Okay, Asmita in the comments suggested this, but I am a little nervous about it. Because I really really don’t know as much as I should about the non-Hindi industries. And I know SO MUCH about Hindi that I am going to have a hard time limiting myself. But we will see how it goes. Oh, and after you watch all of these, you can just put something in the comments if you want more recommendations based on your favorites, I would LOVE to do that. But this is just the start, I have so much more knowledge to give.
Hindi Beginning Films (this is assuming you have just found Indian film and have never watched anything before ever)
Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham: A bit old-fashioned now, but a perfect example of what people think of when they think “Bollywood” (hate that word). It will teach you the song styles, the stars, and the basic story template.
(This is essentially all you need to know in one song)
Kal Ho Na Ho: A little more modern (while still a little out of date). The plot is a tad more complicated, the script is very clever, and the songs are great.
Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani: Just so you can see an alternative style of the same kind of film. Again, great songs, romance, happiness. But a little more modern, with different stars.
Hindi Intermediate Films (now you have seen the 3 above, and maybe some others, and are interested in going a little deeper)
Ghajini: Still has great songs, but not the plot you think of when you think “Hindi”, or the style, or the script.
Talaash: Another trickier one, very well made and smart, and in the more realistic style that some directors prefer. And gives you a look at some of the really great art performers.
Dabangg: A big silly cop film, which might seem to tonely strange if it was the first movie you watched, but by now it should be okay for you.
Hindi Advanced Films (now you are several months/several dozen films into your knowledge, you are ready for the classics)
Kaagaz Ke Phool: Brilliant movie about movie making, which is also so beautiful it will make you cry (well, it made me cry). One of the all time 1950s classics.
Awara: The first massive international hit, complex social statement combined with romance, another 1950s classic.
Sholay: Greatest movie ever made. Never a dull moment.
Tamil Beginner Films (okay, I am a bit out of my depth here. Assuming you are a total absolute beginner, and have no one else you can ask, this is the most I know)
OK Kanmani: A great grounded romance with an amazing soundtrack. Not the best film by the director Mani Ratnam, but one of his most recent, so easy to relate to.
Irudhi Suttru: Let me introduce you to the wonder that is Madhavan! He stars and produces in this film, which has a female director/writer and an wonderfully strong female character at the heart of it.
Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa: Impossible to spell, but worth the effort. From director Gautham Menon, a semi-autobiographical film about his first romance. Not your typical romance in any way.
Tamil Intermediate Films (assuming you started with Hindi films, the movies above should have felt kind of familiar to you. Now, these are totally different)
Pizza: A horror movie, but a very smart simple one. I don’t like horror, and I liked it. And it shows you how out of the box Tamil movies can be (ha, I made a pun!)
VIP (Velaiilla Pattadhari): Ultimately a kind of hero action movie. But it goes all around the place before it gets there, in a fascinating way. And this is definitely not the kind of hero you are used to, skinny and funny and likes to watch soap operas.
Kabali: I’m sure you’ve heard of Rajnikanth. This is his newest big hit, and it’s all about the oppressed Tamil minority in Malaysia (an actual real issue I wouldn’t have known about if it weren’t for this film), from an off-beat kind of out there director, and a lot of great Tamil rap with a Malay influence.
Tamil Advanced Films (Again, I KNOW NOTHING!!!! This is the very very little I have gathered from my very very small time with this industry)
Moondru Mudichi: Sridevi’s first leading role (age 13!), Rajnikanth’s first big part too, plus Kamal Haasan. It’s like the whole history of Tamil film in one movie. Also, made by brilliant director K. Balachander.
Mouna Ragam: Mani Ratnam’s first major film. A classic post-marriage romance, with a hero and heroine who feel like real average people.
Kandukondain Kandukondain: This is kind of your reward. A great romance film with an awesome soundtrack, just like in Hindi, but better because it is Tamil.
Telugu Beginner films (Do not trust a single thing I say, I have barely explored this industry, but if you have no other option available to you and feel like a dying man in the desert, I can give you these little drops of knowledge)
Mirchi: Especially if you came in through Bahubali, this is just the best Prabhas film. And gives you a good sense of the “factionalist” land dispute kind of story lines, and the beauty of machete fights.
Pokiri: The urban version of the gangster film. With a strong heroine, and a great role for MegaStar Mahesh Babu. Oh, and if you know Hindi film, it was remade as Wanted. But the original is much much much much better.
Santosham: Very different from the others. A sweet romance starring Nagarjuna, a little bit older than the others as well. But a reminder that Telugu films aren’t just action.
Telugu Intermediate films (Again, these are only slightly more than random guesses. I know so little it would astound you)
Manam: Warm loving family film, starring a bunch of people who are related to each other, playing people who are related in a different way, and reincarnation is involved. Trust me, it’s wonderful.
Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana: Really cute romance that feels similar to Maine Pyar Kiya and Pyaar Kiya to Darna Kya, but also different and has Siddharth being cute.
Aarya: Interesting romance about stalking, with a lot of fight scenes. And Allu Arjun, a very strange and fascinating screen presence.
Telugu Advanced Films (all of these are remarkable brilliant movies. Don’t know if they are the best the industry has to offer because, again, I KNOW NOTHING. But they are interesting at least!)
1:Nennokadine: Takes the action film tropes and deconstructs them. So you have to watch the other movies first, but this is your reward because it is SO SMART.
Eega: Same director as Bahubali, totally different kind of movie. But equally, if not more, imaginative. And equally well performed.
(Yes, the hero is a fly)
Maya Bazaar: A fairy tale come to life, based on familiar Puranic tales. Romantic, pretty, magical, everything. Oh, and from the 1950s, so prepare yourself for old-fashioned saris and stuff.
Malayalam Beginner Films (I know marginally more about this industry than the last two, but it’s still next door to nothing.)
Bangalore Days: Massive surprise all India hit (well, modified hit, bigger than Malayalam films usually get), brilliant movie, Dil Chahta Hai for a new age, and with a female lead.
Premam: Another surprise hit, a coming of age story told through 3 love stories, way deeper and more sensitive than these films usually get.
Ohm Shaanti Oshana: Amazing romance, in which the heroine is the hero, stalking the guy she likes, slowly wooing him, etc. etc.
Malayalam Intermediate Films (those last 3 are the guaranteed hits that translate anywhere, these get a little more complex)
Celluloid: A very different view of the early years of the film industry from what we usually get. Also, an introduction to big star Prithviraj.
Ennu Ninte Moideen: Another Prithviraj film, this time a romance, but also based on a true story. And an introduction to awesome Parvathy.
Charlie: A little unusual, a little magical realism. But still with Parvathy, and Dulquer who you have seen in other things by now.
Malayalam Advanced Films (there are way way way too many options to include here, most films I have seen went over my head and should go here. So this is kind of a throwing things at a dartboard approach)
Kammattipaddam: An epic story of a changing neighborhood, Dalit land grants, and growing up.
Manichitrathazhu: Brilliant complex script, and a perfect role for Mohanlal. And for Shobhana, who is gorgeous, a great actress, and a trained dancer.
Guppy: A film about a child in a way that I haven’t seen in any other industry, in India or elsewhere.