Indian Movies for the Game of Thrones Fan

This Sunday is the season finale of Game of Thrones and I wanted to highlight some movies from Bollywood (and a couple of other Indian film industries) that the Game of Thrones fan might enjoy. I’ll be adding to this all week, so keep coming back!

#1 Bajirao Mastani: Released in 2015, this movie centers on a love triangle between the eighteenth century Marathi Peshwa (or Prime Minister) Bajirao and his two wives Kashibai and Mastani, played by Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone respectively. Reportedly in development for 15 years and directed by one of Bollywood’s most ambitious directors, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Bajirao Mastani is an epic that fans of larger than life heroes and battles will enjoy. It tackles themes of jealousy and the price of obsession.

Deepika and Ranveer have amazing chemistry, no doubt in part due to their real-life relationship off-screen. However, Priyanka threatens to steal every scene she’s in. Her Kashibai is at once sympathetic and alluring as well as ruthless. As they say, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Even better are the sparks that fly when Deepika and Priyanka share the screen. Their duo dance number in Pinga brought two huge female stars together, both at the top of their game. The friendship they seem to form in this song quickly fades however. Kashibai and Mastani are both women who know what they want. It is Ranveer’s Bajirao that appears the weakest of them all, unable to decide where his heart or duties lie. He begins to crack under the pressure of defending the Marathi empire and fulfilling his duties as a husband and father.

Why Game of Thrones fans will love it: Although it’s based on some actual history, this feels like a fantasy epic. From top to bottom, it’s scale is unique in Indian cinema. The eighteenth cetury time setting, the opulent sets and costumes, the enormous battle scenes and the sexual tension should appeal to fans of Westeros.

Where can you watch it: Unfortunately, this is not on Netflix, but is available to subscribers in multiple languages at erosnow.com.

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Bajirao takes a wounded Mastani to safety.
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Kashibai and Mastani dance together in the song Pinga.

 #2 Gangs of Wasseypur 

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Gangs of Wasseypur is not just unique among Bollywood movies but in film generally. This two part saga traces bloody, ruthless family and gang rivalries across multiple generations in a town called Dhanabad. The plot is Shakespearean in its emphasis on revenge, loyalty, love, and land. Beginning just before Indian independence in 1947, it follows these gangs into the twenty-first century. Some have compared Gangs of Wasseypur to the Godfather trilogy in its impressive scope and quality. It was directed by Anurag Kashyap, one of the industry’s most respected writers and directors. His films usually center on crime and its consequences in the lives of everyday people. Many of his films have had delayed releases in India due to censorship issues.

Originally 319 minutes long, Gangs of Wasseypur was split in two parts upon commerical release to make it more palatable to theater audiences. It is currently on Netflix split into eight episodes. Gangs of Wasseypur features an ensemble cast, including Nawazzudin Siddiqui, easily one of the most versatile and interesting talents in Bollywood right now. His character, Faizal Khan, grows up influenced by Bollywood films and imitates them, offering an interesting commentary on the role of Hindi cinema in the development of both a young man and a young nation.

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Gangs of Wasseypur screened in its entirety at the Sundance Film Festival  and in Cannes in 2012. It received very positive reviews from both Bollywood and foreign critics. Danny Bowes at RogerEbert.com said of Gangs of Wasseypur and its incredible length:

“There is no other way to tell a story of this magnitude, covering eight decades of life in the town of Wasseypur in northeast India, examining the intersection of organized crime, capitalism, and civic government in as exacting detail as it does, in any less time. This is without even mentioning the scale on which Kashyap examines the futility of revenge over three whole generations, which is rendered all the more tragic by the film’s sheer scale.”

Please note that Gangs of Wasseypur has much more sex and violence than what will usually be discussed on this page. However, it is a must watch for anyone who enjoys riveting, honest storytelling.

Why Game of Thrones fans will like it: At its most basic level, Game of Thrones is a story about rival families trying to conquer a particular piece of land. There’s politics, violence, passion, and patriotism in Gangs of Wasseypur that fans of the tumultuous lives of kings and queens of Westeros will enjoy.

Where you can watch it: Gangs of Wasseypur is currently streaming on Netflix.

#3 Baahubali Part 1 and Part 2: These are the movies that I had in mind when I got the idea for this post. Baahubali Parts 1 and 2 are a cultural phenomenon in India that is difficult to overstate. These films are not technically Bollywood, since they were written and produced in the Telugu film industry and feature Telugu film stars Prabhas, Anushka Shetty, and Rana Dagubbati. However, this movie made more than any Hindi movie ever and is just as important and well-known in the Hindi speaking market.

Baahubali: The Beginning came out in July of 2015 and ended on a cliffhanger that riveted the world until resolving in Baahubali: The Conclusion, which came out this summer. This movie is unlike anything the Indian film industry has ever seen before, although attempts were made. Its sets and visuals are ambitious and for the most part are executed very well. Indian film industries do not have the same budgets as Hollywood when it comes to special effects. This is down to economics. Although Indian movies premiere to bigger markets, the returns are in rupees and can not support an industry that spends the extravagant amounts that Hollywood does, especially with movies like The Avengers. But Baahubali’s director S. S. Rajamouli has devised a way of getting around this. First, he made deliberate decisions about where to spend the money and where the effect could be achieved differently. He also recognized that much of the Hollywood film budget is spent on bureaucracy and logistics. He cut all that to spend the most he could on the effects themselves. Here is Rajamouli explaining this to Forbes Magazine:

After we started doing the film I wanted to do something more and at the time we weren’t in a position to calculate how much more it would cost and how much we had to pay. So we just made an agreement and Makuta said we will work how much ever you want and at the end we will tell you how much it cost us, and you’ll give us whatever additional money you can. That kind of agreement, I think it doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. It is just trust, how do they believe that the producer will pay them, because there’s no document or proof of the agreement. And how does the producer know that they’re giving him the actual figures. It just goes on trust, we believe in each other. As we are progressing, just because everyone’s focus is on the end quality of the film and nothing else, I think that relationship develops. So we were able to make the film within that budget primarily because of trust.

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These two movies center on the fictional kingdom of Mahishmati, kind of a South Indian Camelot. The movie begins when a mysterious noble woman with a baby in her arms attempts to wade across a torrential river to safety. She succumbs to the waters but the baby is saved by a childless couple and raised under the name Shivdu. Years later, Shivdu is an incredibly strong young man with a strange obsession for the waterfall near where he was found. He tries hundreds of times to climb to the top of it and eventually succeeds (with the help of a vision of a beautiful woman to motivate him). At the top of the waterfall he meets and falls in love with Avanthika, a warrior whose people are in exile. For over two decades they have tried and failed to save their princess, Devasena from the evil king of Mahishmati, Bhallaldev. Shivdu offers to rescue Devasena and they infiltrate Mahishmati and succeed in kidnapping Devasena, who has been chained outdoors in a cage for more than twenty years. Every day she would gather sticks from around her and place them on a pyre, promising Bhallaldev that one day he will burn on that pyre.

After rescuing Devasena, Shivdu is pursued by the king’s son and his warrior/slave Kattappa. Kattapa is shocked to see Shivdu because he is the spitting image of Mahishmatit’s former king, Bhallaldev’s cousin Amarendra Baahubali. It is discovered that Shivdu is in fact Mahendra Baahubali, the son of Amarendra Baahubali and Devasena. The rest of the film is a flashback to the life of Amarendra Baahuubali, who was raised by his aunt Sivagami, the queen of Mahishmati. He was an incredible warrior and virtuous leader. But he was betrayed and murdered. The identity of his killer is a twist and the movie ends on this cliffhanger, promising to return in 2017.

Thus, the hype for this summer’s Baahubali: The Conclusion was huge. Everyone wanted to know why Amarendra Baahubali had been betrayed. I won’t detail the whole story here, but Part II is a spectacular resolution to the questions posed in Part I. We get to see how Amarendra Baahubali and Devasena met and fell in love as well as the powerful friendship between him an Katappa. My favorite character by far is Devasena, played excellently by Anushka Shetty. Devasena is fierce, opinionated, and loyal. Only in Amarendra Baahubali could she have met her equal.

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Don’t mess with Devasena

Finally, I love the music. Love love love it. And the best part is you can find the soundtrack in Telugu, Hindi, and Tamil on Saavn!

Baahubali: The Conclusion smashed records all over India. The Hindi-dubbed version became one of the highest grossing films ever in the Hindi market, unheard of for a dubbed version. Overseas, people like me  gladly paid ticket prices twice the usual to see it on the big screen.

Why Game of Thrones Fans Will Like It: Minus the adult content, Baahubali is Game of Thrones in my opinion. Although it does not have the same moral grey area as GoT (in Baahubali you clearly know who the hero is) the settings, battles, romance, and revenge feel a lot like the never ending family squabbles of Westeros. If nothing else, enjoy the visual treat.

Where You Can Watch It: Both parts are on Netflix!

#4 Devdas: Devdas (2002) is a bit short on battles and bloodshed but if opulence and troubled young men interest you, this movie may do the trick. Considered essential viewing for all fans of Shahrukh Khan, Devdas tells the story of a man in 1917 who returns home from abroad to marry his childhood sweetheart Paro, played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. However, his family will not consent to the marriage. Dev slips into a deep depression fueled by alcoholism. He finds refuge in the home of a prostitute, Chandramukhi played by the legendary Madhuri Dixit. This is a spoiler-free review, but I will say that if you’re looking for something lighthearted this movie may not be the right choice. However, if you want to see some of the finest sets, costumes, dance numbers, and acting that Hindi cinema can offer then find Devdas online right away.

All three of the leads are giants in the industry. Madhuri Dixit gave one of the defining performances of her career, particularly in the song “Maar Daala” Dixit and Rai Bachchan’s duet dance in “Dola Re Dola” inspired future numbers like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone’s “Pinga” in Bajirao Mastani (discussed above).

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Why fans of Game of Thrones Will Like It: Dev lives in a cruel world that is similar to Westeros. Just imagine that Chandramukhi is a King’s Landing courtesan and the movie fits into the world of GoT.

#5 Udta Punjab (2016): I saw this movie in Punjab with some other American girls, that had never really watched Bollywood before. Throughout the whole movie, I thought, “Maybe this isn’t the best introduction to Bollywood.” Udta Punjab is intense, gritty, dramatic, tragic, violent, and unnerving. You know, like Game of Thrones. The movie faced an uphill battle being approved by the Indian censor board, but was eventually released nationwide and internationally.

While I don’t recommend it as a first ever watch in Hindi cinema, I do recommend it as a film and I do recommend it for those who have only seen the standard song and dance fare. This film will challenge your preconceived ideas about what Bollywood is and should be.

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The story follows the intersecting lives of a rock star, a migrant worker, a police officer (whose family has been touched by drug addiction), and a social worker in the Indian state of Punjab. Punjab is facing an ongoing drug crisis, with heroin being the deadliest substance abused, mostly by young men. Udta Punjab has an all-star cast made up of Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor, and Dilhit Dosanjh. They all offer good performances, although Shahid veers toward overacting at parts. The standout for many, including me, was Alia Bhatt. She plays a desperate Bihari migrant worker who gets mixed up in the drug trade when she finds a large pack of heroin. She becomes imprisoned by a cartel, abused, and made to get addicted to the drug. Alia gives a heartbreaking performance that contrasts sharply with her previous roles as privileged love interests for Bollywood’s young heroes. Kareena Kapoor shows once again why she is one of the most respected talents in the industry and Diljit Dosanjh also proves that he is up to more challenging roles.

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Disclaimer: This movie is heavily profanity laden and depicts drug use, murder, sexual abuse, and trafficking.

Why fans of Game of Thrones will love it: If you can keep up with the multiple characters and storylines in GoT Udta Punjab will be a breeze for you. As mentioned before, this movie pulls no punches in showing the dark side of addiction and a cruel industry that preys on mental illness and young people. All it’s missing is a Ramsay Bolton. However, like GoT, you will fall in love with and connect with the characters.

Where you can watch it: Udta Punjab is streaming on Netflix.

#6 Sarkar (2005): Sarkar, starring Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan, is based on Hollywood’s The Godfather. As such, this is also a film for fans of crime drama and family-centered revenge. Bachchan plays the head of a powerful mob family whose two very different sons battle over his reputation and legacy. When an enemy of Sarkar frames him for the murder of a politician, Sarkar’s elder son Vishnu (Kay Kay Menon), with whom Sarkar has cut ties for killing a man that was sleeping with his wife, is convinced that his father is guilty. But Sarkar’s other son Shankar (played by Bachchan’s real life son Abhishek), knows Sarkar is innocent. There are many plots on Sarkar’s life, but the most deadly may come from his own son.

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Sarkar was a critical and commercial success and, like its source material, spawned two sequels. It won several domestic acting awards for all three of the male leads.

Why fans of Game of Thrones Will Like It: Those who know Westeros are no strangers to family conflict, and even murder.

Where you can watch it:  Sarkar is streaming on Netflix.

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