2018 was a year when quality scripts triumphed over big stars and big-budget films. Story and storytelling were the order of the day. That viewers appreciated and endorsed the change is a harbinger of good times to come. They are readily embracing all kinds of cinema. As much as filmmakers who’re becoming more experimental in their choices, credit Netflix and Amazon for making their efforts accessible to a wider audience. The fact that big stars too are joining the fray is a step ahead. Shahrukh Khan’s quirky, experimental (and like film critic Baradwaj Rangan pointed out, “one of the most audacious love stories of the year”) Zero and his choice of films lately (Dear Zindagi, Fan) are a case in point. I’m not overlooking the fact that two of these were also the biggest polarisers in their respective years. A change has been set into motion, nevertheless, which only opens up possibilities for more filmmakers to look beyond the obvious. Here are our picks of the best Hindi movies 2018 had to offer (in no particular order):
There isn’t a dull or wasted moment in this cleverly crafted, briskly-paced thriller. Veteran Sriram Raghavan knows how to keep his viewers engaged. And he does it without resorting to cheap contrivances and manipulation. A solid script brought alive brilliantly on screen, Andhadhun seals the deal with spectacular performances. Delivering two major hits in a single year in two extremely contrasting genres (thriller and comedy), the everyman and very versatile Ayushmann Khurana turns in one of the strongest performances of 2018.
Manto. What a writer and what a class act by Nawazuddin. A searing portrayal of an intense writer caught in the madness of India’s partition and the havoc it wreaks on its divided people. This is no time for romantic poetry, for the truth must be told to cleanse the soiled soul. In a prose that’s as stark and unsentimental as cold meat. Manto’s short stories still work to shake our stricken conscience. Such is the power and endurance of his hauntingly real creations. Nandita Das does well to direct this difficult subject and beautifully weaves Manto’s stories in the narrative. Pity we don’t make men like him any more.
A taut thriller helped by an edge-of-the-seat narrative and a fine ensemble of actors, Raazi is a wartime tale set in 1971. It chronicles the true story of a young Kashmiri girl trained as a spy and sent behind the enemy lines ahead of the Indo-Pak war. Alia Bhatt as Sehmat renders some fine, jaw-dropping moments and her character transition is smooth. She brings out the innocence and brazenness with equal conviction. (But this isn’t one of her best performances. I’d still rank Udta Punjab and Highway notches higher). Watch Raazi for Meghna Gulzar’s compelling storytelling, supported by brilliant performances (Jaideep Ahlawat, Vicky Kaushal, Shishir Sharma, Rajit Kapur, Amruta Khanvilkar). I wish Vicky Kaushal had more to do.
4. Once Again
Once Again is a beautiful, sensitive film about mid-life romance, touching an emotive chord with its awkward silences; so much is left unsaid and that’s a part of the allure — restrained and compelling to the core. A celebration of meaningful storytelling, it may lack expanse but its journey is inwards. Class act by the two lead protagonists Shefali Shah and Neeraj Kabi, sharp direction and sublime music by Talvin Singh. For the keen, Once Again is currently streaming on Netflix.
5. Badhaai Ho
The modern-day rom com drama fires on all cylinders: taut writing, crisp editing and superlative performances all round make it one of the best viewing experiences of the year. Badhaai Ho doesn’t solely rely on barbed, punchy one-liners to bring in the humour. Writer Akshat Ghildial intelligently and subtly infuses humor into the narrative; director Amit Sharma effectively recognises and pulls it off while the characters comfortably lend themselves it. The beauty of the film lies in how it manages to keep the humour alive even in the most emotional moments. The film flows organically thanks to a talented ensemble. Ayushmann Khurana is breaking the stereotype of a Hindi movie ‘hero’ one film at a time and is effortless as usual with his comedy. Badhaai Ho full review >>
A parable on greed and how it devours its children, this is such a visual extravaganza that you begin to marvel at the audacity of the filmmakers. Their audacity to dream beyond the obvious and to go where most Hindi films are afraid to go — a dark, stylised, surrealistic netherworld! The film needs to be seen on the large screen to internalise the intensity of its cinematic expanse. Do rope down the womb of Mother Earth to experience an eternal conflict. Beautifully shot, it ain’t really a horror show. Beyond horror lies the forever struggle between man’s need and his greed. Clearly, it’s one of the most important movies to have come out of India this year and deserves deep appreciation for its ambition and craft. Take a bow, Hastar. Tumbbad full review >>
7. Lust Stories
It’s hard not to associate ‘lust’ with ‘sex’ when you think Hindi cinema. Films that explore this theme/genre fail to rise above insipid, lacklustre writing and shoddy visuals. Those that narrate it with subtlety and a sense of purpose are few and far between. With Lust Stories, filmmakers — Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap go beyond the obvious and turn the idea on its head.
Foregoing the trappings of commercial cinema, all four directors uninhibitedly explore human desires and relationships; how we perceive them today and the taboos that have been associated with them for generations. The four shorts capture a generational shift in perception and ideas. Lust Stories full review >>
8. Love Per Square Foot
Love Per Square Foot is a modern-day rom-com that does justice to its genre. The film marries mainstream and indie sensibilities to create a realistic and engaging film. A young, urban couple gets into a marriage of convenience to fulfil their dream of owning their own house. The film is well written and with actors like Vicky Kaushal and Angira Dhar and veterans Ratna Pathak, Supriya Pathak, Raghubir Yadav, Love Per Square Foot is in great hands.
Actor Anand Tiwari, known for roles like Go Goa Gone (Bunny) assisted in Barfi and President is Coming (mockumentary) before directing his first feature film. It’s an admirable effort with no rough edges. Each scene is well-staged and actualised. The film is streaming on Netflix.
Like all unusual, inexplicable ghost stories we’ve grown up watching, here too we’re served with a tale that defies easy explanations but one that draws you right in. There’s no time for why-abouts when you’re already warned with a ‘based on a ridiculous phenomenon’ disclaimer. Credits also to the writers (Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK) and the director (Amar Kaushik) who keep you riveted in this imaginative tale, which, if not in good hands, could’ve possibly looked outrageously silly. Horror comedy is a barely explored, if not a completely unwalked territory for Hindi cinema. We’ve only scratched the surface. But with Raj and DK’s zombie horror Go Goa Gone (2013) and now Stree (2018), we’ve come a step closer to justifying the genre. Stree full review >>
In Mukkabaaz, Anurag Kashyap deals with the themes of caste inequality, religious fundamentalism, and venality surrounding the boxing ring. While it’s no Rocky or Raging Bull, the film has an earnest charm and rawness to it. The story revolves around Shravan, a low-caste boxer, who trains at a local UP gym, which is run by a gangster-ish Brahmin politician. Shravan falls in love with Sunaina, the Brahmin boss’ mute niece. She too is in love with him, which naturally leads to complications. Boxing in Mukaabaaz is used more like a canvas to depict one man’s struggle against the toxic forces of the Indian society. Kashyap’s diffusion of political topicality is much timely, especially the sorry state of beef lynching.
By Mansi Dutta, Sanjay Trehan, Arun Kumar