In a most heartening reversal of trends, scripts trumped superstardom in Bollywood this year. The last 12 months have been outstanding, and we’ve never been as spoilt for choice as this year when it comes to viewing original content on the silver screen.
Here then, in ascending order, are my personal picks for the ten most laudable Hindi movies of the year:
One of the most refreshing love stories of the year, Manmarziyaan is, above all else, a testament to the sheer craft of its director. Anurag Kashyap may be a filmmaker best renowned for his gaali-laced dialogues, for the way he intermingles blood, vendetta and passion in one uninhibited orgy of violence after another, but with this film—embellished by the year’s best musical soundtrack and a most fiery heroine—he shows that he can even pull off being a fairy godmother, so to speak, and get away with a liberal sprinkling of pixie dust.
9. Lust Stories
Sometimes, it takes four to tango.
I loved Bombay Talkies, the sweet little ode to Mumbai, made by Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar and Zoya Akhtar five years ago. It was thus with great anticipation that I watched Lust Stories, their new Netflix original, a film that, despite its deceptively B-grade movie 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.
Often, the most potent firecrackers are those that are capable of speech. Radhika Madan and Sanya Malhotra, a.k.a. Badki and Chutki, hurl the choicest streams of invective at each other with the intensity of a powder keg on the verge of explosion. Auteur Vishal Bhardwaj mines Charan Singh Pathik’s crackling short story, Do Behnein,to great effect, giving us a riotous and ultimately touching tale of familial discord that unfolds against the vibrant socio-economic backdrop of rural Rajasthan.
She fights for her country, and he fights for his. Theirs 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 savagery 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 for her. Therein lies the beauty of this film.
The leading lady in Mukkabaaz never speaks. Zoya Hussain is an exalting find as the irresistibly ebullient Sunaina Mishra, and her scenes with an excellent Vineet Kumar Singh propel this film towards something that closely resembles perfection. Anurag Kashyap’s dialogues are as grounded, as rooted as the milieu that he sets his story in, and the detailing here is a sight to behold. The ending is offbeat unlike any sports film in recent memory, but then again, conventionality is something you wouldn’t expect from a man who made Devdas raise his pinkie before visiting the loo.
His name is Mohammed, and he is not a terrorist.
“Go to Pak,” the graffiti painted on the wall of Advocate Murad Ali Mohammed’s home proclaims. This is just one of the many insults that this gentle, peace-loving Muslim household has to endure on a daily basis when one of their own decides to detonate an entire city into submission. Anubhav Sinha’s film is a powerful, scathing indictment of religious prejudices and narrow-minded bigotry, and it urges us to introspect into what it really means to be a person with a taqiyah in a post-9/11 world.
One of the smartest Hindi films of the year, Nandita Das’s biopic starring an unflinching Nawazuddin Siddiqui is as much a tribute to Hindi cinema of the 1940s and the 1950s as it is a cautionary tale about misguided machismo and the horrors that we are capable of perpetrating on each other. The film explores ideas such as the function of literature as a mirror of the times we live in, the nature of censorship, what qualifies as being obscene, and who gets to draw moral lines, if any, as it delves deep into the inner workings of a writer’s mind, a writer who believed that to properly appreciate literature, an understanding of the context that shapes it is of paramount importance, as is a recognition of the fact that as time changes, literature changes too.
As the trailer itself 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.
Deb Medhekar’s Bioscopewala, like the Rabindranath Tagore masterwork that it is based on, is a thing of beauty. There is an incredible amount of subtext here—from the warm fuzziness that accompanies the rediscovery of one’s roots to the inevitability of having to adapt to changing circumstances. Medhekar entreats us to look back with nostalgia-tinted glasses at a purer, more innocent time gone by and also makes a case for the abiding, relentless power of cinema which exists not only to entertain, but also to capture significant cultural upheavals for posterity.
Ironically, it was a story about a sightless man that ended up being the most visionary film of the year. Nothing is what it seems in a Sriram Raghavan film, and the director’s impeccably crafted, outrageous masterpiece is arguably the finest Bollywood thriller to have released since Meghna Gulzar’s unforgettable Talvar in 2015. Ayushmann Khurrana is riveting in his portrayal of the sightless pianist, but the film unquestionably belongs to Tabu. Hers is an incredible performance, one that centres itself as much on her mania as it does on the sheer inscrutability of her face.
The detailing is exquisite, the characters uniformly spectacular, and the delight here lies in trying to unpeel the film, layer after delicious layer. A significant portion of the proceedings takes place with only the superlative background score serving as its narrative propellant, and a scene in the early stages of the film where an entire event unfolds over the course of a piano solo is so masterfully executed that I can’t help grinning from ear to ear just thinking about it.
Shreehari H is a lover of films and an even greater lover of writing.
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