Eight Bollywood sports films for family movie night

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Sanya Malhotra and Fatima Sana Shaikh star as sisters with hopes of becoming world-class wrestlers in "Dangal."

Bollywood is my life. As a child, I learned Hindi from these three-hour-long flicks filled with extravagant song-and-dance sequences, larger-than-life performers and sensational drama. As a teenager, I frequently imagined my nonexistent love life to be the stuff of Bollywood romcoms: a hilarious adventure of chancing upon a soul mate, eventually recognizing each other as the right partners for life after a series of initial misunderstandings and finally succeeding, despite more mishaps and misadventures, in becoming a couple. As an adult, I tend to catch up on my movie-watching on long-haul flights, binging on three or four of the latest releases.

Now that I'm the parent to a moving picture-loving 5-year-old who prefers musicals, we've started watching Bollywood films for our Friday night feature. Mainstream Hindi cinema can be wildly inappropriate and very regressive, and Hindi movies specifically made for children are a rare thing. Bollywood movies are often referred to as "masala" films, after the Hindi word for a spice mixture; they feature action, comedy and romance and are designed to appeal to the widest audience possible. But I find the genre's sports films to be very appropriate for young children.

Bollywood sports films, just like their Hollywood counterparts, are formulaic, and these predictable movies are comforting, entertaining and uplifting. Nearly all Indian movies are musicals, and my daughter is prone to get up and dance along to the extravagant production numbers that punctuate these films.

Although my daughter's grasp of Hindi is minimal, just as mine was at her age, and she's not yet a fluent reader, which makes subtitles a challenge, she loves watching these root-for-the-underdog stories. Here are eight widely available flicks suitable for family movie night:

1. "Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India" (2001): "Lagaan," a period drama, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002 in the Best Foreign Film category. It is the triumphant tale of a band of villagers who accept a colonial officer's challenge to a cricket match in the hopes of overturning a land tax imposed by their British rulers.

2. "Dangal" (2016): Based on the true story of Geeta and Babita Phogat, who eventually competed in the Olympics, and their trainer-father, Mahavir Singh Phogat, this inspirational film (produced by ESPN parent company Disney) is not only a primer to women's professional wrestling but also a fierce examination of assumptions about the role of women, the expectations of femininity and the spirit of feminism.

3. "Iqbal" (2005): In this magical movie about family and disability, a cricket-obsessed teen who cannot hear or speak  becomes a cricketer and fulfills his dream of playing for the Indian national team.

4. "Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar" (1992): This classic is the story of a rivalry between vastly different schools -- one wealthy, another less so -- and their annual intercollegiate sports championship. At the town's premier event, a marathon bicycle race, the rivalry gets intense and personal.

5. "Mary Kom" (2014): This action-filled biopic is the story of Chungneijang Mery Kom Hmangte, better known as Mary Kom, the only Indian woman boxer to have qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics, where she won a bronze medal in the flyweight category.

6. "Hawaa Hawaai" (2014): In this touching movie, Arjun, a tea-stall boy (a la "Slumdog Millionaire"), becomes obsessed with learning how to skate after seeing wealthier children "fly" on the road in front of his shop. With help from his ragtag army of friends and an inspiring coach, he fashions a beautiful pair of skates from scrap and prepares to compete in a district-level skating race.

7. "Dil Bole Hadippa!" (2009): This cricket movie tells the tale of a young woman who pretends to be a man to join an all-male cricket team. The New York Times called the film "part sports tale, part ... love story, part feminist comedy."

8. "Chak De! India" (2007): Inspired by the Indian women's national field-hockey team's win at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, this feisty flick is not only a satisfying sports film but also explores religious, ethnic and regional prejudice and sexism in contemporary India.

Pooja Makhijani is a writer and educator. Find her online at poojamakhijani.com.

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