As well as devouring books and listening to an anything but Ravi Shankar selection of music, I’ve been on a Bollywood film marathon. Naturally, I expect to land in Kolkata and find the streets full of smoldering men and svelte, gorgeous women sashaying through traffic and bursting into song. I’ll be so disappointed if this isn’t true.Seriously, though, aside from the bigger films released in the U.S. like Salaam Bombay, I haven’t seen a lot of Bollywood films until this past year. A few of my favorites: Water. Although, probably not technically a Bollywood film as it is written and directed by Canadian, Deepa Mehta, Water is in Hindi and takes place along the Ganges in Varanasi, 1938, toward the end of British rule. I loved this movie and had to put it first on my list. The story centers around Chuyla, a child bride who is widowed when she is eight years old and sent to an ashram for Hindi widows to live out the rest of her life with the other women who range in age from Kalani, a teenager, to a toothless widow at the end of her life. Like Chuyla, she had been there since she was a girl. Mehta does a brilliant–and subtle–job of weaving together the strands of these outcasts’ lives without making judgements or turning it into a morality tale. Seema Biswas is fantastic as Shakuntala, one of the widows. Omkara: Just when I thought not another modern rendition of Shakespeare, along comes the Hindi version of Othello, or in this case, Omkara directed by Vishal Bhardwai. This movie felt like my first real dose of pre-culture shock. On the one hand I loved it. Omi, a small-time gangster and politician, is the illegitimate son of a Brahim and a lower-caste woman. Desdemona becomes Dolly and defies her father to be with Omi. Iago, or in this case Langda, (played by Saif Ali Khan) is a great villain, well balanced between crude and edgy. One of the things that seemed a bit uneven with this movie was the translation. I felt like I was reading a script pieced together by several translators. A line like “buzz off you scum” comes just a scene or two before Dolly describing her love for Omi as “a blind bird plunging down an empty well.” Uneven. Probably the most jarring scenes though, were the full scale Bollywood numbers that seemed to just come out of the blue. The first came about halfway through the film–totally unexpected and wholly erotic, both hetro- and homo-erotic, with a healthy does of S&M thrown in, and even an anti-smoking message. Nearly the whole cast showed their dancing finesse, with the exception of Omi and Dolly who were off making love. But I liked Omkara. There was some beautiful background music in the score which was also composed by Bhardwai. Mumbai Meri Jann (dir. Nishikant Kamat): In July, 2006, seven bombings went off at various Mumbai railroad stations. This movie follows the after shock of a selection of characters whose lives were shattered by those bombings. I had some trouble following the different stories, but there were some good character sketches. No One Shot Jessica (dir. Raj Kumar Gupta). A bit over the top at times, but is based on a true case–the shooting of a model in Dehli. Although, he initially got off, No One Shot Jessica shows that sometimes justice does prevail. There’s a lot more richness and texture to Bollywood films than I realized. And I have of list of more to see.