We're halfway through 2015, and it's been an interesting six months for Indian cinema.
Formulae and conventions have taken a backseat, while stronger scripts have been appreciated by moviegoers. Ranbir Kapoor has featured in two of the year's biggest flops. Two releases featuring Akshay Kumar, who has traditionally been one of Bollywood's most bankable stars, have done well, but not all that well.
On the other hand, Sriram Raghavan's 'Badlapur', starring Varun Dhawan, earned largely glowing reviews (notable exceptions included an underwhelmed review from this grouchy writer) and a little more than Rs 50 crore. Meanwhile, the biggest hit of the year is the Kangana Ranaut starrer 'Tanu Weds Manu Returns', which is reportedly well on its way to Rs 150 crore at the box-office.
Two of Hindi cinema's most critically-acclaimed filmmakers, Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee, tried their hand at sprawling, big-budget cinema and missed the mark. Kashyap made the universally-derided 'Bombay Velvet' (one of Kapoor's aforementioned flops; the other is 'Roy'), which is now being acknowledged as one of the biggest disasters in recent times. Banerjee made an ambitious, graphic-novel-esque version of 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!', which can be described as a handsomely-mounted, beautiful looking misfire at best. Despite the presence of Sushant Singh Rajput as its leading man, the film didn't quite catch the fancy of the audience.
It's important to note that we're talking about Hindi cinema exclusively here, which is why in the following list of the five best films of the year thus far, there will be no mention of the National-Award-winning multilingual drama 'Court'.
Without further ado, here are our top 5 best Hindi films of the year so far:
5. 'NH10' (Directed by Navdeep Singh)
An effective-enough horror-thriller, 'NH10' features Anushka Sharma in a career-best performance as a young woman whose weekend trip to the Haryana countryside with her husband turns into a harrowing nightmare. It does suffer from a few problems — such as a disturbing lack of restraint when it comes to encouraging city-slicker paranoia and an even more disturbing refusal to admit that the movie is heavily inspired by the British film 'Eden Lake' (2008) — but taut direction and breathless pace keep 'NH10' from off-roading and make it one of the more memorable movie-watching experiences of this year.
HuffPost Review: 'NH10' Is Well-Made, But 'Inspired' And Problematic
4. 'Margarita With A Straw' (Directed by Shonali Bose)
Problematic as it may have been, there is plenty to admire in this coming-of-age tale that gently challenges social and Hindi cinema conventions. Kalki Koechlin delivers a spirited performance as Laila Kapoor, a young college student with cerebral palsy who discovers how to navigate sexual and emotional conundrums as well as New York's broad pavements. The film's emotional core, however, belongs to Revathy (as Laila's mother), whose searing honesty singlehandedly elevates this movie by a couple of notches.
HuffPost Review: 'Margarita With A Straw' Is Flawed, But Admirable
3. 'Hunterrr' (Directed by Harshavardhan Kulkarni)
It's a pity that adult comedy in Hindi cinema has come to be defined by travesties like 'Grand Masti'. The underrated 'Hunterrr', which boasts of strong performances from Gulshan Devaiah, Radhika Apte and Sai Tamhankar, was inexplicably marketed as a similar film even though it had more heart, wit, and egalitarianism than the usual entrants in that genre. Focusing on the exploits of one Mandar 'Hunterrr' Ponkshe, Kulkarni's debut feature is often funny and, for the most part, gets its milieu and sexual politics (yes!) quite right.
2. 'Piku' (Directed by Shoojit Sircar)
Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi, who in 2012 collaborated to give us the surprisingly likable 'Vicky Donor', returned this year with another feel-gooder that deals with a squirmy topic: constipation. Amitabh Bachchan plays Bhaskor, a pedantic Bengali gentleman who is obsessed with his bowel movements; Deepika Padukone plays the titular role of Piku, his high-strung daughter; while the always-terrific Irrfan Khan plays Rana Chaudhary, a taxi-service owner who ends up on a road trip with the two. Bengali stereotypes are both made use of as well as subverted, but it is the gentle treatment and the cast's infectious enthusiasm that wins over even the most cynical of viewers.
HuffPost review: 'Piku' Is Some Good Sh*t
1. 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha' (Directed by Sharat Katariya)
Katariya's sophomore effort (after '10 ml Love' in 2010) threw the rule-book at Bollywood, and how. Set in the temple town of Haridwar during the '90s, 'Dum Laga Ke...' is an endearing look at arranged marriages, patriarchy, and the peculiar brand of love that needs to bloom within the confines of the latter in order to make the former work. Anu Malik's music and Kumar Sanu's voice go a long way in transporting viewers to this movie's world, while Bhumi Pednekar and Ayushmann Khurrana (in that order) turn in perfectly-pitched performances as an oddly matched couple. Add to this mix a razor-sharp supporting cast and generally sharp writing, and you have a movie that makes a strong case for studios to pay as much attention to smaller gems like these as they do to big-budget misfires.
HuffPost review: 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha' Is An Absolute Delight