When future film historians and cinema lovers will look back at the years between 2010 and 2019, they will see a decade in which Hindi cinema went through a sea change. From diarrhoea to erectile dysfunction to drug abuse, no subject was off limits for the better directors and writers of this decade, and box-office collections encouragingly proved that filmmakers can no longer use the excuse of ‘audience demand’ to churn out crap.
Several movies that didn’t rely on male superstars or big budgets were successful, and we hope this trend continues. These are the kind of movies we want to see more of in the 2020s.
Peepli Live (2010): Buried under a growing pile of debt, Natha, a farmer, is convinced by his brother Budhia to commit suicide so that his family can get government compensation. What follows is a media circus, replete with hacks trying to get their channels TRPs up, politicians out for their pound of flesh and more. It seems like a heavy subject, but director Anusha Rizvi treats it with such deft black humour that Peepli ranks up there as one of the most scathing satires of our times. A cracker of a script, sharp editing, a full-bodied soundtrack and tight performances by Omkar Das Manikpuri, Raghubir Yadav, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Naseeruddin Shah and Malaika Shenoy — all ensure that no scene in this gem of a movie feels spare.
Masaan (2015): Sex, death, corruption, caste, patriarchy and poetry come together to form a haunting, devastating work of art, set against the backdrop of the stunning, complex city of Varanasi and its cremation ghats. Debutant director Neeraj Ghaywan and writer Varun Grover weave together multiple stories that eventually find their way to each other, powered by sensitive performances by Vicky Kaushal, Shweta Tripathi, Richa Chadda, Pankaj Tripathi and Sanjay Mishra. And the music by Indian Ocean, with lyrics by Grover, should find a place on playlists for generations to come.
Gully Boy (2019): A movie that’s almost three hours long feels like a tedious anomaly in today’s times. But not when you have Zoya Akhtar helming this potent script she and Reema Kagti have written, a punchy, power-packed soundtrack featuring some of the best names (including Divine and Naezy, the rappers who inspired this story), some of the most fantastic cinematography courtesy DOP Jay Oza and firecracker performances from Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt. The story of a Muslim rapper from Dharavi is as much an ode to the underdog spirit as it is a love note to the city of Mumbai.
Delhi Belly (2011): Diamonds and diarrhoea come together in this insane romp that made multiplex audiences go for repeat viewings because they could not believe that a Bollywood movie could be this unique, this bold, this downright funny in a way that spoke to them. Although the entire cast played their parts well, Vijay Raaz as the gangster deserves a special mention — the scene in which he realises he has received a stool sample instead of diamonds is an absolute scream.
Andhadhun (2018): Director and co-writer Sriram Raghavan’s black comedy crime thriller shows just what you can do when you have imagination — and brilliant actors. Tabu and Ayushman Khurrana star in this absurd, riveting theatre of the macabre that’s also an ode to films of the past. In this strange world, everything is in plain sight and yet nothing is what you think it is. The story of a blind pianist caught up in a murder is turned on its head when you wonder whether he is actually blind, and then again, at the end, when you wonder if everything you thought until now is a lie. Rarely has the climax of a Bollywood thriller been so avidly discussed by audiences, and this will go down as one of the most daringly brilliant films made in recent times.
Special mentions: The Dirty Picture and Anarkali of Aarah for relying solely on unapologetically fierce and wonderful women, Tumbbad for redefining the horror genre in Hindi cinema, Saand Ki Aankh for making everyone root for a pair of grannies (even if the actors playing them were nowhere near as old), Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu for being a fully commercial film that doesn’t give in to the trappings of typical Bollywood fare and Udaan for giving everyone’s tear glands a solid workout.
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