This year has been special for Bollywood. As someone who follows movies very closely, I have witnessed a breath of fresh air in Hindi cinema of late, with our filmmakers trying to be more experimental, inventive and courageous than they have ever been. So, here is my pick of 10 must-watch Bollywood movies from 2015 that combine food for thought with cinematic flair.
NH10, a crime thriller film directed by Navdeep Singh, revolves around a hapless Gurgaon couple (played by Anushka Sharma and Neil Bhoopalam) who accidentally witness the coldblooded honour killing of a boy and a girl committed by a bunch of rogue villagers. While the movie touches upon the plight of women in a patriarchal set-up, it doesn't spend a lot of time on analysis. However, it is well worth a watch for Sharma's acting and her convincing performance in action sequences. Barring its sensational music, NH10 doesn't come across as an obvious crowd puller but it got a lot of appreciation from critics as well as serious viewers.
As an exercise in style, Bombay Velvet is a commendable attempt that's way more alluring than the drivel that Bollywood keeps churning out...
Bombay Velvet has been on the receiving end of flak from all sections of the audience for its pretentious, self-indulgent style but that doesn't change the fact that the movie is technically brilliant with excellent music, sets, costumes, cinematography and performances. Set in 1960s Bombay, period details are reproduced with painstaking accuracy. Bombay Velvet is not an easy film to appreciate for the masses, mainly because of its excesses, and some of its violent sequences are disturbing. However, as an exercise in style, Bombay Velvet is a commendable attempt that's way more alluring than the drivel that Bollywood keeps churning out, day in and day out. It's one for diehard cinema enthusiasts to watch.
Gabbar Is Back
Gabbar Is Back, an action thriller directed by Telugu filmmaker Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi, starring Akshay Kumar, presents the tale of grief-stricken man who turns into a vigilante and decides to tackle corruption by kidnapping and murdering corrupt public servants. Gabbar Is Back is a rare Hindi film that perfectly blends entertainment with some decent fodder to ruminate upon. It offers a nice blend of action, drama and suspense in equal parts. Like most Akshay Kumar films, Gabbar Is Back is a one-man-show, and the star's intensity and timing are impeccable, although the movie is marred by its weak supporting characters, predictable plot twists, weak romance quotient and over-the-top action sequences. Still, despite its flaws and gimmicks, the film simultaneously entertains and makes us think.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan revolves around a six-year-old mute Pakistani girl Munni who accidentally gets lost in India and a god-fearing simpleton named Pavan, aka Bajrangi, who takes it upon himself to unite the girl with her parents back in Pakistan. Bajrangi Bhaijaan, with its themes of love and brotherhood, can be seen as an attempt on the part of the Indian film fraternity to bring the two estranged countries together. It has all the ingredients to entertain audiences of all age groups while simultaneously making then think. Unlike most Salman Khan entertainers, it relies heavily on plot and showcases the actor's prowess; plus, it's loaded with emotions and a few delightful moments of Bollywood-esque magic realism.
Directed by Shoojit Sircar, Piku revolves around a Bengali father-daughter duo: Bhaskor Banerjee (played by Amitabh Bachchan), who is a 70-year-old widower suffering from chronic constipation, and his caring 30-year-old unmarried daughter Piku (Deepika Padukone) who is an architect by profession. Part family drama, part road movie, Piku is a unique cocktail of human emotions that tugs at our heartstrings, making us laugh and cry at the same time. It teaches us about the meaningfulness of life while depicting how most of us fail to savour its true pleasures while we still can. The strongest point of Piku is the performance by the leading cast. It makes for great family viewing.
Tamasha is one film that every Indian youngster ought to watch with their parents.
Tamasha is essentially a film about the endless possibilities of life, inspiring us to exercise our right to choose and seize the moment instead of continuing to follow a path that others chose for us. A cinematic triumph that seamlessly blends commercial and art-house elements, Tamasha is one film that every Indian youngster ought to watch with their parents. Much like Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots, Tamasha reminds us that each child is born with a distinct set of qualities and the onus truly lies with the parents to allow their children to excel in life while pursuing their dreams instead of bludgeoning them into submission and forcing them to live in mediocrity. Hopefully, the movie's box-office success will encourage other leading filmmakers in Bollywood to explore such thought-provoking themes in an entertaining format.
Titli is a warning, a harsh reminder of the naked realities of the world we inhabit. It is a powerful work of cinema that jabs us in the small of our backs with the aim of dispelling our ignorance and apathy. The movie reminds us of the constant dangers that surround us and the helplessness of the law to keep them at bay. Titli is not an easy film to watch and appreciate and some sections of the film are deeply disturbing. The movie's raw power and its brutally honest filmmaking style remind us of crime dramas like City of God (2002) and American History X (1998). Shashank Arora and Ranvir Shorey are an absolute treat to watch as estranged brothers of a dysfunctional family of small time criminals. And barring the unsatisfactory and inconsistent third act denouement (a Bollywood-like ending intended to satisfy one and all), Titli is a riveting cinematic experience.
Shamitabh, written and directed by R Balki, stars Amitabh Bachchan, Dhanush and Akshara Hassan in the pivotal roles. The unconventional film revolves around a highly talented but dumb aspiring actor who borrows another man's voice to shoot to fame in Bollywood. Shamitabh can be best described as an earnest expression of Balki's love for cinema. It is also a satire on the lack of originality and creativity in Hindi cinema. Balki doesn't back down from taking a swipe at the media either. Shamitabh is part entertaining and part thought-provoking and despite some glaring flaws and inconsistencies, the brilliant chemistry between the movie's three lead characters prevails. The movie certainly isn't tailor-made for casual viewers but a true lover of cinema cannot afford to miss it.
There is a great moral dilemma at the core of Badlapur which makes it a more than a quintessential tale of revenge.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a suspense thriller directed by the Dibakar Banerjee based on the popular sleuth character created by Bengali writer Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. It stars Sushant Singh Rajput, Neeraj Kabi, and Swastika Mukherjee in major roles. Set in 1942-43 Calcutta in the backdrop of World War II, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! can best be described as a marriage of commercial and experimental filmmaking. Dibakar Banerjee needs to be congratulated for recreating the City of Joy and for eliciting worthy performances from his entire cast of actors. While the movie may disappoint the hardcore Byomkesh Bakshi enthusiasts, it has all the elements to satisfy the masses and classes alike.
Badlapur, directed by Sriram Raghavan and starring Varun Dhawan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and Huma Qureshi in the major roles, presents the tale of a young man who seeks to avenge the coldblooded murder of his wife and kid committed by two bank robbers. Badlapur is part psychological thriller and part character study, offering several spine-chilling sequences, a la Alfred Hitchcock. Ragahavan shows us how people change with time and adversities. How life can change at a moment's notice. That redemption can never be achieved by treading the path of destruction. There is a great moral dilemma at the core of Badlapur which makes it a more than a quintessential tale of revenge. The acting is solid all around. The best way to enjoy Badlapur is to watch it with an open mind.
A version of this article was first published at A Potpourri of Vestiges.
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