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. (PS: I’ve yet to see Phobia and Island City)
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)