10. Babumoshai Bandookbaaz
A sanguinary crime thriller set in the backdrop of the rustic landscape of Uttar Pradesh, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is bound to remind some of Gangs of Wasseypur. But, in terms of style and themes, the Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Bidita Bag starrer comes across as a successor to Ishqiya, Omkara, and Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster. The film's subtle use of dark humor prevents it from becoming too serious. However, as engaging as the film is, it is alarmingly high on violence. Also, the characters use cuss words rather casually. But few films this year can claim to match its raw intensity. So, as long as violence and expletives don't turn you off, you can certainly check it out.
9. Qarib Qarib Singlle
There is a certain charm about off-beat romances. Qarib Qarib Singlle is the story of a woman and a man in their late 30s who meet each other through a website called Ab Tak Single. What follows is a series of fun-filled encounters between these two characters who appear to be poles apart. This Tanuja Chandra rom-com is made special by the performances of Irrfan Khan and Parvathy, known for her work in Malayalam cinema. The movie takes us to exotic locations across the states of Sikkim, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan and may remind some of Wes Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited (2007).
Directed by National Award-winning filmmaker Onir, Shab can best be described as a dark brooding treatise on the complexities of human relationships, something that Bollywood has seldom attempted. One of the few only openly gay filmmaker in Hindi film industry, Onir has always managed to present relationships in a different light and he succeeds in doing the same in Shab as well—only this time he goes further than he has ever done. Shot in Delhi across four different seasons, Shab is essentially a story of love and betrayal but one that's elevated by multilayered characters, ambiguous subtexts and complicated subplots.
Poorna, directed by Rahul Bose, tells the story of a tribal girl from Telangana named Poorna Malavath who shook everybody by scaling Mount Everest at the age 13 years and 11 months, becoming the youngest girl ever to do so. Poorna is far from being a run-of-the-mill biopic. In fact, it is nothing short of a meditation of sorts on the indomitable spirit that can make a human being achieve the unthinkable. Beautifully shot, Poorna takes us on an exotic adventure from Telangana to Darjeeling to Sikkim to Nepal, all the way to the top of Mount Everest. But the journey works well on an intellectual level as well. The journey of Poorna is a story of hope, self-belief and survival, with lessons for one and all.
6. Secret Superstar
Starring Zahira Wasim in the eponymous role, Secret Superstar is the story of a school girl who wants to become a singer but her cruel father strongly disapproves of it. The film, directed by Advait Chandan, addresses issues of patriarchy and domestic violence with as much care and thought that sensitive subjects like these deserve. And, without trying to be preachy, the film takes a strong stand against gender discrimination, female foeticide, and violence against women. It also talks about the importance of dreams in life. Secret Superstar is a reminder that people can abuse and dominate us for only as long as we allow them to do so. The moment we decide to break free of the shackles, no force in this world can stop us from following our dreams.
Co-written and directed by the National Award-winning filmmaker Kranti Kanade, CRD presents the story of a young playwright who rebels against his abusive mentor in a bid to win a prestigious theatre competition. Kanade, who is known to make socially relevant films, explores fascism and cut-throat competition in CRD. An interesting way to look at the film would be as a treatise on narcissism, fear, obsession, insecurity and hubris. The film also serves a testament to the duplicitous nature of art. Walking a tightrope between melodrama and heightened realism, CRD endeavors to develop a hybrid language that comes across as a cross between theatre and cinema. Such bold experiments in terms of narrative have been unheard of in Hindi cinema since the days of Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani.
Directed by debutante filmmaker Rakhee Sandilya, Ribbon is a story of a modern middle-class couple and how they come to terms with challenges of raising a child in a cutthroat and volatile world. Shot in a documentary-like style using a handheld camera, Ribbon offers a refreshing take on the complexities of modern relationships. The film also does a good job of drawing our attention to certain important issues that often go unnoticed such as child molestation and the prejudice that female employees have to deal with at work. Remember, the first step to solving any problem is to acknowledge it. Kalki Koechlin and Sumeet Vyas have delivered strong performances that add conviction to the film. The dialogue is mostly conversational and enhances the performances. It's quite refreshing to see a relevant and realistic film like Ribbon being made today that's far away from the commercial escapism of run-of-the-mill Bollywood films.
Directed by Amit V Masurkar, Newton is a satire on the power dynamics that govern the lives of the tribal people inhabiting Naxal areas across India. It was selected as the India's official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards, but it failed to make the Academy's shortlist. The film had premiered at the 67th Berlin International Festival in the Forum Section wherein it won the CICAE Award for best film. While Rajkummar Rao is brilliant in the role of a duty-bound clerk, it is Pankaj Tripathi who steals the show, essaying the part of the officer in charge of security in the area. Newton features some very engaging dialogues about the class divide and offers an interesting take on the contrasting ideas of idealism and pragmatism. It is easily one of the best films revolving around the issue of Naxalism.
2. Kadvi Hawa
Nila Madhab Panda, the acclaimed director of I Am Kalam, touches upon two critical issues in Kadvi Hawa: climate change and farmer suicides. The film got a special mention at the 64th National Awards. To call Kadvi Hawa a warning would be an understatement, for we are well past the days of warning. Climate change today is as real as any threat can get. The onus is on us all and it's high time we started acting on it. Similarly, the plight of Indian farmers is well documented and yet it's a subject that seldom gets the attention it deserves. Kadvi Hawa touches upon these issues quite effectively and it does so without ever appearing to be preachy. Here is a realistic, poignant, evocative, and thought-provoking film that needs to be watched.
1. Anaarkali of Aarah
Anaarkali of Aarah, directed by former journalist Avinash Das, can best be described as a story of a female artist who takes the fight to a male-dominated society which objectifies women. It is a rarity these days for a mainstream Bollywood film to focus on important issues like women empowerment and gender equality. And so it is heartening to see a film stand tall in its commitment towards spreading awareness about these critical issues. Not only does Swara Bhaskar essay her part with grace and elegance but she also succeeds in adding considerable credibility to the complex character of Anaarkali. It is also perhaps the first film since Basu Bhattacharaya's Teesri Kasam (1966) to focus on the world of orchestra party. Anaarkali of Aarahis essential viewing.