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If We Can’t Visit India, She Must Come To Us -13 Films About This Extraordinary Country

The man at customs on my most recent trip to India (and the friendliest customs man I’ve ever met) asked me if I liked India, I replied in the affirmative and asked him why he should ask me.

His reply, ‘This is your 39th visit since 2007.’

My reponse, ‘Well, I guess that answers your question!’

I wonder how many times I’ve actually visited given that I’ve travelled at least once a year since 1998?

Anyhow, this preamble is leading to the fact that I am so often on the road, and don’t have a TV in India, that I rarely get to watch films. So now is the perfect time to catch up on all that I’ve been missing.  Not all films about India are fun, some are hard hitting but then, this is the juxtaposition of India, she is enchanting, heart wrenching, poignant and  joyful, sometimes in equal measure. Some of the below I have seen, but the top 6 are ones that I haven’t seen, I will hopefully have rectified that within the next two weeks! They are not all about India, but use India as a theme or have a connect.

Other recommendations greatly appreciated!

1. The Darjeeling Limited


Synopsis: Estranged brothers Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) reunite for a train trip across India. The siblings have not spoken in over a year, ever since their father passed away. Francis is recovering from a motorcycle accident, Peter cannot cope with his wife’s pregnancy, and Jack cannot get over his ex-lover. The brothers fall into old patterns of behavior as Francis reveals the real reason for the reunion: to visit their mother in a Himalayan convent.

What I’ve heard: It’s a crazy adventure and a very funny movie.

2. The Lunchbox

Synopsis: Lonely housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) decides to try adding some spice to her stale marriage by preparing a special lunch for her neglectful husband. Unfortunately, the delivery goes astray and winds up in the hands of Saajan (Irrfan Khan), an irritable widower. Curious about her husband’s lack of response, Ila adds a note to the next day’s lunchbox, and thus begins an unusual friendship in which Saajan and Ila can talk about their joys and sorrows without ever meeting in person.

What I’ve heard: This story touches upon the famous Dabbawalas in Mumbai, a largely illiterate group of men who pick up over 200,000 lunches a day from homes and deliver them to the place of work. They make only one mistake in every 8 million deliveries – it’s a system corporations have studied because of its phenomenal success. This movie is a charmig love story about that one-in-an eight million mistake.

3. Monsoon

Synopsis: A documentary about the Indian monsoon.

This has been recommended to me, I haven’t seen it yet but having lived in India through several monsoons, I know how devastating and yet magical and most importly life affirming they can be. It is a magical time to be in India.

4. City Of Joy


Synopsis: An American doctor, a British nurse and an illiterate Indian farmer join together to transform a Calcutta ghetto in this uplifting, inspirational movie starring Patrick Swayze and Pauline Collins, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi.

Review: “City of Joy” was an excellent and faithful adaption of Dominique Lapierre’s richly written masterpiece. Om Puri’s performance was deserving of an Academy Award. Patrick Swayze’s character – his reactions to his surroundings – was extremely realistic. The conclusion of the film was beautifully touching. I love Om Puri and I”m very much looking forward to his performance in this, which I’ve heard, was exceptional!

5. Midnights Children

In India, 1947, two newborn babies are swapped in a hospital, after which they are doomed to live each other’s life in a country that is going through big changes.  It is a loose allegory for events in India both before and, primarily, after the independence and partition of India. The protagonist and narrator of the story is Saleem Sinai, born at the exact moment when India became an independent country.

Review: Though a bit literal for a film that traffics in magical realism, Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children is both dreamy and dramatic, a fascinating view of Indian history seen through the prism of a personal — and occasionally twinned — story.

6. A Little Princess

Synopsis: When young Sara (Liesel Matthews) is sent to a boarding school by her well-meaning World War I-bound father (Liam Cunningham), the imaginative girl makes the best of things by entertaining her friends with fanciful tales. After running afoul of the strict headmistress, Miss Minchin (Eleanor Bron), Sara receives some heartbreaking news, and is forced to work in servitude. As she struggles to keep her spirits up, she makes some remarkable discoveries that may change her seemingly bleak fate.

What I’ve heard:  It’s not so much about India as it is about this girl’s life, with scenes from her childhood in India in the background.  It’s a beautful film based on a book written by Frances Hodgson Burnett the same author who wrote The Secret Garden.

7. Lion


Synopsis: Five year old Saroo gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of miles across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home.

Feedback: OMG! I watched this on a plane, not a good idea. I cry at movies on planes anyway and this, THIS had the crew almost call for a doctor on board! Loved it.

8. Jungle Book

Synopsis: Raised by a family of wolves since birth, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) must leave the only home he’s ever known when the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) unleashes his mighty roar. Guided by a no-nonsense panther (Ben Kingsley) and a free-spirited bear (Bill Murray), the young boy meets an array of jungle animals, including a slithery python and a smooth-talking ape. Along the way, Mowgli learns valuable life lessons as his epic journey of self-discovery leads to fun and adventure.

Feedback: This is a geat spectacle and should have people wanting to visit India’s jungles at the very least! Having spent a fair amount of time in India’s jungles, I tend to get a bit picky and some of the species were not, shall we say, quite accurate, but that’s Hollywood I suppose! Liked it.

9. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Synopsis: Some Britis retirees (Judy Dench Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy) decide to outsource their returement to exotic, and less expensive, India. Lured by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold Hotel and imagining a life of leisure in lush surroundings, they arrive to find that the hotel is actually a shell of its former self. Though their new home is not quite what they imagined, and certainly more chaotic, they are charmed by the hapless owner, and they also find that life and love can begin again.

Feedback: This is a fun depiction of India which, on the whole, I found to be quite accurate. I loved it and have watched it several times, but then I love the cast and also spent a couple of years living in Jaipur and so it strikes a chord. Though the actual hotel its set in is closer to Udaipur!  It’s a lighthearted and fun watch. Loved it.

10. Life of Pi

Synopsis: After deciding to sell their zoo in India and move to Canada, Santosh and Gita Patel board a freighter with their sons and a few remaining animals. Tragedy strikes when a terrible storm sinks the ship, leaving the Patels’ teenage son, Pi (Suraj Sharma), as the only human survivor. However, Pi is not alone; a fearsome Bengal tiger has also found refuge aboard the lifeboat. As days turn into weeks and weeks drag into months, Pi and the tiger must learn to trust each other if both are to survive.

Review: Many people recommend reading the book first (the book took me 2 goes, 5 years apart, struggled first time, loved it the second time) and then watch the film. It is quite extraordinary, with a twist at the end you most probably won’t see coming – hope that’s not a spoiler! Liked it. 

11. Water

Synopsis: The concluding part of Deepa Mehta’s `elemental’ trilogy of dramas examines the plight of a group of widows in late 1930s India who are forced into poverty following the deaths of their husbands. Resigned to being ignored by society, one of them breaks ranks as she tries to strike up an unlikely relationship with a follower of Mahatma Gandhi.

Feedback: Loved it, loved it, loved it.

12. The Hundred Foot Journey

Synopsis:  Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is an extraordinarily talented and largely self-taught culinary novice. When he and his family are displaced from their native India and settle in a quaint French village, they decide to open an Indian eatery. However, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the proprietress of an acclaimed restaurant just 100 feet away, strongly objects. War erupts between the two establishments, until Mallory recognizes Kadam’s impressive epicurean gifts and takes him under her wing.

Feedback: I love this film. It’s not so much about India, or even Indian cuisine but it makes the grade as it has Om Puri in it. Job done!


A bonus one – or maybe not! 😉

13. PK


Synopsis: An alien comes to earth, lands in India and loses the only device he can use to communicate with his spaceship. His innocent nature and child-like questions force the country to evaluate the impact of religion on its people. P. K. is a comedy of ideas about a stranger in India, who asks questions that no one has asked before.

Feedback: Okay, it’s silly, not subtitled but so easy that you don’t really need them, but it is my namesake and so had to be included. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, this PK came before the movie! 🙂

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