The Top 5 Indian Films Of 2022 (So Far), Ranked, Film Companion

The first half of 2022 has been a thrilling time for Indian cinema with a ferocious return to theatres. According to Ormax Media, around 450 Indian films were released across languages (this doesn’t include Bhojpuri, Odia, Assamese and a few other languages that they don’t collect data for). Of these, 45 were in Hindi. But the two biggest Hindi blockbusters weren’t actually Hindi films – I’m speaking of course about RRR and KGF: Chapter 2. Luckily, the pandemic has converted us into language-agnostic viewers.

Here are my top 5 Indian films from January to June.

5. Puzhu

Language: Malayalam
Streaming on: SonyLIV

Puzhu means worm. The film is a deeply disturbing character study of a monstrous, casteist bigot, played with incredible nuance and depth by Mammootty. Firstly, it’s incredible to see a megastar like him play a character as unlikeable as Kuttan. But the real miracle is that he and debutant director Ratheena also force us to acknowledge Kuttan’s humanity. There are scenes in which he is vulnerable and even moving. Puzhu isn’t a simplistic portrait. The ending of the film becomes too literal and it brings down the storytelling by a few notches. But this film hits hard.

4. Pada

Language: Malayalam
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video

Pada is based on an incredible true event. In October 1996, four men kidnapped the Palakkad district collector and held him hostage for several hours. They demanded that the government withdraw a new legislation, which further marginalized Kerala’s Adivasis. Writer-director Kamal K. M creates a suspenseful but matter-of-fact thriller about four brave men, played by some of Malayalam cinema’s finest actors – Kunchacko Boban, Dileesh Pothan, Vinayakan and Joju George. Pada, which means army, is a slow burn – it took me time to immerse myself into its rhythms but the film seethes with anger, which eventually envelops you.

3. Bhoothakaalam

Language: Malayalam
Streaming on: SonyLIV

Bhoothakalam is an unusually layered and complex horror film. Co-writer and director Rahul Sadasivan uses the standard tropes of horror. Things go bump in the night, doors creak open by themselves or stay shut, a dripping tap in a bathroom and a washing machine become terrifying – but he roots them in a larger, richer narrative about the fraught relationship between a mother and her son, Asha and Vinu played by Revathy and Shane Nigam. Their relationship plays out over several gloomy dinner table conversations. Their arguments are raw and desperately sad. These are two broken individuals unable to help themselves or the other. The film sets up a suspenseful ambiguity – is what is happening to Asha and Vinu real or imagined? This isn’t explored enough but mostly,  Bhoothakaalam walks the tightrope between scares and emotion with great skill.  And Revathy, who won her first Kerala State Award for her performance, is spectacular.

2. Gangubai Kathiawadi

Language: Hindi
Streaming on: Netflix

Gangubai Kathiawadi is a rousing, purposefully melodramatic ode to a firebrand Mumbai sex worker in the 1950s. The film is loosely based on a true story from the book ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’ written by S. Hussain Zaidi with Jane Borges. But in the hands of director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the thirty pages become a glorious saga about a woman who refused to be defined by her circumstances. As the titular Gangubai, Alia Bhatt is dazzling. Her childlike face is at odds with the violence – physical and emotional – that Gangubai endures. But this contradiction of steeliness and vulnerability gives the film its bruised, beating heart.

1. RRR

Language: Telugu
Steaming on: Netflix and ZEE5

At number one are two films that couldn’t be more unlike each other – SS Rajamouli’s magnum opus RRR and director Vineeth Sreenivasan’s gorgeous, aching coming-of-age story, Hridayam.

I’m a great admirer of ambition and audacity in the movies and RRR is soaked in both. The scenarios that writerdirector SS Rajamouli and Vijayendra Prasad, who is credited with the storyconcoct in this historical fiction are deliriously over-the-top but each one lands because it is powered by the conviction of the story-telling. One of my favourites is in the second half – Bheem saving Ram from solitary confinement in a prison. Ram’s knees have been battered by British soldiers and he can’t walk so Bheem carries him. The two become one ferocious fighting machine, mowing down the soldiers. Ram shoots from two rifles at once, lowering the guns only so Bheem can reload. It’s jaw-dropping, exhilarating action. RRR has overtly Hindu iconography. Critics have also pointed out uncomfortable casteist undertones in the depiction of the relationship between Bheem, a tribal man and Ram, an upper-caste Hindu. These are important conversations to have but ultimately the film delivers a thundering, heady movie high. It’s the ultimate triumph of a filmmaker’s imagination.

1. Hridayam

Language: Malayalam
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar

Hridayam is the story of Arun, a young man who goes from Kerala to Chennai to study. The first half is almost entirely set in college and focuses on Arun’s love affair, heartbreak and how he loses and finds himself again. The second is about growing up in the real world and coming to the understanding that despite the heartbreak, missed opportunities and failures, it’s glorious to be alive. And that our mistakes make us. The actors, Pranav Mohanlal as Arun, Kalyani Priyadarshan as Nithya and Darshana Rajendran as Darshana, deliver authentic, unshowy performances. And the film features my favourite song of the year so far – Darshana. The soundtrack – 15 songs by Hesham Abdul Wahab– is absolutely magical.

Notable mentions:

Zombivli

Language: Marathi
Streaming on: ZEE5

Zombivli is a charming and hilarious Marathi film about zombies in Dombivli. Director Aditya Sarpotdar places the undead in the sprawling mini-city outside of Mumbai. The result is a film that delivers fun, frights and a timely critique of gentrification, class warfare, corruption and greed.

Jana Gana Mana

Language: Malayalam
Streaming on: Netflix

Jana Gana Manais a long film, with way too much going on but somehow director Dijo Jose Antony and writer Sharis Mohammed make it land. The film has strong performances by Suraj Venjaramoodu and Prithviraj Sukumaran. Despite the clunky stretches, there is a righteous rage that powers the film.

The first half of KGF: Chapter 2

Language: Kannada, Hindi
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video

I know that films must be evaluated as a whole but my response to the first and second half of KGF: Chapter 2 was dramatically different. The first half seduced me with its flamboyance and swagger.  Prashanth Neel’s conviction that more is more and Yash’s outsized machismo delivered a thrilling big-screen experience. But the second half left me exhausted. So big applause, but mostly for the first half.

Sharmaji Namkeen

Language: Hindi
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video

Sharmaji Namkeen asks us to imagine two actors – Rishi Kapoor and Paresh Rawal – as one character. It’s a tall order. But director Hitesh Bhatia makes the transitions seamless. Sharmaji Namkeen is a charming film about a retired, middle-class man who finds a new life as a chef at kitty parties. This was Rishi Kapoor’s last film and the end credits, which run alongside outtakes featuring him, are guaranteed to make you cry.

Badhaai Do

Language: Hindi
Streaming on: Netflix

Badhaai Do, a spiritual sequel to Badhaai Ho, passionately advocates for inclusivity and acceptance. The film, about a lavender marriage between a gay man and woman, has stellar performances by Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar. And a climax that is guaranteed to convert even the most homophobic heart. Sheeba Chaddha is absolutely glorious.

Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2

Language: Hindi
Streaming on: Netflix

I’m not a big fan of horror-comedies. The genre is usually an excuse for sloppy writing and loud acting. But in this sequel, director Anees Bazmee and writer Aakash Kaushik manage to combine the cheerful silliness of the format with a story that continues to twist and turn until the end. When the film falters, the formidable Tabu takes over. And Kartik Arayan adds just the right touch of goofy charm.

Subscribe now to our newsletter

SEND 'JOIN' TO +917021533993 TO CONNECT WITH US ON WHATSAPP