Though Bollywood has a reputation for outlandish epics stuffed with ridiculous musical numbers and throwaway plots, a number of Indian films and filmmakers over the years have challenged that stereotype by putting out hard-hitting thrillers. These films are violent, harrowing and a lot weirder than you might expect.

  1. “Gumnaam” is an old-school remake of the Agatha Christie novel “And Then There Were None.” Released in 1965, this is one of the best Indian thrillers. “Gumnaam” blends elements of horror and suspense to tell the tale seven strangers abandoned in a remote location after wining a surprise vacation and start dying mysteriously.

  2. “A Wednesday” is, despite its pedestrian title, far and away one of the most thrilling Indian movies. The film deals with terrorism and has a unique plot contrivance: the events of the film were never recorded officially and are narrated by a retiring police officer.

  3. “Karthik Calling Karthik” is an uncharacteristically metaphysical Indian thriller about a feeble man who begins getting confidence-building phone calls from…himself. During the course of the film, the titular character goes from taking guff from just about everyone to dolling out multiple ass whippings a day.

  4. “Satya” is the story of an immigrant worker in Mumbai who finds himself unwittingly sucked into the city’s teeming criminal underworld. This crime thriller was a surprise hit in 1998 and was compared to Tarantino upon itself release. However, “Satya” hits much harder than Tarantino’s farcical fare and is rife with violence, double crosses and criminal desperation.

  5. “Johnny Gaddaar” turns the premise of most crime films on its head. One of the best Indian thrillers, this film puts you inside the mind of the criminal from the get go. The titular character develops a compulsion of criminal behavior; the film is increasingly tense with each passing minute. 

  6. “Manorama Six Feet Under” is one of the most well named films of all time. “Manorama” is a deliberately paced movie that follows the exploits of a detective on suspension who takes a job from a mysterious woman and falls down the proverbial rabbit hole into a bizarre and violent alternate reality.

  7. “Road” takes a pretty familiar horror/thriller premise and puts a unique twist on it. The movie involves a couple whose forbidden love causes them to run away. On the lamb, they pick up a hitchhiker who is a psychopath and kidnaps the woman. What stands out about “Road” is that it’s a musical.

  8. “New York” is sort of a thriller, sort of a drama. The film explores the lives of three Indian students studying at a fictional New York university and the toll taken on their lives in the aftermath of 9/11. “New York” begins in 1999 and in many ways follows the structure of the archetypal thriller to a “T”: a pleasant beginning, a tragic act, harrowing consequences and eventual finality. 

  9. “Omkara” is an Indian take on “Othello.” Titular character Omakara is the leader of a gang carrying political crimes at the behest of various Indian officials that crosses the wrong man one fateful day. Much like Shakespeare’s depraved and desperate play, “Omkara” is violent, bawdy and bloody.

  10. “The Train” is a tale of marital infidelity that plays out like an emotional thriller. The film’s main character meets an irresistible woman on a commuter train and immediately falls into an affair. “The Train” examines the emotional toll taken on the man, his new lover and his wife. It’s a harrowing ride, bad pun intended.