‘Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful’, says Molly Ivins. It wouldn’t be wrong to say, that cinema, besides being a reflection of society is also a tool for satire. It is a tool for revealing the inherent hypocrisies of the world we live in, and an avenue for exploring the abnormalities of the human predicament.
Be it films that poke fun at the various human follies and foibles, or films that cut open the many realities of the society; satire has truly come to occupy the centre-stage when it comes to quality cinema. So, here is a list of all the satires that we think you should not miss, if you like to take a jab at the utterly dismissable state of affairs yourself!
1. Court (2015, Marathi)
Chaitanya Tanmahe’s debut is a courtroom drama, a genre that holds dramatic possibilities but the film doesn’t engage with viewers in that respect. Tanmahe goes on to show us the reality of what happens inside a courtroom, without sugarcoating or dramatising it for cinema’s sake. Using the tools of the theatre of the absurd, the film poses a satire onto the system that falsely punishes the innocent, and does that with a gutted sense of realism. As the wrongly accused poet navigates the labyrinths of archaic court procedures, we as an audience are filled with nothing but empathy for him. The film won a whopping 19 awards across several International Film Festivals along with the National Award for Best Feature Film.
Recommended: 13 Super Engrossing Indian Courtroom Dramas
2. Thithi (2015, Kannada)
The word ‘Thithi’ stands for funeral in Kannada, and it would surely be an understatement to say that this film has been named simply as well as aptly. Centering around the reactions of three generations of men upon the death of their 101 year old patriarch, the film lets us meet death as well as its aftermath in the rawest possible form. What is interesting to note, is that the cast of the film is filled with non-actors, and despite that, director Raam Reddy manages to deliver his narrative with effective techniques. Sans the overtly cinematic, the film is subtly effective in countless ways. Without using any background score, it’s the minimalistic approach that works in its favour. The film premiered at the 68th Locarno International Film Festival, wherein it won the Golden Leopard. Thithi also won a National Award for Best Feature Film in Kannada.
3. Jaane Bhi Do Yaron (1983, Hindi)
Despite the time it came, this film holds relevance even today, as it satirises the corrupt state of affairs that govern the underpinnings of the societal setup in India. Director Kundan Shah crafts a scathing critique of the corrupted and intolerant milieu of the era the film is set in. While some hail the film as the funniest film ever made in Indian cinema, that might be overlooking the many tragic satirical undertones of the film. With its stellar cast including the likes of Satish Shah, Om Puri, Nasseeruddin Shah, Neena Gupta and Pankaj Kapur, the film draws immense power from its performances, all of them rendered beyond perfectly. The film was inspired from the Michelangelo Antonioni film Blowup. It went on to win the Indira Gandhi Award for Best Debut Film of a Director at the National Awards.
4. Party (1984, Hindi)
This film is based on the 1976 eponymous Marathi language play by Mahesh Eikunchwar, who collaborated with director Govind Nihlani on the screenplay. Known and acclaimed widely for his deep understanding of the human psyche, Eikunchwar brings to the plate, an understanding of the many hypocrisies inherent in the lives of the elite class. Party differs from the arthouse director Nihlani’s ouevre as he shot a large part of the film indoors, which was never the case for his films.
Starring an ensemble cast of prolific theatre as well as art-house film personalities like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Vijaya Mehta, Manohar Singh and others, the film draws heavily from the brilliantly rendered performances, as it depends on the human element for the satire. Portrayed fantastically by the actors involved, the characters are a reflection of an elitist world that is fit for a satire so dependant on hypocrisy, that it is self explanatory.
5. Deool (2011, Marathi)
A stark satire on religion and politics, Deool is brilliant storytelling, both visually and cinematically. Director Umesh Kulkarni’s understated style adds to the impact of the final denouement, which is satisfying and thought-provoking. Ace performances from Girish Kulkarni, Mohan Agashe, Usha Nandkarni, Nana Pathekar, Sonali Kulkarni, Dilip Prabhavalkar further heighten the impact.
The film won three National Award that year — Best Feature Film along with Best Screenplay and Best Actor Award (Girish Kulkarni).
Watch Deool on Amazon Prime
6. Peepli Live (2010, Hindi)
Journalist-turned-filmmaker Anushka Rizvi’s debut feature explored farmer suicides and the government and media’s trivialisation of it. A hard-hitting satire, Peepli Live was one of the year’s biggest critical and commercial successes. A solid script combining remarkable performances from theatre artists Omkar Das Manikpuri, Raghubir Yadav) and Rizvi’s skillful storytelling, Peepli Live a cinematic triumph.
Watch Peepli Live on Amazon
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7. Kissa Kursi Ka (1977)
Director: Amrit Nahata
Amrit Nahata’s Kissa Kursa Ka is a satirical take on the political career of Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay Gandhi. As expected, it wasn’t taken well by the Indian Government. The Emergency period between 1975 and 1977 is regarded as a very mysterious time during Gandhi’s reign as Prime Minister. The fact that the Right to Freedom of Press was curtailed during this time made it very difficult for sociologists and analysts to dissect that era due to the lack of news and information, seeing that the Government controlled the entire press. Consequently, the Indian Government banned the film and confiscated all the prints.
A committee, which was formed to investigate any excesses committed during the Emergency period, found Sanjay Gandhi guilty of burning the negatives of the film, along with V. C. Shukla, Information and Broadcasting minister of the time. They were later sentenced to a month and 2-year jail term imprisonments respectively. The verdict was later overturned.
Nahata remade the political satire and released it in 1978, retaining the script and most of the cast.
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8. Ee. Ma. Yau (2018, Malayalam)
A great piece of art raises more questions than answers. A finely observed drama, Ee. Ma. Yau is a stinging satire on death and the circus called ‘life.’ It’s remarkable how the film seamlessly incorporates the grim and the funny, the tragic and the comic. The technical finesse of Ee. Ma. Yau complements its artistic brilliance while keeping you constantly riveted. Shyju Khalid’s stunning camerawork brilliantly aids Lijo Jose Pellissery’s storytelling. Among the finest works in recent times, Pellissery’s film is a must watch.
9. Eeb Ally Ooo (2019, Hindi)
Prateek Vats’ directorial debut opened to much critical acclaim. The film was selected for the Panorama section of the 70th Berlin International Film Festival in 2020. It won the Golden Gateway Award in the India Gold section at the Mumbai Film Festival. Anchored in reality, Eeb Ally Ooo is a cleverly done satire on class divide and struggle. Bolstered by strong performances from Shardul Bhardwaj and ably supported by Nutan Sinha, Shashi Bhushan, Naina Sareen and Nitin Goel, Eeb Ally Ooo is a rare piece of cinema that needs to be seen.
10. Panchavadi Palam (1984, Malayalam)
Much ahead of its time, visionary director KG George’s political satire stands as relevant even today. The premise is to raze and reconstruct a perfectly operational bridge after a politician is splashed with muddy water right in the middle of it. Based on the story Palam Apakadathil (1981), the film presents the politics of Kerala (or rather the state of affairs anywhere in our country and the corruption that ensues) with wit, humour and cutting satire.
11. Hirak Rajar Deshe (1980, Bengali)
A satire against state oppression from the master director Satyajit Ray, Hirak Rajar Deshe is a follow up to his iconic Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969). The powerful political commentary is believed to be a staunch criticism of the Indira Gandhi regime for imposing a state emergency in India in 1975. One of Satyajit Ray’s biggest successes, both in India and globally, the film stands as relevant today as it was 40 years ago.
By Sanghmitra Jethwani, Mansi Dutta and Aditya Sarma
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