It was a washout year for the big-budget Bollywood movies. 2017, though, brought to the fore smaller films. Not all well-thought out ideas translate to good stories on screen. But if you’re on the lookout for some well-executed, well-meaning cinema, here are 5 Bollywood films worth checking out.
1. Mukti Bhawan aka Hotel Salvation
Shubhashish Bhutiani’s nuanced and enriching family drama is a profound meditation on life and death. Haunted by a dream Daya, a septuagenarian man, is convinced it’s his time to die. Following tradition, the old man donates a cow to the temple. He further insists on spending his last days on the banks of the Ganges. Daya, accompanied by his stressed son Rajiv, arrives at the hotel built to serve this specific purpose. In the days waiting for death, the father and son tentatively examine their past grievances. Although the plot outline seems a bit schmaltzy, Bhutiani’s delicate direction offers very mature snapshots of life’s simple joys and unalterable sorrows. Aided by well-rounded ensemble cast, Hotel Salvation pays fitting tribute to the city’s timelessness and hypnotic beauty. (By Arun Kumar)
2. A Death in the Gunj
The title raises an occult curiosity which compels us to examine each character closely and probe their subtle behavioral changes, in a way to seek an obvious answer, and possible repercussion(s) of their every action. Director Konkana Sen Sharma smartly fiddles with your mind. She takes advantage of the opening scene and the title and infects our brains with suspicion around every little thing that could prove fatal. Like reckless bike riding after being drunk, picking old rifles for target practice, CGI wolf, a girl who goes missing, the dark closed rooms, and worse of all: the ever-changing moral force of human emotions and simmering pensive tension.
Gradually, sombreness creeps inside and mystery keeps you at the edge. The characters are sketched patiently and they develop with time in this slow-burning and melancholic drama. Even with minor flaws, the film is a brave effort by the first-time director to look at family dynamics while taking a microscopic look an introvert individual grieving over the loss of his father and failure in exams. (By Nafees Ahmed)
Vikramaditya Motwane, of Lootera and Udaan fame, finally graced the director’s seat again for the first time since 2013. In Trapped he gives us a taut survival thriller starring the talented Rajkummar Rao. It trails a man who gets stuck on the top floor of a Mumbai high-rise building and explores his ordeal and attempts at escape and survival. Whilst providing plenty of edge-of-your-seat thrills, Trapped makes for a intriguingly interactive experience as you try and solve the puzzle alongside Rao’s onscreen character, of just how to escape with the few household items he has to his avail. (By Suchin Mehrotra)
4. Lipstick Under My Burkha
Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha offers four intricate, well-crafted stories which share common themes to shed light on the plight of women in India today. It unapologetically looks to educate and start a conversation about a painfully overlooked and widely accepted reality. The screenplay from Shrivastava and Suhani Kanwar strikes a curious tone which is as engaging (in parts, wildly entertaining) as it’s painful and harrowing. While it is the kind of film where the message takes precedence over the story, Shrivastava lets her characters and story do the talking without spreading her message bold and thick unlike films such as Aniruddha Roy Chowdhary‘s Pink. (By Suchin Mehrotra)
Amit Masurkar’s Newton is a darkly comic examination of a frail democratic process. Rajkummar Rao spectacularly plays the titular character, a young idealist who does things by the book. His disciplinarian attitude lands him the duty of election officer in the conflict-torn region of the Maoists. Airlifted to the middle of a jungle, Newton is tasked to register the votes of 76 locals. Armed with rules and ideals, he finds himself at odds with the chaotic reality. Director Masurkar strikes a perfect balance between satirical humor and tense interplay. Masurkar subtly renders how there’s a lot to democracy than symbolic gestures of polling booth and voting machine. While Rao offers a standout performance, Pankaj Tripathi’s pragmatic and wearied military officer character was equally good. (By Arun Kumar)