I often get asked, "What are must-see Bollywood movies?" There are so many choices that it makes it really hard to choose! So instead, I asked members of the creative team and cast of Bollywood Boulevard what their favorite Bollywood movie was. Everyone's first response was that it was too hard to pick just one, but when pressed, they came up with this list of must-see Hindi films. Given that music is such an important part of Bollywood, I've added a must-watch song from these movies.
Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957)
Recommended by: Rushi Vakil, Bollywood Boulevard co-creator, music director, composer
Rushi: The premise of the film and acting by Guru Dutt are two of the most striking aspects of this movie. Based on humanistic psychology and inspired by true events in India, the film showed that rehabilitation with love and care is possible, a message that is just as relevant today as it was more than 50 years ago. Nominated for a Golden Globe Award and winner at the Berlin International Film Festival, this movie not only stirred hearts in India, but also abroad.
Ae Maalik Tere Bande Hum is one of the most well-recognized devotional songs in Hindi cinema. [Editor's note: We can't embed the clip here, but you can watch it on YouTube.]
Recommended by: Neel Nadkarni, singer
Neel: Sholay is a cult classic. Its scenes, characters, dialogues, and songs are embedded in the Indian psyche. I, like so many, have watched this movie so many times, but have yet to tire of it.
This movie has an amazing story and with stunning acting. This is a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It's so hard to pick one song from this music, as so many are classics!
Recommended by: Vaishali Vakil, costume designer
Vaishali: This is an unusual story told brilliantly. The acting in this film is exceptional, particularly Sridevi's portrayal of a child-woman suffering from amnesia. Ilaiyaraaja created a beautiful soundtrack for this film, which is in fact a remake of the Tamil film Moondram Pirai.
Sadma retained most of the music from the Tamil version. "Surmayee Ankhiyon Mein Nanha Munna Ek Sapna De Ja Re" is simply a beautiful song.
Dil To Pagal Hai (1997)
Recommended by: Rhea Ghosh, dancer
Rhea: Considered one of the director Yash Raj Chopra's best films, Dil To Pagal Hai is a cult classic. It is a relevant modern romance, with traditional undertones, against the backdrop of dance. With music by Uttam Singh, this was one of the first films where I fell in love with the entire soundtrack. Every song made me want to get up and dance or fall in love. The film also played a critical role in my dreams for the future—it had a strong message to pursue your passion—I knew then (7 years old) that I wanted to continue dancing for the rest of my life and that love was destined. Its influences have made me the hopeless romantic I am today.
Dil To Pagal Hai was Shaimak Davar's first film as a choreographer for Hindi cinema. He brought a dance aesthetic to celluloid that was atypical of the time and ended up winning the National Award for Choreography for his work! "Le Gayi" really is representative of Shaimak's style, and Karishma Kapoor nails this performance.
Recommended by: Minal Mehta, dancer
Minal: Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's Bengali novel Devdas has been adapted to celluloid in numerous Indian languages. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hindi adaptation is the one of the most well-recognized ones, and for good reason. This film is a treat for the senses. The sets, costumes, music, and dance all showcase the rich cultural heritage of India. Devdas showcases Bollywood's power to transport people to another world, full of romance, glitter and gold, and creative energy. The larger-than-life dance sequences combine classical and folk dance forms with modern day cinematographic mastery!
Bringing together two of Bollywood's best female dancers, Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai, this dance was one of the most anticipated songs of Devdas. Choreographed by the legendary dance master Saroj Khan, this number exceeded all expectations!
Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (2001)
Recommended by: Aaliya Islam, assistant choreographer, dancer
Aaliya: As is the case with countless Bollywood fans, so many of my favorite movies are inextricably tried to memories and events in my personal life. Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham is one of those films. This film is one that is most relatable to my life. That being said, I think everyone should watch it because it shows how important family is in Indian culture and how even though we have our differences, we always make it work because we can't deny the love we hold for each other.
The song "Yeh Ladki Hai Allah" captures how music and dance are such important parts of all Indian celebrations and of course, the adorable chemistry between one of Bollywood's iconic on-screen couples, Shahrukh Khan and Kajol.
Dil Chahta Hai (2001)
Recommended by: Rohit Gijare, choreographer, dancer
Rohit: When Dil Chahta Hai came out, Bollywood films were full of melodrama and unrealistic scenarios. With Dil Chahta Hai, director Farhan Akhtar showed a more realistic and relatable side of contemporary Indian youth. This film was also a game-changer in terms of its music. The composing trio of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, who shot to fame with this soundtrack, captured the contemporary and cosmopolitan feel of the film in their music, bridging traditional Indian music and popular Western or international influences
This song was a staple at all parties when it came out and continues to make its way onto party playlists even today.
Recommended by: Raxit Faldu, filmmaker, animator
Raxit: This film, with its simplicity and realism, stands in stark contrast to the larger-than-life movies with star casts and extravagant sets that one sees in Bollywood. It is the straightforwardness that I enjoy in this film, along with the way that they have captured the varied moods, insecurities, and emotions that a teenager goes through, particularly when feeling caged by society and circumstances.
Amit Trivedi created the ideal soundtrack for this film with influences of rock and grunge. Even without the formal song and dance sequences to draw attention to it, the music makes its impact.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011)
Recommended by: Varun Das, drummer
Varun: Helmed by one of Bollywood's female powerhouses, Zoya Akhtar, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara conveys the message to live life to the fullest and do what makes you happy, since you only live once. I recommend people see it to realize that they sometimes have to just let loose, even when things like work may be hectic.
This fun song gives flamenco an Indian makeover. An interesting fact about this song is that doesn't use playback singers, but rather the voices of the actors themselves, including Spanish singer María del Mar Fernández, who makes her Bollywood debut with this song.
About the Curator
Heena Patel, Executive Producer, Artistic Director, Dancer for Bollywood Boulevard, is originally from Toronto and now splits her time between New York and India. Heena grew up learning and performing Indian folk dances and Bollywood dance before becoming a choreographer and founder of several award-winning Indian dance teams and organizations. After moving to India, she trained in Indian classical music before becoming an arts professional, assuming the roles of artist manager and agent. Today, Heena is a South Asian performing arts specialist, curating, creating, and supporting South Asian performing arts and artists through her company MELA Group, which encompasses MELA Productions and MELA Arts Connect. For more information on MELA, visit melaartsconnect.com.