The Early 2000s, an era marked by flip phones and no social media. Hollywood was thriving with itsully fledged superstars, a concept that has begun to vanish as we near 2020.
Across the ocean in India, Bollywood was similarly coasting on the star power of a select few household names. This was the decade where Shah Rukh Khan fully leaned into his nickname “King Khan,” dominating the box office; Aamir Khan started to transition from being a reliable on-screen star to calling the shots off-screen; and Hrithik Roshan continued his rise as India’s heartthrob. The films themselves varied from thrillers to romance epics, often mixing genres as Bollywood’s “masala flicks” generally do.
Here are 10 of bollywood's best from many of the timeless classics and crucial views for anyone intruiged by the Hindi Film Industry.
Taare Zameen Par (2007)
Director: Aamir Khan
A reliable tearjerker, Taare Zameen Par shows us the power of love and acceptance through the relationship of an eight-year-old child with dyslexia and his compassionate teacher, the only adult who is able to pin down his disability. Traditional Indian educational systems are notoriously unsympathetic to mental and learning disabilities; that this film tackled the subject caused a groundswell of positive conversation during its release in 2007. It’s one of the most beautiful films of this century, and is unconventional as far as Bollywood goes—there’s noted realism to the story and virtually no song-and-dance numbers—but taps into the heart of cinema: love conquers all, and love can save us, too.
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
You may have heard of Lagaan, one of the most easy entryways into Bollywood. The film famously received India’s third-ever Academy Award nomination in 2001 and is rooted in a rich entanglement of a high-stakes sports game and a forbidden romance. An epic sports drama based in colonial India, Lagaan is the story of a group of Indian villagers who challenge their British colonizers to a game of cricket in exchange for the removal of their increasingly growing taxes. We get recruiting and training montages, drama amongst teammates, an intercultural flirtation, and a bangin’ soundtrack from the legend A.R. Rahman. It has everything and has been rightfully hailed as one of India’s most entertaining and thoughtful productions that seems to only get better with age.
Dil Chahta Hai (2001)
Director: Farhan Akhtar
A story of youngsters finding themselves, Dil Chahta Hai set the stage for many contemporary Bollywood films when it premiered at the start of the decade. The film is an exploration of mid-20s angst and unrest, of following unconventional desires, of finding happiness amidst the madness. Sameer (Saif Ali Khan) chases a girl out of his league; Siddharth (Akshaye Khanna) lusts after an older divorcee; Akash (Aamir Khan) tries to reconnect with someone from his past. Their decisions test each other and themselves, and cause rifts in their seemingly unbreakable friendship. Dil Chahta Hai is about the bonds of friendship, and just how far they can be stretched.
Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001)
Director: Karan Johar
Featuring Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan (one of Bollywood’s most prominent on-screen duos), Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (K3G) is a tale of class warfare. When Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) falls in love with Anjali (Kajol), his father (Amitabh Bachchan) forbids him from marrying her because of her lower economic status. Driven by love, Rahul disobeys his father and is banished from his household and from the family. K3G embodies the Indian value of respecting your elders even when they’re wrong, and demonstrates the idea that even the most stubborn people can come around when prodded by love. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll most definitely find yourself Googling the film’s songs afterwards.
Director: Sanjay Leela Bansali
Just like Hollywood, Bollywood has certain stories it keeps coming back to, and Devdas is one of the industry’s favorites. This 2002 film is the third iteration, starring Shah Rukh Khan as Devdas, a man who turns to alcohol and the company of a courtesan after his marriage to his childhood sweetheart is rejected by their families. The period piece is a devastating view of how caste and class have played a role in Indian society, and a depressing end to an epic love story. Grab your tissues for this one.
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
A modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, Omkara is a politically minded action thriller. Omkara (Ajay Devgn) is a gang leader and political enforcer, who steals a bride (Kareena Kapoor) on her wedding night to keep as his own wife, and later runs for office himself. Leaving his old position vacant, he appoints one of his former lieutenants, Kesu (Vivek Oberoi), to lead the force, which only causes the other loyal servant, Langda (Saif Ali Khan), to seethe in jealousy. Langda sets in motion an elaborate plan to bring down Kesu, but ends up ruining much more than his career. Omkara drew international praise for its performances, story and direction, and is still one of the finest Bollywood films of this century.
Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003)
Director: Nikkhil Advani
Based in New York City, Kal Ho Naa Ho presents a love triangle bound to have you crying by the Hudson River. Naina (Preity Zinta) falls in love with her quirky neighbor Aman (Shah Rukh Khan), who is in turn trying to set her up with her best friend Rohan (Saif Ali Khan). It’s his way to hide his true feelings and shield her from the truth behind his jovial smile—he’s slowly dying. Interfamily drama, commentary on immigrants in America and homosexuality within the Indian community, and a remix to Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” (that will 100% get stuck in your head) all combine in this engaging weepy.
3 Idiots (2009)
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Three engineering students—Rancho (Aamir Khan), Farhan (R. Madhavan) and Raju (Sharman Joshi)—are navigating college together, constantly under fire from their tyrant-like headmaster (Boman Irani). Eventually the trio convince him of their abilities and he allows them to graduate. But after graduation, ringleader Rancho disappears from their lives and, years later, the group sets out to find him. 3 Idiots’s charm isn’t just in the story of college friends challenging and supporting one another, or that it does so in comedic moments full of heart. It’s also that the story makes a point to comment on the rigorous expectations of Indian schooling, which sometimes drives students to extreme decisions like suicide.
Rang De Basanti (2006)
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
A foreign filmmaker casts a group of friends in her film about India’s freedom fighters, but soon finds life mirroring art. What starts as an easygoing encounter (and film) suddenly turns more serious; after one of the friends is killed at the hands of the corrupt Indian government, the group trades in their passivity for the revolution. Rang de Basanti is about having love for your country even when it directly opposes your values, and in today’s political climate it may ignite a fire within you to stand up and do something.
Director: Shaad Ali
Born into two different societal circumstances, Aditya (Vivek Oberoi, at his peak) and Suhani (Rani Mukerji) elope after their parents reject their planned nuptials. However, life after marriage proves to be just as difficult and multiple arguments threaten to tear them apart. After one particular fight, when Suhani doesn’t come home, Aditya is left to search the streets for his love, ultimately finding her in an unimaginable place. Saathiya is one of the rare Bollywood films that shows marital strife in such a raw manner—and the beautifully composed soundtrack by A.R. Rahman only adds to its charm.
These evergreen movies will make you go through a emotional rollercoaster.
Let us know which were your favorite movies of the 2000s in the comments.