The best of movies and OTT serials are not about stars anymore. It is invariably about writing, casting, production and of course, the director.
Prateek Vats’ Eeb Allay Ooo!
About a man (Shardul Bharadwaj) monkeying around India’s power centre—areas surrounding Parliament Street in Lutyens’ New Delhi. What’s he up to? Taming monkeys. No, literally—that’s what he does for a living. Eeb Aaley Ooo is the sound he makes to attract/repel his ancestral self! What follows is a masterclass in realistic storytelling, straddling the thin line between metaphor and movie, reality, and fiction.
Sudhir Mishra’s Serious Men / Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad
Both films touch on serious issues—Dalit politics, and domestic violence, respectively—without drifting into clichés of lament. Yes, a Dalit man could cleverly attempt to work/subvert the system. And, no, there’s more to domestic abuse than the brutality of force/violence alone.
Anurag Basu’s Ludo
There are more lead characters in Anurag Basu’s colourful madness of a movie than you can fit into two and a half hours—without each seeming like cameos, yet none do. More plot than you can pack into a picture. The craziness never stops. You’ve to watch it twice to truly appreciate all that you caught and missed in this joyously Bollywood musical, masquerading as a thriller about dames and dons.
Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak / Anurag Kashyap’s Choked
Chhapaak is the biopic of the acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal. But the fact of Deepika Padukone playing this lead role changes the game completely. Choked is a Charlie Kaufman style magic realism about house-plumbing choked with cash. Except that it segues into the first Hindi film to document the sheer lunacy of India’s 2016 demonetisation, which elevates the film into another level altogether. On-point.
Rajat Kapoor’s Kadakh
Very Woody Allen type situational comedy/drama/thriller, smartly written, set in a house with friends (all top-class actors), being watched in 2020 by people who are similarly at home, but by themselves, and missing human company. Or maybe not, given all the commotion crowds are capable of!
Scam 1992 (Sony Liv)
Basically, Spotlight + All the President’s Men / Wolf of Wall Street x Desi reality, as we know it = a period, financial drama, directed by Hansal Mehta that’s so world-class, striking in its research and performances—not once missing its beat—it deserves an international re-release on a better platform. Pratik Gandhi kills it as BSE’s Big Bull Harshad Mehta. As do the entire ensemble cast. Even the theme track, seemingly inspired by Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal, was the anthem of the year. Rare stuff.
Paatal Lok (Amazon Prime Video)
While the world reeled under clouds of corona in 2020, darkness equally enveloped the Indian small screen, with series after series delving into psychos and criminals, deaths and deceit, greed and power… Look at the reasonably stellar line-up that I managed to catch: Criminal Justice 2, Aarya, Special Ops (Disney+Hotstar), Asur (Voot Select), Undekhi (Sony Liv), Mirzapur 2 (Amazon Prime Video), State of Siege: 26/11 (Zee 5), Jamtara (Netflix)… Towering overall, like the sky does the earth, was Sudip Sharma’s Paatal Lok, setting a benchmark for Indian dark mystery/crime fiction, forever!
Panchayat (Amazon Prime Video)
A full series on rural India, boonies of Uttar Pradesh, to be precise, with no guns and expletives—just five simple characters, including the de facto village headman (the great Raghuvir Yadav) and his secretary (Jitendra Kumar), who’s moved in from the city. Warm, gooey, funny—loaded with charm and sarcasm—this is the new century’s English August and Malgudi Days rolled into one!
The Forgotten Army (Amazon Prime Video)
All year-end lists of critics and fans, you’ll notice, show a recency bias. Which is also a reason, for instance, there is such a thing as Oscars releases—since the Academy members remember the best from only the past few months. And so, I guess a lot of people must’ve forgotten about the stunningly picturised, strongly scripted, Indian war and period drama placed among the Indian National Army soldiers in Singapore—Kabir Khan’s The Forgotten Army—that dropped in January 2020. This will survive public memory in times to come, though.
Bandish Bandits (Amazon Prime Video)
Unique setting—disciplinarian world of guru shishya parampara and Hindustani classical music. First-rate star cast—besides the young/fresh leads (Shreya Chaudhary, Ritwik Bhowmick), Naseeruddin Shah (channelling his inner Pandit Jasraj), Atul Kulkarni, and the quiet Sheeba Chadha. Anand Tiwari’s Bandish Bandits is a super-light, romantic family drama, from the year of darkness (both off and on-screen). What did I love most about the series? That the worst that could happen to the characters on the show is a frickin’ heartbreak!