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English- language South Asian Cinema – Movies with Spice

Due to my German-Pakistani background I grew up with Indian movies. For many years I was obsessed with Bollywood blockbusters, but since my father had never taught me or my sisters how to speak Urdu, I had to rely on English subtitles. Soon not only Bollywood movies but also English/American movies with Indian actors became a part of my obsession.

So, when my blogger friend Sherryn Daniel asked me to write a guest post about South Asian Cinema in English language, I was ecstatic. I actually thought it would be a piece of cake, and that I would have created a top ten list in no time. But when I did some research I found so many movies I have never heard of.

It is fascinating that South Asia has been influencing the film industry for quite a while, starting in 1951 with a movie called The River. Another movie that was influenced by the Indian culture was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom from 1984, which was actually the reason why the PG-13 rating was created; it was rated PG, because there was nothing between PG and R at that time (even Jaws (1975) was rated PG). But parents started criticizing the system, since Indi’s trip to India was way too scary and dark for a PG-movie. So the director Steven Spielberg suggested the MPAA to add a PG-14 rating, the MPAA settled for PG-13, and the rest is history. Now you know that, You’re welcome!
And let’s not forget about the two biggest success stories: Gandhi (1982), starring Ben Kingsley, receiving eight Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role, and recently Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (2012), an impressive book adaptation that has been flood with awards, but unfortunately didn’t enjoy as much popularity at the box office.
I had many movies to choose from, but I have come up with a list of what I believe are the 10 most significant ones, besides the ones I have already mentioned above. Of course these aren’t the only good ones out there. There are so many more movies to enjoy, which is why (English) South Asian Cinema might become a new column on my blog, but I haven’t decided yet.

So, here it goes:

1. Mississippi Masala (1991)Spicy, Sensual, Emotional and Entertaining

Mississippi MasalaCategory: Drama/ Romance
Actors: Denzel Washington, Sarita Choudhury, Roshan Seth
Duration: 116 min
Rated: R

You might like this movie if you enjoyed:
Jungle Fever (1991), East is East (1999)

Long Story Short:
Traditions and cultures clash together when Meena, an Indian girl whose parents had to move from Uganda to Mississippi when she was a little child, falls in love with the black Demetrius. What they don’t know: There is an unwritten set of rules they have broken by falling in love with each other. Will they be able to convince their families that they are meant to be together?

Review:
Mississippi Masala is a beautiful movie about an Indian family that is forced to move from Uganda to a whole different world: The United States. Not only do they have to get used to a new and more open culture, but they also have to tolerate the hatred and racism that surrounds them, because they end up in Mississippi. Why they end up in Mississippi? – Who knows. But fact is not only Caucasians can be racist. Anybody can be racists towards someone else, and sometimes there is more to it than just plain ignorance.
The chemistry between Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury is extremely believable and the love scenes are very steamy, so just be aware: you might have to fan yourself. The rest of the cast is doing a terrific job and we learn a lot about the different cultures: Indian, African, and American. They even watch my favorite Indian movie on TV: Nagina. Well, actually it’s the second part which is not as good as the original, but I can live with that.
Mississippi Masala is one of my all-time favorite American-Indian movies, because it has heart, smart dialogues, and makes you think, laugh, and even cry. We can all learn from it: We were made to love someone, no matter what race, color, religion or gender that person might have.

Rating: 10/10

2. Bend it Like Beckham (2002)Probably the most popular movie amongst the South Asian cinema in English Language

Bend it Like BeckhamCategory: Drama/ Comedy
Actors: Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Duration: 112 min
Rated: PG-13

You might like this movie if you enjoyed:
Mississippi Masala (1991), East is East (1999)

Long Story Short:
Jess has a dream: Becoming a successful soccer player and traveling across the world. But her family thinks she should stop with this foolishness and learn what a traditional Indian woman does: Cooking, taking care of her husband, and raising children. But what’s more important, her family’s expectations or her dreams?

Review:
Surprisingly, almost everyone I know has at least heard of Bend it Like Beckham, and it even has been quoted or mentioned in TV Shows and movies (most recently in Hot in Cleveland Season 4, Episode 16), so I would say this fun and very realistic movie made in U.K. has definitely set a trend. It gives a great insight on traditions and values and how important it is to adapt to one’s surroundings, especially when moving to a different country. Parminder Nagra is a wonderful actress, and I actually didn’t even know that Jules was played by Keira Knightley until I recently watched it again. Bend it Like Beckham has romance, drama, comedy, and the most beautiful Hindi version of Jennifer Rush’s The Power of Love. It deserves to be watched more than once.

Rating: 9/10

3. East is East (1999)Growing up in two Cultures

East Is EastCategory: Drama/ Comedy
Actors: Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Jordan Routledge, Archie Panjabi, Emil Marwa, Chris Bisson, Jimi Mistry
Duration: 96 min
Rated: R

You might like this movie if you enjoyed:
Bend it Like Beckham (2002), The Namesake (2006)

Long Story Short:
Growing up in England and having a British mother, George Khan’s children refuse to play by his rules. He has already driven away one of his sons with his strict Pakistani Muslim way of thinking, now there are six more children left, who aren’t too fond of his ideas either. Mother Ella is usually the center of tranquility and remains very reserved when it comes to addressing these issues in order to keep the peace. But when George picks out two girls who his two sons are supposed to get married to, things get heated and not only are traditions questioned but also the importance of status in the community and the wishes of his children. What is more important?

Review:
Often advertised as a hilarious comedy, East is East is more of a drama with comedic moments. Nonetheless it is a very interesting and intimate portrait of a Pakistani family in England. Growing up under the same circumstances as the children in the movie – my father is Pakistani and my mother is German – I am thankful that I have never had strict rules to live by besides being happy and proud of who I am. But I also know from friends that this is how many interracial children, or children whose parents moved from Pakistan to a European Country, or Canada, or the United States grow up: Obeying traditional rules, and being sheltered from every cultural influence that could question or shatter those rules they have to live by. Om Puri is an amazing actor and plays a father who broke his own traditions but wants his children to follow them, maybe to make up for his own mistakes? His wife Ella, played by Linda Bassett, tolerates his occasional breakouts, even though this isn’t the man she once fell in love with. The characters of the children are equally well played, the script is very sad, yet heartwarming and thought provoking. A lot of people who live in small communities, whether Pakistani, Indian, Turkish etc. depend on what the other community members and family think about them, which is why their children often have to make sacrifices. But would you put your children’s or your own desires aside just so other people are pleased? East is East gives you a good insight on tradition and family values, and it definitely has its funny moments, too. So tune in and enjoy.

Rating: 8/10

4. West is West (2010)Just as Good as Part one if Not even Better

West is WestCategory: Drama/ Comedy
Actors: Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Aqib Khan, Lesley Nicol
Duration: 99 min
Rated: PG

You might like this movie if you enjoyed:
East is East (1999), The Namesake (2006)

Long Story Short:
The last child that lives at home with George and Ella is giving them trouble. Puberty has obviously kicked in, because Sanjid is aggravated all day and doesn’t listen to anything his parents say. On top of that calls his father the P-Word, which is just as bad as the N-Word. His father decides to take him to Pakistan so Sanjid can value his inheritance. But it’s not only Sanjid who has to learn a lesson.

Review:
In this sequel of East is East we get to the bottom of the truth. We learn about the reason why George never went back to Pakistan. West is West is just as honest and real as the previous part, and in my opinion it got even better, maybe, because it has more of the Bollywood charm and drama that I love so much about the South Asian Cinema. The soundtrack is beautiful and works well with the great cinematography, which by the way is much better than in part one. The story is more fluent and heart wrenching, the actors are even more engaged, and Ella and especially Auntie Annie deliver some hilarious moments. I can totally relate to Sanjid’s feeling of not being fully accepted anywhere because of being a half- breed. Someone needed to tell him, that he has to start accepting himself and embrace each side of him. Again it is advertised as a comedy, but it is not. It is a life lesson to appreciate your family; it shows that if you leave something behind but continue to regret your decision, you will never be able to move forward. It doesn’t matter if you have seen East is East, because the two movies aren’t really connected to each other, but as a Southern Asian movie lover, these two should definitely be in your library.

Rating: 8/10

5. Fire (1996)Banned from Indian Movie Theaters, yet Celebrated by Many

FireCategory: Drama
Actors: Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das, Javed Jaffrey, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Kushal Rekhi
Duration: 108 min
Rated: Unrated

You might like this movie if you enjoyed:
Earth (1998), Water (2005)

Long Story Short:
Sita is living in an arranged marriage with Jatin. After they get married she moves in with his brother Ashok, his sister-in law Radha, and their sick mother. Soon she learns that neither Jatin nor Ashok are capable of giving their wives the love and compassion they need, both for different reason. Soon the two women create a special bond with each other and learn to overcome the miseries they have to face each day.

Review:
First of all I think it is interesting to know that after a very successful start, Fire was banned from Indian movie theater for its lesbian content, as hundreds of Indian fundamentalists started attacking movie theaters. However, it was released on DVD in its uncut version. If I hear a movie is banned from a country I want to see it because it usually has a very strong statement. In this case I was right: As soon as this movie starts you are sucked into a different world; you can smell the spices, hear the music and feel the beats of the Indian drums. It’s a powerful portrait of two women fighting for their desire for the most common thing: Love and Affection. It shows that everyone will accept you as long as you do what you are told, but when you start thinking outside the box, and listening to your own passion, you will be judged. This is not necessarily an issue that only exists in foreign countries, it happens everywhere. The soundtrack of this movie is dead on, and as the heavy drums are rolling in, we know something bad is going to happen. Fire has so many voices and hidden messages, but the most significant ones are probably these: Do as you please. Never forget yourself while being there for others. And most importantly: You deserve to be loved and appreciated. If you don’t shy away from real drama, this is the right movie.

Rating: 8/10

6. Outsourced (2006)Smart, Funny, Romantic and Informative at the same Time

OutsourcedCategory: Comedy/ Romance
Actors: Josh Hamilton, Ayesha Dharker, Asif Basra
Duration: 99 min
Rated: PG-13

You might like this movie if you enjoyed:
Marigold (2007), The Other End of The Line (2008)

Long Story Short:
Since his entire company is being outsourced, a salesman has to go to India and train his replacements.

Review:
Outsourced is a wonderful movie that teaches its viewers so much about the Indian culture. While watching I felt like diving into another world, which is exactly what I am looking for in a movie: I want to be lost in it. The movie points out the most obvious trade of India: There are mainly wealthy or poor people, and hardly anything in between. But even the poor people seem to be very thankful for what they have, and at the same time they won’t stop thanking you if you give them a little extra money or something to eat. I haven’t been to India yet, but I experienced the same reactions when I went to Egypt in 2010. Of course there are beggars, who try to rip you off or steal from you, but the majority is very kind- hearted. So Outsourced is also very authentic when it comes to giving an impression of India. The actors are a pure delight, the soundtrack rocks, and the storyline and dialogues are not only refreshing but also very smart. One out of many things I learned from this movie: If people are so outraged about outsourcing, why would they prefer buying a cheaper product which is made in China rather than buying an American product, and pay about 10 times more? I mean the answer is obvious but it doesn’t make sense.
Outsourced
is a pure treat and if you are a fan of the Indian culture you will love it.

Rating: 8/10

7. Slumdog Millionaire (2009)An impressive Movie From a Great Director

Slumdog MillionaireCategory: Drama/ Romance
Actors: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Saurabh Shukla
Duration: 120 min
Rated: R

You might like this movie if you enjoyed:
Shadows of Time (2004), The Kite Runner (2007)

Long Story Short:
Jamal gets the once-in a lifetime chance to be a contestant in the Indian version of “Who wants to be a Millionaire”. But when he is about to win the grand prize he gets arrested under suspicion of cheating. While he is getting questioned, he reveals the story of his life, and how someone born in the slums is actually able to answer all these tough questions.

Review:
I said it before in my Trance Review and I say it again: Danny Boyle is one of the best directors that exist. He never sticks to the same genre, his camera work is always excellent and he has a gift of picking out underdogs for his leading roles that turn out to be brilliant. So it is not a surprise that he doesn’t disappoint with Slumdog Millionaire either. Dev Patel plays a very fragile Indian man who grew up in the slums of India, and fought his way all the way to being a contestant on a major TV-Quiz Show. But he doesn’t do it for the money; like in all Bollywood movies it’s about a girl. Slumdog Millionaire is a movie about passion and survival. It gives us an insight on the not so glamorous side of Mumbai, where people have to fight just to make it to the next day. Does it have a happy ending like all Bollywood movies? You will have to see for yourself. Fact is Slumdog Millionaire is one of the best Bollywood inspired movies from the past years that is available in English. If you don’t mind watching an Indian movie in original language you should definitely check out Shadows of Time (2004). It is comparable to Slumdog Millionaire and one of my favorite Indian dramas along with many others! 🙂

Rating: 8/10

8. The Guru (2002)An Homage to Old Bollywood Movies

The GuruCategory: Comedy
Actors: Jimi Mistry, Heather Graham, Marisa Tomei
Duration: 94 min
Rated: R

You might like this movie if you enjoyed:
Touch of Pink (2004), A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song (2011)

Long Story Short:
Growing up in India with an obsession for Hollywood movies, Ram wants to travel to the United States to live the American Dream and become a famous actor. When the big day has finally come, he has to realize that it’s not that easy to make it in a country that really isn’t as magical as the movies suggest. Through a misunderstanding he finds himself becoming the personal sex guru of the rich and famous. What will his family think?

Review:
Jimi Mistry is one of a few Indian actors who always has a role in some production, even if it’s just a small supporting character in a TV-show. He gained recongintion with his role in East is East, and finally became successful when The Guru hit the United States and the rest of the world. Heather Graham and Marissa Tomei add the right amount of sex appeal, and together the three protagonists let us witness how gullible society can be. All you have to do is dress different, act different, say things no one else would, and if you are lucky and have the right people around, you can be successful. The Guru is a light hearted and amusing film that is not only funny and well- acted but also pays homage to old Bollywood movies, and offers nice dancing scenes.

Rating: 7/10

9. Bollywood Hollywood (2013)Paying Someone to get the Family off your Back

Bollywood HollywoodCategory: Drama/ Comedy
Actors: Rahul Khanna, Moushumi Chatterjee, Dina Pathak
Duration: 105 min
Rated: PG-13

You might like this movie if you enjoyed:
Bride and Prejudice (2005), Marigold (2007)

Long Story Short:
Rahul recently lost the love of his life in a tragic accident. Since his finance wasn’t Indian, his grandmother and mother think that it is time for him to look for a nice Indian girl. As a matter of fact, they only allow his sister to get married if he starts dating one. Hot and bothered he hires an escort to pretend to be his girlfriend. Her name is Sue, and he doesn’t know anything about her besides the fact that she could pass as an Indian. His family loves her and soon Rahul establishes feelings for her as well. But what’s behind this mysterious beauty that he knows so little about?

Review:
Bollywood/Hollywood is supposed to be a spoof like the Scary Movie Franchise, but it is not making fun of Indian movies in my opinion, it simply gives smart references to Bollywood films, songs and cultural stereotypes. At no point did I get the feeling that they made fun of anything, plus it has a very cute and … well, I wanted to say unique story, but it’s actually just a common love story. But there are thousands of jeans or plaid pants in this world, all made out of the same fabric, but each of them has a different transformation. And so does Bollywood/Hollywood. The actors are very committed and therefore believable, my favorite amongst them all was Dina Pathak, who plays Rahul’s grandma; she gives the whole movie a certain sense of humor comparable to Betty White. The styling of the actors was a little poor, and especially Lisa Ray needed more glamour but maybe that was a budget issue. Furthermore this movie might not be as much fun for someone who doesn’t understand the many references to old Bollywood movies. So just be aware of that.

Rating: 6.5/10

10. The Other End of The Line (2008)A Cheesy Love Story with a touch of Bollywood

The Other End of The LineCategory: Romance/ Comedy
Actors: Jesse Metcalfe, Shriya Saran, Sara Foster, Anupam Kher
Duration: 106 min
Rated: PG-13

You might like this movie if you enjoyed:
Bollywood Hollywood (2002), Bend it like Beckham (2002)

Long Story Short:
Granger Woodruff is a successful marketing consultant, and has everything a man could ask for besides the right woman by his side. The information that someone has been using his credit card for several thousands of dollars couldn’t come at a worse time, because his latest client is taking the best out of him. But strangely it is also a blessing because he starts building up a connection to Jennifer David, the woman who is handling his case. But what he doesn’t know is that he is actually speaking to Pryia Sethi, who is working in a call-center in India pretending to be an American employee for his credit card company.

Review:
The Other End of the Line is a cheesy love story which doesn’t bring anything new to the table, however, since it takes place on two different continents it is a little bit different compared to other love stories. The two main characters are gorgeous and fun to watch. We get to know the struggle some women and men in India have to go through as far as arranged marriages go, because this tradition still exists. In this case the daughter still had a saying in it, but her parents have been very pushy about her marrying a certain guy. New to me was the drink that helps you get over a cold faster: Hot water with lemon, cardamom and fresh ginger. I will surely try that if I get sick this winter. Without Anupam Kher this film would only be half as good, because he gives the story the drama and fun we love so much about Bollywood movies. The Other End of the Line is a cute romantic comedy that shows that two different mindsets can work together as long as they can compromise.

Rating: 6.5/10

Bonus:

I wasn’t sure if I should ad this movie to the list, so I decided to mention it to you separately:

Booty Call (1997) is a black comedy about two friends (Jamie Fox and Tommy Davdison) who haven’t had sex in a while, and they are in desperate need to get laid. So, what’s easier than setting up a booty call? But as the night continues it brings them nothing but complications and trouble.
Booty CallIt has a crude sense of humor, so if you are not into that you might want to stay away from it. It is probably comparable to the House Party Trilogy from the 1990’s. The reason why I mention this movie in my article is because it has two hilarious Indian characters, who despite of the little air time they have, steal everyone’s show. Absolutely hilarious. Now, again, if you don’t like stereotypes and crude sense of humor, you might not want to watch it. But I certainly loved it!

So that’s it, folks. Like I said, this might become a regular column on my blog, so if you think it’s a good idea let me know. Please comment, like, follow me on Twitter @SimonSays_Watch and like my Facebook page! 😀

Thanks again, Sherryn, for suggesting this topic to me. Working with you is a real treat!

For All of you who don’t know Sherryn’s wonderful blog, check it out by clicking right here.

9 Comments »

  1. Outsourced is my favourite from the list. I liked Bend it Like Beckam & most of Slumdog Millionaire. Life of Pi is awesome, no doubt 🙂 As the others are concerned, I need to watch more of the kind; btw, got low expectations about movies with Shriya Saran – Midnight’s Children was an exception! 😀

    • Yeah, that’s why it is number 10, her acting is so and so, could be much better, but the script didn’t deliver that much either, nonetheless cute movie… Have you seen all movies from the list?

      • Yes sir… they are all good. I tried to give a variety, I really love the drama kind because the funny ones usually get silly and not in a good way. But the ones on the list are fine! 😀

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