2016 was a year when mega stars played outside their larger-than-life characters (Akshay Kumar, Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan). It was the year when Bollywood found inspiration from real-life events (Neerja, Airlift, Aligarh, Dangal) to tell their stories, with enough cinematic liberties, at times. It was also a year when indie voices found broader appeal (Parched, Nil Battey Sannata, Brahman Naman, Waiting). 2016 also saw lines blur between art and mainstream, a sign of coming-of-age of the Indian audience, bolstered by a growing demand for novelty. Here’s my pick of the best Hindi films I saw this year.
A wonderfully written, executed and acted piece of work, Waiting is a finespun concoction of a variety of elements – love, life, relationships. It makes you ponder over the fragility of relationships despite the connected worlds we live in. It explores the ever widening generation gap through its sixty and twenty somethings Shiv and Tara. And blends all these elements into a heartening, un-preachy, sometimes sad, sometimes funny film.
Much of what the film ends up being has to be accredited to the performances. Rajat Kapoor delivers any part with splendid effortlessness. I wonder if Naseeruddin Shah ever needs to give a retake. Kalki displays angst and impatience with an equally admirable mad intensity as the calm composure she dons while learning to cope with her reality. (Read full review here)
“There’s a personal me, there’s an actor me and there’s a star me,” Shahrukh once said in an interview. Fan brings together all of that.
First shot onward, where we’re taken through a montage of vintage Shahrukh Khan, Fan ceases to be a film. It’s a phenomenon. A celebration of a superstar! Gaurav Chandna joins the string of Shahrukh’s most memorable performances, for the winsome innocence and honesty he brings to the part. But more than that, it was his decision to break away from the star image (and astoundingly deliver) that’s laudable.
Recommended: An Open Letter to Shahrukh Khan
Dhanak trails young, orphaned siblings Pari (Hetal Gada) and Chhotu (Krrish Chhabria) who set out on a journey, with a dream in their heart.
Like his other films, Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dhanak seems straight out of a novel. Fairy tale, dream-like, magical and deeply satisfying. There’s something equally majestic and dramatic about the backdrop the director places his stories in. The settings have a character of their own.
Set in Rajasthan, Dhanak is lush visual delicacy, courtesy cinematographer Chirantan Das, who beautifully, captures the land of sand and sun. (Read full review here)
Aligarh is a poignant, emotionally investing tale of a gay professor, who is sacked on charges of homosexuality, and his ensuing battle with the court and the society.
After successful films like Shahid and Citylights, director-writer duo Hansal Mehta-Apurva Asrani turned in another successful work, their finest so far. (I’m now eagerly awaiting their next, Simran). But the credit for Aligarh’s success goes as much as to the leading man Manoj Bajpayee. Our Hindi films caricaturize queer characters. Bajpayee delivers what may well be the performance of his career (and the best I saw in 2016) – in a tremendously engaging and an important film. (Read full review here)
Neerja is a fitting tribute to the young, brave flight attendant Neerja Bhanot, who died an untimely death, acting beyond the call of duty. Ram Madhavan’s directorial is a disturbing account of the 23-year old’s final moments, brought alive by sublime performances from Sonam Kapoor and Shabana Azmi.
5. Udta Punjab
Diljit Dosanj is the discovery of the year. I’ve seen him in some ridiculous Punjabi films. He finally got his due. A film worthy of his talent. He along with Alia Bhatt take the film to another level.
In an industry swarmed by lacklustre content, Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab shines with an edgy take on a bold, controversial subject of drug abuse. For all the noise the film created before the release, it was totally worth the hype. And is an important film. Congratulations are in order for the writer (Sudip Sharma) and the director who brought it all together into a story that is translated into an engaging, well-paced screenplay and brilliantly enacted. (Read full review here)
4. M.S. Dhoni – The Untold Story
The challenge with films that tell real-life stories (of public figures) is that the audience already has a broader picture of the narrative. The director’s ability to pull it off then is in the telling of the story. And Neeraj Pandey keeps you hooked throughout, with not a dull moment in its three-hour runtime. Equal credits to the abundantly talented Sushant Singh Rajput who brought alive the character of M.S. Dhoni. He adds another great work, his best so far, to his remarkable filmography. (Read full review here)
Dangal is a brilliantly-written film executed equally finely on screen. Mainstream Hindi cinema is broadly, meaningless entertainment. It’s money over content. So when a superstar like Aamir (one of the few you can expect it from) takes up an idea that not only promises entertainment but raises important questions, you know it’s a step up for our cinema. Dangal challenges our regressive mindset towards women and turns it on its head. In a male-dominated society, it ridicules the gap between the privileged pedestal we put men on and the disparaging position we give our women.
Aamir Khan and the brilliant ensemble of actors — Sakshi Tanwar, Zaira Wasim, Sana Shaikh, Suhani Bhatnagar, Sanya Malhotra, Aparshakti Khurana — lift the film with their subtle, elegant performances. (Read full review here)
Inspired by real-life events, Airlift tells the story of an Indian businessman who took it upon himself to save more than 170,000 stranded Indians, when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Airlift is a well-written and an even better executed bio-drama, that refuses to give in conventions. In a departure from his usual starry roles, actor Akshay Kumar turned in a carefully nuanced performance, supported strongly by the talented Nimrat Kaur. Airlift may have courted controversy over the veracity of the events but is a cinematic achievement, nevertheless.
1. Kapoor & Sons
Kapoor & Sons explores the bittersweet relationships within a dysfunctional family, with characters who seem one amongst us. There’s an understated ease with which they play out. The director (Shakun Batra) doesn’t start defining them as soon as he introduces them to us. He lets them be. They mold and find themselves along the way through the circumstances and situations they’re put in. And the situations don’t seem contrived. Their conversations and conflicts seem real and believable. It’s these well-written characters that add depth to the narrative.
How often does Bollywood manage an all encompassing film – a coherent story, well narrated, engaging, with roundly-written characters – and so un-Bollywood in its treatment?
Decades ago, the idealistic Hum Aapke Hai Koun wrote the rules of family dramas in Hindi cinema. But it was only half the picture. And Bollywood spawned its clones for years. Years later, Shakun Batra highlights the other half, the flip side. He tells us everything that’s wrong with us, yet celebrates our imperfections. Kapoor and Sons is the new benchmark for family dramas in Bollywood! (Read full review here)
By Mansi Dutta
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