog Millionaire (2008, Netflix)
Danny Boyle’s Bollywood experiment paid off in 2008 when Slumdog Millionaire was an international smash hit, garnering no fewer than eight Academy Awards. Loosely based on the novel Q & A by Indian author Vikas Swarup, the film wasn’t universally adored by critics despite winning big at the Oscars. Still, audiences loved the way it applied the Dickensian drama of a rags to riches story with a vivid depiction of street life in Mumbai. It made stars out of its leads Dev Patel and Freida Pinto and deservedly so.
Monsoon wedding (2001, Amazon Prime)
As the title suggests, this well-known 2001 film plays out over the course of a Punjabi wedding in New Delhi. It has a beautifully understated screenplay and is visually gorgeous, surprising everyone when it grossed over $30 million at the box office – a highly unusual feat for a foreign language film at the time. The plot centres on a family gathering from all four corners of the globe for a sumptuous wedding, during which dark secrets from the past threaten to rear their heads again in the present. The titular monsoon occurs at the end of the film and is cathartic in more ways than one.
The Lunchbox (2013, Netflix)
This endearing film about a culinary friendship that is struck up when a spurned wife’s lunchboxes are delivered to the wrong man, won plaudits at The Sundance Film festival. It’s a gentle but engrossing plot whose disarmingly vulnerable characters draw you in right from the beginning. The film started its life as a documentary about the famous Mumbai lunchbox system but soon developed into a romantic epistolary tale once the writer realised its potential. A must-watch and my favourite on the list.
The Darjeeling Limited (2007, Netflix)
Wes Anderson’s films are always a sensory feast and, in many ways, India’s visually claustrophobic aesthetic is the ideal match for his directorial style. This 2007 tragicomic film about three brothers coming to terms with the death of their father takes place on an Indian train. Most of the film was shot in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. As the three brothers attempt to cart around their father’s signature possessions on the cramped train, their search for spiritual enlightenment is at once farcical and deeply relatable. A pitch-perfect reflection on the absurdity and profundity of grief.
The sky is pink (2019, Netflix)
The Duchess of Sussex’s old chum Priyanka Chopra takes the leading role in this 2019 Hindi Bollywood flick. Chopra recently married Jonas Brother Nick Jonas in a star-studded Mumbai wedding. Here, she plays the role of a mother whose family is divided between London and New Delhi and whose youngest child is diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder. It’s as melodramatic and full of song as you’d expect from a Bollywood film and, best of all, you can watch it on Netflix.
Much of this Bond classic was shot in Udaipur, India, where Bond infiltrates a floating palace where Bond meets its mysterious owner – a wealthy business woman named Octopussy. The Monsoon Palace served as the exterior of Kamal Khan’s palace, while scenes set at Octopussy’s palace were filmed at the Lake Palace and Jag Mandir, and Bond’s hotel was the Shiv Niwas Palace. The setting makes up for the screenplay which is full of cringe-inducing 007 quips: ‘You have a nasty habit of surviving,’ says Kamal Khan to Bond. ‘Well, you know what they say about the fittest.’
Lion tells the true story of Saroo who gets lost on a visit to the city with his brother and ends up being adopted by an Australian family. The film charts his quest to retrace his past and find his mother and brother again once he grows up. Despite the potential for cliché, the plot is utterly engrossing and carefully and thoughtfully navigates the ethical pitfalls that might come with a multi racial adoption story. Author Salman Rushdie was so impressed with the realism of the film’s Indian segments that he said he wept ‘unstoppably’ whilst watching it.
Bride and prejudice (2004)
This was the crowd-pleasing follow up film from Bend it Like Beckham director Gurinda Chadah. A Bollywood retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it’s never in danger of taking itself too seriously. Chadah cleverly riffs off the similarities between the social mores of Georgian England and Punjabi marriage traditions to create a film that gave many Western audiences their first taste of Bollywood.