Why is City of God such a celebrated movie? What is so mystical about Amelie, that in spite of being a French film it captured the imagination of almost everyone around the world? Both films had this distinctly regional flavour - as City of God successfully captured the underbelly of Rio, while Amelie competently recreated the magic of the city of love, Paris.
The problem with the mainstream film industry is, that they rarely come up with a film so distinct in flavour that it nearly changes the picture of a country for the world. And that's where the ignored regional films come in and widen our definition of Indian films. Here are 18 such movies which are distinctly Indian and give a realistic picture of India to the world.
Based on the Devadasi tradition in Southern Maharashtra and Karnataka, the film follows a sect of devotees of Goddess Yellamma. The people are apparently supposed to give up on hedonistic pleasures, and put their complete faith in God. The film stars Upendra Limaye in one of the finest performances of the decade.
Directed by Ravi Jadhav, the film depicts Maharashtra's culture of folk theatre called tamasha, and examines an artist's undying passion for his craft. Featuring a stellar soundtrack by Ajay-Atul, the film also benefits from a strong central performance by Atul Kulkarni.
3. Angamaly Diaries
One of the most celebrated movies from Kerala in recent times, the film talks about the Angamaly suburb of Kochi. Full of gangs, excellent food and alcohol, the world of crime thrives in the midst of dirt bombs and flying bullets. The film featured 86 first-time actors.
Chaitanya Tamahane's sensational debut is a commentary on the thin ice that the many Indias survive within this one country. Tracking a case of sedition, the film exposes the many frailties of the Indian judiciary, and offers a few laughs along the way.
The Priyadarshan film which got veteran actor Prakash Raj his fourth national award, tells the story of a silk weaver and his dream of saving enough to see his daughter dressed in a silk saree on her wedding day. The film's tragic last scene is one of the many reasons why it needs to be seen.
6. Asha Jaoar Majhe
Directed by Aditya Vikram Sengupta, the film follows the story of an unnamed man and woman who both work hard and then get to spend one brief moment with each other. Starring Shabdo's Ritwick Chakroborty (the man) and Basabdatta Chatterjee (who plays the woman), the film went on to premiere at the New York Indian Film Festival, Venice International Film Festival where it won Best Film.
Nitesh Tiwari's highest grossing Indian film of all time found its heart in the relationship of a father and his two daughters, against the backdrop of a patriarchal society. In a corner of India where girl children are aborted, a man grooms his two daughters to squash stereotypes and become world champion wrestlers.
Shoojit Sircar's film based on Juhi Chaturvedi's sensationally-observant script, successfully captured the essence of probashi Bengalis like few other mainstream films have. However, the story of a single woman saddled with the responsibility of her ageing father, is a universal one which most parts of the world can connect to.
Endorsed by Aamir Khan on a social media platform, Thithi was 2016's break-out hit for the Kannada film industry. Featuring non-professional actors, the film follows 3 generations of sons as the 101-year-old patriarch dies in a rural district of Karnataka.
10. Dhobi Ghat
Kiran Rao's directorial debut was a love letter for one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world - Mumbai. It captured the soul of the city through its 4 characters from different walks of life, each representing a strata of their own. I can't remember a recent film which painted a better portrait of the city's diversity.
11. Delhi 6
Partly based on Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's childhood memories of growing up in Delhi's famous Chandni Chowk area, the film had an interesting variety of characters and an ensemble of great actors to play them. From the late Om Puri, Waheeda Rahman, Pawan Malhotra, Deepak Dobriyal to a very suave Rishi Kapoor - the film was rich in environment.
Directed by Nagraj Manjule, the film offers great insight into the prevalence of caste biases in rural Maharashtra, something that director tackled in his next film as well - Sairat. 'Fandry' means 'pig' something that the boys of the higher caste use to refer to the protagonist, presumably belonging to a lower caste.
Leena Yadav's tale about three women in rural Rajasthan is the one that depicts the social evils that reside with them, and still offers a fresh outlook on them finding their own agency and liberating themselves from the clutches of patriarchy. The film featured strong performances by all Tanishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte and Surveen Chawla.
Directed by Rajeev Ravi and starring Malayalam heartthrob Dulquer Salman, the film traces the rapid urbanisation of Kochi which involves suppressing the Dalit communities in the slums of Ernakulam. The film won praise for its fearless depiction of the Ernakulam slums.
15. The Blue Umbrella
Vishal Bhardwaj's adaptation of Ruskin Bond's short story based on the foothills of Himachal, is one the most beautiful movies to have ever been shot in India. And the kind of budget it was achieved on, is kinda' miraculous. The movie works as folklore from rural India.
Ashutosh Gowariker's movie about a man's homecoming from his cushy job in NASA, to 'light a bulb' in his own village in India - is sure to find relatability among a large population of the world.
17. Mukti Bhawan
Old age and soul searching is something very Indian, where the elderly go on pilgrimage and try to attain peace. This movie explores that very aspect of an elderly gentleman, who accompanied by his son, goes to a place for his final days.
18. Monsoon Wedding
Mira Nair's portrait of the big, fat Indian wedding is something she uses to explore many Indian 'issues'. As the extended family gets together, it all starts to unravel quickly and offers us a peek into the quintessential North Indian family.
Go ahead, discover the real India!