To better prepare for your trip to this subcontinent so far away geographically and culturally, you might want to read some literature and see some movies that will help you understand the people and nation of India.
Holy Cow, a witty and clever autobiographical story of one woman's experience in India, by Australian journalist Sarah MacDonald.Freedom at
Midnight by Dominque Lapiere and Larry Collins. Subtitled "The epic drama of India's struggle for Independence," this magisterial history documents the birth of a nation.
Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer-Jhabvala (Fiction). This novel tells the parallel stories of a young Englishwoman backpacking through India in the 1970s, and of her great-aunt Olivia, a bored colonial wife in the 1920s.
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (Fiction). Comic take on the birth of Modern India as mirrored in the story of the narrator, born exactly at the moment of his homeland's independence.
Great Monuments of India, printed by DK Press, subtitled "a unique visual guide to India's historical sites," with detailed illustrations, hundreds of color photographs, and useful historical background on 11 of India's top sites.
Gandhi: An Autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with the Truth was written in weekly installments between 1925 and 1929. Gandhi shares his life and struggles
Shantaram by Gregory David Boyd, an exciting autobiography by a brilliant Australian who had escaped from an Aussie jail and gone to hide out in Mumbai. He stays in shantytown and gives readers first hand experiences there, plus meeting interesting underworld characters.
Lonely Planet India,
Come Be My Light by Mother Teresa, the private writings of the Saint of Calcutta.
India by Stanley Wolpert, reflections on the culture, religions, art and philosophy, and politics of India. 281 pages
Taj Mahal by Giles Tillotson/Mary Beard, a pocket book on the myths, meanings and legends of this celebrated tomb. 2008 190 pages
Mirrorwork, 50 Years of Indian Writing by Salman Rushdie/Elizabeth West, an anthology, selection of 20th Century Indian prose, fiction and non-fiction.
A Passage to India (1984) ***** An Indian doctor is accused of a horrible crime against an Englishwoman. Will he be declared innocent or guilty?
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 1 & 2 Set In Jaipur, an ensemble cast of England's greatest actors play retirees who come to take up residence in a home in India, which doesn't quite live up to its name. Each of the seven characters deal with the culture shock, their pasts, and their futures. In the meantime, the hotel's overly enthusiastic young owner tries to get his business off the ground. A sequel will be out soon.
Born Into Brothels***** 2004, Directors Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman made this inspiring documentary of a photographer teaching her art to the children of prostitutes to offer another lifestyle.
Bride and Prejudice*****A modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice set in India with Bollywood musical numbers. Very entertaining.
Gandhi, (1982). Winning 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor, this film is a must to understand the father of modern India. This film skips his early years and focuses on his years of activism.
Monsoon Wedding (2001) A middle class Punjabi family prepares for the extravagant wedding of their daughter. Secrets are uncovered, family relationships untangled, and the ceremony goes on. In an "Upstairs, Downstairs" motif, the servants' lives are also revealed.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008) Another multiple Academy Award winner. Directed by Danny Boyle, this fist clincher keeps the viewer at the edge of her seat throughout the movie. Brothers separated, a boy hell bent on rescuing his true love, a vicious Indian crime organization, redemption and reconciliation, they're all here.
The Namesake (2006, also a book.) Mira Nair tells the story of 2 first generation Indian immigrants making a life for their family in New York and their son's attempt to balance his Indian and American identities.
The Hundred Foot Journey (2014) Starring Helen Mirren and Om Puri. Set in France, an Indian family tries to open a restaurant across the street from an exclusive French Michelin one star establishment. The contrast of the restaurants and the relationship between the owners makes for a very enjoyable experience.
East is East (1999) British comedy-drama, starring Om Puri. A conservative Pakistani Muslim father and his British wife attempt to raise their culturally diverse family in England. The father expects his children to follow his strict Pakistani ways, but finds that they reject his values and opt for blue hair and piercings.