Hinduism on Screen: Is South Indian Cinema Outshining Bollywood?

Bhima and Ram of RRR

The rich cultural and religious traditions of South India through the lens of its movies! In these films, Hinduism takes center stage, showcasing its mythological stories, deities, festivals, and customs. But these movies go beyond mere entertainment, offering deep insights into the complexities of Hindu philosophy and its relevance in today’s world.

South Indian movies often showcase Hinduism as an integral part of their storytelling, reflecting the deep-rooted cultural and religious traditions of the region. Many South Indian movies depict Hindu mythological stories and characters, such as Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, and various other deities, as well as Hindu festivals and customs.

As we delve into these movies, we’ll discover how they portray Hinduism as a way of life, with an emphasis on righteousness, actions and consequences, and liberation. The movies often explore the complexities of Hindu philosophy and its relevance in contemporary society, emphasizing the need to uphold traditional values while adapting to changing times.

Some South Indian movies also highlight the diversity of Hinduism, portraying various sects and traditions, such as Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and Shaktism. These movies also emphasize the importance of tolerance, mutual respect, and peaceful coexistence among different religious communities.

The superiority of South Indian Movies 

Take an example of A huge blockbuster movie RRR which recently won the Oscars and Golden globes. RRR showcases Hindu mythology in a creative and unique way, blending together different characters and themes from Ramayana and Mahabharata to tell an original story that is sure to captivate audiences. 

RRR (2022), a highly anticipated South Indian movie, weaves together elements from India’s two major Hindu mythological epics — Ramayana and Mahabharata, to tell a compelling story of heroism and sacrifice. The movie features two protagonists, Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, who are based on real-life personalities but also modeled after their namesakes from Hindu mythology.

Rama Raju, the first protagonist, is portrayed as a supple and skilled warrior, drawing inspiration from the character of Rama in Ramayana. Meanwhile, Komaram Bheem, the second protagonist, embodies the muscular and immovable qualities of Bhima from Mahabharata. Interestingly, Rama Raju and Komaram Bheem never met in mythology, but in the movie, they join forces to fight against a common enemy.

The central theme of Ramayana, the abduction of Sita, is also depicted in RRR, but with a unique twist. In the movie, Rama Raju is captured following a series of events, and Komaram Bheem, who is also modeled after Hanuman, carries a message from Sita and comes to Rama Raju’s rescue. The movie has become the pride of India as its song Natu Natu was the first Indian song able to grab Golden Globe awards and Oscars for best original song.

Another epic culture reflector was Kantara! A 2022 blockbuster Kantara explores themes of regional culture, feudalism, environmental protection, and forest land encroachment. The film is also a powerful critique of the caste hierarchy and the suffering of native tribes in India. The film explores native cultures such as Yakshagana, Paddana, Bhoota Kola, Daivaradhane, Naagaradhane, and Kambala. 

By delving into these traditional practices, the movie emphasizes the connection between man and nature and how this relationship is expressed through culture and rituals. Kantara is a deeply-rooted mystical drama that exposes the atrocities faced by native tribes in India. With its poignant storytelling, the film calls attention to the urgent need for environmental protection and social justice.

The movie Kalapani (1996) depicted how Indian freedom fighters who were imprisoned by the British in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands maintained their faith and cultural identity even in the face of extreme adversity. Baahubali (2015) showcased the importance of dharma and righteousness, and how the protagonist fights to uphold the principles of his kingdom, even at the cost of his personal desires.

The movies like Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja (2009) and Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989) both depict the valor and selflessness of the protagonists, who fought for their people and their values, even in the face of oppressive rulers and societal norms. Madrasapattinam (2010) showcased the love and respect between people of different religions and cultures, and how they can come together in the face of adversity and injustice.

All of these movies, in some way or the other, depict a sense of patriotism, courage, and selflessness toward one’s community or country. They also showcase the importance of upholding one’s religious and cultural values and traditions, focused on Hinduism.

Bollywood going downhill in terms of Hinduism

While Bollywood movies have been an integral part of India’s cultural heritage and have contributed significantly to promoting its rich diversity, there have been some instances where certain movies have faced criticism for their portrayal of Hinduism. 

There are some movies in Bollywood making fun of Hindu Dharma or treat it in a superficial manner. In such movies, Hindu beliefs and practices are often reduced to mere stereotypes and caricatures. Padmavat (2018) the historical drama directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali faced opposition from some Rajput groups who claimed that the film portrayed their community in a negative light. There were also concerns that the film depicted a romantic relationship between the Muslim invader Alauddin Khilji and the Rajput queen Padmavati, which some claimed was historically inaccurate and offensive to Hindu sentiments.

There is a trend of showcasing the Gods and Goddesses in a manner that is disrespectful and insensitive to Hindu sentiments. This can be in the form of inappropriate clothing or behavior or through unrealistic and exaggerated depictions. This can be seen in the way the movies deal with issues related to the core ideology of Hinduism, such as karma, dharma, and moksha. PK (2014), directed by Rajkumar Hirani, caused a stir for its satirical take on religious deities, rituals, and practices.

Lapata scene from PK

And still, there are a huge number of filmmakers who continuously desperately attempt to show the shallowness of Hindu Beliefs. Mohalla Assi (2018) faced opposition from some Hindu groups for its depiction of the holy city of Varanasi and the use of vulgar language in the film. Even an FIR was filed against the movie for the use of vulgar language.

Yeah, there are flaws in our customs, but some movies have enhanced the negativity of Hindu practices. For instance, some movies have shown Hindu customs such as the caste system and widowhood as regressive and oppressive. Aarakshan (2011) faced opposition from some upper-caste Hindu groups for its portrayal of the issue of caste-based reservations in India’s education system. The movie was banned in UP and got a stay order in Punjab province.

Times when Bollywood showcased True Hinduism

There was a time when Bollywood culture was known for its deep history and spiritualism. The movies such as Mahabharat, Sampoorna Ramayana, Mahabali Hanuman, Jai Santoshi Maa, Char Dham, Shiv Mahima, Hari Darshan, Karwa Chauth, Dashavatar, and Bal Ganesh have had a significant influence on Indian culture.

There used to be movies that showed the significance of the biggest Dharma wars of Hinduism. Mahabharat (1965), based on the epic Mahabharata, is a cultural masterpiece that showcases India’s ancient narrative tradition. Sampoorna Ramayana (1961) was a cinematic portrayal of the Hindu epic Ramayana that celebrates the triumph of good over evil and deep-rooted Indian culture and traditions. 


The movies were filmed to make people realize the power of devotion. Mahabali Hanuman (1981) was a devotional movie about the mighty Hindu deity Hanuman, known for his wisdom, humility, and devotion to Lord Rama. Jai Santoshi Maa (1975) told the story of a devotee’s immense devotion to the Hindu goddess Santoshi Maa, showcasing the power of faith and devotion in Indian culture. 

The deities were prime highlights of some movies, which showed the greatness of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Shiv Mahima (1992) celebrated the Hindu god Shiva and his various forms, showcasing the importance of devotion and spiritualism in Indian culture. Hari Darshan (1972) portrayed the life of Lord Vishnu and the various incarnations he took to save the world, celebrating the richness and diversity of Hindu mythology.

Not only the religious aspect but the spiritual essence was also captured in some Bollywood movies. The finest example is Char Dham (1998) that highlighted the significance of the four sacred pilgrimage sites in India and the spiritual journey to attain freedom from all sins.

What happened now?

It is difficult to make a blanket statement about Bollywood’s representation of Hinduism as it is a complex and varied religion with multiple interpretations and practices. However, it is true that these days Bollywood films have been criticized for their portrayal of Hinduism, often focusing on superficial aspects of the religion and perpetuating stereotypes.

There are several possible reasons for this, including commercial pressures, lack of diversity in the industry, political agendas, and lack of research. With an eye toward box office success, filmmakers may prioritize entertainment over accurately representing Hinduism, resorting to clichés and stereotypes that appeal to the mass audience. Additionally, the lack of diversity in the industry can lead to a limited perspective on Hinduism, while political agendas and lack of research can result in a skewed or inaccurate portrayal. 

While some films have managed to showcase true Hinduism and its values, it is important to view Bollywood as just one form of media and not rely solely on it for a deep understanding of the religion.