Indian Action Movies and More to Watch and Stream Next11 min read
Photo: DVV Entertainment
So. You’ve watched RRR, the global box-office smash out of Tollywood from director S.S. Rajamouli, and you need another fix. Well you’re in luck, friends, because there is a lot more where all that singing, all that bromance, all that dancing, all those explosions, and all that pure, unchecked emotional intimacy came from. Welcome to the world of exuberant Indian action cinema, a landscape that makes Fast & Furious feel almost cynical, that makes the firepower of Michael Bay movies feel restrained, and that makes the shippable chemistry between Cap and Bucky feel sterile by comparison. Indian cinema is not one industry (Bollywood), but many (Mollywood, Kollywood, Sandalwood, Tollywood, and beyond), and if the friendship epic of RRR made you feel like you had experienced a singular piece of cinema that couldn’t possibly reflect an entire genre within one country’s movie business, then hopefully you’re excited to be wrong!
Now that you’re reading to scour streaming services for more options to keep your blood on fire, we present you with ten more movies — most from India, some from elsewhere — that nourish you depending on what aspects of RRR hit your heart the hardest. Was it the bombast? Then welcome to Rohit Shetty’s Cop Universe. Was it the men deeply, tearfully being in love with each other? The emotional highs and lows of High & Low are here for you. Was it the indulgent delights of a period-piece epic? Then Baahubali awaits. Do you just want more Ram Charan being beautiful? Well, you can have that too. Time to put your dancing shoes on.
Directed by Rohit Shetty
While RRR is a phenomenally executed example of Indian spectacle action, its maximalism is actually not at all what makes it unique. With some exceptions of course, whatever American action considers “over the top” is like a six on the dial of a juiced-up Indian genre movie. (Michael Bay comes closest to consistently going commensurately big, but there’s something even too “grounded” about Bay, which says a lot, to make a fair comparison to his counterparts across the world.) And if you thought movies here in the U.S. of A made cops look like glamorous warriors — for better or worse — you have seen nothing compared to what director Rohit Shetty delivers with his ever more extravagant Cop Universe franchise, most recently given life with last year’s Sooryavanshi. This Hindi-language movie is massive from start to finish, opening with an absolute banger of a theme song as our hero enters the film, and building to a climax that unites the three pillars of the entire Cop Universe on screen. One of them is screen superstar Ajay Devgn, the first cop of the franchise (the titular Singham) and a face RRR fans will recognize as Ram’s father from the flashback scenes. Also, since this is a Bollywood cop movie, it’s about three things: killing the fucking bad guys and explosions and musical numbers. But Sooryavanshi is more than that, too. Importantly, many American fans might not have context for a film like RRR’s place in the discourse around Hindu nationalism in Indian cinema, and how some of the country’s modern blockbusters do or do not function as Hindutva, a sort of zealous concept of Indian cultural identity revolving around Hindu religion. Sooryavanshi is another high-gloss title that could feel like fluff to an undereducated audience (us!!), but that also invites global viewers to read up on portrayals of Hindus and Muslims across the many sectors of Indian film.
Sooryavanshi is available to stream on Netflix.
Directed by Shigeaki Kubo
One of the most entertaining franchises you’ll find throughout the entire global movie economy is the Japanese super-property High & Low. It started as a TV series by the J-pop collective Exile Tribe and exploded to encompass a manga, a live concert experience, an anime, studio albums, and yes, a seven-film series. Trying to explain all of High & Low would be like relaying a Game of Thrones volume of lore to you, but to boil it down: If you want to see men fighting in extremely stylized environments and be so dedicated to the bonds of brotherhood that they will fully stop brawl-for-all fights to openly weep and scream about the power of friendship, these are the movies for you. As for the plot, all you need to know is that a group of gangs (whose names form the acronym S.W.O.R.D.) vie for dominance of an unnamed city where the all-powerful Mugen gang once ruled. When Mugen disbanded, the power vacuum was filled by the gangs and various criminal enterprises seeking to claim treasure and territory. To a one, these boys are all sexy, stylish, always ready to fight, and totally devoted to their bros. An important note: In order of release, the first movie looks like it’s called The Road to High & Low. This isn’t really a movie! It’s a feature-length assemblage of clips from the two-season show. You don’t need to start here if you don’t want to, and the amount it gives you to digest is potentially very confusing, so if you want to just get going with the movies, kick it off with the official first installment, High & Low: The Movie. Welcome to the funk jungle.
High & Low: The Movie is available to stream on Netflix.
Directed by Siddharth Anand
This Bollywood blockbuster is another movie for those who walked out of RRR wanting more smoldering chemistry between two startlingly handsome male leads who have a complex relationship filled with just enough love, tension, and violence to make them glistening fantasy boyfriends. War is the third movie in the YRF Spy Universe, and this one gives fans rooting for homoeroticism so much to feast on by setting the absolutely shredded pair of Tiger Shroff and Hrithick Roshan as soldier heroes who earn one another’s respect and affection only for one of them to go rogue while the other has to make chase after his old partner. Not unlike Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr. in the Tollywood RRR, Shroff and Roshan coming together is something of a Bollywood action mega pairing. And if you’re a big fan of fight movies, Shroff is an incredibly talented martial artist whose skills you can see further on display in the Baaghi and Heropanti franchises.
War is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Directed by S. S. Rajamouli
When you walked out of RRR utterly boggled, the first movie anyone probably told you to watch next is the two-part historical epic that writer and director S.S. Rajamouli made before he got us all to rise, roar, and revolt in our seats. Before Ram and Bheem, there was Sivudu and Bhallaladeva in Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali: The Conclusion. Sivudu (Prabas) and Bhallaldeva (Rana Daggubati) are two cousins torn apart by ambition and brought back together by destiny, but they are not friends. The former had to be smuggled out of the palace as a child to protect him from scheming family members so the latter could ascend to the throne unimpeded, which puts the two on a path to a divinely ordained clash of the gorgeous-haired titans. If you had already seen Baahubali, the combination of dramatic period-piece action and reason-defying battle scenes felt like a fulfillment of the promise of Tollywood’s reigning king of the cinema in Rajamouli, who broke box-office records with The Conclusion before doing it again now with RRR. The Baahubali films are another look at the filmmaker’s love affair with grandiose tales of righteous heroism and influences from comics like the Amar Chitra Katha series, which focused on tales of Indian gods and royalty.
Baahubali is available to stream on Netflix.
South Korea, 2000
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Since this list is more a trip around the world than it is a guide to Indian cinema specifically (you can find those elsewhere), we’re going to take a grittier look at the bonds formed between men that defy borders and entrenched loyalties. Everyone talks about Oldboy, and everyone should be talking about The Handmaiden, but before Park Chan-wook cemented his status as a global standard-bearer for the South Korean film industry, he teamed up with stars Song Kang-ho and Lee Byung-hun for the war drama Joint Security Area. One of director Park’s first films, J.S.A. is a thriller set in the demilitarized zone at the border of North and South Korean. When a soldier from the South accidentally crosses into enemy territory, he winds up on a land mine and is saved by two soldiers from the North. They all go their separate ways, but the Southern soldier maintains contact by message in bottle with the men who saved him until making another unauthorized trip back over the border to spend time with his unlikely pen pals at their guard post. The three men strike up a doomed friendship — laughing, getting to know one another, playing cards — and ultimate loyalties are tested when tensions between the two countries ratchet up and a catastrophe strikes.
Joint Security Area is available to stream for free on Tubi.
Directed by Mohana Krishna Indraganti
While “Bollywood” may be used as a catch-all term for all Indian films by folks here in the States, that is in fact only one regional industry — based in the north around Mumbai and made in Hindi — within the country’s massive film economy. Tollywood films, on the other hand, are Telugu language movies with a hub in the southern part of India around Hyderabad. And Tollywood films have been making bigger and bigger plays for box office records in the country (see: the works of Rajamouli). For more big action and big fights with big feelings and surprise romances and twist betrayals and men fighting against systems, see V. One star is a hero cop (Sudheer Babu) and another a sought-after criminal (Nani) — are you sensing a theme?? — and the two are locked in a battle of cat and mouse as bodies keep piling up and the plot thickens as the line between good guys and bad guys blurs. And yes, obviously the cop has to tear his shirt off at one point because it is on fire, revealing his chiseled torso.
V is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Hong Kong-China, 2021
Directed by Benny Chan
If we’re going to talk about emotional action, it’s only right that we talk about Donnie Yen, one of the greatest martial-arts film stars of all time, who just can’t stop giving us elite-quality beatdown movies. Raging Fire is the final film of famed Hong Kong director Benny Chan, who is best known for works like New Police Story and Big Bullet. Those who know Yen from leading the outstanding Ip Man franchise will recognize his signature quiet-storm persona as top cop Cheung Sung-bong, an officer revered for his righteous dedication to good — even if that comes at the expense of playing by the rules and moving up the ladder. And because we’re here to watch brothers in arms either take down oppressors together or be driven apart by irrevocable moral schisms, the toughest case of Cheung’s career pits him opposite his former protege, Yau Kong-ngo, played by fellow HK screen superstar Nicholas Tse. There’s a lot of John Woo in Raging Fire, and more than a little of Michael Mann’s Heat, so it’s perfect for the gender-nonspecific boyfriend or dad in your life. There are incredible gun fights, and even more incredible fist fights, car chases, foot chases, and basically everything else you could want in a cops and robbers ultimate showdown movie. But at the heart of it all there is also: the betrayal of star-crossed bros.
Raging Fire is available to stream on Hi-Yah via Amazon Prime Video.
Directed by Pa. Ranjith
Kaala takes us to another hub of Indian cinema. Kollywood movies are Tamil-language films based in the Tamil Nudu state, at the southernmost point of the country. Kollywood has turned out hits like Beast and the recent smash Vikram, but Kaala best fits RRR’s themes of rising, roaring, and revolting. In it, veteran superstar Rajinikanth (there is an entire documentary called For the Love of a Man about his religiously devoted fandom) stars as the titular character, a revered leader in his community who will protect the people of his slum from a no-good politician set on evicting the residents and taking the land for himself. The movie deals with caste-system politics and issues of the economically disenfranchised, and while it may not have blood splashing across a banner that reads, “The sun never sets on the English Empire,” it echoes a similar spirit if that got you going in RRR.
Kaala is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
Directed by Sukumar
Tollywood picture Rangasthalam can fill a very specific need. It’s for the ones who watched RRR, fell in love with star Ram Charan, and immediately needed to see more of him in a period piece where he’s fighting the corrupt forces of the state to protect his people — plus brotherhood. Charan earned some of the best reviews of his career playing Chitti Babu, the hard of hearing engineer of his village community who keeps the crops watered and generally flits about through semi-slapstick situations, alternately using his hearing impairment to either selectively ignore people or make them speak in comically loud voices to accommodate him. Chitti is a ne’er-do-well mostly lounging through life until his brother returns from abroad, and together they endeavor to topple the tyrannical and murderous regime exploiting their village, which is presided over by the brutal and unbeatable President. Charan basically gives every genre of performance across the entirety of Rangasthalam, and while I was watching it, a friend asked “Is this the one with the baby goat?!?!!!” and “Does he fight and dance?!?!!!!” The answers to those questions are: yes, yes, and yes!
Rangasthalam is available on Amazon Prime Video.
Directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery
Jallikattu is the aesthetic opposite of the rest of the hyperbolically muscular genre movies on this list. This Mollywood film (Malayalam-language movies based in a region at the southern tip of India) is a hyperreal nerve-rattler from director Lijo Jose Pellissery. It is based on the short story “Maoist” by Hareesh, and was submitted by India as the country’s official entry for Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Oscars, though it was not one of the final five nominees. Jallikattu is a simple story: A rural village plunges into crisis when a water buffalo escapes from a slaughterhouse and starts terrorizing everything. And we’re not talking about a radioactive yellow water buffalo that is 16 feet tall and shoots lasers from its eyes. No, this is an entirely normal water buffalo that will not stop running around, and the movie swells into a Katamari ball of rolling chaos as every man in the village becomes obsessed with its capture. There are no exploding tanks, no one throwing big cats as weapons, no musical numbers, no bullet time slowdowns or dramatic poses — but there is a conclusion that is just as insane as anything Rohit Shetty ever put into a Cop Universe movie. Jallikattu is just people losing their fucking minds over a water buffalo, and it is captivating.
Jallikattu is available on Amazon Prime Video.