Continuing last year’s healthy trend of small-budget big-winners, 2018 saw the solidification of content-driven cinema in mainstream Bollywood, giving birth to a new batch of superstars, writers and directors to watch out for.
Bhavesh Joshi Superhero
While Harshvardhan Kapoor might have had a rocky debut with Mirzya, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero (BJS) showed us that he can pack a punch. Helmed by Vikramaditya Motwane (who has steadily evolved into one of the best film-makers in the country), BJS might have had a weak screenplay, but it was a stellar combination of a great concept, innovative cinematography and storytelling and excellent performances by Kapoor and Priyanshu Painyuli.
Fact: Bollywood does not really know how to do horror correctly. In this sense, it’s logical to give it a comic twist, which it does a better job of. Stree offered a slice of supernatural and sitcom that wasn’t misogynistic or bawdy. With its soft feminism, Stree became more than just a horror film. Raj and DK brought their A game, Pankaj Tripathi led an exemplary supporting cast and, of course, Rajkummar Rao stole the show. The scene where he has to look into the banshee’s eyes with love, while he is shitting bricks, will go down as one of the best examples of comedic acting in recent memory.
Raazi was a winner because, for a change, it was not a chest-thumping, jingoistic India-good-Pakistanbad film. Meghna Gulzar avoids manipulative songs and music and delivers a very human story about the futility of war. Is it a tad too matterof-fact? Possibly, because the film is a little insipid in places, with its screenplay losing its gloss, but Alia Bhatt more than makes up for that with a measured performance that 8 shows maturity and depth.
Vishal Bhardwaj needed to do something to win back our love after the disaster that was Rangoon, and Pataakha does a great job of making us forget that debacle. Mounted as a political parable through the metaphor of two warring sisters, Pataakha is sharp, witty and, quite literally, a firecracker of a film. Sanya Malhotra and Radhika Madan deliver excellent and uninhibited performances, supported brilliantly by a seasoned cast.
After Chak De! India, we finally have a sports film we can be proud of. Like Stallone’s Rocky, actor Vineet Singh wrote the story of an aspiring boxer in rural India at loggerheads with the head of the country’s Boxing Federation, which he took to quite a few producers before Anurag Kashyap agreed to direct the film. Singh trained like a professional boxer for a year to deliver one of 2018’s most earnest and visceral performances.
Everybody who walked into the theatre expecting a noir thriller came out having watched a dark-ish comedy. While Andhadhun might not be dark enough for my liking (damn you, Sriram Raghavan, for raising our expectations with your previous films), it more than makes up with its chaotic comedy, memorable characters, a sensational Tabu and Ayushmann Khurrana’s finest performance yet – his blind-but-not-blind act showed off the man’s amazing acting range.
Manto might not be as biting as it should have been, but it is a lilting ode to a time that was both beautiful and pathetic. Nandita Das’s film tries to study economic divide, the horrors of the partition, the rise of independent voices in literature, alcoholism and the mental disintegration of a genius and, while the film might not be successful at delving into all these hefty subjects, it is able to capture the essence of all of them like Polaroids. Das’s s is a neat introduction to Saadat Hassan Manto for foreign audiences and the country’s millennials.
The second Rajkummar Rao film on our list. Everyone will agree that Omerta is an uncomfortable and unsettling portrait of terrorism, exploring its naked evil and brutality. While the film does not explore the birth and growth of evil in Omar Saeed Sheikh in detail, it flips through like a photo album, sharing instances and highlights of the life and times of one of the world’s most audacious terrorist masterminds. The scene where Daniel Pearl’s head is hacked off is definitely one for the archives. Rao delivers the best performance of this decade in Hansal Mehta’s most powerful and cinematic film.
On paper, the names did not impress us at all, but Anubhav Sinha (Tum Bin, Dus, Ra.One – who knew he had it in him?) delivered the year’s most relevant film. A straight-shooting study of communalism, prejudice and selfish political agendas, Mulk makes this country proud. Taapsee Pannu and Rishi Kapoor kick ass, and it’s good that films like Mulk are being supported and released.
Badhaai Ho is near-perfect cinematically, boasting a crisp screenplay, smart cinematography and editing and winning performances by Ayushmann Khurrana, Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao and Surekha Sikri. It also discusses individuality, sexual desire and the freedom to enjoy physical pleasure sans social diktats, bias and shame. Due to social and cinematic deifications of the Ma-Bauji stereotype, Indians have a problem accepting that parents have human needs. Badhaai Ho is still pulling in the crowds, refusing to budge after Thugs of Hindostan’s release, thus proving that sensible cinema is finally here to stay.