Despite a dry spell of theatrical releases year around, there were quite a few interesting films, across genres and languages, that made it to OTT platforms this year. Here are some of the best Indian movies of 2020 worth your time:
1. Ram Singh Charlie
There’s an irrevocable charm in director Nitin Kakkar’s Ram Singh Charlie, that is resonant of his middle-of-the-road brand of cinema. Like in his debut feature Filmistaan, the film pulsates with a realism and a rare earnestness. Its universe and characters feel lived in. Kumud Mishra suffuses Charlie/Ram Singh with a ‘quiet strength’ that is both devastating and heartwarming. Visually, it’s slick and atmospheric. Look closely and you’ll find a story in every frame. Troy Arif and Arijit Datt’s music adds emotional depth and reinforces the mood of the film.
Where to Watch: SonyLiv
2. Trance (Malayalam)
Anwar Rasheed’s vibrant and stylish Trance narrates the transformation of a failed motivational speaker into a rousing televangelist. Fahadh Faasil plays Viju Prasad, an emotionally and financially vulnerable individual, with great finesse. Vincent Vadakkan’s script deeply explores how religion can be an imposed addiction, no different than shooting heroin. The narrative set-up has its low points, particularly when it gets lost into the run-of-the-mill psychological thriller. Still, Faasil’s manic energy, brilliant ensemble cast, and gripping imagery makes Trance compulsively watchable. (Related: 8 Best Malayalam Movies On Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Netflix)
Watch Trance on Amazon Prime
3. Baaram (Tamil)
Blending the fly-on-the-wall approach from a documentary with the format of a feature film, director Priya Krishnaswamy garnered a National Award for Best Tamil Feature Film for Baaram (The Burden). The film is a realistic depiction of a stark societal reality based on a cultural malpractice called ‘thalaikoothal’. Senicide (killing of the elderly) or involuntary euthanasia is fairly prevalent in the southern parts of Tamil Nadu.
Emboldening the voices that need to be heard and amplified, the film is a noble gesture of gratitude directed towards the ailing and suffering parents whose lives have been impacted due to this practice. It is also an accurate representation of the socially accepted realities that have been normalized at the cost of human life. (Related: 30 Best Tamil Movies On Amazon Prime: ‘Kaala’ To ‘Nayakan’)
Watch Baaram on Amazon Prime
Kaamyaab is an ode to the life of character artists. It sees you at the other side of the camera, the life behind the scenes, when the lights are out and curtains drawn. For an audience blinded by the glamorous side of cinema and used to idolising heroes, Kaamyaab comes as a rare, refreshing effort as it passionately explores the non-glam, dowdy side of the film world. And it does so with humour and an earnestness. Sanjay Mishra is a class act. He pulls off the part with a finesse and sensitivity, that only he can. Deepak Dobriyal is a delight to watch. It’s nostalgic and heartwarming to watch actors from the yesteryears we’ve grown up watching, together onscreen. Thank you Hardik Mehta for this one! Kaamyaab is a must watch for fans of film! (Related: 16 Essential Indian Movies About Film And Filmmaking)
Where to Watch: Netflix
What struck me was the sincerity and the nuanced approach with which writer-director Rohena Gera deals with the theme in her feature debut, a love story between a ‘wealthy’, upper class man and his ‘poor’ live-in domestic help. The director’s cinematic language is unpretentious and devoid of any overtly melodramatic moments. No sudden twists and turns in the plot. No devious sub plots or conniving villains lurking behind the doors. The film stays with the two central characters. There’re no earth shattering moments. The very mundane rhythm of the daily life forms the basic narrative fabric of the film. Gera infuses these mundane moments with humour and certain sensitivity and humanism. (Read Sir review here)
6. Ayyappanum Koshyum (Malayalam)
A routine encounter between police officer Ayyappan (Biju Menon) and havildar Koshi (Prithviraj Sukumaran) spirals out of control, intensifying into an ugly battle of male egos. The revenge drama makes for an interesting character study of men enslaved to patriarchal values; characters with shades of grey, characters that don’t follow the template, while being in a mainstream framework. Sachy’s sophomore effort doesn’t fall prey to the cliches of its own genre. At 2 hours 55 minutes, Ayyappanum Koshyum is a riveting action thriller bolstered by solid lead performances. (Related: 17 Best Indian Thrillers On Amazon Prime)
7. Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal (Tamil)
The trailers and posters of the film might lead you into believing it to be a regular romance comedy. Director Desingh Periyasamy’s film is anything but that. Led by Dulquer Salmaan, Ritu Varma, Niranjani Ahathian, Gautham Menon, Rakshan, the fresh, original heist comedy packs every element of a wholesome entertainer — thrill, comedy, romance, twists, constantly keeping you on the edge. Script is the real star of Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal.
Where to Watch: Netflix
8. Middle Class Melodies (Telugu)
Vinod Ananthoju’s slice-of-life dramedy portrays the typical Indian middle-class attitudes. The narrative revolves around Raghava (Anand Devarakonda), a self-proclaimed Bombay Chutney specialist, aspiring to start a restaurant. Despite the generic romance, the film brims with heartwarming sequences that are not overloaded with sentimentality. Overall, it’s a comforting entertainer with remarkable performances.
9. Soorarai Pottru (Tamil)
Sudha Kongara’s impressive biopic narrates the struggles and triumph of an entrepreneur with dreams to build low-cost airline. Bolstered by Surya’s intense performance, the dramatic heft inherent in the underdog tale conceals few tepid sub-plots. Moreover, Soorarai Pottru brings the vital socio-political aspects to the fore that lie behind shunning the low-cost aviation. Perhaps, the writer/director could have avoided a very one-dimensional portrayal of Paresh as a corporate bully. Yet, it’s an engaging drama worth cherishing.
10. Raat Akeli Hai
Very few opening scenes have had an impact on me like the one in this film did. Featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte in pivotal roles, Raat Akeli Hai almost creates a semblance of an offbeat crossover between Sacred Games and Gangs of Wasseypur. Despite being an intense murder mystery, the film is not without emotionality. It concludes on a sentimental note. While it may not work for some, for me it served as a cherry on the top. The makers ensure the film is not just reduced to a chase story full of blood and gore; they embed it with humanity. This, coupled with the taut storytelling accentuates the overall viewing experience. (Related: 14 Indian Films On Netflix You Probably Haven’t Seen)
Where to Watch: Netflix
11. Shakuntala Devi
Shakuntala Devi is an emotional, bittersweet ride, at times operatic but mostly spirited; one that holds its verve while enthralling you throughout. The film’s uniqueness and strength lies in its unconventional protagonist. Vidya Balan shines throughout the film, in moments of hope and despair alike, in fleets of success and fame, and in deep-seated instances of damage and hurt. Performances are delivered with conviction and emotionality sans any contrivances. That is why the film works on a larger level — as a biopic embedded with elements of drama. (Read Shakuntala Devi review here)
12. CU Soon (Malayalam)
A cyber love story takes a mysterious turn when the girl goes missing. Director Mahesh Narayanan’s romance thriller is fast-paced, gripping storytelling that keeps you on the edge. The 90-minute film was shot in a mere 18 days during lockdown. Wonderfully supported by solid performances from Fahadh Faasil, Roshan Mathew and Darshana Rajendran, C U Soon never lets you off the hook until the final payoff.
Watch C U Soon on Amazon Prime
A powerful film that calls out gender prejudices and societal conditioning, Thappad is another thought-provoking piece of work from Anubhav Sinha. A companion piece to Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink, Thappad lays bare the deeply entrenched and unconfronted patriarchal mindset and the normalised everyday sexism in Indian marriages. Taapsee Pannu shoulders the film with her ultra-restrained yet deeply effective act. Supported by actors like Kumud Mishra, Pavail Gulati, Maya Sarao, Tanvi Azmi, Dia Mirza, Thappad is essential viewing for the idea itself. (Related: 9 Hard-Hitting Social Issue Films From Bollywood)
Watch Thappad on Amazon Prime
14. Kappela (Malayalam)
Muhammad Musthafa’s low-key drama is an interesting addition to the new wave of Malayalam cinema. It has a unique premise, an unlikely romance, which deftly builds the drama through mundane conversations. Gradually, Kappela becomes a thriller that keeps playing up with our perspective and expectations. Anna Ben (Helen, Kumbalangi Nights) once again offers a delightful performance as the protagonist, Jessy. Despite the let down in the climax, Kappela is gripping throughout.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Special Mention: Ludo
You’re constantly reminded of Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Tamil feature Super Deluxe which plays on a similar terrain (and a genre rarely well explored in Bollywood). But this stylised multi-narrative dark comedy holds its own, thanks to taut storytelling, particularly in the first half and and an incredible ensemble cast including Pankaj Tripathi, Rajkummar Rao, Abhishek Bachchan. A flaccid second half may have dampened the overall pace but Anurag Basu’s Ludo is still a riveting watch and among the better offerings of 2020.
Where to Watch: Netflix
There were are! These are some of the best Indian films that stood out for us in 2020. Tell us your favourites in the comments below.
By Mansi Dutta, Arun Kumar, Sanghmita Jethwani, Saumya Verma