2023 Wrap: Top 10 Pan-Indian Films Of 2023

Across languages, across genres, across regions, this list is a celebration of Indian cinema as a polyphonic voice.
2023 Wrap: Top 10 Pan-Indian Films Of 2023
2023 Wrap: Top 10 Pan-Indian Films Of 2023

At the outset, we must clarify, “Pan-Indian” is not a genre. This is a list that the Film Companion editorial team has drawn up, after much deliberation — and a few tantrums — of the best Indian films, across languages, across genres, across regions. It is a celebration of Indian cinema as a polyphonic voice. The list is not ranked; these films are listed alphabetically.  


Language: Bengali

For much of Kaushik Ganguly’s Ardhangini, Subhra (Churni Ganguly) is the epitome of a good wife — helpful to the point of seeming selfless, almost telepathic in her ability to gauge moods, and one of those women who seems to know where even the most forgotten things have been kept. Except when we meet her, Subhra is actually the ex-wife and the ‘other woman’ is her ex-husband’s current wife, Meghna (Jaya Ahsan). Subhra and Meghna’s paths cross when the third point in their triangle, husband Suman (Koushik Sen) falls into a coma, leaving his new wife Meghna — a Bangladeshi — at a loss. The only person who can help Meghna is the one who knows everything of Suman’s papers and investments — Subhra. What follows is a tentative, temporary friendship between two women who would usually be seen as antagonists and a fascinating film that explores the complexity of love, grief, bitterness and healing. Anchored by a magnificent performance by Churni Ganguly, Ardhangini is a reminder that there’s more to a woman — particularly one who is older — than being a mother or a lover.  


Language: Telugu

Balagam, a celebration of family, life and culture, takes on the theme of mortality to drive home its point. There hasn't been a stronger documentation of Telangana culture in Telugu cinema than Balagam and it deserves all the love for bringing this way of life to the foreground, and it's done so beautifully, with dignity and love.


Language: Tamil

Many Tamil films have addressed child abuse and sexual violence but few have done it with the sensitivity and care that Chithha has. The SU Arun Kumar directorial shares the same spirit as the hard-hitting Gargi (2022). What makes Chithha special, though, is not just the message it conveys but how it does so. It starts as an emotional drama about Eeswaran (Siddharth) and his family (his widowed sister-in-law and niece). But when his niece is kidnapped, it becomes a thriller, keeping you on the edge of the seat, rooting and hoping for its characters. It helps that the writing gives a certain lived-in feel about its characters — like where the lead pair (Siddharth and Nimisha Sajayan) know each other even before we meet them — and a sense of familiarity seamlessly draws you into the film’s world. Narratively, the film disturbs you, but there is also a conscious effort with which the makers approach the story at a visual level. So when Eeswaran is blamed for child abuse or when his niece is kidnapped, the lens never turns voyeuristic. It respects its characters, their pain and struggles, and also urges you to do so. There are multiple messages nestled in this film — about child safety, good touch and bad touch, increased use of phones, the definition of heroism and revenge, etc — but none sound like preachings; it feels real and packs a punch.

Kaathal: The Core

Language: Malayalam

Mammootty plays a middle-aged politician in a small town in Kerala whose life turns upside down when he is chosen by his party to stand for local elections precisely when his wife, played by Jyothika, files for divorce. The end of a long-standing marriage would be scandal enough, but the divorce petition claims he’s gay. Skilfully showing the intersection of gender, faith, class and sexuality, the film is tender, subtle and never loses sight of its characters’ humanity.

Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam

Language: Malayalam

In this perplexing tragicomedy, a strict theater troupe owner, walks out of his company bus and into the life of a man who has been missing for years. The Lijo Jose Pellissery film is one of Malayalam cinema’s greatest tributes to both theater and classic Tamil cinema, with the use of dialogues and music from old films taking over the need for any conventional musical scores. The film’s most heartbreaking scene, where Mammootty finally looks up at a mirror to see his ‘true’ self, is instant cinematic gold and it leaves you wondering about the masks we wear and the moments where we catch ourselves in the act of performance. It leaves you thinking about Sundaram, the man who went missing, and if it was a curse or a blessing for him to be able to live one last day in his village, albeit in the body of another man. 

Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani 

Language: Hindi

A stuck up Bengali and a himbo Punjabi fall in love. Rani (Alia Bhatt) works for a news channel, Rocky (Ranveer Singh) works at a gym — also daddy’s business. Their cultural languages and references differ. Yet, they beat in one heart. This is not cloth-ripping chemistry, but a more familiar, easier, less desperate kind of longing. Placing this millennial love against that of vintage actors (Dharmendra, Shabana Azmi) is director Karan Johar’s ode to the past as he furthers the dying embers of the romance genre in the present. Just like its lovers, the film derives its soundscape eclectically, from Mohammad Rafi to Diljit Dosanjh, deriving from so much, so widely, and yet nothing feels derivative. A tender love story for a less tender time. 

Sapta Sagaradaache Ello

Language: Kannada

Hemanth M Rao’s Sapta Sagaradaache Ello is a breath of fresh air, especially Side A, because after a very long time, one got to see a film set in Bangalore among the working classes showing the kind of love one yearns to experience at least once in a lifetime. The writing, the chemistry between the leads (Rakshit Shetty and Rukmini Vasanth), performances across the board and a fabulous technical crew work together to give you a love story for the ages. Every love story does not need an outside villain. Circumstances sometimes more than suffice. And how two young people so fully in love deal with the aftermath of a wrong decision is haunting, searing, and aching.

Three of Us

Language: Hindi

Shailaja Patankar (Shefali Shah), a middle-aged woman at the onset of dementia, is overcome by the urge to revisit a small Konkan town from her past. Shailaja’s husband (Swanand Kirkire) accompanies her on this week-long trip – a return to her beginning, but also a pilgrimage to a time she worked hard to forget. She seeks out her old school, home, friends, food and feelings before it's too 'late'. She seeks out a man named Pradeep Kamat (Jaideep Ahlawat) – once an incomplete childhood love – who becomes her tour guide through the chiselled remains of their history. Three of Us plays out like a no-frills funeral conducted by a person who is about to die. It’s a story of reclaiming and letting go at once. The film represents the sobering classroom that grown-ups learn to accept. It is an ode to the anticlimactic grammar of living.


Language: Marathi

Paresh Mokashi’s Vaalvi is a gripping dark comedy thriller that revolves around a couple’s elaborate scheme to execute the “perfect” murder. Their initial plan involves a double suicide intended to free them from financial woes. What follows in Vaalvi will not only surprise you but also leave you chuckling at the dark, twisted absurdity of it all — complete with double crossing, an oddball gang of partners-in-crime, and a string of avoidable murders. With delicious performances by Swapnil Joshi, Anita Date, Subodh Bhave, and Shivani Surve, Vaalvi confounds, first by its circumstance, and later, by the characters’ nonchalance towards it.


Language: Tamil

Vetri Maaran’s Viduthalai falls in similar lines of James Cameron’s Avatar. A coming-of-age tale about an outsider who moves to a conflict-prone location, and discovers, through his journey, the line that separates those who are actually exploiting others from those who are being exploited. Vetri Maaran engages us with the world through both technical and emotional means. The complete macroscopic vision of what is heading our way is provided to us in the opening one-take sequence — from extracting a lifetime best performance from a comedian to using the Rashomon technique in writing style, Vetri Maaran delivers not only one of the finest movies of the year but also a masterclass in both writing and direction.

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