Thinking of 2020 as a self-contained escapade might have worked well then, but now we’re in the throes of 2021 now and the woes haven’t ended. Sometimes, the best way to deal with it is to take a break, and give an old friend a hug. So, here’s 21 films from Bollywood and beyond – old friends for many of us – which you can just cuddle up with for a couple of hours.
1. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video) (2001)
As the new millennium began, in 2001, K3G arrived with a bang, becoming the highest-grossing Indian film of all time- and the waves it made can still be felt today. Its one-of-a-kind, almost exhausting line-up of stars, all cast rather impeccably, includes Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Kareena Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan, and Rani Mukerji. There is, perhaps, nothing more delightful than the film’s commitment to melodrama; it cooks up its own, addictive rhythm, and peppers it with instantly iconic moments. The film is one of the few that is beloved by multiple generations, arriving at a time when many of the first of the Gen Zs could still watch it whilst growing up and have since kept it close to their hearts.
2. Dhoom 2 (Amazon Prime Video) (2006)
For me, Dhoom 2 lies at the intersection of being the most exciting, creative, and charismatic Bollywood film of the 2000s. It’s another star-studded line-up – which I must admit I am a bit of a sucker for – featuring Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Uday Chopra, and Bipasha Basu, who are each charming in their own way. The cat-and-mouse, heist(s) film, was carried by fantastic energy which overpowered potential issues, and had a more original voice than the other Dhoom films which made its heart feel so much more authentic. Also, have you seen Hrithik Roshan dance? It doesn’t get much better than that.
3. Jab We Met (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video) (2007)
Jab We Met launched director Imtiaz Ali, as well as leads, Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor, into another level of stardom and success. The film veers close to the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl saves heartbroken man’ trope but its performances, wit, charm, third act, and thematic focus on friendship and love, make it an adorable, life-affirming romantic-comedy that will always win us over.
4. Chak De! India (Amazon Prime Video) (2007)
Do you remember the days when patriotic fervour was so much more wholesome? The Shah Rukh Khan led film takes you on the classic sports film rollercoaster but with the spotlight on multiple diverse, layered characters. Chak De! India will send you on soaring highs and make your heart thunderously beat for the fictionalised women of the Indian national field hockey team. What makes the film really special is its commitment to exploring what ‘Team India’ really means, diving into bigotry across gendered, racial, religious, ethnic, and regional lines. The film is as much about the team, as it is about a Muslim man, who despite all his success and status as a national sports captain, is blamed for being in cahoots with Pakistan. Its ending is cathartic despite the bittersweet subtext and will leave you with that warm, fuzzy buzz.
5. Delhi Belly (Netflix) (2011)
A largely English film, given an ‘A certificate’, the film is a fun, dark, almost-screwball comedy, with a good balance of silly and witty. Akshat Verma’s screenplay, as well as the synchronous, ensemble effort by Imran Khan, Kunaal Roy Kapoor, Vir Das, Poorna Jagannathan, and a scene-stealing, deadpan Vijay Raaz, shine through the most. The film looks and feels original, as well as pacing itself beautifully. If you like this genre, it will thoroughly entertain.
6. In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (YouTube) (1989)
Arundhati Roy, Man Booker Prize-winning author and political activist, then unknown, wrote this partly-autobiographical, English language, TV film about final-year architecture students. It won two National Awards, including one for ‘Best Screenplay’. As the film drifts along, it invites you to vibe with it. Fun college adventures, friendly characters, and an understated, beamingly, progressive politics make this a lovely, calming watch.
7. Cocktail (Zee5) (2012)
Okay, so this film might have its flaws, I hear you. However, the film has a lot which makes it just right for when you need a break: the breezy, first half; the early 2010s, Bollywood pop; and fantastic performance from debutante Diana Penty, along with warm performances by Deepika Padukone and Saif Ali Khan. A little bit of nostalgia never hurts. There’s an inevitable love triangle, with a questionable resolution, but when the film is about friendship, and when you need a film like this, it can be as warm as sunshine in winter.
8. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video) (2011)
All jokes about flying to Spain being the solution to all our problems aside, ZNMD is one of the most universally-loved Bollywood films. It’s one of many gems in Zoya Akhtar’s filmography, which prove that she is a master of lovable, heart-warming, and soulful dramas. Everything about this film just clicks, sucking you into the lives of its characters and their relationships, fears, and desires. The film – set primarily during a bachelor-party, road trip in Spain, manages to be ridiculously funny, as well as romantic in more ways than one. It features yet another incredible, ensemble cast: Hrithik Roshan, Abhay Deol, Farhan Akhtar, Katrina Kaif, Kalki Koechlin, and a meaty cameo from Naseeruddin Shah.
9. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (YouTube, Bongflix) (1969)
A comedic, fantasy-musical by Satyajit Ray, with the music and lyrics written by the maestro himself, Goopy Gyna Bagha Byna wins us over with a sparkling imagination and a warm sense of humour. It won two National Awards, for Best Feature Film and Best Direction, and ran in theatres for 51 straight weeks. And for good reason. The film throws two exiles from nearby villages, Goopy and Bagha, both thrown out for being terrible at what they love (singing and playing the drums, respectively), into an other-worldly adventure. Sit back, fall in love.
10 Sharey Chuattar (YouTube, Eros Now, Hoichoi) (1953)
A 1953 comedy directed by Nirmal Dey, this film definitely belongs to its time but has an inescapable charm. The screenplay is still funny, and although it is often described as a film about a girl staying at a boys’ hostel, I can’t help but feel that gives an incorrect impression of the film’s heart, and the thematic focus on community. It is also the first film to feature the iconic Suchitra Sen-Uttam Kumar romantic pairing.
11 K.G.F: Chapter 1 (Amazon Prime Video, Voot) (2018)
K.G.F: Chapter 1 (which stands for Kolar Gold Fields) is an absolute blast. If you haven’t caught it yet, now is the best time, just a few months before Chapter 2 is set to release. The period action film, which is both the most expensive and the highest-grossing Kannada film, is an absolute feast of gorgeous imagery, personality, and action, which picks up the best influences and turns them into something new entirely. Yash, playing what is essentially a ‘chosen one’ character, gives us an unabashedly, fun performance, both sincere and over-the-top. His charisma and physicality go hand in hand as he powers the movie past its weaknesses.
12. Gantumoote (Amazon Prime Video) (2019)
This Kannada, coming-of-age film, set in 90s Bangalore, doesn’t treat its high school love story as a joke. The film is written and directed by independent filmmaker Roopa Rao, and it shows. The film, a heavily character-driven and visually poetic work, has been commended for its female gaze, and lack of inhibitions.
13. Village Rockstars (Netflix) (2017)
This incredible film, National Award winner for Best Feature Film and India’s entry to the Academy Awards, features excellent performances from child actors which draw us into its natural, sensitive world. Village Rockstars was written, directed, edited, shot, and produced by Rima Das – a truly impressive feat. It tackles gender, identity, rural India, and passion through a personal lens, with Das’s family playing much of the cast. It’ll leave you feeling changed in the best of ways.
14. Chungking Express (The Criterion Channel) (1994)
It might be questionable to include this as a comfort film, but once it has a hold of your heart, it never lets it go. The masterful Wong Kar-wai crafts this exquisitely shot film – two films in one, really – into a meditation on love. Along the way, he uses music as only he can, and winning performances, particularly from Faye Wong, to tell these two stories about lovesick and heartbroken Hong Kong policemen, mixing up genres and keeping us on our toes, as the film glides along.
15. Who Killed Captain Alex? (YouTube) (2010)
Here’s the context you need to know: Isaac Geoffery, popularly know as Nabwana I.G.G., the Ugandan filmmaker behind this film, made it on an estimated budget of 200 dollars (the co-producer says it was 85 dollars), using a computer he assembled from spare parts for editing, props and equipment made from scrap metal at a nearby machine shop, and many more innovative jugaads. Despite what one might call gratuitous violence, it is very much a comfort film because it reminds you of just how pure, passionate, and fun, filmmaking can be. It also features a “video joker”, a narrator who translates the dialogue and adds their own commentary, making it a truly unique watch for most.
16. La Dolce Vita (MUBI) (1960)
What can I say about Fellini’s Palme d’Or winner, widely regarded as one of the best films ever made? It’s a comedy-drama whose title means “the sweet/good life”, and this premise is juiced for everything it’s worth. Marcello Mastroianni, playing Marcello Rubini, a charming, handsome, entertainment journalist, who’s just living his life. The sequences of events have a laid-back, sardonic, and yet, romantic quality to them. There are so many characters who pop in and out, that you’re bound to have your very own set of favourites. It is hard to capture the simultaneous enormity and intimacy of the film. It’s one you can keep going back to, because you’ll keep finding more.
17. Spirited Away (Netflix) (2001)
Honestly, there are a lot of Studio Ghibli films that could be included in this list, but Miyazaki’s Spirited Away has a position of universal acclaim which seems to suggest that it might be a good entry point. The film is tender, honest, youthful in its adventures, rich in its hand-drawn animation, fable-like, and invites you to look in deeper. It is another film which, whilst having a strong voice and being deeply effective, still appeals to a wide range of people. The story, with a very Alice-In-Wonderland set-up, follows ten-year-old Chihiro as she gets separated from her parents and enters the bustling, spirit world at a bathhouse.
18. Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
A hilarious, loving homage to cartoons, wuxia films and much more, Kung Fu Hustle, written, directed, and starring Stephen Chow, pops, sizzles and enjoys every minute as much as we do. Few other films can pull off the crafting of a singular visual language and style, balance ridiculousness with heart, and occupy the space of a universal entertainer. The film is also a personal love letter to cinema, featuring several veterans of 1970s Hong Kong action cinema. The plot is hardly the point, so jump right in!
19. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Rent on Apple TV, YouTube, Google Play) (2014)
Wes Anderson’s delightful film brings out his best tendencies; yes, all the quirkiness, and prettiness, and colour, and craft is there, but, most importantly, despite the devastating undertones, the film never forgets its characters nor drops its razor-sharp sense of humour. A lot of the film’s style reinforces this humour. Amongst the whole spread of frequent Anderson collaborators, it is Ralph Fiennes, in the spotlight, who makes the most of every second he has on-screen. The end result is a flurry of cotton candy feelings.
20. About Time (Netflix) (2013)
An underrated romantic-comedy, About Time, is quite literally a film about time, especially considering that the film kicks off with its protagonist, Domhnall Gleeson’s Tim Lake, learning about his ability to go back in… time. Richard Curtis, writer and director, lets all the emotions loose, and if you fall for his film’s sentimentality, you’ll fall hard. The film is also elevated by a wonderful Rachel McAdams and a generally lovable supporting cast.
21. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Produced, written, and directed by British director of Indian origin, Gurinder Chadha, this gem stars Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightly, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anupam Kher, and Archie Panjabi, amongst others, in a very earnest and uplifting exploration of the daughter of Indian immigrants who just wants to play some football. The talented Jess Kaur (Parminder Nagra) makes it easy for us to feel every battle she has to wage, as well as every victory. Towards the end of the film, there’s a simple and beautiful piece of visual metaphor that, if you previously hadn’t realised, makes you grasp the full significance of the title.