Was this a great year for Hindi films? Certainly not for the boxoffice which could not take the double burden of mediocre repetitive fare and demonetization. Nonetheless quality will show. And it did. The year had its share of sparkling gems. Subhash K Jha lifts his favourites.
- Pink: Some films are meant to change the way we look at ourselves . Pink was one such rarity. Its impact was felt much through the year as it opened up old wounds that never healed . Women and their right to say no to sexual advances were so far considered subjects too prickly to be brought out into the arena of mainstream cinema But then, when has Shoojit Sircar shied away from tackling taboo topics?Unforgivably, a lot of the credit for this powerful film was given to Sircar when in fact the film was directed by Annirudh Roychowdhury, a director of Bangla cinema with a formidable reputation. Here Annirudh was on slippery ground determined not to make his sexually violated protagonists either Slut or Victim.It took the Bachchan baritone to remind us that when a woman says no she means no.And yes, when moviegoers say yes to a film, they don’t hold back .
- Dangal: Aamir Khan wrestles with flab and emerges with a film that is in every sense, fab. Without taking a high moral ground director Nitesh Tiwari talks of muscle power for girls in a society where the girl-child is often considered a curse. Eschewing moral lessons, Dangal builds a wonderfully sturdy story out of real-life wrestler MahavirSingh Phogat’s struggle to make kushti champs out of his daughters. More than a show of Aamir-power this is a film about girl power. No power-puff ladies, these.It wins your heart with its unstinted allegiance to telling a story that needed to be told.
- Udta Punjab: The energy, pace, frenzied action as director Abhishek Choubeycaptured the despair and doom in a State of drug haze were unlike anything seen in recent times, and so what if everything in the film was not as original as it initially seemed to be? You can’t take away from the sheer grit of the narrative and the power that Alia Bhatt and Shahid Kapoor brought to their troubled parts. The irreverent tone of narration left me stunned. The violence was brutal but never gratuitous. Everything, even the most demented action of the film’s zonked-out rock star Tommy Singh, happened for a reason. Though what it was, was not always apparent to us.Life sucks.And films about life can often be a bitch.
- Neerja: Real-life braveheart Neerja Bhanot who gave up her life saving passengers on-board a hijacked plane, got a movie of her own to celebrate her incalculable heroism. Director Ram Madhvani spared us the chest-thumping rabble-rousing hero-giriand focused on telling us the story of what really happened on that flight when Neerja turned savior.As in the case of Dangal and Sultan it is the human relationships that worked to the film’s advantage. The mother-daughter bonding between Shabana Azmi and Sonam Kapoor(who played Neerja, in case you don’t know) defined the plot. And yes, if you are a Rajesh Khanna fan as I am, the film got bonus points for the ‘Kaka’ references strewn across the film.
- Aligarh: Another true-life story, this one of a gay professor Srinivas Siras in Aligarhwho dies a lonely and mysterious death, Manoj Bajpai brought the role immense poignancy and Rajkummar Rao who played against Bajpai as a journalist who befriends the socially ostracized educationist, was also superb. Director Hansal Mehta portrayed the man’s isolation with an empathy and compassion that reminded me of Jennifer Kapoor in 36 Chowringhee Lane.And yes, if you are bhakt of Lata Mangeshkar the film endeared itself even more to your heart by playing her songs to accentuate the professor’s loneliness.
- Sultan: The other wrestling epic of 2016 and a grand achievement in every sense from director Ali Abbas Zafar who had until then only the mediocre Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and Gunday to his credit. Sultan saw Salman transform into an aging wrestler who loved his wife to death. This was a love story masquerading as sports film.This was a tender softhearted ode to old-world romance pretending to be all hard and rugged on the surface. Gosh, the lengths people go to .
- Airlift: Director Raja Krishna Menon’s real-life story of an Indian entrepreneur in Kuwait who helped evacuate hundreds of Indians when Saddam attacked, was tense tactile passionate and patriotic.Just the way Akshay Kumar likes it.
- Dear Zindagi: Dear Shah Rukh, Dear Alia, Dearest Gauri Shinde…the three skilled cinema persons got together to give us a film that was high on life and sold on dreams. The psycho-therapy sessions never seemed dull , thanks to the crackling chemistry between Khan and Bhatt. He a convincing talker.She a rapt listener.They looked like two persons who jelled well. More importantly, director Gauri Shinde knows how to hold the camera just close enough to her characters’ hearts without seeming invasive.She is a master storyteller, no doubt about it. And Alia is the Star.
- Mirzya: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s telling of the legendary love tale was powerful, never frail. So what if the film failed? So did Guru Dutt’s Kagaz Ke Phool and Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker. Mirzya is destined to be recognized as a classic take on eternal love . It employed a format where the past and the present were never fused by serendipity. Things happened. Love doesn’t have a reason. Mehra didn’t create any.
- Ki & Ka: Sparkling tongue-in-cheek take on gender equations. Arjun Kapoor made a convincing house-husband. Kareena Kapoor Khan made a convincing….she is so gorgeous she doesn’t need to convince us at all. Director R Balki pushed the ‘he’ and ‘she’ theme just far enough for it to be sassy and funny.No more.
Also worth a mention: Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani 2, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s Nil BatteSannata, Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dhanak, and the two Marathi masterpieces MaheshManjerkar’s Natasamrat and Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat.