Tamil and Hindi movies

When did Indian movies get so good?

I'm not talking about movies like Water, Namesake or Bend It Like Beckham -- Indian movies made in English. These have always been as good as, well, other English films. Some worth watching, others not. What makes them different is not just the language they are made in. Instead, it's that they're not music-and-dance extravaganzas wrapped around thin plot lines set in a fantasyland of black-and-white characters.

Since the wife and I were going to be spending a few weeks all by our lonesome selves, several friends loaned us a bunch of their movies. The movies are quite diverse ... some chick flicks, some sci-fi, some comedies. But also some Tamil and Hindi movies..

I've been surprised that I've been reaching out for the Indian movies more than for the Hollywood fare. These Indian movies are smart and well-made. The songs are still there, but are less bothersome because several are in the background and I can always forward through the others. It probably doesn't hurt that the actresses are ... are gorgeous. When I read that Julia Roberts is glamarous, Keira Knightley beautiful or Meg Ryan is cute, I just take it on faith because I've long given up on discerning on what makes them particularly attractive. Maybe because I grew up in Africa and spent my teenage years in India, it's black and Indian women that make me take a second look.

These are some of the movies that made me reconsider what I used to think about Indian movies:

Paruthi Veeran is a Tamil movie that would never have been made 10 years ago. In Tamil movies, the dialogues were in a made-up upper class accent that was not to be found anywhere in real-life -- imagine that Hollywood consisted solely of movies where everyone talked like Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in Philadelphia Story. This movie, about romance between rural dead-end folks caught in an arid, unforgiving land, is absolutely true to the speech patterns and society of rural Tamil Nadu. If I closed my eyes, it could be my grandmother going at someone who'd gotten on her wrong side. The movie was absolutely enthralling although it lost steam towards the end. I thought that this movie could be appreciated only by someone who actually knows Tamil and rural South India, but IMDB reports that it received a special mention at the Berlin Film Festival, so maybe you'll like it too.

Chalte Chalte is a Hindi romantic comedy that captures the behavioral patterns that couples seem to descend into out of familiarity. The actress, Rani Mukerji, is gorgeous and that's always helpful in a romantic comedy. It seems that they must have done a focus-group testing of different endings because the one they chose seems incongrous with the rest of the story. But still a fun movie.

Khosla Ka Ghosla
is a Hindi comedy that follows the adventures of a fellow who buys land in a far-flung suburb of Delhi to build a house. It's probably the best movie that I watched this year. In any language.

Of course, this could be just a selection bias i.e. are the movies so good because these are the movies that our friends (who would tend to have tastes similar to mine) decided to buy? Or is the general quality much better?

p.s. Where would you get these movies? Obviously not in your neighborhood Blockbuster. Netflix does carry Indian movies. Otherwise, try an Indian spices store in your neighborhood. They often double as movie rental places. The movies all come with English subtitles -- Africa, Arabia and South-east Asia are big markets for Indian movies -- so Indian movies have always had multiple-language subtitles. I don't know Hindi, so I watched the Hindi movies with subtitles.

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