Vikramaditya Motwane and Rajkumar Rao’s Trapped (2017) brings a fresh, new concept of survival stories in Bollywood. The trailer suggests the setting barely moves out of an apartment. It is an exciting and challenging prospect for both the director and actor. (Maroon (2016) was another fascinating thriller shot in a single location). Let’s look at some other brave directors and their ventures that broke stereotypes, experimenting with the medium like never before.
1. Ship of Theseus (2012)
Anand Gandhi gave us one of the most powerful films to have come out in the recent times. It introduced us to an alternate world of cinema, oblivion to Bollywood.
The central paradox of the film is ‘what constitutes a person?’ Is it just the sum of the parts or is it something always evolving? It is laden with interesting unconventional characters — atheist monk, a blind photographer and an investment broker who sets out to redeem himself.
There is an undercurrent of a European aesthetic to the film but it is strongly rooted in India. Writer/ director Anand Gandhi created a beautiful amalgamation of Indian sensibilities and European technique to make Indian cinema accessible to connoisseurs of film around the world. (Tidbit: Anurag Kashyap’s daughter who was around 8-9 at the time watched the entire film in one sitting, without any background score).
2. Badlapur (2015)
Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur is one of the finest case studies in filmmaking. It was India’s answer to Breaking Bad wherein a morally demented protagonist questions the audience who they should really be rooting for.
Raghavan changed the protagonist/antagonist dynamic completely. Nawaz and Varun were extremely convincing as they tackled complex identities and brutality in an unforgiving world. In our cinema, where we expect our protagonist to do no wrong, this film questioned our sympathy for him.
The writer-director duo Anurag Kashyap-Ram Gopal Verma experimented with the genre of a serial killer with the minimalistic Kaun. It wasn’t a hit per se but has gained immense popularity over the years.
Ram Gopal Verma pulled off a Hitchcock-esque thriller reasonably well. Urmila Matondkar was equal parts vulnerable and menacing. The story kept the audiences guessing throughout and no unnecessary songs or romance hindered the screenplay. This, at a time when it was almost criminal to make films without the usual song-and-dance routine and the usual masala.
4. Pushpak (1987)
Two times National Award-winning director Singeetam Srinivas Rao is arguably one of the most versatile directors in India. It’s a shame Bollywood was never receptive to his ideas and talent.
This is India’s first full-length silent feature film. You read that right! The film released in several India languages, expanding its reach to a larger audience. Pushpak even earned global recognition with screenings at the Cannes and Shanghai Film Festivals at the time.
The screenplay is funny and endearing with the gifted Kamal Hassan at his best. Sample, for instance, the conversation between Kamal and Amala on the balcony. It’s a charming combination of a brilliant concept and great execution.
5. Love Sex Aur Dhokha (2010)
Dibakar Bannerjee’s gritty drama intrigued us with its inventive storytelling style as much as it made us uncomfortable. While the average audience probably expected raunch and sleaze, Dibakar steered away from conventional portrayal of sex and focused on the rooted storyline.
The Pulp Fiction-esque structure of the film, with three different stories wasn’t something we’d seen before. The cinematography was key here. The first story is shot entirely with a film student hand-held camera. The second using only the security cameras inside a departmental store. And the third with a spy camera, something used by sting operation reporters.
Dibakar and producer Ekta’s attempt to create something that went against every grain of traditional Indian moviemaking, was laudable.
6. Black Friday (2007)
Anurag Kashyap’s interpretation of the 1993 bomb blasts was the biggest middle finger to the film industry. Back then, Anurag was already the poster boy of Indian indie rebellious filmmakers. The film didn’t release for until three years owing to court cases.
No Indian film before this had used real-life names to portray real-life events. Black Friday wasn’t a documentary. It was a full length feature film that used dark humor, rarely used or explored in Bollywood. Devoid of any actual protagonist, it told the story from the point of view of the various people involved in the Mumbai bomb blasts.
From the dark, stingy settings to the realistic performances, everything about this film was path breaking. Black Friday is arguably Anurag’s most accomplished film till date.
7. Darna Mana Hai (2003)
Indian horror films tend to have a predictable, formulaic storyline. It is mostly good vs evil with obvious religious innuendoes and a damsel in distress. Ram Gopal Verma decided to break the format and along with director Prawaal Raman succeeded immensely.
The film had six different ghost stories. It neither had a standard protagonist nor a typical ghost in white saree and twisted legs. On the contrary, it mocked some of the traditional horror stories, like ghosts on a highway. It was semi-satirical take on ghosts and serial killers. The film was also shot in imaginative, innovative ways with a fine ensemble of actors.
Darna Mana Hai was Ram Gopal’s experiment gone right. Such kind of fearless filmmaking made him one of the most interesting filmmakers in India.
By Shridhar Kulkarni