From Filmistaan to Aligarh, here are 11 under-appreciated, underrated Hindi films.
Cinema in India has had a long and varied history. From mythological creations we segued to a world of dynamic storytelling headlined by song-and-dance sequences, powerful dialogue, and a larger-than-life protagonist. But since its inception, we’ve come to be recognised and identified primarily for our big-budget, star-led blockbusters. These mainstream films and their cinematic brethren of similar flavor have nourished pop culture over the years. The turn of the century, though, saw a paradigm shift in storytelling, with maturing audiences’ taste.
In the ever-evolving landscape of Hindi cinema, where mainstream films still grab much of the limelight, there are films underrated, under-appreciated that slip off the radar. Characterized by poignant narratives, groundbreaking performances and innovative storytelling, these films have the power to captivate and provoke discourse in ways that resonate deeper than their more lauded counterparts.
Quickly then, let’s dive into these underrated masterpieces that celebrate the depth and diversity of Indian cinema.
Underrated Hindi Movies
11. Loev (2015)
Sudhanshu Saria’ poignant indie drama revolves around two friends who embark on a weekend getaway. Against the backdrop of stunning landscapes, the film dexterously delves into the complexities of love and friendship in a rapidly changing Indian cultural milieu. As their past connections resurface, the protagonists grapple with unspoken emotions and societal pressures.
The slow-burning narratives underscores the hegemony of normativity and captures the hidden desires and the struggles faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in a conservative society. Loev, with its standout performances from Dhruv Ganesh and Shiv Pandit, stands as a distinct cinematic gem, delving deep into the complexities of human relationships and the struggle for acceptance.
10. Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (2009)
Shimit Amin’s comedy-drama will be an immediate favorite among fans of Steve Carrell’s The Office (2003-2015) for its refreshing take on workplace culture and dynamics. We follow the corporate journey of a young salesman, Harpreet Singh Bedi, one of Ranbir Kapoor’s finer performances.
Weary of unethical practices at his workplace, he decides to forge his own route. The movie strikes a balance between humor and realism, showcasing the challenges faced by the young and largely inexperienced protagonist as he tries to uphold his integrity.
With relatable characters and witty dialogues, the film sheds light on the importance of ethics and honesty in a competitive work environment. Underneath its comedic simplicity, Rocket Singh is a significantly layered, feel-good, under-dog story.
9. Dhanak (2015)
Nagesh Kukunoor’s heartwarming film is reminiscent, in many ways, of Satyajit Ray’s classic Pather Panchali (1955). This film is also a song of the road and charts the life-journey of siblings Pari and Chotu as they embark on an expedition across the arid landscape of Rajasthan to meet Shah Rukh Khan, their favorite actor. This colorful film is an ode to the innocence of childhood and sibling bond.
Dhanak beautifully captures the magic of childhood aspirations and underscores the beauty of the journey of life, real and metaphorical. It’s the challenges of life that make it vibrant, intense, and worth living. Kukunoor’s direction imbues both optimism and realism, while the young actors bring authenticity to their roles. Dhanak is a jubilant saga of hope, family and most importantly, dreams and their power to inflect reality.
8. Once Again (2018)
Once Again directed by Kanwal Sethi and starring Shefali Shah and Neeraj Kabi is a poignant tale of love’s second chance. This narrative is a flavorful dish that is spiced with the right ingredients making it a cinematic meal worth partaking of. The protagonists shine in their titular roles as they assay the roles of lovelorn middle-aged folks drawn to one another through shared meals and telephonic conversations.
The film reminds you of Irrfan’s Lunchbox in its lyrical quality and in its aesthetics, it underscores the existential tumult of navigating a seething pedestrian world alone. In fact, the contingencies of isolation and loneliness, especially experienced by one past one’s prime is beautifully problematized in the film along with complexities of regret and the yearning for companionship. Shah and Kabi’s performances exude authenticity and chemistry, making their emotional journey truly compelling.
7. A Billion Color Story (2016)
A Billion Color Story is a poignant commentary on a world grappling with conflicting ideologies and prejudices. Directed by Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy, the film masterfully weaves the story of a young boy named Hari, who sees the world through the unprejudiced lens of innocence, navigating the complexities of religion and cultural bias.
As the son of a Hindu mother and a Muslim father, Hari’s journey becomes emblematic of the broader socio-political landscape, juxtaposing the beauty of interfaith love with the shadows of intolerance. Cinematography is commendable, capturing the vibrant hues of India alongside its greyer, more melancholic undertones.
Ultimately, A Billion Color Story serves as a timely reminder that love, unity, and understanding are the true colors of humanity. Narasimhamurthy’s artful direction and brilliant storytelling ensure that the film doesn’t merely scratch the surface of these issues but goes deeper.
6. Supermen of Malegaon (2012)
Director Faiza Ahmad Khan’s brilliantly fascinating documentary takes us into the crucible of an extraordinary story from an unexpected place: Malegaon, city in Maharashtra, India. Shot over a period of seven months and never meant to be released in cinemas, this visual treat follows a group of aspiring filmmakers in the economically distraught and socially fraught small town of Malegaon, as they embark on an ambitious project: creating their very own superman movie, but in their own Male-scape, i.e., in Malegaon.
Against all odds and with limited resources, but amply fueled by their passion and ingenuity, they imagine and try to recreate the iconic superhero in their unique way. Part funny and part contemplative, Supermen of Malegaon embodies the spirit of India: brilliant, but on a budget. With humor, heart and a dash of Bollywood elan, the documentary celebrates the unbreakable human spirit and the universal love of storytelling.
5. Filmistaan (2012)
Filmistaan serves up a heartwarming slice of life with a side of cross-border hilarity. Directed by Nitin Kakkar, who also wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay with Abhinav Garg, Filmistaan is unequivocally a cinematic gem that problematizes cross-border politics with humor and heart. The film follows the amusing journey of rookie thespian Sukhwinder (Sunny), who accidently finds himself stranded in Pakistan. As he navigates the unfamiliar, social, cultural and religious terrain, Sunny, played by Sharib Hashmi, forms unexpected friendships across the border.
Kakkar brings generous amounts of wit and warmth, blending cultural nuances with laughter seamlessly. Unlike other movies that talk about India’s partition, Filmistaan celebrates the shared culture of India and Pakistan seriously considering the differential political ideologies that separate the two countries.
The movie, in this respect, is a hilarious take on cultural camaraderie and underscores the idea that despite everything, we and our neighbor are but fraternal twins with similar taste in humor, and movies. Filmistaan is a reminder that art, in any form, has the power to transcend borders and unite.
4. Khosla Ka Ghosla! (2006)
Dibakar Banerjee’s delightful satire on land grabbing seamlessly blends humor, drama, and social commentary. Anupam Kher delivers a stellar performance as Kamal Khosla, the harried middle-class man who dreams of building a house for his family. His dream, however, soon turns into a nightmare when his newly procured plot of land is usurped by real estate juggernaut Kishen Khurana (Boman Irani). The narrative turns to a side splitting caper when Khosla’s son, Cherry (Parvin Dabas) hatches a plan to outwit the land-grabber.
The ensemble cast, including Boman Irani and Ranvir Shorey, adds depth and nuance to the story. Banerjee’s direction infuses authenticity into the chaos, capturing the kernel of middle-class life in cosmopolitan Delhi. With humor, wit and a dash of satire, Khosla Ka Ghosla is a masterclass in storytelling that leaves you thoroughly entertained.
3. Sonchiriya (2019)
One of Sushant Singh Rajput’s final films, Sonchiriya is equal parts gritty and introspective. The action happens in the bowels of the Chambal valley, where reality is plotted without ornamentation. Sushant and Bhumi Pednekar lead an exceptional cast that includes Manoj Bajpayee, Ranvir Shorey and Ashutosh Rana breathing life into characters entangled in the world of dacoits.
The film deftly questions the idea of a savior and suggests that often the one that needs to be saved isn’t the other, but the self. Abhishek Chaubey’s direction unflinchingly portrays the harshness of life, blending action with meditation. Rajput’s portrayal of a conflicted bandit and Pednekar’s fierce resilience showcase their acting prowess.
The film’s dark, yet captivating narrative deals with the antinomy of morality and lawlessness. In the Gehenna of anarchy, redemption, Chaubey seems to suggest, is hard to find. Sonchiriya is an evocative experience that lingers, fueled by its exceptional storytelling and powerhouse performances.
2. Aligarh (2015)
Aligarh, directed by Hansal Mehta, showcases one of many remarkable Manoj Bajpayee performances as an academic who becomes a victim of prejudice because of his sexual orientation. Mehta’s film is a cinematic masterpiece that explores without equivocation, the real-life struggle for acceptance and dignity encountered by the members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The film is about Dr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, a renowned professor at a prestigious university, who discovers through personal experience that the principles of equality, liberty, and fraternity are frequently confined to the realm of theory. Mehta’s direction infuses each frame with empathy, immersing us into Siras’s isolation and resilience.
The truly versatile Bajpayee is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Aligarh is a cinematic triumph that forces you to question contemporary issues concerning Queer rights.
1. Titli (2014)
In Titli, skillfully directed by Kanu Behl, the action takes place in the dark underbelly of cosmopolitan Delhi. Actor Shashank Arora’s portrayal of the titular character, a young man yearning to break away from the shackles of his oppressive family, is both haunting and compelling. This gritty noirish drama delves into the world of carjacking, as Titli grudgingly becomes part of his family’s criminal endeavors. Behl’s direction masterfully offers a nuanced view of the dark and complex dynamics that shape their lives. With its compelling storyline, unapologetic storytelling backed by powerful performances by Arora and Ranvir Shorey, Titli is a masterpiece of cinematic exploration of the human condition as it navigates the harsh realities of modern life where the time is indeed “Out of Joint” (Hamlet, William Shakespeare, 1.5.204).
In conclusion, these underrated Hindi films stand as testimonies to the boundless creativity, resilience and depth that exist beyond the mainstream cinematic landscape. Their narratives, directorial finesse, and performances underscore that a film’s true worth transcends its box office numbers.
Dr. Barnali Saha is Assistant Professor of English at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, GGSIPU, New Delhi.