2019 has been the worst year of an already problematic decade for the Mumbai-based (primarily) Hindi film industry that gets a disproportionate amount of attention from the so-called ‘national’ media in comparison with India’s other film industries. Islamophobia and pro-establishment messaging were the dominant trends in Bollywood this year, while quality and depth took long vacations from theatres. S my usual annual list of best 10, this time I have stopped at nine.
Here is my pick of the saving graces in this annus horribilis.
1: Article 15
most powerful Hindi film of 2019 though put caste at the front and centre of its storyline. In Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15, Ayushmann Khurrana plays a Brahmin policeman who is schooled in this oppressive social practice when two Dalit girls are raped and murdered in a UP village where he is posted. Among a bouquet of beautifully written, beautifully acted characters, the ones whose journey ought to spawn a sequel, prequel or both are the Dalit activists Gaura and Nishad, played by Sayani Gupta and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub.
(For the full review of Article 15, click here)
2: Gully Boy
A marginalised genre of the arts meets a poor man from a marginalised community in Zoya Akhtar’s stunning Gully Boy inspired by the lives of Mumbai rappers Naezy and Divine. In spite of rap’s massive popularity, many traditionalists still do not acknowledge it as literature or music. Akhtar snubs them through the medium of a Muslim driver from a Mumbai slum who dreams of being a rapper. Ranveer Singh is flawless as the shy youngster whose seething resentment towards those who seek to invisibilise him erupts in his rebellious writing. Alia Bhatt is superb as his girlfriend who is fighting massive battles with patriarchy. The top-notch cast also includes one of the big discoveries of this year: young Siddhanth Chaturvedi.
Gully Boy is technically slick, unapologetic about its politics and brimful of brilliant poetry. One of the joys to be derived from it comes from watching the hero’s creative process, from watching his songs take birth on screen. In its own unique way then, it is a procedural. At a time when most of Bollywood is bowing and scraping before the present government, it takes a special person to feature Jingostan beatbox in a mainstream commercial film. And Apna time aayega (Our time will come) is an anthem for every human being who has known what it is to be by a dominant social group.
(For the full review of Gully Boy, click here)
3: Mardaani 2
title notwithstanding, w 2 is a sharp, incisive critique of how patriarchy reacts when it encounters a questioning woman. Mukerji’s immersive performance in this suspenseful thriller makes for a potent combination with the antagonist played by TV’s Vishal Jethwa who gives us one of the eeriest, creepiest, most convincing villains seen on the Hindi
(For the full review of Mardaani 2, click here)
Banditry in the Hindi heartland is resurrected on the big screen in one of the most underrated, under-marketed and therefore, sadly, under-seen films of the year. Abhishek Chaubey’s Sonchiriya
(For the full review of Sonchiriya, click here)
5: The Sky Is Pink
(For the full review of The Sky Is Pink, click here)
6: Saand Ki Aankh
Two women in rural north India happen to pick up guns for the first time in their 60s and end up becoming successful competitive sharpshooters. It is surprising that Bollywood took so long to chronicle the real-life story of UP’s now-octogenarian Shooter Daadis, Chandro and Prakashi Tomar, but when it finally did, the result was Tushar entertaining, , socially insightful film.
Bhumi PednekarSaand Ki Aankh’s has drawn cons derable flak for casting young female stars as the elderly leads, but even this starting-point flaw does not mar its heartening celebration of feminine fortitude.
(For the full review of Saand Ki Aankh, click here)
A Muslim artisan practising his craft in a temple in one of Hinduism’s holiest cities is the fulcrum of Zaigham Imam’s Nakkash. Inaamulhaq plays Allah Miyan who becomes an object of conservative Hindu wrath in Varanasi when his steadfast patron, the temple chief priest (Kumud Kumar Mishra), refuses to be influenced by bigots. Islamophobia is so rampant in today’s world that many well-meaning liberals now steer clear of addressing Muslim fundamentalism in their works.
(For the full review of Nakkash, click here)
8: No Fathers In Kashmir
The spotlight falls on half widows, missing men, sexually exploited women and conservatives with double standards in Ashvin Kumar’s
(For the full review of No Fathers In Kashmir, click here)
Of the very few Hindi films made on LGBT+ persons, most have chosen to focus on men. In that sense, Shelly Chopra Dhar’s
The title harking back to the most iconic song of Kapoor Senior’s career, is among the many factors that makes
(For the full review of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, click here)
Director’s Cut: Tushar Hiranandani on Bhumi, Taapsee and ageism, Saand Ki Aankh’s Shashi Kapoor connect, misogyny and why he won’t do another Masti
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE IS ALSO ON FIRSTPOST:
Article 15 poster: https://www.facebook.com/pg/BenarasMediaWorks/
Gully Boy poster: https://www.facebook.com/RanveerSinghOfficial/
Mardaani 2 poster: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mardaani_2
Sonchiriya poster: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonchiriya
The Sky Is Pink poster: Creeshul Media
Nakkash poster: https://www.facebook.com/nakkashthefilm/
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga poster: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ek_Ladki_Ko_Dekha_Toh_Aisa_Laga