I asked some of my coworkers about their favorite movies about India, and we put together this short list of our favorites!
I don’t know about you, but my life doesn’t quite look like the movies produced by Hollywood about America. In the same way, these films can’t show you real life for all of India’s 1 billion people—but they will give you an eye-opening look into a culture that many of us don’t get to experience firsthand! I’m confident that you’ll find something here for each member of your family to enjoy.
1. Slumdog Millionaire (2008) – Rated R
Do you wonder what living in a slum is really like? Slumdog Millionaire provides a clear window into slum life. In the film, an Indian teenager named Jamal, who grew up in the slums, competes on the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” You’ll be surprised by how he knows the answers to the questions!
2. The Jungle Book (1967) – Rated PG
In this film, a baby named Mowgli is raised by a family of wolves. A wise panther named Bagheera realizes Mowgli, now a young boy, must be returned to his own kind. Aside from the talking (and singing!) animals, The Jungle Book does feature some interesting and true depictions of India including the importance of fire and the danger of wild animals.
3. Gandhi (1982) – Rated PG
This movie recounts the story of Mahatma Gandhi, beginning with when he was thrown off a train in South Africa because he rode in a “whites-only” compartment. It ends with his assassination and funeral in 1948. Gandhi accurately depicts the man’s philosophy of nonviolent protest against British rule.
4. Born into Brothels (2004) – Rated R
The sex trade is a generational tragedy in India — and this raw yet inspiring award-winning documentary gives you an eye-opening look behind the curtain of Calcutta’s red light districts. You’ll follow photographer Zana Briski as she forges unexpected relationships with the children growing up in these communities, and see the world through their eyes. The subject matter is difficult but honest, making this a movie well worth watching.
5. Water (2005) – Rated PG-13
Millions of widows in India are considered cursed by their families and communities, and this film shows you their world — through the eyes of a child bride. It is 1938 and Chuyia is 7 years old and already a widow. As she grows up in the ashram among other outcaste widows, you see the raw contrast of a child’s innocent hopefulness and the harsh reality of widowhood in India that still endures today.
6. The Story of India (2007) – Not Rated
The Story of India is a six-part documentary that delves deep into the history of India’s people, places, religions, and cultures. If you’re looking for a great way to really take an in depth look at India’s history, this movie will not disappoint.
7. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001) – Rated PG
If you’ve always wanted to watch a Bollywood movie but didn’t know where to start, Lagaan is the ticket! Coming in at just under 4 hours in length, this film is no small investment of time, but every minute is worth the watch! A sweeping epic chock full of humor, romance, history, sports, culture, singing, and dancing, Lagaan has something for every movie enthusiast.
8. Outsourced (2006) – Rated PG-13
In the mood for a quirky, fun film? Experience India through the eyes of Todd Anderson, who recently moved there for his job. This movie shines a light on cultural differences between a Western culture and India, and you learn and laugh alongside Todd as he experiences culture shock. Outsourced will give you a look inside what India is really like.
9. Million Dollar Arm (2014) – Rated PG
If you’re looking for a movie that shows cultural differences in a realistic, but positive, way, Million Dollar Arm might be a great choice for you to watch! In this film, a sports agent tries to recruit Indian cricket players to play Major League Baseball. It does a nice job of showing how Americans and people from India handle things differently, opening the doors for deeper understanding on both sides.
10. Barfi! (2012) – Not Rated
Our videographer at Mission India raves about Barfi, a film with incredibly beautiful and outstanding cinematography. This movie has some typical Bollywood film elements—especially the pervasive theme of life and love—but it’s also charmingly unusual. Most of the story is told through action and location with very little dialogue.
BONUS: Life of Pi (2012) – Rated PG
This stunning adaptation of Yann Martel’s book will blow you away with its masterful storytelling and marvelous visuals. Over the course of the 2-hour film, you’ll be whisked away on an intense journey with a young Indian man named Pi and a wild Bengal tiger. Life of Pi is a survival film with a surprising undercurrent of connection that will touch your heart.
Have you seen any of these movies? Tell me what you thought of them in a comment below! – Laurel
Image Source: Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Google.