There’s more to Hindi cinema than ‘Bollywood.’ The latter is only a sub-genre, that limits itself to a style that appeals strictly to the mainstream. With SVoD platforms becoming an integral part of our lives by the day, it’s overwhelming to have access to and explore beyond the conventional. Here are some of the best bollywood movies of 2019 that spoke to both mainstream and indie audiences with their stories as much as their storytelling. Which of these resonated with you?
Director: Aijaz Khan
Set against the backdrop of a nation long divided by politics and war, Hamid is a poignant human tale of loss, resilience and hope.
It tells the heartbreaking story of Ishrat (Rasika Dugal) whose husband (Sumit Kaul) has gone missing, her indefinite search thereafter and the trauma that comes with it; it’s the story of 8-year old Hamid (Talha Arshad Reshi) who hatches a naive plan to bring back his missing father.
What also makes Hamid beautiful is there are no taking sides. The film shuns theatrics and never attempts to impose ideologies and beliefs. It gives a fair picture and an equal voice to both sides. While the film does evoke anger, the idea is to stir up compassion and empathy. And director Aijaz Khan does so with sophistication and ease.
John Wilmor’s cinematography adds weight to the narrative; capturing the turbulence as deftly as the tranquil, constantly reminding us through his lens what Kashmir once stood for.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Director: Sujoy Ghosh
An adaptation of the Spanish thriller The Invisible Guest, Badla is a riveting, briskly-paced murder mystery that keeps you at the edge of your seat. Director Sujoy Ghosh builds tension right at the outset demanding viewers’ attention and absorbs you right in. Just when you think you have it all sorted, the film throws you for a loop. It keeps you busy and guessing all along as the cat-and-mouse story unfurls.
Ghosh likes his stories and characters rooted in a believable world. The places not only lend credibility but assume a character of their own in his films. Shot in Glasgow, Scotland, the city aids the general mood of the film — dark, grim, mysterious. Avik Mukhopadhyay’s superlative cinematography adds context to the setting. Together, they get the milieu and atmospherics just right.
Kahaani (2012) still remains my most favourite work among Sujoy’s filmography. But, Badla is definitely watchable if you haven’t seen the original.
3. Gully Boy
Director: Zoya Akhtar
Gully Boy is the 8 Mile of Bollywood. It celebrates the true essence of rap. One of the best Hindi movies of the year, Gully Boy is a bare, raw and fierce portrayal of life for the less fortunate. It functions as a bildungsroman, weaving a heart-touching tale of an ordinary man who rises up to be clad in the vestiture of stardom.
Gully Boy gives us a feel-good ending where the flawed protagonist goes from rags to riches, as he turns his miserable reality into an almost unbelievable victory against all odds. The popular track, ‘Apna Time Aayega’ summifies the essence of the film. One up for Zoya Akhtar who takes the reins and steers Gully Boy to incredible commercial and critical success. It’s one hell of an incredibly well-made film. Do not miss.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
Director: Ritesh Batra
Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a struggling street photographer who works round the clock to pay off old debts. Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), is young, demure, educated and further up the so-called social ladder, though restricted by family expectations. There are approximately 18 million people in Mumbai. Ritesh Batra’s Photograph brings Rafi and Miloni together out of the infinite combinations possible, in an unlikely, slightly far-fetched but bittersweet romance.
This is not your routine Bollywood romance. It’s an unpretentious tale, simplistically narrated. The emotion is real, the feelings between them are palpable; the love they have for each other is evident in the words as much in the silences.
Where To Watch: Amazon Prime
5. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota
Director: Vasan Bala
I’m a fan of the action genre, as are most cinephiles. Most Bollywood action movies involving clichéd story arcs are usually written off because we’ve seen those kinds of movies a gazillion times. And don’t get me started with the action sequences. Bollywood movies, most of them anyway, have terrible sequences. The storylines seem so awfully trite. But sometimes, SOMETIMES, the clichés are lined up just the right way that we can’t help but love the movie. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, an eccentric, hilarious action comedy, is just that. It bucks the very Bollywood conventions it draws from.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Director: Ivan Ayr
Soni is a crime-drama unlike any other. It tells the story of a female cop who faces obstacles because of her temper and gender expectations. Soni is special in its own way. Its most extraordinary feat is perhaps dealing with a sensitive subject-matter without getting preachy. The movie is steeped in realism and is driven forward with the aid of unflinching powerful performances and captivating and mesmerising music.
Debutant director Ivan Ayr gives us the many faces of India, both progressive and regressive while highlighting the merits and demerits of both.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Director: Abhishek Chaubey
Chaubey’s period-piece thriller is a class act. It is set in 1970’s Chambal and tells the tale of dacoits. It is pretty close to the slow-burn Western genre.
We get a rooted close-up into the heartlands of India. The rugged and gritty portrayal sits excellently with the theme of psychological salvation and redemption. Honour among thieves is brilliantly portrayed as we find out that people are not what they seem to be on the surface. Thugs can have morals and upstanding men can be devils in disguise.
The fight scenes, action sequences and portrait shots are breathtaking. But despite all the gunfights, the movie is rooted not in crime but in its consequence. Self-accountability can be the most daunting of all tasks. To commit to violence while not being swallowed by your inner demons is not for the faint of heart.
Where to Watch: Zee5
Director: Rohena Gera
City. Love. Class. Three classic ingredients for hundreds of popular Indian films. Awara, Shree 420, Devdas, Zanjeer, Raja Hindustani, Dhobhi Ghat… to name a very few from a really long list.
So when I sat down to watch Sir at NYIFF 2019’s opening night, I was not surprised by the central theme of the film, a love story between a ‘wealthy’, upper-class man and his ‘poor’ live-in domestic help. However, what struck me was the sincerity and the nuanced approach with which writer-director Rohena Gera deals with the theme in her feature debut.
Set in the modern day ‘maximum city’, Mumbai, Sir is a poignant yet very charming narration of the growing love and companionship between two individuals, from two very different economic backgrounds, brought together by the economic reality of an ever-expanding megapolis.
Gera’s cinematic language is unpretentious and devoid of any overtly melodramatic moments. No sudden twists and turns in the plot. No devious subplots or conniving villains lurking behind the doors.
Gera infuses these mundane moments with humour and certain sensitivity and humanism.
Recommended: 16 Best Films Of 2019 On Netflix
9. Article 15
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Article 15 is a bold, fearless attempt at depicting the grim reality of 21st century India. A fiercely intense and nuanced portrait of a country blinded by its prejudices and hypocritical leanings. It was a much needed film and so relevant for our times. The socio-political issues couldn’t get any closer to reality. So does the treatment to the film.
Article 15 is brutal and hard-hitting. The performances only add to it. Ayushmann Khurana’s restrained act seethes with an unflinching resolve. Is there something you can’t do, Ayushmann Khurrana? Like 2018, this is your year! Sayani Gupta is a revelation. Zeeshan Ayyub’s is a brief but class act. The supporting cast rounds it out to perfection.
It’s the last on the list but one of the best films to have come out in the past few years. If there’s only one film you’re going to watch on this list, let it be this one!
Where to Watch: Netflix
By Mansi Dutta, Aditya Sarma, Deepjyoti Roy, Saumya Verma
Recommended: 16 Best Indian Movies Of 2019