Good news for Bollywood fans: Hulu continues to buff up its catalog this week, having made a deal with top Hindi-language film distributor Saavn to stream hit Indian films as part of their service.

The first three pictures available are big -- Sarkar, called "the Godfather of Bollywood films," about an Indian mafia family; Hera Phari, a wildly successful buddy comedy that inspired one of Bollywood's first sequels; and the 1992 romantic drama Deewana, a major film in Indian cinema with Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.

Given how America-centric the U.S./European film market is, it's probably not surprising how many Westerners are ignorant as to what a big, big business there is in Bollywood films. 2000's Hera Pheri, a sort of caper comedy about three unemployed men who accidentally get a phone call from a kidnapper and try to cash in on it themselves, was not just a box office smash on its home turf, but also came in at #8 on its opening weekend at UK theaters, ahead of X-Men: The Last Stand, The Da Vinci Code, and Mission Impossible III. The audience for Bollywood movies is enormous, and it's a canny move on Hulu's part to add this market to their stable.

The great thing about Bollywood pictures (the term refers to the Hindi-language films produced in India, although it's sometimes incorrectly used to describe all Indian films) is that they're splashy entertainments designed to appeal to a diverse audience. Influenced by Sanskrit and Parsi theater, folk drama and old-school Hollywood musicals, the goal of the Bollywood picture is to give the viewer paisa vasool (literally, their "money's worth") with as much romance, drama, comedy and catchy music as can be crammed into one movie. Because of this wide appeal, Indian movie stars enjoy a fame that's insane even by American standards. Deewana star Shah Rukh Khan was named by Newsweek as one of the 50 most influential people in the world in 2008. Bride and Predudice star -- and former Miss World -- Aishwarya Rai, who's been described as the most beautiful woman on earth, is so popular that at one point she starred in ads for Coke and Pepsi at the same time. (You can check out "Aish," as fans call her, in the chick-flicky Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke, also on Hulu.)

If you're new to Bollywood films, the Hulu/Saavn deal offers a fine opportunity to sample what you've been missing. The quality of the streaming video is terrific and, yes, there are English subtitles. Give yourself time to adjust to a very different form of movie-making, with emotional scenes often erupting into full-blown musical numbers, as in this YouTube clip from Deewana:

categories Movies, Cinematical