By Shreehari H
Hindi cinema in 2018 has proved to be as variegated as a multi-course buffet, with a few genuinely spectacular films and, as has become customary by now, a whole host of middling ones. The films that have truly stood out this year are mostly ones that dared to veer away from mainstream mundanity, films that spoke with a unique storytelling voice of their own.
Let’s take stock of how Bollywood performed in the first six months of the year.
From a tale of boxing to one of blossoms, here’s counting down to the five best Hindi films of the year thus far.
A still from ‘Padmaavat’
Few directors in Hindi cinema today can boast of the kind of aesthete that Sanjay Leela Bhansali brings to his films, and the latter’s highly anticipated Padmaavat was no different in this regard. The trademark flourishes are all in place, from overtly theatrical dialogue to larger than life pageantry, and like some of his earlier films—Saawariya and Bajirao Mastani chief among them—Padmaavat occasionally descends into caricature. Nothing could exemplify this better than Ranveer Singh’s spine-chilling but exaggerated portrayal of Alauddin Khilji.
Bhansali’s film, however, is held together by its terrific leading pair, and a special mention must be made here of Deepika Padukone’s remarkably fiery portrayal of the titular character. The climax is a rather polarising one (fair enough!), but I believe that it served the narrative wonderfully well. It is not as much a fetishisation of jauhar as it is a celebration of a woman’s steadfast conviction in her own moral code, and Padukone knocks it out of the park in those final gut-wrenching moments.
Despite its flaws, Padmaavat is a consistently riveting film, and Bhansali has clearly lost none of his mojo yet.
A still from ‘Beyond The Clouds’
4. Beyond The Clouds
Iranian maestro Majid Majidi’s latest film follows the journey of two siblings—the curly-haired, wide-eyed Amir (played by newcomer Ishaan Khattar), a young drug peddler, and Tara (played by Malayali actress Malavika Mohanan), a victim of domestic abuse, inhospitable circumstances and molestation, to name a few—and the choices they make, even as life in Mumbai’s grimy underbelly deals them one difficult blow after another. It is an unsettling, evocative tale about lecherousness and the futility of revenge, one that does not hesitant to broach themes such as the need to confront inner demons and the pursuit of salvation.
In his first ever Bollywood venture (with Hindi dialogues penned by Vishal Bhardwaj), Majidi does a reasonably solid job, though both bombast and ham-handedness occasionally seep into his treatment of the source material. Technically, however, the film is a major triumph. There are a few special moments when Majidi directs with a distinctive touch of poetic storytelling: one of the standout scenes in this film is one that involves a bevy of fluterring dhotis and a touch of gore, as is one that brings out the silkiness of a dupatta-framed silhouette. Suitably enough, this is a film that begins and ends in grime.
A still from ‘October’
“Sister, aaj urine output zyaada nahi hai?” a perplexed Dan (Varun Dhawan) asks a somber-looking nurse, one who happens to be attending to his comatose colleague, Shiuli (played by a lovely Banita Sandhu). “Aaj paani zyaada diya tha?” he further enquires, at which point the exasperated nurse remarks: “Tum koi job nahi karte ho kya?” In that one telling moment, she mirrors our sentiments all too well.
As the trailer proclaimed, October is not as much a love story as it is a story about love. Shoojit Sircar’s film encompasses the full spectrum of human feeling—from loss to hope, from longing to despair—and Juhi Chaturvedi’s masterfully written script questions the very nature (and existence) of altruistic love in a day and age like ours. The film unfolds at a leisurely, languorous pace, and is made all the better for it. Indeed, in its best moments, it is as unquestionably beautiful as a daffodil in full bloom.
October would have been an out-and-out masterpiece if not for a leading man who made it only too evident that he was acting all the time. For a film about a tragedy, that ends up becoming a self-fulfilling deficiency in itself.
A still from ‘Mukkabaaz’
The detailing in Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz is a sight to behold. There’s a State Boxing Championship being sponsored by a company called Bedaag Detergent—probably the only spotless entity in a film teeming with filth of just about every conceivable kind—and a minister who believes that both Mohammad Kaif and Muhammad Ali share something else in common besides their first name (Kentucky be damned).
Shravan Singh, played by Vineet Kumar Singh in what is probably the most spontaneous performance by an actor in Hindi cinema this year, is a boxer without peer, but he also happens to be hailing from a caste that—in his coach’s limited worldview—effectively precludes him from genuinely making a bid for bonafide greatness.
The leading lady in Mukkabaaz is one who never speaks. Zoya Hussain is an absolute find as the irresistibly ebullient Sunaina Mishra, and her scenes with Singh propel this film towards something that closely resembles perfection. Kashyap’s dialogues are as grounded and as rooted as the milieu that he sets his story in, and he might as well go ahead and stake ownership to the latter, given his filmography. The ending is as offbeat as that of any sports film in recent memory, but then again, conventionality is something you wouldn’t expect from a man who made Devdas raise his pinky before visiting the loo.
A still from ‘Raazi’
Meghna Gulzar understands how to spin a thrilling yarn or two, as was amply illustrated in 2015’s terrific Talvar—a sharp, incisive directorial effort that raised many an uncomfortable question but yielded nary an answer. Raazi, based on the novel Calling Sehmat by Harinder Sikka and purportedly based on the real-life story of a young Indian female spy, one who operated back in a time when two Pakistans existed, is a consistently engaging humdinger of a film in which nothing is what it seems to be.
It is in the pristine, manicured lawns of Delhi University, 40 years ago, that we are first introduced to the protagonist of the film, Sehmat Khan (played by Alia Bhatt), a girl who would rather have shards of broken glasses embedded in her feet than watch a squirrel get run over before her very eyes. A plan is hatched to transplant her in the house of a Pakistani spymaster to piece together some useful intel for her handlers back home, and both rings and wedding vows are exchanged with due diligence. Over the course of time, this hurriedly conceived union gradually grows into something beautiful, and complicated.
She fights for her country, and he fights for his. This is a mission that can only be accomplished at the heftiest of prices, step by painful step. As a character in the film ponders at one point in the highly unsettling climax, the biggest casualties of war are often those who survive it.
Raazi is a film that thrives on intrigue while simultaneously examining how even a characteristic as exalted as patriotism can sometimes have a certain ferality attached to it. It sings a paean to the very notion of self-sacrifice even as it gives us a daredevil so raw yet resolute that we can’t resist cheering on her. Therein lies the beauty of this film. After all, a spy can be spry as well.
Also read: Author Harinder S. Sikka on finding Sehmat
From confusing narratives and a showcase of abs, to one of the worst rated movies in the world, here’s counting down to Bollywood’s big bad ones.
A still from ‘Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran’
5. Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran
John Abraham plays an ex-IITian in Parmanu. Captain Ashwat Rana, played by a beefed up (and hammy, in equal measure) Abraham, tutors IAS aspirants in a place called—who would’ve guessed—IAS Coaching Centre. “It’s a service of the nation,” Captain Obvious says, even as he goes on to spout lines like “civil ki padhai mushkil hai, students ko time dena zaroori hai” and “I have a plan called nuclear peace”.
Parmanu undeniably has its heart in the right place, but it ends up becoming a damp squib of an affair with precious little to write home about. What we tragically end up getting is the story of an also-ran.
A still from ‘Baaghi 2’
4. Baaghi 2
Tiger Shroff’s washboard abs have more personality than him, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Baaghi 2 is one of the dullest, most somnolent films of the year, and a surefire cure for insomnia. An army officer, Ranveer Pratap Singh (christened as Ronnie, but not even a Screwvala could save this godforsaken film) is beseeched by an ex-flame to rescue her kidnapped child, and what ensues is two hours and thirty minutes of sheer mindlessness.
The biggest irony here lies in the fact that Baaghi 2 is the remake of a Telugu hit named Kshanam, which in English means “moment”. If only this film had one to speak of.
A still from ‘Vodka Diaries’
3. Vodka Diaries
Kay Kay Menon is arguably one of the most talented actors of our generation, so it is especially hurtful to see this thespian’s considerable powers laid to waste by the corny mess of a film that Vodka Diaries is. Director Kushal Srivastava is no Agatha Christie, and although the film aspires to be part whodunit, part noir, it never really matches up to those lofty ambitions. The real mystery here is how all these talented actors could manage to keep a straight face while shooting for something as contrived, as muddled as this.
What does one do after watching Vodka Diaries? The same, I would suggest, as what one would normally do after downing one too many a shot of the eponymous drink: puke it out.
A still from ‘Welcome to New York’
2. Welcome to New York
Katrina Kaif judges the acting prowess of an aspirant in Welcome to New York. You may, at this point, take a moment’s silence to digest the sheer incredulity of that fact. Chakri Toleti’s latest is a harebrained, ludicrous nightmare of a film, one in which a group of incompetent dreamers plan to attend the IIFA Awards in the Big Apple of all places. The film boasts of the who’s who of Bollywood, from Sonakshi Sinha to Lara Dutta, from Diljit Dosanjh to Salman Khan, and yet not a single actor manages to leave a lasting impression in this atrocious excuse for a movie.
“The city so nice they named it twice,” said the American jazz lyricist Jon Hendricks about New York, way back in 1959. He might have swallowed his words on watching this film. A Welcome to Sajjanpur this ain’t.
1. Race 3
The characters in Race 3 have an implicit code of conduct: they refer to each other only as ‘bro’. At one point in this insufferably moronic film—one that makes about as much sense as Virat Kohli does when lip-syncing in Telugu in a Manyavar commercial—Sanjana (played by Daisy Shah) tells her twin brother, “Bro, ise dil nahi, Dell kholke dikhao.”
The acting is strictly cringeworthy, and the dialogues even more trite. “Toh ab tum mujhpe line maaroge? Officially?” Jacqueline Fernandez asks of her would-be paramour. “You’re such a jerk!” she later berates him, to which he replies, ever so subtly, “You’re right. I was a jerk.”
For the most part, this half-backed romance feels like an uncle romancing his niece. There is a song set in a snowy mountain range where Salman serenades his beloved, clad in a banyan of all things (one can only presume he’s taking his brand ambassadorship responsibilities for Dixcy Scott a little too seriously), and the lyrics go something like this: “Nobody knows what the future hold (sic) for us, let’s give it our best, oh jaana jaana jaana, oh baby!”
Clearly, pronouncing bullshit as ‘bulsit’ is what passes off for authenticity in Remo D’Souza’s world.
Also read: Race 3 is one of the worst films of the year
Tales of love, lust and lessons in acting, here’s the ignored—and must watch—films of the year so far.
A still from ‘Bhavesh Joshi Superhero’
Bhavesh Joshi Superhero
Vikramaditya Motwane’s latest film isn’t a patch on his earlier two gems, Udaan or Lootera, but it still makes for a decent one-time watch. Harshvardhan Kapoor—a DC Comics afficionado who believes Insaaf TV, the social enterprise he’s a co-founder of, is just as dark, just as edgy and just as cool as the universe that Batman inhabits—is impressively earnest in his portrayal of a masked vigilante, and the film scores because of the impassioned everymen that lie at the heart of it.
A still from ‘Omerta’
Director Hansal Mehta and actor Rajkummar Rao have always made for a rather potent creative force when working with each other—a fact best corroborated by gems like Aligarh and Shahid—and Omerta unfolds in similar vein to some extent. Rao plays Omar Saeed Shaikh, a fundamentalist who also happens to be a co-accused in the much sensationalised Daniel Pearl murder case of 2002. The film is worth a watch just for the cold, calculated steeliness that one of Bollywood’s most gifted actors imbues his character with.
A still from ‘Blackmail’
One twist follows another in director Abhinay Deo’s Blackmail, a rather criminally under-watched film that acts as yet another showcase for the powerhouse of talent that Irrfan Khan irrefutably is. Dev (Khan) is a man who works at a company that manufactures toilet paper, a fact that doubles up as allegory when his life descends into a quagmire of double-dealing and sleaziness. In its best moments, the film acts as a cautionary tale about the lengths a man is capable of going to in an ill-conceived game of one-upmanship.
A still from ‘Love Per Square Foot’
Love Per Square Foot
This Anand Tiwari-directed film (available exclusively on Netflix) is a genuine lark, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. Two young stragglers set their eyes on establishing some semblance of ownership and control in their lives, courtesy a certain housing scheme that can only be availed by couples. The film may occasionally trip on its own ambition in some of its more melodramatic moments, but it soars on the back of wonderful turns by both Vicky Kaushal and Angira Dhar.
I loved Bombay Talkies, the sweet little ode to Maximum City that directors Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar and Zoya Akhtar made five years ago. And it was with great anticipation that I watched Lust Stories, their new Netflix original, a film that—in light of its deceptively B movie-ish title—left me feeling every bit as satiated as I had hoped to be.
The movie is blessed with a stellar female cast that boasts of some of the best performances you will see all year, and for good reason as well—it takes something special to make a film about lust lustrous.
Shreehari H is a lover of films and an even greater lover of writing.
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