Compiling this year’s list of Bollywood’s best movies was not an easy exercise, particularly in terms of balancing my role as a kind viewer while copping out as a movie reviewer. There were movies such as Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider and Imtiaz Ali’s Highway, which tried using the mainstream Bollywood idiom of song and dance to tell offbeat stories, but failed to deliver on my high expectations. Then, there were others such as Shaad Ali’s Kill Dil and Farah Khan’s Happy New Year of whom I expected very little, but in the end was happy to have been able to sit through the whole film. Consequently, I have to admit that this list does use different standards to judge different films.
Aankhon Dekhi: Written and directed by Rajat Kapoor, this film is daring even in its conception of having an eccentric old man as the central character. It is also a brilliantly shot ode to the crumbling lower middle-class lifestyle of Delhi of the early 1980s.
Katiyabaaz: Directed by Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar, this gritty documentary about an electricity thief in Kanpur brought home the stark reality of daily power outages in most parts of India, and the desperate measures people use to get on with their lives.
Dedh Ishqiya: Directed by Abhishek Chaubey and brilliantly fleshed out by Vishal Bharadwaj and Gulzar, this delightful sleight-of-hand tale, awash in Urdu ditties, is a rare Bollywood sequel that turned out to be even better than the original.
Finding Fanny: Homi Adajania’s quirky, irreverent and sometime melancholic third film, set among a bunch of eccentrics in Goa, is a patchy effort brought to life by the reliable Naseeruddin Shah.
Queen: In a country where women are still trying to break the shackles of patriarchy, this Vikas Bahl film is a Bollywood marker, both in terms of being centred around a female — the late-blooming Kangana Ranaut, and for the mould-breaking character she plays, an independent small-town girl who chooses to face life on her own terms.
PK: Beyond all the hoopla around Aamir Khan’s performance as a misfit alien, this latest effort from the Rajkumar Hirani school of mainstream social cinema gets full marks for its courageous take on god-men and religious superstitions.
Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania / 2 States / Happy Ending: These purebred Bollywood urban comedies were characterised by their over-the-top situations and characters, yet each one upended the mainstream formulae in its own way.
Mary Kom / Rang Rasiya: One, a no-warts Indian-style hagiography, the other a western-style biopic. Each stood out for its treatment — the former in the typically melodramatic mainstream Bollywood; the latter in its more than a century-old story adapted to reflect very contemporary issues.
Ugly: Though not one of Anurag Kashyap’s best efforts, this film still had enough juice to keep you on the edge of your seat most of the time, as one of the better made local thrillers this year.
Kill Dil / Happy New Year: Both these films essentially proved that nothing succeeds like excess in Bollywood. These were more lunacy than cinema. But, my expectations were so low that I ended up liking both of them.