It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The decade that’s on its way out will go down as the one in which audiences said loud and clear that they wanted to see more movies about and by women, that budgets don’t matter, that small-town India is where it’s at.
But it will also go down as the decade in which the last two years, especially, saw movies that reeked of misogyny and male entitlement hit the jackpot. This was also the decade that began with My Name Is Khan. As you can see, it was hard to limit this list to just five, but we’ve done our best for your sake.
Here, in no particular order are the films that should never have been made. As we roar into the 2020s, we can only pray that we never see movies like this again.
Not A Love Story (2011) To make art out of someone else’s real-life trauma requires a sensitivity and empathy that Ram Gopal Varma’s trashy movie simply does not have. Based on the gruesome murder of Neeraj Grover, the movie shamelessly exploits not only the grief of Grover’s parents (who had clearly stated they were unhappy with Varma’s decision to make this movie), but also feels exploitative in the way the camera lingers over every curve of its lead actor Mahie Gill and under her skirts.
Sanju (2018) If there is one movie that epitomises all that’s wrong with Indian men, Sanju would be it. One reason, is, of course, that it completely whitewashes Sanjay Dutt‘s every big or small crime as simply a “bad choice”, usually instigated and enabled by someone else who is the real bad guy — be it the drug dealer or the media. Bechara Sanju Baba, of course, is just a naive, agency-less man-child. The second reason is the misogyny proudly on display — the fact that Sanju treats women like dirt is never addressed in anything but comic tones. Most of Rajkumar Hirani’s movies are simplistic and lack nuance, but at least they are reasonably well-written. This one fails even in that, with a jarring dissonance between what should be a heartbreaking scene and the childish treatment it is given.
Thank You (2011) Three women decide to hire a private detective to catch their cheating husbands and teach them a lesson. What follows is supposed to be situational comedy, except this Anees Bazmee movie is…not funny. One can’t even say the plot is directionless, because it is definitely going in one direction — south. Akshay Kumar delivers sexist jokes in his standard monotone; Celina Jaitley, Sonam Kapoor, Bobby Deol and Rimi Sen display perhaps two expressions between them. And Irrfan Khan looks like he has no idea how he ended up in this brain-deadening excuse for a movie.
Thugs of Hindostan (2018) One of those monumentally expensive and monumentally poor films that makes you question your own life choices and why the country’s wealth is in the wrong hands, Thugs is unfortunately so bad it’s not even funny. Set in 1857, the movie tells the story of how a pirate (Amitabh Bachchan) plans to overthrow the British empire, the movie rehashes tropes (and VFX techniques) from every bad ’80s movie to create almost three hours of bizarre nonsense. Katrina Kaif and Fatima Sana Shaikh have little to do, and Aamir Khan as the Jack Sparrow-esque counter to Bachchan provides some humour, but you’re too confused or indifferent to care.
Kabir Singh (2019) A violently abusive man who treats women like chattel and has no understanding of consent should be given his comeuppance at the end of a movie, right? Apparently not in the world of director Sandeep Vanga Reddy (who also helmed the Telugu original on which this movie is based). This is not the kind of movie that distinguishes between showing toxic masculinity and glorifying it. So Kabir (Shahid Kapoor) is a hero and he’s treated like one. There isn’t much to say about this movie that hasn’t already been said, but the fact that it is one of the biggest hits of 2019 says a lot about where India is headed.
Dishonourable mentions: Humshakals, the Housefull movies, Raanjhanaa, the Tanu Weds Manu series and the Pyaar Ka Punchnama movies and Sonu Ki Titu Ki Sweety were excluded from the main list only because we couldn’t decide which of them was the worst. Basically, Sajid Khan, Aanand L. Rai and Luv Ranjan should just quit.
And then there is PM Narendra Modi (2019), a movie so absurdly servile and devoid of realism that it is not even enough to call it propaganda. It is more like the mythological TV serials of the ’80s and ’90s.