The 9 Best And Worst Hollywood Films That Centre Around India
Cultures around the world are more connected than ever before. We can talk to each other, explore parts of the world we can never visit and send international nudes – all with the touch of a button.
And this level of interconnectedness has naturally found its way into films. With filmmakers around the world taking on stories that reflect cultures other than their own. Both Bollywood and Hollywood have explored various facets of Indian culture and not always struck gold.
But considering Bollywood is always put under the scanner for being unrealistic and illogical, let’s take a closer look at what Hollywood comes up with when it decided to set its films in India or around Indian characters.
PS: This is a completely subjective piece. Feel free to express an opinion in the comment section. Feel freer to do it politely. The point is not that they’re bad films, they’re just films which might have benefitted from a quick trip to India first.
#1 The Namesake
Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel is a great basis for a film. Set in both USA and India, it expertly navigates diaspora in a world where parents and their children grow up with contrasting moral backgrounds.
The book takes its time meandering through Gogol and Ashoke’s respective psyches and the film does it complete justice. It remains relatable for both foreign and Indian audiences because all of us have lived past awkward phases involving our parents. And all of us have come to understand them as people.
Nair’s film even narrows down on subjects like marital intimacy, divorce and distance, all subjects especially relevant to young Indians, but explored abroad.
#2 Victoria And Abdul
Indians and the British have been hashing it out for decades now. With neither country being completely comfortable with its past, we’ve been working things out in books, debates and films for a while now. And another result of this separation is Victoria and Abdul.
The book the movie is based on is allegedly details the relationship between the two characters with sensitivity, keeping in mind both their backgrounds. The movie though isn’t too concerned with that. It’s concerned with the saintly Abdul being the nicest possible person he can be.
While his friend who detests the British for the atrocities they committed in India is played for laughs and dies off-screen.
While ennobling the British monarchy is one thing, telling audiences that the British Raj and Indians just needed to talk it out to solve their differences is quite another. Exploring both sentiments would have probably made for a more interesting movie, especially for an Indian audience.
#3 Indiana Jones
Is a movie about a man in a hat whipping things really the best time to get all sensitive about cultural portrayal?
It is? Because it really feels doubtful that the whole Amrish Puri eating monkey brains was supposed to be taken seriously. But people flipped out anyway, especially when he decided to put on a skull helmet and run around screaming KALI MAAAA! at the top of his lungs.
#4 Bride And Prejudice
Everyone I know loves this film. Whether it’s because of Aishwarya Rai and a stellar cast or just a love for Jane Austen’s classic story, there’s not much to complain about when a film is happy to take itself this lightly.
With fun characters who avoid being rigid archetypes, the layers of Jane Austen’s novels are taken apart to accommodate a distinctly self-aware ode to Bollywood. Whether it’s the brilliantly cheesy songs like “Show me the way, take me to love…” or the cringe-inducing naagin dance that features half-way through the film, there’s nothing that can compensate for wholesome Indian fun.
And that’s something this film absolutely nailed.
#5 The Mistress Of Spices
Oh dear god…
Why is she talking to the mirchi powder?
Why is she stuffing cinnamon into that poor Punjabi boy’s helmet?
How the hell did they manage to drag Zohra Sehgal into this?
“Sexy Indian mystic” is the kind of thing we’re trying so hard to get away from but this film expertly confuses being pretentious with being deep and insults just about every Indian chef in the process.
Unless Vikas Khanna has secretly been having a conversation with the corriander all along.
#6 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
If ever there were a charming film that relies heavily on stereotypes, it’s this one. Because even though things like “lose yourself in the colour” get thrown about, most of the characters feel like real people. We’ve all met Dev Patel’s overly chatty entrepreneur pumping life into a dying business. We all know what it feels like to be left out of what life has to offer.
And as cliched as that premise it, its just cool to see a bunch of people totter around Jaipur looking for meaning and lost love.
Mainly saved by it’s acting and a plot about lovers that every Indian can get behind, it’s a guilty pleasure but at least it’s a sensitive one.
#7 Bend It Like Beckham
If Namaste London was about Katrina Kaif trying to be a footballer instead of trying ot get married, you’d end up with this film.
Bend It Like Beckham was the first in a long line of NRI movies that caught up in India. Simple and focussed on Jasminder Bhamra trying to play football, you’d think it would be a series f wacky hijinks that Punjabis in London get into.
But then it delves into the different faces of Britain that Jess and her father have had to face, and you understand that the film is anything but superficial. Plus, it’s a refreshing change from the whole “Indian parents are old-fashioned” trope that creeps its way into way too many of these films.
#8 Slumdog Millionaire
This is the big one.
The one which launched a thousand articles about AR Rahman followed by a thousand questions about the Pussycat Dolls singing “Jai Ho”.
But Slumdog Millionaire wasn’t awful, it just got criticized because it was a big moment for India on the international stage, and the image that was burned into everyone’s mind was a child bathed in poo. Honestly, it was a little disheartening seeing our country portrayed as having exclusively horrible people living in it.
It would be like a movie about the British where literally everyone wanted to crush people beneath their jutis.
#9 Darjeeling Limited
Remember all those Bollywood films in the 90’s where characters frolicked around gorgeous mountaintops in Italy and Switzerland for no good reason?
The Darjeeling Limited does that exact thing, except India is in the background now and we can see snippets of it as we take the journey with the three brothers at the centre of this story. It makes sense to have three of the palest, most stuck up characters stuck in a riotous country they understand as poorly as they understand each other.
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