11 Gripping Bollywood Movies That Highlight Social Issues in India
If you could define what Bollywood has become over the years, in one word, what would it be? Commercial? Predictable? Unrealistic? Overrated? More or less, I guess. And this is the unfortunate actuality which will not change even though we try really hard to ignore it. But every once in a while, the world comes across a Bollywood movie that, in a way rekindles your hopes, that in a rat race of competing for box office success and entries into the hundred crore club, there could be rare exceptions that aren't merely about entertainment but truly hold quality over quantity. These are the premises that you’ll remember because the social message that was given had a deep impact even after you’ve left the theatre.
So, here is a list of 11 such Bollywood Movies that despite their average or underrated nature, did not disappoint the audience in terms of successfully imparting a positive message on social issues:
Set on the banks of River Ganga in Varanasi, Masaan narrates the tales of two individuals Devi (Richa Chadda) and Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) that take place simultaneously but eventually intersect on the crematorium grounds of this holy city completing the circle of life and death. This Cannes Winner is one of the rarest portrayals in Indian Cinema that has presented social issues such as caste-discrimination, stigmatisation of pre-marital sex, orthodoxy, moral hypocrisy, etc in a raw and authentic manner.
Inspired by the real-life agony of a professor teaching in Aligarh Muslim University, whose privacy is blatantly breached by a “sting operation” and who is suspended because of his sexual orientation, depicts the deep-rooted stigma around homosexuality, the rampant issue of homophobia and the insensitivity generated by section 377 of the Indian Penal code. Starring Manoj Bajpayee with his sterling performance as Professor Siras and Rajkumar Rao’s role of a struggling journalist who desperately wishes to make an impact rather than a news story, this heart-touching story in Aligarh is more than a movie, it’s an experience.
Arguably the most mainstream movie on the list, with arguably the biggest star of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan, this film didn't fail to make a long-lasting impact on modern cinema, by putting forth the most fundamental yet outrightly ignored subject, consent, in the spotlight. Dealing with harassment, fear and insecurities that Indian women have to face in their day to day lives and finally clarifying the statement “No means no”, Pink is one of most powerful movies ever made in the country.
Religion is always a very sensitive topic in our “secular” country, but this Paresh Rawal and Akshay Kumar starrer hit is a rare blend of satire and fantasy that delivers its message in a rational and comical way without offending Indians. The movie follows the journey of an atheist who decides to sue God and ends up uncovering a range of malpractices, misuses and commercialisation carried out by all places of worship in the name of the Almighty.
It’s hard not to be moved by this coming of age journey of a 17 year old boy, mirroring the lives of all teenagers belonging from middle-class families, whose dreams of becoming what they want to be, is shattered by expectations and pressure from parents. Even though it involves serious issues such as physical abuse, emotional distance, teenage anguish, father-son relationship, Udaan is a simple and touching story.
The current wave of farmer suicides in our country might have shocked us all, but very few of us know about this 2010 gem that portrayed this social issue back then. Aamir Khan, as the producer aims beyond Indian audiences using satirical scrutiny of this serious subject to appeal to the populist sentiment.
With the backdrop of a rural area in Rajasthan, Parched is the story of three under-privileged women who live a parched life of despair and disuse. The men have either, abandoned them, abused them or used them as objects of brutal pleasure. This movie may have gone unnoticed because it was released in the shadow of Pink but nonetheless is a thought-provoking tale of how women are treated in Rural India.
Produced by and Starring Anushka Sharma, this movie truly portrays the struggles of a lone women in a man’s world. Based on honour killing, a subject so horrifying yet so rarely talked about and set in the badlands of Haryana, it renders the realities of violence against women that starts even before they are born and continues to their grave.
I’m sure most of you haven't heard about this movie or the fact that Bollywood was capable of making a Movie about mental health. Konkona Sen Sharma plays the role of a schizophrenic and Shabana Azmi plays her elder sister and both of them have delivered stunning performances that illustrates a hauntingly beautiful tale.
All censorship issues aside, this movie successfully characterised Punjab as a state you may not inhabit but you definitely can’t ignore. Drawing a parallel with Mexico, Punjab serves up cocaine, heroine and opium, among others and is rapidly on the verge of becoming the biggest cartel trades in the world. The lives of four individuals are affected in the movie- a Punjabi rockstar, a migrant from Bihar, a government doctor and a cop- all bound together by this common issue of drug abuse in the state.
If you thought 2017 was a dull year for movies in Bollywood, think again! On one hand meant-to-be box office hits flopped, but small budget movies surprised us all, such as this one. A commentary on the Indian education system, Reservation policy and the general class divide created between English-speaking and non-english-speaking folks in the country, makes this Irrfan Khan starrer success a relevant yet not overdone piece of art.
Catch these rare gems of Indian cinema if you get the time, and I guarantee that you will not regret it on the contrary, will be proud to have witnessed Bollywood at its best.