Away from the fanfare of the weekly blockbusters, there are a few films that occasionally pop up and surprise us by being subtle and heartwarming. What is common about these films is that they all have complex questions to ask but they are not very loud about it all. They raise doubts in the viewers’ mind and provide the right landscape and atmosphere to mull over them. These films do not spend loads of crores in their making neither do they expect to become box office winners. The genuine purpose of these films is to be minimalistic and poignant, saying enough to put across their point. Here is a list of 20 such films that you need to watch when you are in the mood for some soul searching. Also checkout our list of Best Hollywood movies based in india and 30 Offbeat Bollywood movies.
20 Must Watch Hindi Movies Of All Time
Piku is a foolishly headstrong daughter of her foolishly headstrong father, played by the legendary Amitabh Bacchan. The plot is quite simplistic and hence lends the characters a lot of time to deal with their conflicts and achieve the needful depth. The structure of this film is refreshing but at the same time not distracting. What begins as almost a sitcom premise, turns into a hilarious road movie and finally ends up being a heartwarming drama that deals with death and roots. Kolkata, as always, is a darling here.
2. Aankhon Dekhi
Aankhon Dekhi involves a screwball plot wherein Sanjay Mishra’s character, who faces an existential crisis, decides to shut up and never speak. Set in a very middle class backdrop, the characters here very relatable and funny in a very organic way. The situations that arise out of the protagonist’s eccentric oath, bring out very humorous yet ultimately profound consequences. Rajat Kapoor has acted brilliantly and directed this gem with such finesse, it’s inexplicably good. This philosophical masterpiece is an ode to serenity during the time of chaos.
Vikramaditya Motwane’s ‘Udaan’ is too good a debut. For once we see teenage through the lenses of reality and not stereotype. The makers have made sure that an eye for detail and truth do not ruin the fun. There is a lot of humour here and a lot more of visceral expression. Relationships have been kept under the microscope until the experience hurts the audience and eventually heals them. This film is painfully relatable and amazingly touching. A trip needs to be taken through our teenage to remember where we have come from, what we have been through and what we endured it all for.
Phantom’s Masaan was heavily lauded during its festival run and it made a lot of people feel that it was just another art-film that was trying to survive without the involvement of any big stars. But when they experienced the film for themselves, the audience realised that the film is just very simple, innocent and amiable. That it turned out to be so meaningful as well was its genius. The songs, the dialogues, the acting, the cinematography, everything is quite poetic about this movie. It deserves an urgent watch by those who are searching for some calm in life.
Vikrmaditya Motwane’s second film was based on O Henry’s short story- The Last Leaf. How beautifully he has woven a heartfelt romance around this depressingly conflicted story is quite commendable. Add to that Amit Trivedi’s ethereal score that he has admitted was a tribute to the late Rd Burman. The aesthetic of the film adds to the fairytale spirit of the film. And as the second half of the film rests on Sonakshi Sinha’s shoulders, she does deliver big time.
6. Dil Chahta Hai
Back in 2001, Farhan Akhtar came up with something too surprising as his directorial debut. Dil Chahta Hai explores the friendship of three guys who are struggling to figure out how life is to be lived. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s breakthrough album broke the charts and we saw mainstream popular actors revolutionalise themselves on the big screen. it was like watching the birth of new cinema. The themes that were discussed in this film were unheard of and the daring that the creators exhibited was worth all the applause. We are still bearing the fruits of the parallel seeds sown by this movie.
Kangana Ranaut grabbed everybody’s attention when she came out with Phantom’s Queen. The film was a surprise superhit and an important event in the timeline of feminism being discussed in mainstream media. When was the last time you cried in the first 15 minutes of a movie? Queen will make you cry, laugh and very urgently root for its protagonist, whose story is so relatable yet so rarely told. Amit Trivedi’s music is foot-tappingly good and the direction of the film is thankfully very light-handed. This solo-honeymoon trip is better than most of the road movies you have ever seen.
This mainstream eye-opener was a film about four women dealing with their indivudual conflicts in rural India. Radhika Apte has done some expectedly beautiful work here and so has the rest of the ensemble. The harsh content of this film deserved a gritty treatment and there, the film does not disappoint. It is courageous in what it wants to show and every creative and technical department has lived up to that ambition. Films like this one and Pink are necessary to continue the important conversations that have finally begun.
All Sanjay Leela Bhansali films seem like his Magnum Opus. But then he returns with yet another epic and it’s just as good as the last one. Black was no exception. But surely it was different. This one did not have soap opera-ish indulgences. What it had in its centre, was a very tricky and soulful chemistry between a blind girl and her teacher. It is not every year that Bollywood comes up with complex plots like these and releases them in the mainstream, with celebrity actors like Rani Mukherji and Amitabh Bacchan involved in them. The whole venture was quite eccentric and bleak. The choices were quite daring for their time and the experience totally paid off. Black is an amazing film that leaves you with a lump in your throat and an eerie soundtrack to hum for days to come.
Ashutosh Gowariker’s follow-up film after Lagaan, Swades- for some- is his best film till date. Yes, it doesn’t have epic pre-independence cricket matches, but it had quite an important plot of brain-drain that nobody would so courageously take up for a mainstream commercial film. It is not usual when Indian films are bigger than the stars acting in them. But even with Shahrukh Khan at its centre, it is the story of the film that’d hold your interest. This is a very simple, tear-jerking film that might seem boring to many. But for those who are patient, the film is nothing but rewarding.
11. Dhobi Ghat
Kiran Rao’s directorial debut runs like a novel. Slow but steady, this film explores 4 parallel lives in the city of Mumbai. Kiran Rao wanted to portray a Mumbai that has never been presented in cinemas. She wanted it to be a tribute. And what a great tribute it is. Ironically, it is Argentinian composer Gustavo Santaolalla who provides the movie with its soul. The theme of Dhobi Ghat is haunting and beautiful at the same time. Just like the city it tries to express through itself.
Nagesh Kukunoor is mostly known for his cricket caper Iqbal. And that’s totally alright. But what is not fair is the anonymity of his next feature Dor. Ayesha Takia and Gul Panag star in this very touching and unique drama about two women who form a very unusual friendship. One character is rural and ignorant while the other is modern and ideological. The sensitivity with which Kukunoor deals with this material is beautiful. And the lightheartedness with which he builds the plot to its consequence is brilliant.
Lunchbox is an ode to the city of Mumbai, where everbody is replaceable it seems. Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur though, are in no way replaceable in this soft, heartwarming drama about regular middle class city dwellers trying to find happiness in a crowd of millions. Though the film got a lot of attention in the awards circuit, it proves that you don’t have to alienate the audience to do so. The film beautifully grips you into its arms and you don’t want it to end even as the plot comes to its fitting conclusion. The humour is omnipresent and the tears are always at the brink of sliding down the cheeks.
Court is quite a successful experiment and it won a lot of accolades for doing it right. The film follows the escapades of an idiosyncratic poet who has a lot of hurtful things to say about the establishment. The establishment does not want his work publishes and he won’t give up. Both of them are pretty headstrong about their respective missions. The satire here is top notch as it unravels the hypocrisy that is rooted deep within the system. A refreshing- if patient- watch. This is a film you should not miss if you want to know how far Indian Cinema has ventured beyond Bollywood.
Patang tells the story of an experience that an NRI has when he comes back home to Gujarat with his daughter for the festival of Uttarayan. The film explores two parts of a family. One that stayed back in their motherland and the other that went out and diversified. The observations here seem very personal and the film is very realistic in its portrayal. The editing is very innovative and the structure, very brave. It all ends up working thanks to the clear vision and the uncompromised execution. Watch out for one of Nawazuddin’s best supporting performances.
16. Saat Khoon Maaf
One of Vishal Bhardwaj’s unfortunate occassonal flops, Saat Khoon Maaf is actually a great piece of cinema. Priyanka Chopra plays Susanna, who kills each of her 7 husbands for their respective flaws. One of them is an addict, one of them is too greedy, one of them is too lusty and one of them is too envious. All these are the qualities that Susanna cannot live with and hence, has to eliminate all of them. The film functions both as a hilarious black comedy and a spine-chilling thriller. The soundtrack is quite haunting and the aesthetic, pretty bleak. Like every good thriller, the end is totally unexpected and fitting. This one won’t leave your mind for a long time after you have watched it.
17. Jodha Akbar
Yes, this is quite a mainstream big budget affair, but at the centre of this film, away from all the jewelry and palaces, is a very sweet and tender conflict. Akbar has married Jodhaa as a part of a military deal. But can romance brew after an arranged marriage, or will it always function like a business deal? This question is quite central to all those who have had arranged marriages. And hence, somehow the story of a Mughal emperor, who lived centuries before us, becomes surprisingly relatable. That’s the magic of cinema… and also A.R. Rahman.
The big daddy of all soul movies ever made in Bollywood. Rajesh Khanna plays the happy go lucky terminally-ill patient, who teaches his doctor a life-lesson that life is too short to be taken too seriously. The dialogues are profound, the treatment, light and the story, tear-jerking. If you haven’t watched this yet, we envy you that you get to watch for the first time now.
Hansal Mehta’s portrayal of the life of a homosexual professor in India is gut-wrenching to say the least. The execution is too realistic and the acting by both Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkumar Rao is amazing to say the least. What could have easily been a patience-testing art film if it was made with pretense is actually a very simple and engaging experience. This film is brave and deserves an immediate watch. Do we have the answers to the difficult questions that it dares to ask?
Farhan Akhtar’s follow-up after Dil Chahta Hai was another super-relatable story, this time of a clueless indecisive guy who does not kow what he aims for, what he stands for. Dil Chahta Hai was an important film. But Lakshya was no less in significance, even though it relatively bombed at the box office. Hrithik Roshan gives one of his career best performances and he is helped along by a great script that has some piercing lines that ring cringe fully true to almost every generation. Farhan Akhtar, as an amateur, did a very different job in terms of treatment, hence proving his direction to be fearless and specific.
All these films will leave you thinking for a long time after you have watched them. They do not gratify you instantly and some of them you might not even comprehend or like in the first attempt. But they will all stay with you, subconsciously asking you timely questions that you will find struggle to find answers to. What is a guarantee is that you will feel different about yourself once you have decrypted each of these films. So make a list of all those you haven’t seen yet and better start with the soul searching!