“If I made ‘Cinderella,’ the audience would immediately be looking for a body in the coach”, said Alfred Hitchcock, the man whose ultimate film philosophy was to give the audience a strange kind of pleasure – that which is achieved when they ”wake up from a nightmare”. Far removed from the mainstream, the Master of Suspense has given some of the most twisted, unsettling imagery to celluloid.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that mastering the gory bits of storytelling is truly what cinematic brilliance is about. And the best of filmmakers have testified to that. More than an escape, more than forgetting, cinema is about riveting the unriveted, moving the unmoved. While there are some films that work as a fairytale, others can make you sick to the stomach.
Here are 10 of the most disturbing movies from Bollywood, I’ve sat through:
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1. Ugly (2013)
This film revolves around a kidnapper hunt following the abduction of a girl who goes missing from her father’s car. As it starts drawing closer home, the case gets ugly beyond imagination. Director Anurag Kashyap builds up a riveting milieu of thrill and suspense. A master of noir, Kashyap does an extremely fine job at creating the right atmospherics for the film’s plot to land. From the darknesses inherent to his characters and their respective personas, to the ominous nature of the world they inhabit, it’s one of the most disturbing films I’ve seen in a long time. The film premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Watch Ugly on Amazon Prime
2. Sadma (1983)
Sadma marks one of Sridevi’s finest performances early on in her career. Centring around a woman’s regression to childhood after incurring a head injury, the film is a sensitive treatment of the disease retrograde amnesia. Sridevi plays the afflicted alongside Kamal Hassan, a compassionate school teacher who becomes her rescuer. The film draws power from the remarkable performances rendered by the lead actors. The tenderness of the relationship that blooms between Hassan and Sridevi is heartwarming to watch. The sensitivity with which director Balu Mahendra treats his characters and the subject makes you want to care for them as much.
The film was a remake of Mahendra’s Tamil film Moondram Pirai (1982) with the same pair. It amassed massive critical acclaim and an unflinching cult status over time.
Watch Sadma on Amazon Prime
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3. Talvar (2015)
This Meghna Gulzar directorial tells the story of the 2008 Arushi Talvar double murder case with as much fairness as a film possibly can. Written by Vishal Bhardwaj, the film is the concoction of two genres: police procedural and crime drama. Without indulging in any form of escapism, the film serves us what is real with honesty. Told in a Rashomon-like style, embodying all possible perspectives, the film traverses through the meshes of reality with boldness and candour.
Talvar premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival in the special-presentation section. It was also screened at major film festivals like BFI London Film Festival and Busan International Film Festival and won Vishal Bhardwaj a National Award for the Best Adapted Screenplay.
Watch Talvar on Netflix
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4. Love Sex Aur Dhoka (2010)
Blatantly non-formulaic, exceptionally well-made and brutally realistic, Love Sex aur Dhokha breaks all conventions of commercial storytelling. Director Dibakar Bannerjee breaks the shackles of what can be shown on the screen, and without giving a second thought about the nature of his subject, chooses to reveal with grit, the underpinnings of a voyeuristic society. The film blurs the boundaries between the artistic, experimental and the commercial with such affect, that it ends up blending all three aspects into its fold. The anthology like structure only supplements the multitudes of perspectives that it means to show.
Watch Love Sex Aur Dhoka on Amazon
5. NH 10 (2015)
NH10 is not an easy film to watch. Anushka Sharma’s debut production revolves around a couple’s encounter with a menacing gang when on their vacation. Extremely gripping, taut and gut-wrenching, NH10 is held together by solid performances all round. Exceptional cinematography and sound work add to the gory atmospherics well enough to draw you in. A meaningful thriller with a subtly suffused social message interspersed with dynamic storytelling, NH10 will stay with you long after you’ve finished watching it.
Watch NH10 on Amazon
6. 15 Park Avenue (2005)
Following the story of a girl suffering from schizophrenia, the film explores the impact the disease has on her family as a whole. Featuring acting heavyweights like Shabana Azmi, Konkona Sen Sharma, Soumitra Chatterjee, Waheeda Rehman, Dhritiman Chatterjee and Rahul Bose, this film boasts beautiful performances. With a sensitive theme and mature treatment of the same, the film deals with the issue of perception versus reality. It also takes into consideration how the notion of normalcy could subjectively differ for people suffering with a mental illness.
It offers a deep insight into the world of a schizophrenic patient. The result is as empathy inducing as traumatic and unsettling; an experience that shifts perspectives, compelling one to think differently. Where director Aparna Sen’s real genius lies, although, is in her weaving of a climax open to interpretations.
Watch 15 Park Avenue on Amazon
7. Bandit Queen (1994)
This highly provocative piece of cinema is a biographical narrative that follows the life of Phoolan Devi. Adapted from the book India’s Bandit Queen: The True Story of Phoolan Devi by Mala Sen, the Shekhar Kapur directorial is a tale of Indian casteism at its horrific worst. A stark and unabashed reflection of the Indian society, the film has been banned as it contained graphic depictions of rape and the public nature of female subjugation. It’s one of the most disturbing movies I’ve sat through.
Bandit Queen premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section of the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. Besides, it was screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival. It also came to be selected as India’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, but did not make the cut. It received three National Awards including Best Feature Film in Hindi.
Watch Bandit Queen on YouTube
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8. Black Friday (2004)
Centred around the 1993 bomb blasts, Black Friday is based on a book by Hussain Zaidi titled Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts. Delineating the gruesome events that transpired over a single day and changed Mumbai forever, Anurag Kashyap’s screen adaptation is a riveting, realistic, true-to-life depiction of the inhumane brutality. Told from the perspective of all involved parties, from conspirators to victims, it involves a Rashomon-like approach, much like Talvar.
The film premiered at the 2004 Locarno International Film Festival, where it was a nominee for the Golden Leopard.
Watch Black Friday on Hotstar
9. Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016)
This cat-and-mouse thriller follows, literally and metaphorically, the story of a maniac serial killer (Ramanna), who ends up finding a soulmate in a police officer (Raghavan) involved in his case. The neo-noir psychological thriller is about the murderer’s attempts at making the police officer realise how both of them are like sides of the same coin. Featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vicky Kaushal in lead roles, the film relies heavily on performances for its affect on the human psyche. This one will shake you from within.
The film premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. It was a critically acclaimed as well as commercially successful venture.
Watch Raman Raghav 2.0 on Amazon Prime
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10. That Girl in Yellow Boots (2010)
“An unnervingly realistic portrait of unimaginable pain – is one with an ending you’ll wish you could forget,” wrote Kia Makarechi of The Huffington Post. The film centers around a British woman, who sets out in search of her father in Indian heartlands. Getting entangled into an unfamiliar, intimidating system in a land completely alien to her, she ends up discovering things she didn’t wish to. Featuring Kalki Koechlin and Naseeruddin Shah in lead roles, the film delivers something entirely antithetical to its innocently innocuous title.
The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, following which it traveled to festivals like the Venice Film Festival and the South Asian International Film Festival.
Watch That Girl in Yellow Boots on Netflix
What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below.
By Sanghmitra Jethwani
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