Mani Ratnam’s romantic thriller is a profound tale of love, longing, and the human spirit set against the backdrop of political unrest. Shah Rukh Khan, in one of his most nuanced performances, portrays a radio journalist who falls for a mysterious woman, played with depth and intensity by Manisha Koirala. Their complex relationship unfolds amidst the scenic landscapes of Northeast India, captured beautifully through Santosh Sivan’s lens. The narrative is further enhanced by Rahman’s haunting soundtrack.
Despite its tragic undertones, Dil Se leaves an indelible impact on the viewer, making it one of the best Hindi movies of the decade.
2. Lagaan (2001)
One of the defining Hindi films of the century, Lagaan altered the course of modern Indian cinema. Ashutosh Gowariker’s epic masterpiece brilliantly blends sports, romance, and socio-political themes. Set in the backdrop of British colonial India, it tells a compelling underdog story through cricket. Aamir Khan’s stellar performance, coupled with Ashutosh Gowariker’s brilliant direction, makes it a must-watch. A.R. Rahman’s compositions add to the charm. Lagaan is an epic tale of resilience and triumph that transcends cultural boundaries.
3. Dil Chahta Hai (2001)
Farhan Akhtar’s directorial debut explored friendship and love with a subtle, indie sensibility. It was a generational shift in our style of storytelling. Recounting his insecurities as a filmmaker in his biography, An Unsuitable Boy, Karan Johar says, “there was a part of me that got a little afraid,” post the release of Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai. “I felt in that year, the syntax of cinema had changed… What was really, intrinsically, authentically cool was Farhan Akhtar’s depiction of urban youth, the way they dressed, spoke, the mannerisms. My sensibilities were mixed up with those of the filmmakers of yore – Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai, Raj Kapoor.”
4. Swades (2004)
Ashutosh Gowariker started writing Swades at the same time as Lagaan. The latter released first, leaving critics and fans wondering ‘What after Lagaan?’ Gowariker’s answer was down-pat. Swades is inarguably, one of the best-made films of our times. Shah Rukh Khan as Mohan Bharghava shone in one of his career-best performances. His subtle, understated style was a delightful break from his larger-than-life onscreen persona. A cult classic, Swades is treasured not just for its impeccable performances but its subject that struck a chord, and a simple story that held us right through the end (despite the three and a half hour runtime).
5. Yuva (2004)
Mani Ratnam’s political thriller tells the story of three young men from different strata of society, whose lives intersect after a tragic incident on Kolkata’s Howrah Bridge. Arjun, played by Vivek Oberoi, is a student leader; Michael, played by Ajay Devgn, is a revolutionary activist; and Lallan, played by Abhishek Bachchan, is a small-time goon. Their lives are changed forever after a fateful accident.
Through the film’s non-linear narrative, their ideals, ambitions, and ethics are explored as they clash and eventually align against a corrupt political system. With a powerful script, impressive performances, and an engaging storyline, Yuva takes a hard look at youth, politics, and the importance of moral values.
6. Taare Zameen Par (2007)
Taare Zameen Par is a sensitive film that poignantly explores the world of a dyslexic child, Ishaan, with sensitivity and emotional depth. Aamir Khan’s directorial debut is commendable, and Darsheel Safary’s performance is heart-wrenchingly authentic. The film’s message about understanding and nurturing individual learning styles is powerful. Watch it for its compelling narrative, stellar performances, and thought-provoking themes.
7. A Wednesday (2008)
A modern classic that refuses to grow stale, Wake Up Sid is a heartwarming coming-of-age drama that beautifully captures a journey of self-discovery. It’s a story of young, carefree Sid (Ranbir Kapoor), whose life takes a turn when he meets Aisha, a fiercely independent woman with big dreams. With believable characters and an indie flavour, Wake Up Sid feels fresh in every viewing. Its realistic portrayal of relationships, combined with its vibrant Mumbai backdrop, will have you swooning over it.
9. Dev D (2009)
Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D is a modern take on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s classic Bengali novel Devdas. Directed by Anurag Kashyap, the film is a refreshing departure from the conventional Bollywood narrative. Abhay Deol’s portrayal of Dev, a self-destructive man drowning in alcohol and self-pity, is commendable. The film’s real triumph, however, lies in its depiction of the female leads, Paro (Mahie Gill) and Chanda (Kalki Koechlin), who are portrayed as strong, independent women, a stark contrast to their counterparts in previous adaptations.
The film’s raw and gritty aesthetic, combined with its non-linear storytelling, makes Dev D a cinematic experience that pushes the boundaries of Hindi cinema. Despite its dark themes, the film offers a glimmer of hope and redemption. Adding to the film’s hypnotic visual tone is Amit Trivedi’s spectacular soundtrack.
10. Peepli Live (2010)
A poignant satire that brilliantly captures the absurdity of Indian media and politics, Peepli Live was journalist-turned-filmmaker Anushka Rizvi’s debut feature. The film’s narrative, centered around a farmer’s suicide, is both humorous and heart-wrenching. Rizvi’s dark comedy brings together a talented ensemble of character actors — Raghubir Yadav, Omkar Das Manikpuri — each of who imbibe their characters with earnestness and authenticity. This one is recommended viewing as much for its storytelling as its stirring subject.
11. Udaan (2010)
Vikramaditya Motwane’s remarkable debut is a poignant coming-of-age drama, that beautifully captures the struggle of a teenager, Rohan, against his oppressive father (Ronit Roy). The film a masterful exploration of dreams, rebellion, and the quest for freedom. Rohan‘s journey, filled with raw emotions and harsh realities, is portrayed with unerring sensitivity. Ronit Roy and child actor Rajat Barmecha dazzle with their performances.
The film’s narrative is further enhanced by its evocative cinematography and soulful music. It’s one of the best Hindi movies of the century. If there’s only one film, you watch on this list, make it this one.
12. Paan Singh Tomar (2010)
The compelling biographical drama brilliantly captures the life of an athlete turned rebel (Irrfan Khan). Writer-director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s narrative is gripping, seamlessly blending several themes. The film’s pacing is well-balanced, maintaining tension and interest throughout. Irrfan Khan’s luminous performance brings depth to the character, making the audience empathize with his journey. The cinematography is noteworthy, effectively capturing the rugged landscapes and the raw emotions of the characters.
13. Delhi Belly (2011)
A riotous, dark comedy, Delhi Belly is a refreshing departure from traditional Bollywood cinema. Its irreverent humor, driven by a sharp script and strong performances from Imran Khan, Kunaal Roy Kapur, and Vir Das, keeps us engaged throughout. The fast-paced narrative, filled with unexpected twists, takes us on a rollercoaster ride. The film’s bold approach to storytelling, coupled with its edgy script (Akshat Verma), might not appeal to everyone, but if you’re up for a unique, unconventional Bollywood experience, don’t miss it.
14. Gangs of Wasseypur (2012)
Anurag Kashyap’s two-part crime drama is a gritty, raw, and unflinching portrayal of the coal mafia in the heartland of India. Gangs of Wasseypur is a masterclass in storytelling, blending elements of crime, drama, and dark humor seamlessly. Spanning several decades, it’s a compelling saga of power, revenge, and corruption, underpinned by splendid performances. Manoj Bajpayee, as Sardar Khan, delivers a solid performance, embodying the ruthlessness and charisma of his character with aplomb. The supporting cast, including Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Richa Chadha, are equally impressive.
Breaking away from conventional storytelling, Gangs of Wasseypur is a landmark in Indian cinema.
15. Barfi (2012)
Anurag Basu’s Barfi masterfully explores the themes of love, life, and human resilience. Ranbir Kapoor’s remarkable portrayal of a deaf-mute character in a Chaplin-inspired act, Barfi, is deeply moving, while Priyanka Chopra’s performance as an autistic girl is equally praiseworthy. The film’s success lies not only in its performances but also in its unique narration, which is devoid of dialogue yet rich in emotions. Barfi‘s universal appeal, transcending language and cultural barriers, is a testament to its success.
16. The Lunchbox (2013)
Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox is a heartwarming tale of connection and discovery set in bustling Mumbai. The film intricately captures the essence of human longing and companionship through a mistaken lunchbox delivery. Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur are the heart of the film, wonderfully exploring both the complexity and simplicity of their characters. The narrative is engaging, with food serving as a metaphor for love and care. A must-watch for its subtle, restrained storytelling.
17. Haider (2014)
Haider is a riveting adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, set against the tumultuous backdrop of Kashmir. Shahid Kapoor as Haider, portrays his descent into madness with remarkable intensity. Tabu, as his conflicted mother, is mesmerizing. The film’s haunting music and stunning cinematography amplify the narrative’s emotional depth. Its political undertones may be polarizing for some viewers. Despite this, Haider stands out as a bold, thought-provoking piece of cinema that masterfully blends classic literature with contemporary issues.
It’s one the finest films on Kashmir issue and among the best in Vishal Bharadwaj’s filmography.
18. Margarita With A Straw (2014)
Margarita with a Straw is a poignantly explores themes of self-discovery, love, and acceptance. Kalki Koechlin’s performance as Laila, a young woman with cerebral palsy, is deeply moving and authentic. The film’s narrative is bold, tackling themes of disability and sexuality with sensitivity and grace. It’s a refreshing departure from typical Bollywood fare, offering a raw and realistic portrayal of life’s complexities. The film’s strength lies in its ability to evoke empathy without resorting to melodrama. Despite its heavy themes, it maintains an undercurrent of hope and resilience.
19. Masaan (2015)
Masaan is a touching exploration of life, love, and loss in the holy city of Varanasi, India. The narrative, split into two stories, is a profound commentary on societal norms and the struggle for liberation. Performances from Richa Chadda and debut actor Vicky Kaushal are deeply moving, lending authenticity to their characters’ emotional journeys. Director Neeraj Ghaywan deftly captures the essence of Varanasi, juxtaposing its spiritual aura with harsh realities. The film’s strength lies in its subtlety and the quiet dignity with which it handles its themes of death, morality, and love.
A heartrending, yet hopeful, portrayal of life’s complexities, Masaan is raw, honest storytelling that shouldn’t be missed.
20. Tamasha (2015)
Imtiaz Ali films are character-driven, non-linear, with unerringly, a love story at the core. In Tamasha, Imtiaz takes us on a journey of self-discovery of his protagonist Ved (Ranbir Kapoor). Both Ranbir and Deepika Padukone deliver layered performances, their on-screen chemistry is palpable, and they breathe life into their complex characters. The plot is non-linear, weaving between the mundane and the fantastical, mirroring the internal struggle of the protagonist.
A.R. Rahman’s music elevates the storytelling. The film is gorgeously framed, especially the scenes set in Corsica. However, its pacing can be uneven, and its introspective nature may not appeal to all. Despite this, Tamasha is a thought-provoking experience that challenges societal norms and encourages viewers to question their own life choices. This Bollywood film grows on you, lingering in your mind long after the credits roll.
21. Manto (2018)
What a writer and what a class act by Nawazuddin Siddiqui! A searing portrayal of an intense writer caught in the madness of India’s partition and the havoc it wreaks on its divided people. This is no time for romantic poetry, for the truth must be told to cleanse the soiled soul. In prose that’s as stark and unsentimental as cold meat. Manto’s short stories still work to shake our stricken conscience. Such is the power and endurance of his hauntingly real creations. Nandita Das does well to direct this difficult subject and beautifully weaves Manto’s stories in the narrative. Pity we don’t make men like him any more.
22. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (2018)
Most Bollywood action movies involving clichéd story arcs are usually written off, because we’ve seen those kinds of movies a gazillion times. And don’t get me started with the action sequences. Bollywood movies, most of them anyway, have terrible sequences. The storylines seem so awfully trite. But sometimes, SOMETIMES, the clichés are lined up just the right way that we can’t help but love the movie. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, an eccentric, hilarious action comedy, is just that. It bucks the very Bollywood conventions it draws from.
23. Andhadhun (2018)
There isn’t a dull or wasted moment in this cleverly crafted, briskly-paced thriller. Veteran Sriram Raghavan knows how to keep his viewers engaged and he does so without resorting to contrivances and manipulation. A solid script brought alive brilliantly on screen, Andhadhun seals the deal with spectacular performances. Delivering two major hits in a single year in two extremely contrasting genres (thriller and comedy), the everyman and very versatile Ayushmann Khurana turns in one of the strongest performances of the year.
24. Soni (2019)
Soni is a powerful film that explores the lives of two female police officers in Delhi, navigating a patriarchal society. The film’s strength lies in its raw, unfiltered portrayal of gender dynamics and societal norms. The performances by the lead actors are incredibly authentic, bringing a depth to their characters. The script is well-crafted, and the direction (debutante Ivan Ayr) is subtle, yet it leaves a profound impact. The film’s realistic depiction of the struggles faced by women in India makes it compelling viewing.
25. Article 15 (2019)
Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15 is a bold, fearless attempt at depicting the grim reality of 21st century India. A fiercely intense and nuanced portrait of a country blinded by its prejudices and hypocritical leanings. It was a much-needed film and so relevant for our times. The socio-political issues couldn’t get any closer to reality. So does the treatment of the film.
Article 15 is brutal and hard-hitting. The performances only add to it. Ayushmann Khurana’s restrained act seethes with unflinching resolve. Sayani Gupta is a revelation. Zeeshan Ayyub’s is a brief but class act. The supporting cast rounds it out to perfection.
There we are! These are the best Bollywood movies streaming on Netflix. If you’re done with these, check out Dhanak (2016), Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi (2003), Lakshya (2004), That Girl in Yellow Boots (2010), Kaminey (2009), Dil Dhadakne Do (2015).