Update: The streaming service Mela shuts down permanently on September 15, 2012. With its only real competitor out of the picture, Netflix is unquestionably the best option for streaming Bollywood movies on iPad devices.
With Indian Premier League Cricket slowing the flow of major releases out of Bollywood, it’s time to examine another option for watching Hindi movies. iPad owners in the U.S. have several ways to stream Bollywood movies on their devices. But which app is the best, particularly for movie fans who rely (as I do) on English subtitles?
When reviewing streaming video services, I considered a few criteria:
- Is the app easy to search and navigate?
- How comprehensive is the catalog of movies available?
- Is one of the movies in the catalog Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge?
All of the apps reviewed have a fee associated with full access to their catalogs. Here’s a look at the few of the streaming services available on the iPad.
Unlike other video streaming services, Mela focuses exclusively on Indian content. Mela’s iPad catalog — a subset of the full range of video entertainment available with their set-top box, which includes TV shows — features hundreds of movies in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Punjabi, Marathi, and Gujarati. The full movie catalog is accessible with a $4.99 monthly subscription, though a limited number of films can be viewed for free without a subscription.
By virtue of having a narrow focus, the Mela iPad app is incredibly easy to search. After selecting which films you’d like to browse by language, movies are organized alphabetically by title. Movies cover a wide date range, from the ’60s to the present, including a number of films released in 2012.
Most of these newer films are independent movies that didn’t release in U.S. theaters. For most American fans, Mela is the only way to see the horror flick Ghost or the relationship drama Chaurahen.
But Mela offers more than just arthouse fare. It offers 2011 hits like The Dirty Picture and Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and will soon add this year’s outstanding thriller Kahaani to its catalog.
Mela gets an incomplete grade on one criterion: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is available for streaming, but it’s not subtitled in English.
That’s Mela’s biggest drawback, at the moment: not all of the movies are subtitled in English, and not all of those films are marked as being subtitled in the movie description. I often have to start a movie and fast forward to see if the dialog is subtitled. Most recent releases are subtitled — as Kahaani will be — and the company continues to add subtitles to older films already in the catalog, a process that the company says should be completed in the next couple of months. (Dear Mela: please prioritize subtitling Disco Dancer. Thanks!)
Another feature that would make the app ideal would be an ability to search movies by release year. However, within each language, there is a category for newly added titles, which includes recent theatrical releases.
Netflix is undoubtedly the video service Americans are most familiar with. In addition to an extensive library of DVDs, Netflix has more than 70 Hindi titles available for streaming. The unlimited streaming plan costs $7.99 per month and allows subscribers to watch movies on their computers, TV or mobile devices (adding a DVD-by-mail option costs an additional $7.99 per month, minimum).
The quality of Netflix’s Hindi streaming video catalog is impressive, and all the films are subtitled in English. The catalog presently includes popular titles like Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Dum Maaro Dum, and, most importantly, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. The other obvious advantage for Netflix is its huge catalog of English-language movies and TV shows, as well as other foreign films.
However, the Netflix app doesn’t lend itself to serious catalog browsing. In addition to showcasing new releases, the home screen of my Netflix app suggested movies from odd categories like “Quirky Documentaries” and “Inspiring Movies”: clever, but useless if I want to see what new Hindi movies are available. Unlike at Netflix’s website, movies listed under the “Foreign” browsing category aren’t further subdivided by language, though it did suggest some titles in a “Bollywood” subcategory. Searching under the word “Hindi” yielded no results.
If I want to see which Hindi movie at Netflix has the most recent theatrical release date, I have to go to the Netflix website, search for Hindi-language movies, sort them by release year, add the appropriate movie to my queue, and then access my queue on the iPad app to watch the movie. It’s a more complicated process than it should be.
While Hulu specializes in TV content, it also offers movies for streaming. Much of the service is available for free on a computer, but iPad access requires a subscription to Hulu Plus for a cost of $7.99 per month. Like Netflix, a subscription offers access to a wide range of content beyond Bollywood films.
Also like Netflix, Hulu’s catalog is a pain to search on the Hulu Plus iPad app. Hulu’s catalog of movies isn’t available to browse by category, so I searched for movies using the term “Hindi.” Searching for the term on the iPad yielded fewer than thirty titles, while the same search at Hulu’s website yielded more than sixty titles. (Oddly, Hulu doesn’t include Hindi movies in their “Foreign Language” category.) Dil Se stood out among a largely unimpressive catalog that included the likes of 8×10 Tasveer and All the Best.
More annoying is that closed captioning is available on movies at Hulu’s website, but not on the Hulu Plus iPad app (though it is available on some other mobile devices). Not all of the Hindi movies in the catalog are subtitled automatically. So even generating a queue at Hulu’s website and selecting films from that queue doesn’t guarantee that the movie is watchable on the iPad.
Thanks to an agreement several years ago with Eros Entertainment, Vudu has number of Bollywood movies available for rental and purchase on an individual basis. Most titles are from 2006 and earlier. The Vudu app is a player only, which means that movies must be browsed and purchased at the Vudu website for later viewing on the Vudu app. I found the process tedious and the catalog largely unsearchable, so I won’t bother renting from Vudu.
Neither Amazon Instant Videos nor YouTube Movies are currently available on the iPad.
For hardcore Bollywood fans, Mela is an essential app, especially since it costs less than other movie streaming apps. Even though many movies in the catalog currently lack subtitles, there are more than enough to keep English-only fans occupied until the catalog is completely subtitled. And no other company prioritizes independent Indian films the way Mela does.
Netflix is a great app for movie fans who don’t want to be limited to Bollywood titles alone. If you don’t live within driving distance of a theater that shows Hindi films, the Netflix catalog will keep you up to date on many of the biggest hits. However, for $3 more per month than Mela, be sure you take advantage of all the service has to offer in order to get your money’s worth.
Hulu Plus isn’t worth it for Bollywood movies alone, as you’ll quickly exhaust the limited selection of subpar titles. And with other services offering newer films, there’s no reason to bother slogging though Vudu’s annoying catalog.