I'm going to start out with the assumption that have never seen a movie made in South Asia, and have no idea why you should even consider such a thing.
Some perspective may help. A smoosh over 1 in 5 people on our planet lives there. Add to that the millions who have migrated elsewhere over the years, their descendants, and in turn their families and friends, and we are getting close to HALF of earth residents having some degree of close cultural tie to the South Asian subcontinent.
Pause to let the sheer immensity of that sink in, so you won't be too shocked to learn this:
More movies are made in South Asia than anywhere else on earth. Yes, even the US. In fact, you could add all movies made everywhere BUT South Asia, and pile them up, and South Asia would still win.**
What this means to your life is this: Whether you have ever seen a Bollywood** movie or not, wherever you go, chances are that the person standing next to you, regardless of ethnicity or national origin, watches them on a pretty regular basis and Shahrukh Khan's face is to them as instantly recognizable as Rob Pattinson's is to you.
So yeah, you're missing out on a big ol' chunk o' cultural literacy that is only going to go up in hugeness.
I want to help you rectify this unfortunate situation.
Other people want to help you, too. While I have unabashedly declared this blog to be a Safe Haven of Totally Superficial and Unadulterated Appreciation of Sheer Absurdity, Bollywhat? is, in addition to and beyond being intended especially for Bollywood n00bz, a great and esteemed resource, and has been nice enough to make you a splendid introductory FAQ, which has just about everything I would have put in a FAQ.
The only really important things they left out are
1) Everyone in South Asia bursts into song and dance about every 20 minutes for no apparent reason. (And when you think about it, shouldn't we all?)
2) Until very recently, children were born as a result of a man and a woman dancing around a tree.
Aha! You are excited about this now, aren't you?
Let's get you ready. Good Bollyviewing habits are different from western ones.
Because movies play such an important role in community and cultural life, South Asian movies tend to be longer than their western counterparts. There will almost always be an intermission. That long, yes.
Think of people living in a very small town, where not a lot happens. No Cold Play concerts or Disneyland, no money to go to Vegas or Cabo or Nordstrom's. The movie theatre is about it, so movies are a Big Deal, and people expect a good long chunk of entertainment for their money.
So when you settle in for your Bollywood evening, plan accordingly, because we do mean the whole evening. Lay in extra snacks, and schedule essential tasks like going to the bathroom or post-snack flossing for the intermission. Unless you want to pause, and you so won't want to.
Of course, since you're at home, you get to decide when the intermission happens and how long it lasts, but the producers will have already provided you with a conveniently located one, right in the middle of the movie - so that's when you can pause, and go pack lunches, or fix more snacks, take a shower, get the clothes out of the dryer, and then come back and enjoy the thrilling conclusion.
If you'd rather, or for scheduling reasons you just need to, think of it like a 2-part miniseries, and watch it on two successive nights, but because the intermission tends to come at a very exciting and cliffhanging part, you will probably not want to go to bed and wait through all the next day before finding out what happens. So to avoid staying up way later than you meant to, my advice is to just give in, and give over that whole night to the movie, and start your evening very early.
The first movie you should see is Mother India (1957). Often referred to as South Asia's "Gone With The Wind," the only things the two films have in common is that both are mega-huge epically epicalicious epics, each one is, in its own way, a cinematic masterpiece, and both are movies that every earth resident should see at least once. Any list of Best Movies Ever Made worth its salt will contain Mother India, and the more credible ones will have it somewhere near the top.
It's old, but it will give you a good foundation to build on.
What's it about? Everything. Life. It tells one woman's story and it tells every woman's story, and every man's as well. It tells a little bitty fraction-of-an-eyeblink part of India's multi-millennia MegaStory. Real talk, there are no words that can even come close to doing it justice. Just watch it.
If Mother India, or indeed even the prospect of Mother India, leaves you not only trembling with awe at its Greatness, but also reeling from culture shock, take a step back and watch a popular "crossover" movie or several, like "Lagaan," "Slumdog Millionaire," "Monsoon Wedding" or "Mississippi Masala."
That will give you a chance to catch your breath, then you can plunge back in the pool.
My contribution will be tell a little bit about a few movies that I really like, as well as some that I don't.
Maybe you will want to try one or more of those. You may have a completely different opinion, which will be a very good sign, because talking about movies - Bollywood or Anywood - is just as much fun as watching them!
And just as is the case with Hollywood movies, 5 million people can have 5 million different things to say about one movie!
My personal recommendation for your first post-Mother India selections would be Hum Aapke Hain Koun and Hum Saath Saath Hain, and you should watch them in that order.
This blog is intended as the most elementary Introductory Aid to Superficial Movie Enjoyment for people who know absolutely nothing about South Asian cinema, but who have enough basic common sense to realize that the time has come to change that, albeit slightly.
What will NOT be found here are erudite debates of fifth versus fourth generation, exposition on even the slightest allusion in this song or that to ancient Urdu couplets, treatises on historical linguistics, nor anything remotely lofty or scholarly.
The internets teem with websites about those things, many of them excellent august resources of knowledge and wisdom, and when and if your appreciation of movies made in South Asia should someday bloom, at its own pace, into such fullness that desires for all that erudition and exposition are awakened, those websites will find you.
This particular blog is guaranteed 100% knowledge and wisdom-free.
Advanced Placement Note: In that spirit, for the sake of convenience, at least in this infant stage of bloghood, "Bollywood" is used as an umbrella term under which also huddle Lolly/Kolly/Molly/Tolly ella ella ella woods.
People who do not yet yet know about any of the woods, anyway will discover and learn all about them, each in his or her own good time, and at some point, I will make a special post about this topic.