Twelve Hindi films that shone amid the Covid-19 gloom by Saibal Chatterjee
When Irrfan Khan’s final film, Angrezi Medium, hit the screens a month and a half before the much-loved actor’s death, the Covid-19 shadows had already begun to lengthen. It turned out to be the last Bollywood film that Indian audiences saw in a theatre before all screening facilities went into a limbo in the country. Not surprisingly, eight of the 12 films mentioned here went straight to streaming platforms although at least one of them, Yeh Ballet, a Netflix original, dropped when movie halls were still open.
This list has several other salient features. Five of these films are by first-time directors, a like number of these titles have been directed by women, and at least 75 per cent of them have strong female characters dealing with – and usually tiding over – the repercussions of patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
In the midst of a raging debate over nepotism in the industry sparked by Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic death, something else happened, and it was a whole paradigm shift. Big banners, boxoffice, opening weekends, collection figures, star power and media hoopla went out of the equation, allowing us to sit back and watch cinematic works without letting extraneous factors impact our consumption patterns or our critical judgment, except in the case of Dil Bechara, Rajput’s posthumous release on a streaming platform.
Eight-and-a-half months into what has been a terrible, terrible year, these 12 Hindi films did their bit to dispel some of the gloom.
Director Devashish Makhija’s third film, which premiered in Busan in 2018 and was released on SonyLIV this year, achieves the cinematic equivalent of sharp, painful pin pricks. It employs what might look like standard revenge drama elements to deliver a powerful statement on the sons of the soil-versus-outsiders debate that has been a central theme of Maharashtra politics for decades. A considerable part of the film’s frisson is delivered by lead actor (and co-producer) Manoj Bajpayee. He is astoundingly good as the titular character – a frail, terminally ill, superannuated policeman who finds the strength for one final act of heroism.
Director: Anubhav Sinha Starring: Taapsee Pannu
Streaming on Amazon Prime
Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad, as topical as the director’s previous two films (Mulk and Article 15) but appreciably less dramatic, is more than just a slap on the face of patriarchy. It is the film that starts an instant conversation. No matter on which side of the divide you are on – you cannot ignore the point that the film makes. A dutiful woman jettisons her own ambitions so that her husband can pursue his. She files for divorce when the man slaps her in the middle of a house party. Her rebellion, accidental but essential, becomes a clarion call whose urgency is accentuated by the film’s mellow but intense tone. TaapseePannu shines as the woman who decides to seek redressal.
Raat Akeli Hai, an understated and compelling neo-noir thriller, is a smartly mounted whodunnit directed by first-timer Honey Trehan. Hitchcock meets Chabrol in a Polanski-inspired universe where moral depravity clashes with conflicted ideals. It is a genre film about a policeman determined to nail a killer but it keeps well clear of conventional tropes. At one level, Raat Akeli Hai is febrile, at another marvelously measured. Sacred Games co-writer Smita Singh’s screenplay yields a riveting murder mystery that probes the ghastly face of patriarchy in a dysfunctional family. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is terrific, so is Radhika Apte.
Scripted and helmed by Sooni Taraporevala, Yeh Ballet, a Netflix original film thatpremiered before the Covid-19 pandemic brought conventional film distribution to a halt, is smartly written and technically solid. The true story-inspired dance movie is bolstered by its two young lead actors – ballet dancer Manish Chauhan and newcomer Achintya Bose. Taraporevala’s first narrative feature since her 2008 directorial debut (Little Zizou) pivots around two Mumbai working-class lads who eye a new life when a crabby ballet master spots them and proceeds to help hone their talent. Deftly orchestrated, the film balances its formal sobriety with the boyish vitality of the two protagonists. The understated Yeh Ballet is a moving rags-to-riches tale that does not miss a step.
Gunjan Saxena – The Kargil Girl, another Netflix original, is scripted by Dangal co-writer Nikhil Mehrotra and directed by debutant Sharan Sharma. Real-life war stories emerging from Bollywood often end up as screechy hyper-nationalistic bilge. This one doesn’t because its emphasis is firmly on a story of a young woman’s struggle to ward off both self-doubt and deeply entrenched male bias as she breaks into the Indian Air Force and becomes the first-ever female combat pilot. Both on the home front and in her chosen workplace, she is up against challenges that the film presents in a simplified form, which aids it in boosting its emotional quotient. Janhvi Kapoor, at the receiving end of spiteful trolling in the run-up to the film’s OTT premiere, does well enough not to be completely overshadowed by a brilliant-as-ever Pankaj Tripathi.
Director: Anvita Dutt Starring: Tripti Dimri, Avinash Tiwary, Paoli Dam
Streaming on Netflix
A feminist fable set in dark times and a forbidding space, Bulbbul, produced by Anushka Sharma for Netflix, adroitly breaks away from the norms of the genre. One may quibble about the period and cultural detailing, but the film works because debutante director Anvita Dutt presses the horror genre into the service of a universal story of women wronged in an aristocratic family in 19 th century Bengal. Bulbbul, enlivened by superb performances from the principal cast, uses painterly means – the colours vary from the muted to the riotous – to conjure up an evocative palette.It creates a perfect ambience for the unfolding of a story that necessitates instant and willing suspension of disbelief.
A quaint take on the highs and lows of growing up, What Are the Odds? is first-time director Megha Ramaswamy’s ode to a city and the joys of youth. The film takes the audience on a trippy outing into a world where magic seeps into the realms of the real and opens up avenues for innocence (on the wings of its liberating flights of fancy) to express itself in surprising ways. The unique rhythms of the film (enhanced by an apt score by Sagar Desai) and the charm of its young leads, Yashaswini Dayama and Karanvir Malhotra, work wonders. What are the Odds? is an unpretentious little gem that is both upliftingly warm in its celebration of life and refreshingly clear-eyed in spotting – and coming to terms with – the thorns strewn on the path to adulthood.
Director: Prakash Jha Starring: Adil Hussain, Priyanka Bose, Sanjay Suri
Streaming on ZEE5
Veteran director Prakash Jha employssteady, to-the-point methods to highlight the class divide in India’s education sector in a film that benefits enormously from a rock-solid performance from Adil Hussain. Playing a Ranchi rickshaw-puller determined to give his teenage son the best available education no matter what the odds are, the actor, known to be a purveyor of subtle emotions, changes gears to hit the higher notes of his craft. Scripted by the director himself, Pareeksha renders a familiar narrative in the form of a straightforward melodrama with a clear social message. It attempts a blend of emotionally engaging storytelling with a defined ideational aim. It succeeds.
A landmark film that surmounted obstacles put up naysayers ahead of its release, Chhapaak made quite a splashand deservedly so. Its urgent theme and a strong central performance by Deepika Padukone propel the film well above the ordinary. Director Meghna Gulzar, co-writer writer Atika Chohan and the lead actress work in unison to bring a horrific true story to the big screen. It may not quite be the last word on the subject, but Chhapaak is an undeniably effective portrayal of a woman scarred for life by an acid attack. It is an impressively attentive probe into the masculinity gone awry, a society devoid of empathy and a legal system riddled with inadequacies.
Director: Nitin Kakkar Starring: Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Alaya Furniturewala
Streaming on Amazon Prime
The only film in this “best of the year so far” list that might be described as out-and-out commercial Bollywood fare, Jawaani Jaaneman, directed by Nitin Kakkar, thrives on defiant quirks that help it carve out its own niche. A delightfully cockeyed romp that is both comic and dramatic, it puts a vigorous spin on a father-daughter relationship and navigates it into a space that brims with surprises. Even when it teeters on the edge of self-conscious affectations, the film does not lose its lightness of touch and humorous strain. Saif Ali Khan, debutante Alaya F and Tabuare in their elements, which ensures that the dramedy, even when it is at its lowest ebb, is never less than intriguing.
The narrative is laced with unbridled zaniness, with Amitabh Bachchan rising to the occasion in the role of an avaricious old man out to outwit a young intransigent tenant of his. Gulabo Sitabo, written by Juhi Chaturvedi, is laced with wit and keen sense of place. Director Shoojit Sircar never dilutes the grungy essence of the off-kilter drama, an attribute that keeps the audience guessing until the very end how it will all end for the two bickering men whose sights are set on Lucknow’s century-old Fatima Mahal. The screenplay, which makes no song and dance about its feminist core and lets the male duo have an apparently free run, factors in a trio of women – two young girls and one nonagenarian – who always seem to have the measure of men around them. It is they who hold the strings of the puppets.
Pangaha’s Kangana Ranaut in the role of a retired kabaddi player who returns to the sport after a longish hiatus. The comeback isn’t obviously a cakewalk. Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari tackles the film’s central premise in a sure-footed manner. The intelligently scripted and well-acted sports drama is rooted in the real world and the characters are easy to relate to. Bollywood’s sporting sagas often suffer from lack of authenticity. Panga does not strain credulity. At times Panga might seem a tad sluggish, but, in the ultimate analysis, the film’s deliberate pace does more good than harm to its uncomplicated arc.
A man is brought in by an infertility doctor to supply him with his sperm, where he becomes the biggest sperm donor for his clinic.
Director: Shoojit Sircar
Nautanki Saala! (2013)
Streaming on Disney+hotstar
An actor’s life changes dramatically when he saves a stranger from suicide.
Director: Rohan Sippy
Streaming on youtube Movies
It is a slice-of life comedy when recession strikes and the lack of money tests love. Is living on love and fresh air really possible?
Director: Nupur Asthana
Streaming on Disney+hotstar
The film which is based on the life on an Indian scientist Shivkar Bapuji Talpade, who is credited to have constructed India’s first unmanned plane is the tale of the hardships that he went through on the journey to discover. Also the film is set in the pre-independence era of Bombay of 1895.
Director: Vibhu Puri
Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015)
Streaming on youtube Movies
Prem and his oversized wife Sandhya are supposed to spend a lifetime together. Will a regular arranged marriage turn out to be a perfect mismatch?
Director: Sharat Katariya
Meri Pyaari Bindu (2017)
Streaming on youtube Movies
Childhood friends Abhimanyu and Bindu face friction when she realises that she does not love him after a brief relationship. After getting famous, Abhimanyu decides to pen a story based on his life.
Director: Akshay Roy
Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017)
Streaming on Netflix
Set in the small-town of Bareilly, Bitti is a free-spirited young girl who lives life on her own terms and refuses to be pressured into getting married. Her life takes a shift when she meets Chirag Dubey and Pritam Vidrohi.
Director: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017)
Streaming on Eros Now, youtube movies
A couple fall in love but then the groom discovers that he suffers from erectile dysfunction.
Director: R. S. Prasanna
Streaming on Netflix
A series of mysterious events change the life of a blind pianist, who must now report a crime that he should technically know nothing of.
Director: Sriram Raghavan
Badhaai Ho (2018)
Streaming on Disney+hotstar
A man is embarrassed when he finds out his mother is pregnant.
Director: Amit Sharma
Article 15 (2019)
Streaming on Netflix
In the rural heartlands of India, an upright police officer sets out on a crusade against violent caste-based crimes and discrimination.
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Dream Girl (2019)
Streaming on ZEE5
Rom-com Movie, directed by Raaj Shaandilyaa, stars Ayushmann Khurrana who plays a ‘dream girl’. In every love story, there is always one trying to win the heart of the other, who could be the ‘dream girl’.
Director: Raaj Shaandilyaa
Streaming on Disney+hotstar
It tells the story of a man who is balding prematurely and how he copes up with the situation.
Director: Amar Kaushik
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020)
Streaming on Amazon prime
The road to achieving a happy ending is a little too rough for two guys Kartik and Aman. While Aman’s family tries hard to battle his love for Kartik, Kartik isn’t prepared to step back until he marries Aman.
Director: Hitesh Kewalya
Gulabo Sitabo (2020)
Streaming on Amazon prime
Two scheming men get caught up in a game of one upmanship, each one attracting other members to their clan and each one with an agenda of his own.
Mainstream Bollywood is on the cusp of change with the rise of a parallel cinematic universe that uses the means and resources of the industry while making films that are akin to the social chronicles and cautionary tales that emerge from a more independent space By Saibal Chatterjee
A parallel universe has taken a concrete shape in mainstream Bollywood. It is defined by the work of directors and actors who work within the mass-oriented Hindi cinema but, in their films, address issues and themes of contemporary relevance in a manner that generates serious conversation and attracts ample media and audience attention.
Exactly one such Bollywood release is scheduled for February 28. Thappad, directed by Anubhav Sinha (Mulk, Article 15) and starring Taapsee Pannu, deals with a woman’s right to fight off domestic violence in a conservative society.
Sinha and Pannu, who played an important role in the former’s Mulk, a film revolving around the impact of Islamophobia on unquestioning minds, have both carved a niche for themselves by delivering stories that confront prickly subjects in a manner that facilitates engagement with wider audiences.
The duo represents a segment of Bollywood that uses the means and resources of the industry but makes films that are akin to the social chronicles and cautionary tales that emerge from a more independent space. Their upcoming collaboration, Thappad, is about a woman who walks out on her marriage when her husband slaps her. Sinha is a Mumbai film director who devoted more than a decade and a half to making romantic dramas (Tum Bin and its sequel), thrillers (Dus, Thathastu and Cash) and a superhero film starring Shahrukh Khan (Ra. One). In 2018, he reinvented himself with Mulk, about a Muslim family in an Uttar Pradesh town struggling to clear its name when one of its younger members is drawn into a terror plot.
In 2019, Sinha made the hard-hitting Article 15, which told the story of a young police officer who is posted in a town where caste discrimination is rampant. Three girls go missing and the protagonist is sucked into a world where the weak and oppressed are also completely defenceless as a result of deeply ingrained social prejudices of those that wield political and administrative power.
The role of the cop in Article 15 is played by Ayushmann Khurrana, who has achieved stardom on the back of a series of roles that border on the revolutionary in the context of popular Hindi cinema. The actor made his film debut in 2012 with Vicky Donor, directed by Shoojit Sircar. Khurrana played a sperm donor, a character unheard of in Hindi cinema.
After a few misfires, the actor began a phase that has seen him, among other things, play the husband of an overweight woman in Dum LagaKe- Haisha, a man with erectile dysfunction in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, a youngster grappling with a bald pate, and a blind pianist who ‘witnesses’ a murder in Andhadhun.
In Shubh Mangal ZyaadaSaavdhan, the follow-up to Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Khurrana dons the garb a small-town middle-class boy who causes a stir by coming out as gay and bringing his partner home. So, there we are: a whole new world is opening up in the pan-Indian Hindi cinema on account of actors and directors who are willing to take risks.
Shoojit Sircar, who directed Khurrana in Vicky Donor, also gave Taapsee- Pannu a role that changed the course of her career. The film was the intense legal drama Pink, featuring Amitabh Bachchan as an ageing, cynical lawyer who comes out of retirement to represent three young women subjected to sexual violence after a rock concert. It was produced by Sircar.
A Bollywood director who has made a career out of dark thrillers, Sriram Raghavan has never lowered his guard in the matter of keeping his output free from dog-eared devices. He helmed one of 2018’s most acclaimed Bollywood thrillers, Andhadhun, which arrived virtually unheralded and went on to acquire a cult following.
A decade ago, Raghavan delivered Johnny Gaddar, a stylized crime thriller that remains a benchmark for the genre. In 2015, he made the subversive thriller Badlapur, about a man who lies in wait for years for a criminal who killed his wife and child in a random act of violence.
Also working in mainstream Bollywood but with a distinct slant towards the real and tangible is AshwinyIyer Tiwari. She has directed three Hindi films to date – Nil BatteySannata, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Panga. Each one of them has struck a chord without having to resort to potboiler conventions.
Bareilly Ki Barfi, a romantic drama set in a specific small-town milieu, saw Ayushmann Khurrana lock horns with an actor who has a niche all his own – Rajkummar Rao. Rao, a regular Hansal Mehta collaborator, has built up an impressive body of work since debuting ten years ago with Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex AurDhokha.
With Mehta, Rao has delivered two of his finest performances – in Shahid, which fetched him a National Award, and Aligarh, a film in which he held is own against a superlative Manoj Bajpayee.
Together, these directors and actors have created a space where Bollywood explores themes and ideas that are far removed from easy certitudes that the industry usually peddles. They have lent Mumbai cinema an edge it never had before by erasing the line between commercial success and artistic courage.
Winds of Change
The ageing Bollywood superstars are nearing their sell-by dates. Their fan followings are intact, but are struggling to convince audiences that they are still young enough to play action heroes and romantic leads. With the goalposts having moved significantly, the likes of Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan are exploring fresh creative pastures.
Aamir Khan is the lead of Laal Singh Chaddha, an official remake of Forrest Gump (1994) directed by Advait Chandan. Shah Rukh Khan, on his part, hasn’t signed a film since 2018’s Zero. And Salman Khan, despite the below- par showing of several of his recent releases (notably Tubelight, Race 3 and Bharat) is sticking to his guns.
He seems to be continuing down the Dabangg path – the third installment of the franchise hit the screens in 2019 – with Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai, directed by Prabhudeva. Dabangg 3 was incidentally also helmed by Prabhudeva.
It is reported that Shahrukh has given the go-ahead to a script penned by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK (writers of Amar Kaushik’s Stree and makers of Shor in the City and Go Goa Gone). So, has SRK seen the writing on the wall?
But even as winds of change sweep over the Mumbai industry, Akshay Kumar (Good Newzz), Ajay Devgn (Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior) and Hrithik Roshan (War) have delivered massive hits this past year. Bollywood is, therefore, being driven by contradictory impulses.
On one hand, films like Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Panga earn critical accolades that do not necessarily translate into box office returns. On the other is the next Tiger Shroff vehicle, Baaghi 3, a high-octane actioner that will probably rake in big bucks.
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Kundali Bhagya (DESTINED LOVE) Family Drama
Kundali Bhagya is an intriguing story about two young girls Preeta and Shrishti. They discover the existence of their mother – Sarla and their sister Pragya, after the death of their father. Amidst this journey of mixed emotions the girl’s cross paths with two rich brothers, Rishabh and Karan. The story will then introduce romance, drama and dispute in the lives of Preeta, Shrishti, Rishabh and Karan.
Deceptive Measures (PAVITRA RISHTA) Family Drama
The story revolves around a middle-class girl, who is not highly educated and yet handles her house impeccably. Everyone is dependent on her however it is only her brother and her mother who really value her. Her mother has a sole aim of finding a good alliance for her daughter. The series has been filmed across Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria and the first season runs 52 one-hour episodes.
Tujhse Hai Raabta (COSMIC CONNECTION) Family Drama
The story revolves around the bittersweet relationship between a daughter and her stepmother, who are forced to live together after a tragedy strikes in the family.
Guddan Tumse Na Ho Payega (THE RELATIONSHIP CONUNDRUM) Family Drama
It is a light-hearted story of a 20-year old girl, Guddan, who having bumbled and fumbled through most of her life and being told by her own family that she can barely get one thing right, finds herself becoming India’s youngest mother in law to three older daughters-in-law by a quirk of circumstances.
Gully Boy: (2019) Indian Hindi language Musical Drama, directed by Zoya Akhtar
Inspired by the lives of Indian street rappers, Divine and Nazey, the film is coming of age story about a street rapper from the Dharavi slums of Mumbai.
Raazi: (2018) Indian Hindi Language Spy Thriller, directed by Meghna Gulzar
This is a story of an undercover RAW agent who is married into a Pakistani family by her father to acquire valuable piece of information about the enemy.
Kesari: (2018) Indian Hindi Language Action war Film, directed by Anurag Singh
Kesari is a true story about one of the bravest battles fought in India ‘The Battle Of Saragarhi’, in which an army of 21 Sikhs fought against 10,000 Afghans in 1897. This is a story of Havildar Ishar Singh, a soldier in the British Indian Army, who leads the battle that unfolds the greatest last-stand in military history.
Article 15: (2019) Indian Hindi Language Crime Drama, directed by Anubhav Sinha
The film deals with Article 15 of the Constitution of India, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
Dream Girl: (2019) Indian Hindi Language Comedy Drama, directed by Raaj Shaandilyaa
This film is a complete family entertainer coupled with a love story that deals with one trying to win the heart of another and is one of the quirkiest comedies of the year.
Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare / Dolly Kitty And Those Twinkling Stars: (2019) Indian Hindi Language Comedy Satire Film, directed by Alankrita Shrivastava
The World Premiere will be held at the upcoming 24th Busan International Film Festival in the month of October, 2019. The film is helmed by the makers of renowned film, ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ and is all set to push the same space with more fun, humor, frolic and a context that will engage and entertain in equal measure.
Manikarnika – The Queen of Jhansi: (2019) Indian Hindi Language Period Drama, directed by Radha Krishna Jagartamudi and actress Kangana Ranaut
This film is based on the life of Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi who fought against the British East India Company, during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The makers of the film hosted a special screening for the President of India (Ram Nath Kovind) at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the President felicitated the artistes of the film prior to its official release in theatres.
Driven by a fresh burst of energy, a new breed of independent filmmakers are delivering films based on their own individualistic visions, erasing the gap between the socially meaningful and the commercially viable Indian cinema – By Saibal Chatterjee
Mediocrity is mainstream Indian cinema’s comfort zone. It has always been. But today, being middling is more than just an old habit for filmmakers seeking easy ways to achieve runaway commercial success. It has become a necessity. Low-grade, star-driven commercial cinema and its purveyors are being gleefully embraced by both the masses and the official agencies charged with the promotion of film culture in the country.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that an unabashedly misogynistic film like Arjun Reddy hits the box-office bull’s eye. Its Hindi remake, Kabir Singh, made by the same director with a different actor, does even better.
Another easy-to-sell category of cinema has emerged, especially in Mumbai, over the past few years: adulatory biopics and puff jobs. These are films that are either aggressively jingoistic (Uri: The Surgical Strike, RAW: Romeo Akbar Walter) or are unabashed extended, fictionalized public service adverts (Toilet: Ek Prem Katha). Taking the line of least resistance pays instant dividends. These films not only make pots of money but also often go on to win national awards at the cost of essays that are leagues ahead in cinematic terms.
But for a new breed of independent filmmakers who are consciously pulling away from the crowd and following their own individualistic visions to deliver films aimed at erasing the gap between the socially meaningful and the commercially viable, Indian cinema today would have worn the looks of a hopeless wasteland.
Mercifully, even filmmakers working in the mainstream space – Pa. Ranjith and Vetrimaaran in Chennai and Anurag Kashyap and Anubhav Sinha in Mumbai – do not shy away from hitting political hot-buttons and questioning gender presumptions in stories couched in popular narrative formulations.
When Vetrimaaran makes Vada Chennai, he ensures that it isn’t any ordinary gangster flick. He infuses it with a social resonance that communicates truths about a city and society in ways that are beyond the reach of less clued-in filmmakers. Pretty much the same is true of Pa. Ranjith. His two Rajinikanth vehicles, Kabali and Kaala, have a strong caste struggle sub-text delivered in a style that never strays into the preachy and boring. Ranjith also recently produced Mari Selvaraj’s Pariyerum Perumal, the story of a boy from an oppressed caste struggling to ward of continuing discrimination.
Ranjith is now in the midst of directing his first Hindi-language film – a drama based on the life of tribal freedom fighter Birsa Munda. The choice of hero is a natural progression for a filmmaker whose cinema has probed the place of the deprived and dispossessed in a society where power flows from religious identity and caste allegiance.
Important elements dovetailed into the plot of Anurag Kashyap’s boxing drama Mukkabaaz also reflects the political consciousness of the maker. The ills of the caste system have also been laid bare in stark detail in Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15. The film is a worthy follow-up to Sinha’s Mulk, which addressed the issue of Islamophobia head-on. We might argue that Indian films still haven’t gone far enough to call out patriarchy and the Brahmanical order. But the very fact that some films are making an attempt, no matter a feeble, is itself a sign of the changing times.
A fresh burst of energy is driving independent filmmakers not just in Tamil Nadu and Kerala but also in Mumbai. The primary space in debutant Madhu C. Narayanan’s Malayalam film Kumbalangi Nights, scripted by Syam Puskaran, is the home of four brothers who have no woman in their lives. The siblings are all flawed, scalded individuals until women enter their lives and make them see life and love in a different light. The film is an examination of masculinity that turns the entire notion of patriarchy on its head.
Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s daringly innovative multi-plot drama Super Deluxe is a film that throws caution to the wind and yet comes with such astounding formal precision that one cannot but watch in awe and applaud. Kumararaja throws four sub-plots into a giant, constantly whirring grinder and emerges with a film so fascinating and so wondrously inventive that one is caught by surprise at every turn.
Super Deluxe subverts our expectations at every turn. A couple is thrown into turmoil following the death of the woman’s ex-boyfriend in her bed. A father of a boy returns to his family after a seven-year absence in the guise of a transwoman. A schoolboy who bunks school with his friends to watch a pornographic film flies into a rage on discovering that his mother is an adult movie actress. Four friends get into terrible tangle with the underworld in an attempt to wriggle out of a minor jam.
The fast-paced, almost breathless film delivers a dazzling kaleidoscope of an urban landscape where every single day is as strange and disconcerting as the previous one. Super Deluxe is testimony to what younger Tamil filmmakers are capable of as storytellers and craftsmen.
The new Malayalam cinema, too, is going through a wonderfully fecund phase. Three films made by Kerala directors are in two of world’s major festivals this year. Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Chola (Shape of Water) premieres at the Venice Film Festival while Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu and Getu Mohandas’s Moothon are in the Toronto International Film Festival. Sasidharan’s S Durga won the Hivos Tiger Award at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam a couple of years ago, the first Indian film to bag the prize.
Lijo is, of course, also a name to reckon with. He is in the midst of a urple patch., Before Jallikattu, he delivered two absolutely stunning films – Angamaly Diaries and Ee. Ma. Yau – both of which prove his grasp over the medium and his phenomenal ability to handle a multiplicity of actors within single uninterrupted sequences.
The first world that spring to mind when watching a Lijo film is dynamism, the kind that can be extremely infectious. It would be no exaggeration if we were to suggest that he, along with Sasidharan, are the ones who are propelling the resurgence of Malayalam cinema on the global stage. We expect more surprises as filmmakers from Kerala reclaim the place they had in international festivals in the 1980s and a part of the 1990s.