I'm a recent Bollywood fan, and I know next to nothing about oldies! I'm sure there are treasures there, but for me they're still to be unearthed... Please if some of you have suggestions, don't hesitate!
So... Best Bolly film? Why not Monsoon Wedding? In that film, I appreciated almost everything: the acting, the filming, the story, the perspective on Indian culture and practices, the humour, the realistic Delhi shots. There was next to no concessions to facile effects, and on the contrary a lot of intelligence and tact as concerns the issue of education and marriage. These questions are so often dealt with in a gross manner that it's important to note the difference here.
By gross, I mean not only distasteful, but also without depth. Anybody who has seen Bollywood films realises how crucial the question of education is: what are boys and girls told about the realities (I'm tempted to say: the real realities) of the other sex? In this film we see a father (Naseeruddin Shah, excellent) defend his daughter against his brother whom he suspects of paedophilia, and face the expectant looks of the stunned family around him. That sort of scene deserves more than praise, I think. It'll take more than cinema to change male-dominated practices, I'm sure, but what is suggested here is that the essence of the person is more important than family ties and money. Because we can imagine that by exposing his rich brother who was offering to pay for his daughter's studies in, this father (and the daughter, who summoned enough courage to start the scandal) loses this unique possibility.
Monsoon Wedding is not the first film to address the question of forgiveness and open-mindedness concerning past mistakes of one (or two) of the promised ones. What is shown in this film (the scene of the avowal followed by the reconciliation, even if the latter is too precipitated) is the victory of actual love over sentimental infatuation. True, Aditi (Vasundhara Das) falls for Hemant (Parvin Dabas) too fast: the night before she was in another man’s embrace. But after all, this is , and she knows that she will have to abandon the lover for the chosen husband. She is prepared to be married against her will, and suddenly a few words change her heart: she is accepted as she is, defiled, some would say, because she has not waited for her husband. Condemned because she has loved with body and soul. One might say she is responsible in part, but one might also forgive, and look towards the future. That's what Mira Nair suggests.
Another beautiful story is that which brings together the party organiser and the little maid. She rises and he stoops, she dreams and he apologises, and then there is this amazing scene in which he offers his heart in front of a ludicrous stand full of lights and flowers (perhaps all this has a cultural meaning that escapes me, but I found it just "too much", but precisely, it was the right quantity, because there is never too much love).