Five Best Hindi Films Of 2022
The fact that it was really difficult to get five films, to feel convinced of their “best”-ness, tells you everything about how depressing the film landscape was this year. We don’t even need a “special mentions” section. As South Indian cinema seeped into the North, sweeping it away with its scale, its muscle, its toxicity, its celebration, Hindi cinema was fledgling to tell a story well. We are not talking about economics here. The sheer act of storytelling seems to be in crisis.
Here are five films, in alphabetical order, that replenished our reserves, our love for cinema, as we trudged through 2022.
An Action Hero
Anirudh Iyer’s debut film, An Action Hero is a pulpy love letter to cinema, with a twisty, slick, stylish, loud, brash, and often bizarre sheen, filled with fresh ideas and references to the present moment. Maanav (Ayushmann Khurrana) is an action hero — not the action hero, but an action hero — who through a bizarre sequence of events, is forced to become that which he has often played on screen. He pushes the brother of a powerful local goon, Bhoora (an unparalleled Jaideep Ahlawat). That brother trips, falls, his head slams against a rock, and he dies. The film then becomes this cat and mouse chase across the United Kingdom, lensed with spaciousness and polish by Kaushal Shah.
The scene of the year also comes from this film when Ahlawat’s Bhoora is introduced. He is given the bad news of his brother’s death while eating. From the edge of the screen, a plate of chapatis is offered to him — you can see the hand, not the face — and you can sense that Bhoora wants to reach out for another chapati, but is also thrown by the news he just received, and torn by his reaction. Is this the first thing he does on receiving the news?
Shardul (Rajkummar Rao) and Sumi (Bhumi Pednekar), one gay cop, one lesbian PT teacher get married — a lavender marriage — so they can dust their parents off their backs, and live their separate queer lives at home.
Written by Suman Adhikary and Akshat Ghildial, and directed by Harshavardhan Kulkarni, Badhaai Do sharply moves away from not just the romance genre — where things like negotiating sex positions, shit, spit, farting are always kept outside of the screen — but also the queer genre, which in India is increasingly becoming a compendium of righteous, flat oh-poor-thing storytelling, to make a rousing (arousing, not so much), yet tickling and profound film.
To understand just how clever, clutter-breaking and significant Darlings really is, imagine how frightfully wrong a Hindi ‘dark comedy’ about domestic violence could have gone in today's ultra-sensitive, trigger-happy, cancel-culture-riddled environment. Imagine how open to misinterpretation this film — and its concept of fabled revenge — is. Starring Alia Bhatt as a young Muslim woman who turns the tables on her abusive husband with the help of her single mother, Jasmeet K. Reen’s genre-fluid thriller is defined by its big swings, terrific performances and whimsical social language. Despite its heavy themes, Darlings stays visually and structurally interesting, manifesting the moral tension of what is otherwise an everyday tragedy. It's not perfect, the rhythm is not for everyone, but the movie speaks, listens and endures at once – and emerges as perhaps the most potent narrative experiment of the year. I can't think of a better use of Indian streaming space.
A no-brainer, even while the film does not emerge among the top Sanjay Leela Bhansali films, it swims to the surface of 2022, by its sheer grandness, its insistence on beauty, on the textures and shades of white, and the forceful and career-defining performance of Alia Bhatt. Following the figure of Gangu from a rich Gujarati family to Gangubai, a brothel madam who courts both political and moral power, the film is an elegant, radiant plea for love and justice.
Take note of the single-take song ‘Meri Jaan’ shot at the back of a car where affections range from bracing vulnerability, swooning romance, traumatic agitation, and unflagging insistence. This film marks a departure in Bhansali's filmography, where he is trying to locate beauty elsewhere — no longer in the symmetric flare of the ghaghra or the perfection of a movement or the stiff, beautiful declarations of love. The minute-long trance of Gangubai, where Bhatt swirls, trips, stumbles in a dizzying stretch is testament to this.
When art takes on a life of its own, what happens to the artist? In RK/ Rkay, actor-director Rajat Kapoor plays an actor-director, known as RK, who is making a film that is a throwback to vintage Bollywood movies. While on the editing table, the film’s hero Mahboob (played by RK) escapes the frame and enters the real world. There’s no trace of him anywhere in the raw footage, leaving RK in a soup. He has a film without a hero and a life in which he feels he’s slowly being replaced by a character he wrote. Funny, meta and frequently bizarre, RK/RKay is a science-fiction fable set in the world of films. It’s also an existential comedy suspended between an artist and his art. Mahboob disrupts RK’s world in many ways, but he also completes and by the end of the film, it’s difficult to say who’s more real between Mahboob and RK. This witty, low-budget comedy had a few missteps and indulgent moments, but it was one of the most amusing and cleverly-imagined stories we saw in Hindi cinema this year. RK/RKay had only a short run at the theatre and hasn’t been picked up by a streaming platform so far, which is an indication of just how unforgiving the post-pandemic entertainment landscape is for smaller films.