The turn of the century, particularly the last decade, saw a significant shift in the storytelling style. While popular Hindi cinema continues to grow its appeal among audiences, both on the homeground and overseas, there are films on the other end of the spectrum that are challenging conventions with their evolved cinematic vocabulary, both in terms of narratives and treatment. Here’s bringing you the best of both worlds — the defining, influential Hindi films of the 21st century.
1. Dil Chahta Hai (2001)
Director: Farhan Akhtar
Akhtar’s directorial debut explored friendship and love with a very subtle, indie sensibility. It was a generational shift in Bollywood’s style of storytelling and spoke a language that resonated with the youth. Recounting his insecurities as a filmmaker in his biography An Unsuitable Boy, Karan Johar says, “there was a part of me that got a little afraid,” post the release of Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai. “I felt in that year, the syntax of cinema had changed… What was really, intrinsically, authentically cool was Farhan Akhtar’s depiction of urban youth, the way they dressed, spoke, the mannerisms. My sensibilities were mixed up with those of the filmmakers of yore — Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai, Raj Kapoor.”
2. Lagaan (2001)
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
One of the most defining films of our times, Lagaan altered the course of modern Indian cinema. The Aamir Khan-starrer masterpiece was the third Indian film to be nominated for an Academy Award. It captures the essence of colonial oppression with a game of cricket. The various injustices and betrayals of the British Raj are highlighted through a simple game. Lagaan is also a story of defiance. The remarkable cinematography is in sync with the period-piece setting. Incredible storytelling and performances truly make this one for the ages.
3. Monsoon Wedding (2001)
Director: Mira Nair
Mira Nair became the first Indian woman to win the best picture at the 58th Venice Film Festival. A beautiful portrait of a dysfunctional family that finds love and hope, Monsoon Wedding is a very complete film emotionally. It is layered and complex, yet simple. It has so much local colour and flavour, and yet is so universal. The characters are so real, their conflicts so relatable and genuine. And it all feels so effortless. The casting is brilliant. Every character is perfect for his/her part. What I love is the tone of the film. It just feels so natural and right; the camerawork, the performances, the use of colour, the use of songs. There is so much texture. (By Alankrita Srivastava)
4. Maqbool (2003)
Director: Vishal Bharadwaj
Maqbool is based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth and came out at a time when classical interpretations were all out of date. And this movie proved how wrong the trends were. It brought back classical interpretations with an absolute bang. Besides a robust plot, fine-tuned pacing, masterly direction and dazzling performances drive the film. Maqbool takes its core from the original play but adds its own flair and originality to it. Truly, a reinterpretation done perfectly.
5. Black Friday (2004)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Based on Hussain Zaidi’s book, Anurag Kashyap’s audacious drama revolves around the infamous 1993 Bombay blasts. The narrative focuses on inspector Rakesh Maria’s police task force, formed after the bombing. Cinematographer Natarajan Subramaniam’s saturation of heavy brown and red color tones add to the film’s gritty realism. The film’s unwieldy and editorializing structure may prove exhausting for some viewers. However, it’s propulsive and potent commentary never gets diluted. Among the finest in Anurag Kashyap’s filmography.
6. Swades (2004)
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Ashutosh Gowariker started writing Swades at the same time as Lagaan. The latter released first and obviously left the critics and audiences wondering ‘What after Lagaan?’ Gowariker’s answer was down pat. Nothing better could have followed. It may have taken time for the audience to accept and embrace the film but Swades is inarguably, one of the best-made films of our times.
Shah Rukh Khan as Mohan Bharghava shone in one of the career’s best performances. His subtle, understated style was a delightful break from his larger-than-life onscreen persona. A cult classic, Swades is treasured not just for its impeccable performances but its subject that struck a chord, the old-world charm, a simple narrative that held us right through the end (despite the three and a half hour runtime) and solid direction.
7. Amu (2005)
Director: Shonali Bose
Amu was a film way ahead of its time. Chronicling the 1984 riots that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the film handled a very sensitive political issue with a rare emotional maturity. It’s not only a great political drama but a thrilling piece of detective fiction as we see an adopted woman piece together her past only to find out its connection with the grand political man-made tragedy. Shonali Bose’s simmering narrative is supported by superlative performances. Overall, Amu is a deftly handled political piece and a piercing portrait of the truth behind the tragedy.
8. Parzania (2005)
Director: Rahul Dholakia
One of the most powerful films in recent times, Parzania is based on the true story of a couple attempting to reunite with their lost child during the 2002 Gujarat riots. The political and religious schisms are deftly portrayed. The film effectively switches from the wide canvas of the cityscape to the smaller, personal lives of the people. Eventually, it’s a film that sends out its humanist message clearly, while evoking empathy for the innocents who paid the price with their lives.
9. Iqbal (2005)
Director: Nagesh Kukunoor
This movie deals with achieving the impossible with hard work and dedication as it follows the dreams of a hearing and speech impaired boy to become a part of the Indian cricket team. The beauty of the movie lies in its expertise to create and flourish in beautiful relationships between human beings. The feelings and emotions all seem real as there exists great chemistry among the actors. The execution is well done and gives us a movie that must be remembered for the ages to come.
10. My Brother Nikhil (2005)
My Brother Nikhil delves deep into sensitive themes like HIV and homosexuality. It is an open appeal to the government to amend a law that allows it to isolate people who are diagnosed as HIV positive. A successful swimmer loses everything he had because of this. Not only is his name dragged through the mud, but his friends and family abandon him at such a crucial moment of his life. It shows, with gritty realism, the predicament of those who are diagnosed with a disease that is seen as a taboo by society.
11. 15 Park Avenue (2005)
Director: Aparna Sen
By now, it should be a rule of thumb that a film with acting legends like Soumitra Chatterjee, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Shabana Azmi, Waheeda Rahman, Rahul Bose and Konkona Sen Sharma has to be at the very least, a good one. And this one stands on the opposite side of the spectrum, thus making it an excellent one. The psychological romance drama offers us an original story with inlaid messages and symbols, which together with a class act from the ensemble cast makes it a must watch.
12. Omkara (2006)
Director: Vishal Bharadwaj
The movie is based on Othello, another Shakespearean reinterpretation added to the list with its own originalities and authenticities. The driving factor for this movie was the excellent acting performances by all the leads and the intricate storyline consisting of deceit and betrayal. The edge-of-the-seat thriller keeps you hooked for its entire duration. The powerful portrayals served to add more spark into a movie that was already plenty self-sufficient.
13. Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006)
Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Banerjee’s directorial debut turned heads instantly. The film resonated deeply with the Indian (especially Delhi) middle class. Banerjee, through the masterful performance of Anupam Kher, brings to life the everyday struggles of an ordinary middle-class man. He explored the side of the city, capturing its essence and culture like no filmmaker had done before. All in all, Khosla ka Ghosla is a simple, relatable story executed to perfection.
14. Rang De Basanti (2006)
Director: Rakesh Omprakash Mehra
Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra picked an unpopular theme for its times. For the modern Indian audience, this could’ve gone either way. But the risk taker director had placed his bets just right. An iconic films in the annals of Indian cinema, Rang De Basanti resonated strongly with the young minds. The powerful performances along with a script that covers two different timelines superimposed upon each other make this movie compelling and intriguing.
15. Dor (2006)
Director: Nagesh Kukunoor
Dor trails the intertwined lives of two women who come from diverging worlds and basic grounding in life. One is Meera (Ayesha Takia) who is submissive and uncomplainingly succumbs to the dictats of the society; the other is Zeenat (Gul Panag) an independent, headstrong woman who lives by her rules and decisions and is stoic enough to face their consequences. A tragic turn of events brings the two together.
What ensues is a simple, gripping tale of their internal struggles, their eventual coming to terms with their destinies and their transformation in the process.
An astounding raconteur, Nagesh Kukunoor is a master of his craft and outdoes himself with this one.
16. Jab We Met (2007)
Director: Imtiaz Ali
A gem from the great storyteller, Jab We Met was the defining film of Imtiaz’s career. It had everything going for itself. Well-written characters, memorable performances, crackling chemistry and a solid script that was well narrated. Most importantly, it had a heart! Kareena immortalized Geet (which was at one point the title of the film) and Shahid Kapoor finally delivered his first major hit. It spawned several remakes and clones, but nothing matched the success of this modern-day love story.
17. Chak De India (2007)
Director: Shimit Amin
Shimit Amin keeps Chak De India! as real as possible. In a Shahrukh Khan show all the way, Shimit made sure the Chak De girls have their own space to shine. Even bit players like Krishnaji (Vibha Chibber) and Sukhlal (Javed Khan) became memorable characters. The slow-motion captures, cinematography and swift editing help involve the audience in the game and heighten the drama without using any histrionics. Amin keeps it crisp as the film is devoid of any lip-sync songs and delivers a progressive storyline with technical finesse.
18. Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008)
Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! was more proof of Banerjee’s ability to create a smart, brilliantly written story with equally well-written characters. It may have been a comedy, but it was darker than it was. You just needed to look into the fine print, and uncover the subtext. The film expects as much of the audience as the audience expects of it.
It’s a Catch Me If You Can-esque film, with a Delhi twist. A cool thief, a great soundtrack, and an intelligent film that respects the audience. Can’t ask for more.
19. Firaaq (2008)
Director: Nandita Das
Firaaq, directed by Nandita Das, examines the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots in India. It showcases the horror a society undergoes after communal harmony is broken loose. The film weaves in multiple storylines that follow the lives of a range of characters: a Muslim-hating Hindu whose wife is haunted by the ghost of the riots; a Hindu-hating Muslim who hopelessly plans revenge; a mixed marriage couple rethinking their decision to move to Delhi post riots and a Muslim child who has recently lost his parents to the riots. Nandita Das manages to put together characters of a similar mindset on both sides of the equation. It wasn’t a controversial film at all but a purely human interest story that doesn’t sympathize with a particular community. (By Amritt Rukhaiyaar)
20. A Wednesday (2008)
Director: Neeraj Pandey
This Neeraj Pandey-thriller deftly portrayed the wrath of the common man, the anger of the masses and the suppressed rage brewing within. Such a delicate balance was achieved between the roles of a villain and an anti-hero that to this day, after severe deliberation, the situation would stand up as a debate instead of a definite solution. Such was the power of Naseeruddin Shah’s performance that led us to not only enjoy the film but also empathise with his character, one that stays with you long after you’ve finished watching the film.
21. Gulaal (2009)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
This sociopolitical drama is one of Anurag Kashyap’s angriest but less self-indulgent works. Gulaal is a multi-layered and multi-character film on cultural imperialists and hypocrites, who instigate violence and hatred. It boasts terrific performances from Kay Kay Menon and Abhimanyu Singh. Barring few forced surrealistic juxtapositions, the director’s visual flourishes are quite intriguing and profound. Piyush Mishra’s musical score perfectly gels with the narrative, leaving a lasting impact.
22. Dev D (2009)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Anurag Kashyap’s cinema often starts from something familiar and soon manifests into the unpredictable. Dev D — the director’s own version of the classic self-destructive lover character — is no exception.
DoP Rajeev Ravi and Kashyap deftly create an immersive atmosphere, underlining the miasma of dingy, urban corners. Adding to the film’s hypnotic visual tone is Amit Trivedi’s spectacular soundtrack.
23. Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (2009)
Director: Shimit Amin
Shimit Amin gave us a drama-comedy too smart for its own good. One of the underrated Bollywood movies, Rocket Singh was in line with smart comedies like Dibakar Bannerjee’s Khosla Ka Ghosla and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye! and sadly suffered the same box office disaster.
Avijit Ghosh in his book 40 Retakes: Bollywood Classics You May Have Missed sums up the audience reception perfectly. “Much has been made about the maturing of audience taste in multiplexed Bollywood in the last few years. This is one film where the audience fails the test.”
24. I Am Kalam (2010)
Director: Nila Madhab Panda
A tribute to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, the Missile Man, I Am Kalam follows a young boy who is rightly inspired by this great man, changes his name to Kalam and aspires to achieve his dream of meeting the great personality.
The movie is wonderfully written and clearly reflects the love that has been poured into it. With an inspirational story and inspired storytelling, Kalam surely makes a place for itself in my heart as one of the best tributes that could have been paid to Dr Kalam. The spirit of the film is deeply rooted in Kalam’s philosophy as we see the goal of education being an ultimate achievement for the young and ambitious Kalam depicted in the film.
25. Love Sex Aur Dhoka (2010)
Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Who can forget the time when Banerjee went full-on Paranormal Activity mode to tell three stories of love, sex and betrayal? I love the LSD analogy by the way. Not only did he incorporate newspaper headlines into movies, but he also took a new direction to filmmaking which would inspire other filmmakers to follow suit.
The budget may have been very low, but Banerjee’s returns were ten-fold. His reputation as one of the top indie filmmakers out there, meanwhile, kept on soaring.
26. Shor In The City (2010)
Director: Krishna D.K., Raj Nidimoru
Raj and DK decide to flex their muscles in the familiar territory of quirky illegal dealings in a metropolitan city. Not drastically different from 99, Raj and DK made a darker film with Shor In The City. The indifference to human life is evident. It’s a time where individuals get away with anything amidst the noise and glitz of the Ganesh festival. Compare the visual palate of both films. The murkier tone of Shor In The City is apparent against the refulgent screen of 99.
Where 99 was about several minor subplots connected to the central storyline, Shor… is about 3 disparate narratives interspersing at times but largely uninvolved with each other.
27. Udaan (2010)
Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Udaan is a very special film detailing the life of a budding artist who struggles to survive with the harsh realities of this world. The story is immensely moving and will be relatable to anyone who has ever had a dream and has fought relentlessly to realise that dream. The realism that this movie achieves is almost frightening as we are not given an outlet of escapism. We are instead, thrust into the harsh realities of our own world and brought face to face with it. But, we are also told that there is light at the end of the tunnel; there exists hope even in the face of great despair. And achieving this uncanny realism is no small task, making this a necessary viewing.
28. Peepli Live (2010)
Director: Anusha Rizvi
Journalist-turned-filmmaker Anushka Rizvi’s debut feature was one of the year’s biggest critical and commercial successes. Revolving around farmer suicides, Peepli Live is a crude, pithy satire against the government and the media. With a solid script, an engaging narrative and a brilliant cast, Rizvi’s dark comedy is a must watch.
29. Kahaani (2012)
Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Kahaani is a gripping mystery thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat as you follow a woman who is looking for her husband, all traces of whom have mysteriously vanished from existence.
For a thriller, Sujoy Ghosh knows how to use the milieu and settings just right. The city is almost another character in the film. Kahaani is sure to shock you with its clever twists and turns, never underestimating its audience.
30. Paan Singh Tomar (2012)
Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia
Another film about a good guy who fights against the injustices of the system, Paan Singh Tomar distinguishes itself from the crowd with its spot-on performances, gritty settings and balanced pacing. It tells the true story of a man who was extremely talented but had to sacrifice everything in order to avenge his mother as the system sits silently without providing any assistance. The movie shines thanks to the mind blowing performance of its lead. Irrfan Khan steals the show as he embodies the man entirely.
31. Vicky Donor (2012)
Director: Shoojit Sircar
How often does mainstream Bollywood give you a film that is bold, funny, entertaining while making you think and question your beliefs along the way? Vicky Donor was a breath of fresh air and a lesson in how mainstream cinema can entertain while being meaningful. And Ayushmann was a pioneer of sorts for this new wave of cinema. Solid, realistic performances all round add to this well-written and executed comedy drama.
32. Ship of Theseus (2012)
Director: Anand Gandhi
Anand Gandhi gave us one of the most powerful films to have come out in recent times. It introduced us to an alternate world of cinema, oblivion to Bollywood.
The central paradox of the film is ‘what constitutes a person?’ Is it just the sum of the parts or is it something always evolving? It is laden with interesting unconventional characters — atheist monk, a blind photographer and an investment broker who sets out to redeem himself.
There is an undercurrent of a European aesthetic to the film but it is strongly rooted in India. Writer/ director Anand Gandhi created a beautiful amalgamation of Indian sensibilities and European technique to make Indian cinema accessible to connoisseurs of the film around the world. (Tidbit: Anurag Kashyap’s daughter who was around 8-9 at the time watched the entire film in one sitting, without any background score).
33. Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
The 5-hour-plus magnum opus is clearly Kashyap’s best work to date. The story spans close to seven decades and chronicles the dominance between warring factions in the small, coal-rich town of Wasseypur.
Novel-style storytelling deals with themes like political corruption, family legacy, revenge, cultural strife, etc. It all starts with a mogul Ramadhir Singh deciding to kill a notorious outlaw named Shahid Khan.
Split into two segments, the first part focuses on Shahid’s son, Sardar, who vows to avenge his father’s death. In the wonderful second part, Sardar’s four sons get embroiled in a conflict with the enraged Qureshi clan.
The scope and ambition with which Kashyap treats this saga of betrayal and deceit are much subtle and deeper than the usual rise-and-fall arc. Kashyap’s visual acuity sets the stage for some of the best set-pieces in this gangster thriller.
For all its stomach-churning violence, gore and profanities, the characters and dramatic scenes are effectively realized.
Altogether, it’s a perfect mix of history, social commentary, and crime-genre entertainment.
34. Filmistaan (2012)
Director: Nitin Kakkar
In times of hatred and conflict between the two warring nations, this cinematic gem is a gentle nudge to people on both sides of the border to end the futile war India and Pakistan have been fighting for over half a century now. It’s a heartwarming story of friendship that develops between two youngsters, Sunny, an Indian and Aftab, a Pakistani, brought together by circumstances, who eventually bond over their passion for films aka Bollywood. We have reasons aplenty that divide us. Religion, territory, politics, you name it. Filmistaan, however, is a light, at times funny, other times sad, attempt at presenting all the things we bond over. If there’s only one film you watch in this list, make it this one!
35. The Lunchbox (2013)
Director: Ritesh Batra
Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox is one of the rare Bollywood films to have won hearts both on its home ground and overseas. As an original piece of film-making, it depicts an unusual friendship that takes birth through a mistake made by Mumbai’s tiffin carrier service.
Watch The Lunchbox (Amazon)
36. Queen (2013)
Director: Vikas Bahl
Queen defied Bollywood tradition in how it wasn’t the usual fall-in-love-and-live-happily-ever-after story. While it did involve falling in love and living happily ever after, it chronicled the journey of a woman falling in love with herself – two elements Bollywood has barely explored. And Kangana Ranaut nailed it with a career-best performance. How often does mainstream Bollywood subvert storytelling norms? It’s an icing on the cake when it gets it right.
37. Margarita with a Straw (2014)
Director: Shonali Bose
Margarita With a Straw is a celebration of life. It is kind of a coming-of-age tale that deals with the many issues that a girl with cerebral palsy faces. But her illness is the least of her worries as she is an independent woman who is in search of love. The movie masterfully shows us the different places from which love can reach a person and hold them close. It is a magnificently directed work of art that stands out from its contemporaries in both style and substance.
38. Haider (2014)
Director: Vishal Bharadwaj
Haider claims to be inspired by the story of Hamlet. It’s a film of revenge and retribution, love for one’s land and love in general. It is a movie on revolution marked by perhaps what is Shahid Kapoor’s best performance ever. The movie takes political issues and explores them in great detail while entertaining its viewers at the same time, which is not an easy task. One of the best from Vishal Bharadwaj’s filmography, Haider is not to be missed.
39. Aligarh (2015)
Director: Hansal Mehta
Aligarh is a poignant, emotionally investing tale of a gay professor, sacked on charges of homosexuality, and his ensuing battle with the court and the society.
After successful films like Shahid and Citylights, director-writer duo Hansal Mehta-Apurva Asrani turned in another successful work, their finest so far. But the credit for Aligarh’s success goes as much as to the leading man Manoj Bajpayee. Hindi movies caricaturize queer characters. Bajpayee delivers what may well be the performance of his career – in a tremendously engaging and an essential LGBTQ-themed film.
40. Titli (2015)
Director: Kanu Behl
Film’s titular character wants to break free from his gangster family and start life afresh as a law-abiding citizen. However, things change when he gets married. The film captures the gloomy essence of Eastern Delhi to full tilt. And features a solid rendering of its fairly dark subject.
41. Loev (2015)
Director: Sudhanshu Saria
While India is still grappling with the political and social reality of homosexuality, few films here dare to graze the subject. Rarer still are those that go beyond the challenges of coming out. A sensitively rendered gay drama, Loev explores the dynamics of love, friendship and intimacy between three men – Sahil (Dhruv Ganesh) Jai (Shiv Pandit) and Alex (Siddharth Menon). The focus isn’t on their sexual orientations and that’s set straight right from the first scene. A great film isn’t just about good content or story. It’s also in the telling. And that’s where Loev succeeds. The film is storytelling at its best — nuanced and seamless — aided also by the chemistry between the characters. Don’t miss it!
42. Masaan (2015)
Director: Neeraj Ghaywan
Masaan is a movie that heavily critiques the so-called customs and traditions of Hindu society which are narrow-minded, unjust and absolutely illogical. The cinematography is beautiful and aptly captures the essence of the holy city Varanasi in all shapes and forms and deftly contrasts the external beauty of the city with its internal corruption and hidden ugly face. The socio-cultural commentary is poignant and features some of the best performances on screen.
43. Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015)
Director: Sharat Katariya
A stereotype-breaking movie that helps cement a new concept of love, or rather a new way of looking at it; one that is rarely explored on the silver screen. This original story is an unexpected yet much-deserved film that affords a certain intelligence to its viewers.
I can promise you that this is a romantic drama like none other. Both the leads Bhumi Pednekar and Ayushmann Khurana turn in stellar performances that radiate the sincerity, seriousness and honesty with which the film was made.
44. Pink (2016)
Director: Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury
A well-intentioned, well-made drama, Pink takes you by the scruff of the neck, immerses you into our reality and shakes you up in the process. The film questions your mindsets more than your morals. We, as individuals, make up a society. Our collective mindsets and values define the society we live in. And Pink tells us everything that’s wrong with us.
Supported by powerful performances from Amitabh Bachchan, Tapsee Pannu, Piyush Mishra, Pink is necessary viewing.
45. A Billion Color Story (2016)
Director: Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy
Adman-turned-filmmaker Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy’s debut feature is a thought-provoking piece, more so, relevant in today’s times. It trails an agnostic Hindu-Muslim couple subject to constant religious prejudice. The theme might be heavy but the treatment is light and fresh; the tone never gets preachy. The director is in complete control but never tries to manipulate viewers’ emotion or force his ideas onto us. Performances are subtle, real and all heart but Dhruva Padmakumar (director’s son), as the narrator, is the real deal here.
Another small-budget film that proves script is king! If you don’t have Netflix, the film is also streaming on YouTube.
46. Waiting (2016)
Director: Anu Menon
A wonderfully written, executed and acted piece of work, Waiting is a finespun concoction of a variety of elements – love, life, relationships. It makes you ponder over the fragility of relationships despite the connected worlds we live in. It explores the ever-widening generation gap through it’s sixty and twenty-somethings Shiv and Tara. And blends all these elements into a heartening, un-preachy, sometimes sad, sometimes funny film.
Much of what the film ends up being has to be accredited to the performances. Rajat Kapoor delivers any part with splendid effortlessness. I wonder if Naseeruddin Shah ever needs to give a retake. Kalki displays angst and impatience with an equally admirable mad intensity as the calm composure she dons while learning to cope with her reality.
47. Mukti Bhavan (2017)
Director: Shubhashish Bhutiani
Shubhashish Bhutiani’s nuanced and enriching family drama is a profound meditation on life and death. Haunted by a dream Daya, a septuagenarian man is convinced it’s his time to die. Following tradition, the old man donates a cow to the temple. He further insists on spending his last days on the banks of the Ganges. Daya, accompanied by his stressed son Rajiv, arrives at the hotel built to serve this specific purpose. In the days waiting for death, the father and son tentatively examine their past grievances. Although the plot outline seems a bit schmaltzy, Bhutiani’s delicate direction offers very mature snapshots of life’s simple joys and unalterable sorrows. Aided by a well-rounded ensemble cast, Mukti Bhavan pays a fitting tribute to the city’s timelessness and hypnotic beauty.
48. A Death in the Gunj (2017)
Director: Konkana Sen Sharma
The title raises an occult curiosity which compels us to examine each character closely and probe their subtle behavioural changes, in a way to seek an obvious answer, and possible repercussion(s) of their every action. Director Konkana Sen Sharma smartly fiddles with your mind. She takes advantage of the opening scene and the title and infects our brains with suspicion around every little thing that could prove fatal. Like reckless bike riding after being drunk, picking old rifles for target practice, CGI wolf, a girl who goes missing, the dark closed rooms, and worse of all: the ever-changing moral force of human emotions and simmering pensive tension.
Gradually, sombreness creeps inside and mystery keeps you at the edge. The characters are sketched patiently and they develop with time in this slow-burning and melancholic drama. Even with minor flaws, the film is a brave effort by the first-time director to look at family dynamics while taking a microscopic look an introvert individual grieving over the loss of his father and failure in exams.
49. Newton (2017)
Director: Amit Masurkar
Amit Masurkar’s Newton is a darkly comic examination of a frail democratic process. Rajkummar Rao spectacularly plays the titular character, a young idealist who does things by the book. His disciplinarian attitude lands him the duty of election officials in the conflict-torn region of the Maoists. Airlifted to the middle of a jungle, Newton is tasked to register the votes of 76 locals. Armed with rules and ideals, he finds himself at odds with the chaotic reality. Director Masurkar strikes a perfect balance between satirical humour and tense interplay. He subtly renders how there’s a lot to democracy than symbolic gestures of the polling booth and voting machine. While Rao offers a standout performance, Pankaj Tripathi’s pragmatic and wearied military officer character was equally good.
50. Article 15 (2019)
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Article 15 is a bold, fearless attempt at depicting the grim reality of 21st century India. A fiercely intense and nuanced portrait of a country blinded by its prejudices and hypocritical leanings. It was a much-needed film and so relevant for our times. The socio-political issues couldn’t get any closer to reality. So does the treatment of the film.
Article 15 is brutal and hard-hitting. The performances only add to it. Ayushmann Khurana’s restrained act seethes with unflinching resolve. Is there something you can’t do, Ayushmann Khurrana? Like 2018, this is your year! Sayani Gupta is a revelation. Zeeshan Ayyub’s is a brief but class act. The supporting cast rounds it out to perfection.