When learning how to speak Hindi, it’s a good thing to immerse yourself in the language as much as possible. If you can’t go to India, you should listen to the language as often as possible to learn its rhythm and accents.
One wonderful way to listen to Hindi being spoken by natives is by watching Hindi movies in the original language.
History of Indian Cinema
Before there was Bollywood, there was Tollywood. Indian cinema first became noticed internationally while it was mostly based in Tollygunge, Calcutta in the 1930s (hence “tolly”-wood). Now, the name refers to the Telugu-language film industry.
The term “Bollywood” first appeared in the 1970s, when the Indian film industry became the world’s greatest producer ahead of the United States. It is a juxtaposition of “Bombay” (now Mumbai) and “Hollywood”. While not all Bollywood movies are made in Mumbai, it is currently the centre of Hindi film production, to the extent that there is a dialect of Hindi (Mumbai Hindi) in the otherwise Marathi-speaking area.
Early Hindi cinema
The first movie to be made in India was a silent film called Raja Harishchandra in 1913, with Hindi and English intertitles.
The first Indian talkie was Alam Ara by Ardeshir Irani in 1931, inspired by the American musical film Show Boat, and it was recorded in Hindi. The industry boomed in the 1930s as movies became a means of escaping the difficult times that India was going through, including World War II and then the Indian independence movement. With the partition of India and Pakistan, the Urdu-speaking Lahore film industry (Lollywood) drifted away from Bollywood, though many Hindi Bollywood films still use a lot of Urdu terms.
The director of the first sound film was also the first filmmaker to make a colour movie in Hindi, called Kisan Kanya, in 1937.
Perhaps because the first Hindi talking film was inspired by a musical, songs (and dance) has remained a staple of Bollywood movies. However, for those who don’t enjoy musical numbers, a number of wonderful Hindi-language films do without, particularly some modern dramas.
Movies are also a great way to learn your Hindi alphabet.
Remember, though: not every Indian movie is in Hindi! While there are some wonderful Tamil, Punjabi, and Kannada films out there, they won't be much help in learning Hindi.
So here’s a list of some of the best Hindi-language movies to help you learn Hindi!
Learn Hindi with Romance Films
Called Series of Events in English, this film by Yash Chopra tells the tale of two brothers and their loves. When one of the brothers, in the Indian Air Force (Shashi Kapoor) is killed, leaving behind a pregnant fiancee (Jaya Bachhan), his brother Amit (Amitabh Bachchan) decides to marry her, breaking up with the woman he loved (Rekha). Years later, they meet again and rekindle their romance.
This film is especially well known for the real-life love triangle between Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan and Amitabh’s mistress Rekha.
This Bollywood movie is considered one of Chopra’s best.
Dil To Pagal Hai (1997)
The Heart is Crazy, directed by Yash Chopra, was an instant blockbuster and won three National Film Awards and eight Filmfare Awards. This film embraces the Bollywood musical trope, as its main characters are all members of a dance troupe that performs musical plays. It plays on the expectations people have of love:
- Rahul (Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan), doesn’t really believe in love
- Pooja (Madhuri Dixit) believes that everyone has a true soulmate
- Nisha (Karisma Kapoor) believes that love is something that grows out of friendship.
With these expectations, a love triangle is certain to get complicated…
Mujhse Dosti Karoge (2002)
Will you be my friend?, directed by Kunal Kohli, is a story about close friends who move away and promise to stay in touch by email. But when one of the friends (Kareena Kapoor) moves on to other things, the other (Rani Mukherjee) writes in her name and she and the male lead, Raj (played by Hrithik Roshan), fall in love. When he comes back to India, however, things get complicated…
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The Lunchbox (2013)
In this film by Ritesh Batra, we follow a budding friendship in Mumbai between widower Saajan (Irrfan Khan) and unhappy housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) when the courier that delivers Ila's husband’s lunch accidentally gives it to Saajan, who is lonely since his wife died and very frustrated by the man he is training to replace him when he retires (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). It was nominated for Best Film Not in the English Language at the 2015 BAFTA.
You will learn Hindi pronunciation in no time with Bollywood films.
Historical Romance: a Hindi Lesson
The English are not the only ones to enjoy a period romance - there are a good many Hindi historical films, some of which are true classics.
Twelve years in the making, this classic tale of love in the Mughal Empire directed by K. Asif was the most expensive Indian film ever produced at the time, with a single song sequence costing more than most movies in their entirety.
Based on an Urdu play by Imtiaz Ali Taj, it stars Dilip Kumar as Salim, the dissolute son of the Mughal emperor Akbar (Prithviraj Kapoor) who was sent to war and came back a hero, and Madhubala as his love interest Anarkali, a court dancer.
Written and directed by Kamal Amrohi, Pakeezah follows two generations of Lucknow courtesans in the 1900s as they attempt to find true love despite the views of society and the wishes of their lovers' families. In her last role, Meena Kumari plays both Nargis and her daughter Sahibjaan, while Ashok Kumar plays Shahabuddin, Nargis’s lover and Sahibjaan’s father. Sahibjaan’s love interest, Salim (played by Raaj Kumar) is willing to defy convention to be with her only to be thwarted by her former patrons, the family patriarch and Sahibjaan’s aunt, who raised her. In the end, though, love prevails.
Jodhaa Akbar (2008)
Actually conceived as a prequel to Mughal-e-Azam, Jodhaa Akbar, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, recounts the love between the Moghul emperor Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar (Hrithik Roshan) and a princess from Rajput, Jodhaa Bai (Aishwarya Rai). It has won several awards
Action Films in the Hindi Language
Jewel Thief (1967)
A heist film by Vijay Anand starring Dev Anand, Vyjayantimala and Ashok Kumar in which a young man is pulled into the world of crime due to his uncanny resemblance to a jewel thief. A surprisingly many-layered story that will thrill you to the end.
This thriller, which spawned two sequels, follows Assistant Commissioner Jai Dixit (Abhishek Bachchan) as he tries to catch a motorcycle gang that has been robbing banks, enlisting the help of local biker Ali Khan (Uday Chopra). Ali later joins the gang under its leader Kabir (John Abraham), where he falls in love with gangster Sheena (Esha Deol). When they go for one last heist, everything goes wrong…
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Bollywood Dramas for Learning Hindi
Some excellent dramas have come out of Bollywood. Here are a few of them:
Mother India (1957)
Directed by Mehboob Khan, this film starring Nargis recounts the story of a poor woman who tries to raise her three sons alone when her husband leaves. A moving tale of honour in the face of adversity, this film is controversial for both breaking with traditional women’s roles (a woman has to make her way alone and become a breadwinner) and reinforcing them (it places a lot of importance on traditional female virtues).
A complex tale that addresses subjects such as caste, infidelity and child marriages, Ankur follows the life of Lakshmi (Shabana Azmi), the wife of a deaf alcoholic potter Kishtayya (Sadhu Meher), who allows a sexually frustrated Surya (Anant Nag), the son of the village landlord, to impregnate her. When Kishtayya managed to clean up his act, Surya believes he wants revenge…
Comedy Bollywood Films for Learning Hindi
Mr. & Mrs. ‘55 (1955)
In this romantic comedy directed by Guru Dutt, Anita (Madhubala) needs to marry within a month of turning 21 if she wants to inherit her father’s fortune. Her aunt (Lalita Pawar) hires a struggling cartoonist named Preetam (Guru Dutt) to marry her and divorce her, but of course, he and Anita fall in love…
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011)
You Won’t Get This Life Again by Zoya Akhtar is about three childhood friends (played by Hrithik Rochan, Abhay Deol and Farhan Akhtar) who go on a trip to Spain and are forced to confront their ideas about each other - and themselves.
This heartwarming romantic comedy by Anurag Basu takes place in the 1970s and follows the relationship between a deaf young man (Barfi, played by Ranbir Kapoor) and two women: Shruti (Ileana D’Cruz) and Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra), who is autistic. Not to be confused with the 2013 film of the same name in the Kannada language!
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