While it wasn’t the best of years for Bollywood, here are the top ten films of the year. While mainstream cinema tanked miserably, the line between commercial and indie has finally blurred, with smaller films becoming box office heroes.
In a year that also saw the debacle that was Jab Harry Met Sejal, Shah Rukh Khan should be remembered for his powerful performance in Raees. The man has been trying out unusual roles in the last few years, but to choose that of a Musalman, boot-legging, mafia anti-hero must go down as one of his biggest career risks to date — and he absolutely killed it. A far cry from his soppy romances, SRK’s Raees was conniving, ruthless and angry, and it was a pleasure watching him “perform” after a long time. Rahul Dholakia’s in depth research and able direction, and the film’s sterling supporting cast, made Raees the toast of 2017.
Who thought that Arjun Rampal would one day graduate to a performance-driven, meaty film about Arun Gawli? Boy, did the man surprise everyone with his astutely researched character design, sparkling delivery and nuanced performance. Ashim Ahluwalia ably created a dark, political crime thriller and dissected the good, bad and ugly of one of the Mumbai mafia’s legendary characters. It has been a while since an anatomical study of society’s cause and effects on its people was explored in mainstream cinema.
8 Baahubali 2
The second part of the Baahubali story was the movie event of the year, with the whole nation waiting to experience a spectacle like never before in Indian cinema. While the performances were still outrageously OTT, Baahubali 2 woos you with a visual blitzkrieg of colour, action and choreography. Although heavily inspired by Zhang Yimou’s films, Rajamouli created an epic Indian spectacle that has definitely pushed the limits of what the movie industry can do, and the scale it should aspire to.
7 Mukti Bhawan
A toast at international film festivals around the world, Shubhashish Bhutiani’s poignant satire about a son taking his whimsical, aging father to Varanasi to die in peace is modern Indian film-making at its best. Beautifully written – with heavy doses of quirk and dark humour — and with sterling performances by Adil Hussain and Lalit Behl, Mukti Bhawan is a bizarre and uncomfortable study of life, death and relationships.
6 Anaarkali of Aarah
This year, small films were definitely the heroes of the industry. Swara Bhaskar came back with a power packed performance in this film, about a small town erotic dancer haggling for her rights after being molested by a powerful politician. The film raised important questions about women’s rights in the country, without being preachy (that dreaded quality indie films should never have if they want to win over distributors) and it was a delight to watch the Sanjay-Pankaj-Swara trio knock this one out of the park. Also, brownie points to the writers for the film’s crisp and smart dialogues.
5 Secret Superstar
It is funny how a film with a 14-year old protagonist was this Diwali’s most awaited film. A frothy tale about living your dream in the times of social media, Secret Superstar solidified Dangal girl Zaira Wasim’s position in the industry as the next big thing. Almost an update on Taare Zameen Par (with Aamir Khan as a sexist music director who turns mentor for Wasim’s character), Secret Superstar also makes us proud of Khan the producer — for believing in stories, no matter how small the canvas is.
While he might be embroiled in his messy autobiography situation presently, Nawazuddin Siddiqui delivered one of his career best performances in Haraamkhor early this year. A 4 naughty, dark comedy about a teacher having an illicit sexual relationship with his young student, Shlok Sharma’s debut was both honest and pathetic in its portrayal of human instinct, hatred and jealousy. One should also mention that this wasn’t the first film Sharma shot. Zoo, his actual debut, premiered at MAMI this year and is an even better treat.
Rajkummar Rao had five releases this year (I am not counting his thankfully short cameo in Raabta) and even if all the films did not become BO hits, everybody loved him. Trapped started off this year long Rajkummar Rao film fest with possibly one of the best performances delivered by a Hindi film actor in the last decade. Rao’s visceral portrayal of loneliness, claustrophobia and fear is uncomfortable to watch. Director Vikramaditya Motwane must be also given due credit for this fantastic film.
2 Lipstick Under My Burkha
This film was definitely the biggest debate of the year. Everybody watched the film — everybody didn’t necessarily like it. Lipstick was bold and brave, dealt with issues head on and without the need to hide behind euphemisms or metaphor, which made the largely sexist and hypocritical Indian audience very uncomfortable. An enviable star cast for any debutante film-maker, Lipstick brought together the likes of Ratna Pathak Shah, Konkona Sensharma, Vikrant Massey and Shashank Arora to deliver an angry, feminist war cry. Filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava deserves all the praise (also kudos to whoever came up with the poster art, and subsequent social media campaign).
And the year’s best film is definitely a Rajkummar Rao film. Who knew that a humble comedy about an idealistic polling booth officer in a Maoist-ridden Indian village would become India’s commercial superstar of the year, and also official entry to the Academy Awards? Directed by the talented Amit Masurkar (Suleimani Keeda) and starring Pankaj Tripathi, Anjali Patil and Raghubir Yadav, Newton is a wonderful example of intelligent writing and mature editing. Also, Pankaj Tripathi delivers a masterclass in on-screen acting. One must definitely applaud the indefatigable efforts of Manish Mundra and Drishyam Films to empower small but powerful films and talented film-makers.