Anyone who has ever purchased a few Hindi DVDs (or read this blog) will be all too aware of the substandard quality they sadly offer compared with other international cinema. However, amongst all the dross are several genuinely well-authored releases and below is a list I’ve compiled of what I’d consider to be the ten most impressive. And while some of these films may not represent the best of Indian cinema, the discs themselves will be the ideal choices to make the most out of your HD setup.
10. Taal (Rapid Eye Moves, R2, PAL)
This excessive slice of musical melodrama looks splendid on this release from German label REM. Though the image is quite soft, colours are amazingly vibrant (perhaps overly so at times) and the 5.1 audio is glorious, doing full justice to composer A.R. Rahman’s memorable song sequences which are stunningly picturised and more enjoyable than the film itself. No extras other than the theatrical trailer are presented and unfortunately for non-Hindi/German speakers, there is a lack of English subtitles also.
9. Guru (Rapid Eye Movies, R2, PAL)
Another English subs-free, but good quality disc from REM is this fictitious biopic of rags-to-riches businessman Gurukant Desai from acclaimed director Mani Ratnam. Superb songs, terrific performances and a thrilling narrative sadly lead to a limp conclusion, but the journey there is just about worth it. The DVD’s image is rock-steady, dirt-free and with impressive colour rendition. On the audio front, the 5.1 track is excellent as well. Special features include a few promotional featurettes and trailers.
8. Meenaxi (Yash Raj Films, R0, NTSC)
Controversial artist M.F. Husain’s second foray into cinema results in an unquestionably sumptuous visual experience with a couple of fine performances from leads Tabu and Kunal Kapoor, but like his previous film (2000’s Gaja Gamini) the narrative is at times unintelligible and often just plain dull. Still, the sumptuous set design and dazzling cinematography make this DVD, offering a vibrant and detailed transfer, well worth a watch. A ‘Making Of’ feature and adequate English subtitles make up the extras.
7. Lagaan (Columbia Tristar, R2, PAL)
A rare Hindi DVD authored by a top Hollywood label which boasts a transfer far more pleasing than Bollywood’s usual fare. Colours are natural and sharpness is impressive, though the print is marred by the odd tear and scratch. As for the film, even casual Indian film fans should be aware of its credentials - Lagaan tells the tale of a high-stakes cricket match between ten Indian villagers and a regiment from their British colonial rulers. Exhilarating and unpretentious, Indian cinema doesn’t get much better than this.
6. Black (Bodega, R2, PAL)
This French DVD is another Euro release lacking in English subs, but the video and audio cannot be faulted. Colours are splendid, the print is squeaky clean and the 5.1 audio sounds terrific. Black has polarised Hindi film fans - some adore it for its haunting score, powerful acting and outstanding art design while others are less impressed by its emotional manipulation and liberal borrowing from 1962’s The Miracle Worker. Regardless, Black remains one of this decade’s most important and must-see Indian films.
5. Devdas (Diaphana, R2, PAL)
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film adaption of the novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay is overwrought with hammy performances, suffocating opulence and sluggish dialogue, but is blessed by some of the most resplendent sets and stunning dance choreography you’re ever likely to see on film. This professionally-authored French DVD release (which lacks English subtitles) features a stellar 5.1 audio mix to give your surround set-up a helluva workout. Interviews, in English, with the film’s stars are among the extras.
4. Mission Kashmir (Columbia Tristar, R2, PAL)
Another superb job from Columbia Tristar - this DVD has a near-flawless transfer with magnificent colour rendition and a print free from damage and grain. Only the image’s sharpness could be doing with some improvement and sound-wise, the 5.1 audio is crystal-clear. A shame the actual movie is far less enjoyable. Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s take on the Kashmiri conflict starts out engrossingly enough, but descends into standard masala action fare by the end.
3. Mangal Pandey (Madman Entertainment, R4, PAL)
Filmed simultaneously in English as The Rising: Ballad Of Mangal Pandey, this fictionalised historical epic attempts to achieve the same patriotic mood as Lagaan, but falls short due to poor scripting and an at times dull narrative. The performances are spirited though and this excellent DVD release from Australian distributor Madman has impeccable colour rendition, good detail and dynamic audio. A plethora of promotional material is on offer among the disc’s special features.
2. Parineeta (Excel Entertainment, R0, NTSC)
One of the very few Bollywood DVDs to offer a DTS audio track, this 2-disc set exclusive to India has been given suitably lush treatment from Excel Entertainment. Colours are sensational, the image is wonderfully detailed and the print is free from any grain or damage. Extras are plentiful, with promotional material, documentaries and a director’s commentary on offer. The movie itself is an enjoyable drama of a romance threatened by class division set in 1962 Calcutta.
1. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (Rapid Eye Movies, R2, PAL)
Director Karan Johar’s follow-up to the magnificent Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is a disappointing mixture of bloated self-indulgence and at times grating performances, but does have its moments and is undeniably popular with Bollywood fans and newcomers alike. This digitally remastered 3-disc DVD set from Germany may just be the best a Hindi film has ever looked on a home video format. Mastered in HD, sharpness and detail are highly impressive while the colour rendition is nothing short of exquisite. REM have also split the near-4 hour film over the set’s first two discs to maximise the video’s bitrate. Four crystal clear audio tracks are on offer: the original Hindi 5.1 track as well as three dubbed in German encoded in 5.1, 2.0 and DTS. A selection of promotional material and deleted scenes make up the third disc’s extras and include a recent interview with Karan Johar regarding Bollywood’s popularity surge in Germany. Sadly though, yet again there are no English subtitles to found on this otherwise perfect release.