In his acceptance speech at the 2020 Golden Globe Awards, Korean director Bong Joon Ho said: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
As the explosive popularity and pile of Oscars for Parasite proved, Bong knew what he was talking about. So much of what’s behind that one-inch barrier lives on Netflix, including an impressive store of movies in Hindi.
The average movie buff knows by now that India produces more films than any country in the world in a handful of regional languages. Hindi movies — including spectacular Bollywood musicals — are the most widely known, and Netflix has a fantastic range of films to get you started.
Here are the 15 best Hindi movies on Netflix that you can currently stream.1. Sir (2021)
First-time feature director Rohena Gera sticks the landing with 2018’s Sir, which only released in cinemas in November 2020 and hit Netflix early in 2021. Sir is essential Indian cinema. Tillotama Shome stars as Ratna, a live-in housemaid to upper-middle class Ashwin. Housemaids are common in India, where the film is set, but Ratna and Ashwin develop a slow-simmering and socially unthinkable love.
With Gera’s writing and direction, this unlikely story never feels forced. The love blooms organically, in furtive looks and hefty silence and the trust they develop as Ashwin recovers from a broken engagement and Ratna tells him about her late husband. The result is a film so soft and stirring that it will stay with you long after it ends.*
Where to watch: Sir is streaming on Netflix.2. Andaz Apna Apna (1994)
Amar (Aamir Khan) and Prem (Salman Khan) are extraordinarily lazy schemers who dream of getting rich without lifting a finger. When they hear that the wealthy heiress Raveena (Raveena Tandon) is visiting from London to find a husband, they both seek her hand and all its perks.
The two are sometimes the best of friends and worst of enemies throughout this quest, which also involves Raveena’s assistant (Karisma Kapoor), dubious manager (Shehzad Khan), and evil uncle (Paresh Rawal) plotting her murder — to say nothing of the millions of rupees in diamonds. This cult classic is one of Bollywood’s, and possibly the world’s, best comedies.*
Where to watch: Andaz Apna Apna is streaming on Netflix.3. Om Shanti Om (2007)
Struggling movie extra Om (Shah Rukh Khan) dreams of being a superstar worthy of his beloved Shantipriya (Deepika Padukone). A chance encounter brings them together, but Shanti’s secret threatens their bond and their lives. Without spoiling its ample twists, Om Shanti Om is an emotional rollercoaster bursting with Bollywood charm from the 1970s to the present day — a cheeky love letter to the industry that made it and the timeless movie fantasy that everything works out in the end.
Where to watch: Om Shanti Om is streaming on Netflix.4. Billu (2009)
This charming movie showcases the range of late great actor Irrfan Khan. Khan plays the titular Billu, a village barber who claims his childhood best friend is the Bollywood superstar Sahir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan in perfect self-parody). Sahir comes to town for a film shoot, putting Billu’s stories to the test and sowing doubt among the villagers. Director Priyadarshan’s warm comedy manages to build suspense around whether or not Billu and Sahir know each other while simultaneously making you not care about the truth, falling in love with the quirky villagers and Billu himself.
Where to watch: Billu is streaming on Netflix.5. Stree (2018)
This quirky dark comedy based on South Indian legend takes place in the town of Chanderi. Villagers tell the story of Stree, a courtesan’s ghost who know haunts them during annual religious festivities and abducts local men. A tailor named Vicky (Rajkummar Rao) shares all of this with his new client (Shraddha Kapoor), falling for her as she visits during the festival. Vicky’s friends start to think his mysterious client might be Stree herself and set out to trap both spirit and human in order to learn the truth and save the town.
Where to watch: Stree is streaming on Netflix.6. Bombay Talkies (2013)
This short film collection comes from acclaimed feature directors Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, and Karan Johar — each presenting a vibrant slice of life in India’s biggest city. This format benefits the kind of originality mainstream Bollywood rarely rewards, resulting in refreshing originality from indie mainstays like Kashyap as well as commercial darling Johar. It was such a success that Netflix went on to collaborate with the same four directors for Lust Stories and Ghost Stories.
Where to watch: Bombay Talkies is streaming on Netflix.7. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998)
Karan Johar’s directorial debut became an instant Bollywood classic when it hit theaters in 1998. Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) and Anjali (Kajol) are college besties until Rahul falls in love with Tina (Rani Mukherji) and Anjali realizes her true feelings for him. The friends become estranged before Tina dies, leaving behind a daughter, also named Anjali in honor of their old friend. Little Anjali grows up reading letters from her late mother, and she learns about her father’s old friend — his first love. Through her letters, Tina tasks her daughter with tracking down Anjali and reuniting the friends as lovers, once and for all.
Khan and Kajol’s chemistry captivates throughout, from their Gap-clad days of college teasing to the unfathomable sexual tension of the gazebo scene. Despite being famous for its love triangle, the movie never pits Anjali and Tina against each other, instead depicting a beautiful friendship between the two women as well as their respective relationships to Rahul. “Pyar dosti hai,” Rahul declares early on: Love is friendship. And Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is nothing if not a timeless story about friends.*
Where to watch: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is streaming on Netflix.8. Kahaani (2012)
Vidya searches for her missing husband and finds a much bigger mess in “Kahaani.”
Image: viacom 18 motion pictures
Vidya (Vidya Balan) flies from London to Kolkata during the annual Durga Puja festivities in search of her missing husband. The investigation into his disappearance leads to dead end after dead end — sometimes literally, when Vidya’s leads get murdered. From corruption to coverups, the search for Vidya’s husband uncovers a whole mess of interconnected lies that threaten her and her unborn child.
Where to watch: Kahaani is streaming on Netflix.9. Andhadhun (2018)
Loosely based on the French short “L’Accordeur,” Andhadhun is a serpentine adventure starring Ayushmann Khurrana as a blind pianist, Aakash. What begins as a romance between Aakash and Sophie (Radhika Apte) takes endless twists before an admittedly deflated ending — but it’s well worth the ride. Like Netflix’s own I Care A Lot, Andhadhun will keep you on the edge of your seat with each turn of the plot, never leading where expected.
Where to watch: Andhadhun is streaming on Netflix.10. Udaan (2010)
Rohan gets expelled from boarding school and has to move back in with his abusive father in “Udaan.”
Vikramaditya Motwane’s directorial debut stars Rajat Barmecha as Rohan, expelled from boarding school and sent home to live with his abusive father Bhairav (Ronit Roy). He learns that Bhairav has a second son, six-year-old Arjun (Aayan Boradia), and tries to curb the child’s beatings by lying to Bhairav when he can. Udaan sticks with you long after viewing because of these three actors’ work: Barmecha as the rare teen lead in an Indian movie, Roy as a villain unlike many in films, and Boradia as a heartbreaking victim who never loses hope.
Where to watch: Udaan is streaming on Netflix.11. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011)
All Kabir (Abhay Deol) wants for his bachelor party in Spain is for his two best friends, Imran (Farhan Akhtar) and Arjun (Hrithik Roshan) to get along. But Arjun is obsessed with work as usual while Imran hides his true agenda behind nonstop jokes. Years of history can’t help pushing to the surface, along with old tensions and new secrets.
Specific though it is, ZNMD is relatable to any friend group regardless of nationality or gender — thanks to the formidable sibling team of Farhan and Zoya Akhtar, co-writing with Reema Kagti, and Farhan on dialogues with Zoya in the director’s chair. It also owes a lot to Farhan’s Dil Chahta Hai from 2001, also on Netflix.
Where to watch: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is streaming on Netflix.12. Dangal (2018)
Based on the true story of Indian female wrestlers Geeta and Babita Phogat (Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra, respectively), Dangal retraces the sisters’ childhood and training with their father, retired wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan). Though the girls balk at his strict training (which includes forcing them to cut their hair and start eating meat to gain protein), they can’t help respecting his methods as they gain momentum as professional wrestlers. Dangal unpacks sexism in Indian sports and families. It’s also the first of two collaborations between Aamir Khan Productions and the promising young actor Zaira Wasim (Secret Superstar is also on Netflix).
Where to watch: Dangal is streaming on Netflix.13. Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania (2014)
This 2014 romance pays tribute to and appropriately updates the 1995 classic Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. Rakesh, aka Humpty (Varun Dhawan), falls fast and hard for Kavya (Alia Bhatt) while she’s visiting Delhi. Their acquaintance turns into friendship which turns into sleeping together and eventually falling in love — but Kavya has to leave the city to head home for her wedding. Smitten and ready to do anything but give up, Humpty takes his friends to Kavya’s village to stop the wedding at any cost except the love of his life.
Where to watch: Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania is streaming on Netflix.14. Article 15 (2019)
A search for missing girls leads police officer Ayan Ranjan (Ayushmann Khurrana) to uncovering gang rape and caste violence in the village of Laalgaon. Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15 isn’t perfect — its perspective is overwhelmingly male and sanctifies many of the officers — but it sheds light on critical issues without pretending to solve them, like many similar films do.
Constitutional Article 15 itself covers a lot of ground; it prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, caste or sex — all of which is still rampant in India. This won’t be the last film to cover such topics, and hopefully lays the path for future work that will raise the bar.
Where to watch: Article 15 is streaming on Netflix.15. The Blue Umbrella (2005)
An elderly shopkeeper covets the blue umbrella acquired by a young girl in the village.
Image: screenshot / netflix / utv motion pictures
Director Vishal Bhardwaj is known for darker fare (7 Khoon Maaf, also on Netflix, stars Priyanka Chopra as a stylish murderess), but also for excellent adaptations (Hamlet-inspired Haider is streaming on Netflix too). The Blue Umbrella is based on Ruskin Bond’s 1980 novella and follows young Biniya (Shreya Sharma), who acquires a beautiful Japanese umbrella that enchants the rest of her town — especially shopkeeper Nandu (Pankaj Kapur), who is so drawn to the umbrella that he compares it to his soulmate. He tries to convince Biniya to give it to him and instead sets out to acquire his own. Sharma and Kapur bring this quirky dynamic to charming life, set against the gorgeous mountain scenery of North India.
Where to watch: The Blue Umbrella is streaming on Netflix.16. Kapoor & Sons (2016)
Shakun Batra’s 2016 family drama (co-written by Ayesha Devitre Dhillon) sits comfortably on the border between Bollywood dramatics and muted indie introspection. Fawad Khan and Siddharth Malhotra, two actors who look like they were bred in a Bollywood hero factory, play estranged brothers trying to keep it together while visiting their separated parents (Ratna Pathak Shah and Rajat Kapoor) and ailing grandfather (Rishi Kapoor, in deliberately distracting old-age makeup).
The film does particularly admirable work with Rahul (Khan), who’s hiding a serious boyfriend back in London. Kapoor & Sons hit theaters to a strong box office and critical adoration in 2016 — paving the way for Shelly Chopra Dhar’s Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (also on Netflix), which centered a lesbian romance in 2019. Rahul might seem confident and comfortable, but the visit home unravels an identity he worked hard to build. He carries that in every conversation with his mother, brother, and new friend Tia (Alia Bhatt), elevating Kapoor & Sons overall. The film is a prime example of the alchemical success of writing, cast, and location, creating an immersive story whose details and dynamics stick with you.
Where to watch: Kapoor & Sons is streaming on Netflix.
*This blurb appeared on a previous list.WATCH: What to binge on the best 30-day streaming service free trials