This has been a good bad year.
I can’t think of another way to describe Bollywood in 2015, which has seen many attempts at better filmmaking and yet still missed the mark. Films like Badlapur, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, Bombay Velvet, and Dil Dhadakne Do saw stars and some of our best directors attempting something different, even if results varied from ho-hum to downright disastrous.
Perhaps it’s because our expectations are higher than ever, spoilt for choice as we have become with more access to entertainment than ever. You don’t need to watch a movie any more to be entertained — not when there’s an entire world of TV shows, viral videos, and web-series out there.
Add to the fact that we have abysmal theatrical penetration: just 10-12 screens per million people, which is a ridiculously low ratio for a country as obsessed with movies as India. This leads to more avenues for piracy, with people now having the luxury of going to a theatre to watch a movie only if they really want to. Otherwise, why bother paying exorbitant rates at a multiplex when you could watch a movie on your smartphone?
The problem is, studios only want to make movies that bring in profits, which leads to an over-reliance on sure-shot bets that involve big stars and, therefore, a big release. Meanwhile, a growing section of the audience is tired of mediocrity and need not watch a movie to be entertained. This may explain why films like Tevar, Brothers, and Singh Is Bliing didn’t exactly set cash-registers ringing, despite the factory-fitted star power and masala value they arrived with.
10. Bajirao Mastani, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Bhansali’s magnum opus about the doomed romance between Maratha warrior Peshwa Bajirao and Rajput-Muslim princess Mastani comes with many flaws — occasionally patchy visuals, lacklustre storytelling, and perhaps too many liberties. But when it works, it does so like a charm, aided by fantastic performances from Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, and Priyanka Chopra. Between Singh’s eccentric take on the Peshwa and the dazzlingly well-shot songs like ‘Deewani Mastani’ — Bhansali’s tribute to ‘Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya’ from Mughal-E-Azam (1960) — this is a film that deserves credit for being committed to its vision.
9. NH10, directed by Navdeep Singh
Even if liberally borrowed from the British film Eden Lake (2008), Singh’s well-calibrated slasher thriller still remains one of the better Hindi films of 2015. Anushka Sharma, who also co-produced it, turned in a career-best performance as a Gurgaon yuppie whose weekend trip turns into a nightmare the minute she enters Jat country i.e. rural Haryana. Contrived in places it may be, but at least NH10 is never guilty of being ineffective or boring.
8. Margarita, With A Straw, directed by Shonali Bose
An easy film to dislike, given its inherent critic-baitiness, but Bose’s sophomore feature deserves its due for tackling difficult subjects — disability and sexuality — with enough sensitivity. Playing the self-centered, cerebral-palsy-afflicted Laila Kapoor, Kalki Koechlin gives it her all and, despite hitting a few bum notes here and there, delivers an admirable performance. The real star of the show, however, is Revathy, who becomes this film’s emotional core and helps make the whole story work.
7. Tanu Weds Manu Returns
In London, four years later in their marriage, Tanu and Manu visit a mental rehabilitation center where they start bickering at each other. Because of Tanu’s various allegations, Manu gets enraged, and is later taken by the doctors into custody suspecting his mental health. Tanu’s friend Payal calls her from India and tells Tanu that she gave birth to a baby girl. Being alone at city, Tanu decides to return to her hometown, Kanpur. While leaving London, Tanu rings Manu’s friend Pappi in Delhi and tells him to come to London and release Manu.
anu Weds Manu Returns received positive reviews from critics, with special praise directed to Ranaut’s performance. In a 4.5 out of 5 star review, Srijan Mitra Das of The TOI said, “Tanu Weds Manu Returns boasts one of the finest double roles ever in Hindi cinema. Alongside, Madhavan does a fine job as quiet, often morose, sometimes hopeful Manu.” He also added, “Anand L. Rai merits applause for his masterful direction of Himanshu Sharma’s rich, riotous story. Evoking a new-age Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Rai keeps things tight, light, yet layered.”
6. Tamasha, directed by Imtiaz Ali
Perhaps the most polarising movie of the year, Tamasha earned me at least one mock threat of violence from a friend who may never read anything I write again. But I’ll stand my ground and say that, barring a few annoying contrivances, there’s a lot to love in Ali’s latest spin on his favourite story: a tortured, sensitive soul searches for and finds the path he/she was always meant to take. Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, whose meet-cute in Corsica is a delight to watch, turn in fine performances but it is Ali’s gentle hold on proceedings that helps make this a warm and memorable story about a boy who love stories.
5. Dum Laga Ke Haisha, directed by Sharat Katariya
This is 2015’s Little Film That Could, starring an atypical debutant named Bhumi Pednekar and Ayushmann Khurrana, whose career got a second lease of life riding on the back of this film after the disastrous Hawaizaada crashed and burned earlier this year. Pednekar plays an overweight young schoolteacher who marries Khurrana, a typically entitled small-town lad who believes he deserves a more attractive wife. The ‘90s Haridwar setting, the tributes to Kumar Sanu, and Anu Malik’s music further contribute to the feel-good magic. But don’t let its fairy-tale romance exterior fool you — Dum Laga Ke Haisha has several astute observations to make about patriarchy and social structures in small-town India, and Katariya’s assured direction helps the film get there.
The movie begins in Goa, where Raj leaves his auto repair shop to confront Mani for stealing a man’s cell phone. Mani tells Raj that he is stealing it for his younger brother, whom he must care for after both of their parents died. While out driving, Veer sees a woman, Ishita, hitchhiking but his friend refuses to pick her up. However, after he stops the car to urinate and leave his friend and went back to ishita, and he agrees to take her where she needs to go, damaging the car in his rush to get there. For penance, Raj forces Veer to work in the shop day and night. Veer’s friend Siddhu provides him with coffee so he can stay awake to fix the car. However, he falls asleep anyway and awakes to find that the car’s sound system has been stolen. Siddhu takes it to a pawn shop to sell it, having stolen the sound system while Veer was asleep.
The men of the local gang leader, King, try to sell drugs at a crab shack. Veer beats them up after they threaten Ishita. They then come back later to exact revenge on Veer, but Raj breaks up the fight. Raj’s men find him at the hospital where Veer is staying and tell him they know where to find King’s men. Raj goes to King’s hideout, incapacitates the gang members, and burns their drug stash. Raj tells King’s men his gangster name, Kaali. King stops by Raj’s shop the next day to present a deal where Raj will fix all of King’s cars in exchange for protection.
The film then flashes back to Bulgaria. Raj is in a car chase with a rival gang, trying to make off with a container of gold, when he accidentally runs over a woman, Meera. When he gets out to help her, the rival gang catches up with him, and he has to leave.
3. Masaan, directed by Neeraj Ghaywan
Ghaywan’s directorial debut, a winner of two awards at Cannes this year, is a surprisingly accomplished film. Set in Varanasi, it touches upon various aspects of small-town life in North India via three concurrent stories. Richa Chadha is fantastic as a young woman who has been shamed for exploring her sexuality, while Vicky Kaushal makes a sensational debut as a young engineering aspirant who spends his nights cremating corpses at the holy city’s ghats. Other solid supporting performances from Sanjay Mishra and Pankaj Tripathi aside, Masaan stands out for its beautiful camerawork (the multi-talented Avinash Arun, whose debut Marathi feature Killa actually outshines every film on this list — too bad this is a list of best Hindi films), Varun Grover’s astute script and evocative lyrics; and the lovely folk-rock score by Indian Ocean.
2. Bajrangi Bhaijaan
In Sultanpur, a picturesque village in Azad Kashmir, villagers gather to watch a televised cricket match between India and Pakistan. Among them is a pregnant woman (Meher Vij) who, after giving birth, names her daughter Shahida after Shahid Afridi, the player who wins the game for Pakistan. One afternoon, Shahida (Harshaali Malhotra), now six years old, falls off a cliff as she plays, and is saved by an overhanging tree, but was not able to call for help as she was mute. Since Shahida’s father, a former Pakistani army man, is unlikely to be granted an Indian visa, her concerned mother takes her to the Shrine of Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi, hoping it will restore Shahida’s speech.
Returning from Delhi, the train stops for repairs just short of the Wagah Crossing and Shahida gets off to save a lamb. The train drives off before Shahida can re-board it. Shahida boards a freight train, and winds up in Kurukshetra, Harynana. There, she meets Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi alias Bajrangi (Salman Khan), a devout Brahmin and an ardent devotee of the Hindu deity Hanuman. He calls Shahida “Munni” and tries in vain to find where she lives.
1. Piku, directed by Shoojit Sircar
How fitting that a film based on bowel movements is one of the best films in a year that has seen several cinematic turds. Director Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi team up once again after 2012’s Vicky Donor to deliver a delightfully breezy road movie about relationships by way of gastric problems. Amitabh Bachchan plays a cantankerous old Bengali man with reasonable verisimilitude, while Deepika Padukone and Irrfan Khan have a ball as his often-exasperated travel-mates. In the commercial Hindi film format, it’s rare to see a film like this, which has a lot to say about life, old age, and death even as it deftly side-steps the sand-trap of excessive melodrama.