Netflix has a large selection of films from India, especially from the Hindi industry, and looking through their catalog can be overwhelming. If you don’t know where to look, and the algorithm is failing you, here are eight places to start. From big Bollywood productions to some smaller indie/arthouse selections, these are among the best Hindi films that Netflix has to offer.
Dil Se.. and the films of Mani Ratnam
Beloved director Mani Ratnam is one of the few Indian filmmakers to achieve international critical acclaim and success. Dil Se.. is his most well known, and it isn’t hard to understand why. It’s a stunningly beautiful drama of politics and colonization masquerading as a star-crossed love story with some of the most unforgettable images and songs in Bollywood. Several of Ratnam’s other films are also streaming - the Hindi dramas Yuva and Guru, as well as Tamil classics Bombay, Kannathil Muthamittal, and O Kadhal Kanmani. All six are well worth your time, and if you haven’t explored Indian cinema yet, his filmography is a great way to begin.
Farah Khan’s Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om
Two of Farah Khan’s four directorial outings are available to stream, and both are simply magical. The longtime choreographer who helped popularize some of Bollywood’s biggest stars also has a wonderful talent for directing, and her films are perfect if you need a pick me up. Khan’s most prominent skill is her deft way of weaving together classic tropes and references — filled with cameos and meta in-jokes, they are the work of someone deeply in love with the art of cinema, her various obsessions effortlessly blended into her own signature style. Main Hoon Na is the story of an army major who goes undercover at a college, and Om Shanti Om is an epic of romance and reincarnation following a young man whose life is changed after he encounters his favorite actress. Both have plenty of comedy, romance, action, and joy - plus, the more you learn about Bollywood, the more rewarding they’ll be on rewatch. Make sure and stick around for the end credits!
Highway and the films of Imtiaz Ali
Imtiaz Ali is a controversial filmmaker – his deeply personal romantic films are gorgeous, filled with unforgettable music and complex (often unlikable) characters and stories that are sure to spark discussion. Highway, his masterpiece, is about a young rich girl who falls in love with her kidnapper and the freedom he incidentally grants her. Four of his other films: Jab We Met, Jab Harry Met Sejal, Tamasha, and Love Aaj Kal (2020) are also streaming. Love him or hate him, his films are always fascinating, and show a flawed, messy humanity that is rare to see onscreen and hard to resist.
Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya
Ishqiya has a tone unlike any other movie — a buddy road trip comedy that is heartwarming without being saccharine, funny yet dark and sad, Ishqiya is steeped in a love for classic Hindi music and art. Three perfect lead performances from Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah, and Arshad Warsi combined with lovely photography and witty writing give a modern indie vibe to Ishqiya’s classic Bollywood framework. It and the equally brilliant sequel Dedh Ishqiya make a funny, sexy, and exciting saga.
The Bengali novel Devdas, about a man who descends into depression and alcoholism after losing the woman he loves, has had several screen adaptations, but Anurag Kashyap’s Dev.D is a very different beast. Taking place in modern times, Dev is a spoiled young slacker who turns to drugs after breaking up with his childhood love, and eventually meets a similarly haunted sex worker who changes his life. Dev.D is a very black comedy laced with drugs and abuse, with a colorful and deranged energy that plays almost as a parody to its lavish predecessors. The subversive retelling pushes back against the reverence for its tragic hero, while still offering the possibility for forgiveness and redemption. This subversive film with a huge cult following still feels fresh and raw over a decade later.
A period piece rich with detailed costumes and sets, Amrapali takes place in 500 BC and is the story of an insatiable king determined to ruthlessly conquer every city he can. Along the way he meets the dancer Amrapali, played by the radiant actress Vyjayanthimala, who eventually makes him question his values. Somewhat of a flop on release, this film is heavy with the erotic energy of violence, power, and hypnotic classical dance that play beautifully today.
Andhadhun was such a hit on release that it already has two remakes, with a third in the works. The story of a blind musician getting dragged into a murder mystery with a femme fatale is pure Hitchcock, and this is the rare homage to the master that blends classic and modern techniques in a way that doesn’t feel tired or derivative. Not only does it deliver big on surprises, it’s impeccably shot and performed, with leading actors Tabu and Ayushmann Khurrana deftly switching from suspense to dark humor with a depth not usually found in the genre. This will appeal to anyone looking for something offbeat, and those who miss the formerly dime-a-dozen thrillers of Hollywood.
Jodhaa Akbar (2008)
A true epic, this drama set in the Mughal Empire in the 16th century has everything you could want from a big budget period piece. Royal intrigue, lavish costumes and sets, great music, and action are the perfect backdrop for the longing romance at its center between gorgeous stars Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. They truly don’t make them like this anymore - the big budget dedicated primarily to aesthetic pleasures and the slow burn of both a relationship and an empire in turmoil is a pleasure to sink into and escape for a few hours.