As the lockdown continues with no firm end in sight and many of us are looking toward movies for an escape. Anupama Chopra recommends 40 movies across time, genre, language and geography to keep you entertained during a difficult time.
Ratatouille, a Pixar movie from 2007, is the first film I revisited when I went into social distancing mode. This is a film about a rat who becomes a chef in Paris. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about what a great artist can be, where a great artist can come from, it’s about food and how to savour it. It has one of my favourite fictional characters, Anton Ego, who is a food critic is in this film voiced by Peter O’Toole. The film is visually gorgeous and transports you to Paris and God knows how long it will be before any of us will get to travel again so this is a good way to do it.
Tungrus is a short film that’s only 12 mins, but it has comedy and tragedy. Tungrus was filmmaker Rishi Chandna’s first film. It went to festivals all over the world and is now being hosted on the New York Times website. Tungrus is a big rooster that this family keeps in their apartment as a pet. On the New York Times website it’s called Tungrus And The Chicken From Hell. They already had 2 cats so now they’re a middle-class family of 4 living in this apartment in Mumbai with two cats and a rooster. But the film has sweetness and emotion because no matter how much the rooster creates a mess, people still get attached to it.
Vetrimaaran’s Vada Chennai is 2hrs 44 mins but every minute of it is worth your time. Vada means north, and this is a sprawling gangster epic based in north Chennai. It’s visually spectacular and has compositions and sequences that are just staggering. There are so many characters that it takes you a while to register everybody and figure out what the various alliances are. And at the centre of all that is Dhanush playing Anbu which means affection in Tamil, who is just stunning. He goes from very heroic and larger than life to just life and makes those transitions seamlessly. This is a movie that will make you think and grip you from the first frame to the last.
Junoon is a sprawling epic directed by Shyam Benegal and produced by Shashi Kapoor. It’s the story of proud Pathan Javed Khan who becomes obsessed with a British girl Ruth played by the stunning Nafisa Ali. And Javed Khan is played by Shashi Kapoor who is, to my mind, one of the most handsome film actors we have ever had. All of this is playing out against the backdrop of the 1857 Mutiny and the first war for Indian Independence. Jennifer Kapoor plays Mariam, Ruth’s mother and at one point she says to Javed “agar Delhi aapki to Ruth bhi aapki”. Those are the kind of deals being made at this time.
In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones
In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones is, as far as I know, India’s first Hindi independent film made in Hinglish. It was directed by Pradip Krishen and written by Arundhati Roy who also plays the lead. This is a film about students in architectural school in Delhi in the 70s. It’s the final week of submissions and there’s a lot of stress. Annie is a man named Anand, a final year student who has failed multiple times. This is a film about youth as youth actually was and not in the way Hindi cinema sold it to us, with these gorgeous people who just looked beautiful all the time. The icing on this cake is that this was also the first film that Shah Rukh Khan acted in.
Moonstruck by Norman Jewison is a film about several love affairs happening in Manhattan. They are messy, they are magical, they are just fabulous. At one point in this film, Ronny Cammareri played by Nicolas Cage, who is a baker from Brooklyn and sadly has only one hand, is talking to Loretta played by Cher, (who won an Oscar for this performance), trying to make this impassioned case about why she should sleep with him. The problem here is that Loretta is engaged to his brother. There’s also other love affairs and lots of family drama but it’s all really warm and affectionate. It’s wonderfully written and has just the right touch of sweeping romance that you need.
Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala, which was made in 1987, is based during the British Raj and set in a little village in Gujarat. There is a sadistic subedar played by a fabulous Naseeruddin Shah who happens to see this young married woman played by Smita Patil and demands that she sleep with him. She refuses and then locks herself in the mirch masala factory where they grind the spices. Mehta really uses the colour of Gujarat well – the red of the spices and the red of the clothes the women are wearing. The cast is made up of a who’s who of art cinema. There’s Om Puri, Supriya Pathak, Ratna Pathak Shah and Benjamin Gilani.
A Death in the Gunj
Konkona Sen Sharma’s A Death in the Gunj is based on a short story that her father Mukul Sharma had written which was based on true events. It takes place over one week in a sleepy town called McCluskieganj. A family and friends have gathered there in 1979. Old romances are rekindled as are old rivalries. The performances are terrific and at the heart of it there’s Vikrant Massey as Shutu. Shutu is that family flunky every family has. Everyone bullies him and nobody really looks at the rage and the sadness in his eyes. Death is in the title, so you know that’s going to come, but when it does it really hits you hard.
Don’t Breathe is about three teenage robbers who break into the home of a blind Iraq War veteran. They do this because they think it’s going to be easy to rob him. What they don’t account for are his rippling muscles, his keen sense of hearing and his absolutely terrifying rage. Most of the film is set in one house but it’s used really smartly and you’re constantly afraid for the kids rather than this man. This film is just what you need to completely take you out of what is happening outside because you literally won’t be able to stop watching.
Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhoka is a film about voyeurism. It is a very smartly constructed anthology of three stories that are loosely tied together. The first one is constructed to look like CCTV footage. So you are looking at other people through a camera. It’s brutal, disturbing but it really makes you think, and it’s actually even more relevant now. Dibakar is a master at gazing at the heart of darkness. His cinema is unflinching and unsettling and doesn’t allow us to look away because it indicts us all. Watch the film on Netflix.
Rangeela directed by Ram Gopal Varma is a showbiz fairytale. Urmila Matondkar plays Milli, a background dancer, who gets spotted by a superstar, played by a debonair Jackie Shroff, and becomes a heroine. There are amazing set-piece songs choreographed by Ahmed Khan and Saroj Khan with spectacular music by A R Rahman. The superstar loves Mili, but her heart is with Munna, played by Aamir Khan, the black market guy who sells tickets outside a single screen theatre. Aamir is in terrific form and just nails Munna. Wait for this scene in which he shows up to take Urmila out in a complete yellow outfit, from head to toe.
Phobia, directed by Pawan Kripalani, is a film about an artist named Mahek who is sexually assaulted one night and then develops a phobia of public places. She just can’t go out of the house. A friend suggests that maybe if she moves to a new apartment it might help her heal. And then other horrors begin because the apartment seems to have its own issues. There are big plot holes here but Pawan keeps a tight rein. Radhika Apte is just fantastic. You experience the horror and the fright through her. You can watch it on Netflix.
Malayalam film Angamaly Diaries is directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery, one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. It’s a completely immersive experience right from the titles which are furiously cut, to the sights and sounds of Angamaly in Kerala, including the food, which plays a big part in this. The film is about gangs in Angamaly. It’s a very masculine film. All of it climaxes in this amazing 11-minute one-shot sequence which happens during a religious procession. It is bonkers in the best way possible. It’s available on Netflix.
Luck By Chance
One of my favourite movies about the movies is Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance. Zoya is a second generation of Bollywood kid. She has seen it all and she calls it all out – the mediocrity and hypocrisy. She calls out nepotism way before nepotism became a thing. The film is a story of two outsiders Vikram and Sona. They both come to Mumbai to chase the Bollywood dream. The film has some wonderful performances by Farhan Akhtar and Konkona Sen Sharma. Dimple Kapadia is fantastic as Neena Walia, and old school superstar who’s now micromanaging her daughter’s career. You can watch it on Amazon Prime Video.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
The 40-year-old virgin was the directorial debut Of Judd Apatow. He co-wrote it with Steve Carell who plays the 40-year-old virgin in question. He’s a very mild-mannered, sweet guy who works in an electronic store. His colleagues find out he’s still a virgin and decide to do something about it and, of course, nothing goes according to plan. This film is superbly funny. There is a waxing scene that is an absolute classic. This is a film that somehow manages to be dirty but also very romantic, which is a combination that is not easy to achieve.
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire is a period drama set in the 18th century about two women, and one of them is a painter. She embarks on a tough sea voyage to go to a remote island where she has been called to do a painting of another young woman. The young woman is engaged to a rich Italian man who who wants to see her painting. This girl does not want to marry, she does not want to be painted either, so the painter must do it in a way where she doesn’t realise she is being observed. They go on to becoming companions in an exquisite love story.
Trance is a flawed but fascinating Malayalam film directed by Anwar Rasheed, starring Fahadh Faasil. He plays Viju, a small town motivational speaker. Through a strange turn of events, he meets this shady corporation in Mumbai and they train him to be a fake priest who stages miracles as a way of getting money out of gullible people. The entire narrative is a meditation on spirituality, and it’s also a psychological drama because Viju is depressed himself. You have to watch it because Fahadh Faasil is one of the best actors working right now. Trance is too long but it’s wonderful also because of all the things it is trying to do.
I think Nagraj Manjule is one of the finest filmmakers we have working currently. You might know him for Sairat. But Fandry, made in 2013, was his first film. Fandry means pig in Marathi and this is a film set in a village in Maharashtra. It’s about a Dalit boy named Jabya who falls in love with an upper-caste girl. The film’s called Fandry because one of the things Jabya’s family has to do is drive away the really ferocious pig that roams around this village. It’s a job considered unclean and it is what limits Jabya’s romance and yearning. Fandry is available on Zee5.
I really love wedding sequences in movies. You know the Yash Chopra kind – beautiful people, gorgeous clothes, song and dance. But Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding subverted all that by embracing the Punjabi masti but also making it dark. This is a film about an upper-class wedding in Delhi for an arranged marriage the bride really doesn’t want. There are all sorts of subplots, complications, and disturbing family secrets. There is the madness of a family wedding, there’s a disturbing secret and there is also a snapshot of India at that moment in time. This is a film that doesn’t date. You can watch it on Amazon Prime Video.
I have always thought the idea of bachpan ka pyaar is very silly. But director C Prem Kumar makes it believable and actually heartbreaking in the Tamil film 96. The title stands for the class of 96. Ram and Janki are part of that class. They are not exactly girlfriend-boyfriend but they have a special bond when they are in school in this small-town, that means sharing your lunches and taking walks. But after summer vacation, Ram just disappears and they don’t meet again for 22 years. They meet at a class reunion and then they spend one night together trying to figure out the cards that life has dealt them. The writing is terrific as is the acting of Trisha Krishnan and Vijay Sethupathi. You can watch it on Sun NXT.
Shakespeare In Love
John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love is set in Elizabethan England. It’s about Shakespeare overcoming writer’s block and writing Romeo and Juliet. The screenplay, co-authored by great British playwright Tom Stoppard is just delicious and sexy and incredibly witty. This film won multiple Academy Awards. One of them was for Dame Judy Dench who plays Queen Elizabeth and is on screen for about 8 mins. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Viola, a high born woman who loves to act and eventually inspires Shakespeare to write again. There’s also Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson and Ben Affleck. Outside the romance, it’s also got great depth and insight into the nature of showbusiness.
I love films about food and one of my favourite films about food is the Japanese film Tampopo. It’s basically about this gritty truck driver and his sidekick teaching this young widow how to make the perfect noodles so she can run her restaurant. It’s a film that celebrates food, celebrates films, celebrates sex – in short everything that pleases the senses. Director Juzo Itami infuses the film with a great deal of humour. So you’re watching all this amazing food being consumed, you’re getting hungrier and hungrier and you’re laughing harder and harder. You can watch it on YouTube.
Alexander Payne’s Sideways is about two friends taking a week-long trip through the California wine country. One of them is due to be married. The other one, Miles, is troubled and depressed. He’s an 8th grade English teacher, his ex-wife is happily married, and he can’t stop obsessing about her. This is a film about human beings who can be flawed and prickly but if you go a little deeper, you will see beauty. This is a wonderfully written script, with a great performance by Paul Giamatti. You can watch it on YouTube.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a wonderful documentary. Jiro is considered to be the best sushi chef in the world. At the time this documentary was shot in 2011, he was 85-years-old. His restaurant in Tokyo can only seat 10 people and an average meal is about 100 dollars. Jiro is a perfectionist. He worries about how far people sit, where their elbows will be and what the exact temperature is. Director David Gelb gives us a portrait of a man with a passion. It’s about what it takes to find your ambition and work relentlessly at it day after day, year after year. And what is the price of that perfection? You can watch it on Netflix.
Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu is about a buffalo that’s supposed to be slaughtered but breaks loose in a small village. As the men in the village chase the buffalo, Lijo taps into something really primal. Beyond a point, it’s just this frenzy of wanting to kill something. Characters in this film don’t have great backstories. It’s like watching some kind of a medieval morality play. The cinematography by Girish Gangadhar is just fantastic. There are visuals here that you will not be able to get out of your head. This film is only 90 minutes and you’re not going to be able to look away. Watch it on Amazon Prime.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
For those looking for pure escapism, there’s Ang lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. This film is a martial arts movie about two great warriors played by Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh. These character’s love each other but never express their love. It’s sort of unsaid and simmers through and they have bigger things to take care of. Chow Yun-fat has taken a vow to avenge his master’s death. This film is just visually magical. You have fight scenes which play out on top of trees. I cannot express to you how beautiful and stunning it is. You can watch it on YouTube movies.
I think the word dashing was created only for Dev Anand because there was nobody as dashing as him and there isn’t a film in which he is more dashing. Hum Dono is a story about two army men who meet in the middle of World War II. One of them is injured and believed to be dead. The other goes to his house to give the news to his family. But these two men look identical. It does get a little hokey but who goes to a film like this for logic, right? You have the most exquisite soundtrack by Jaidev, with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi. You can see this film on YouTube.
Internal Affairs is a deliciously twisted thriller from Hong Kong. It’s about two men, one is a gangster pretending to be a policeman, the other is a policeman pretending to be a gangster. Both these men have led these double lives for so long, that they are almost in the middle of an existential crisis about who they really are. It’s a very cool film but there’s also this kind of anxiety and dread for these two men caught in situations they cannot control. Martin Scorsese remade this as The Departed. At the risk of being sacrilegious, I would say this is a better film. You can see it on Netflix.
Anwar Rasheed’s Ustad Hotel is the story of Faizi, a boy born after four girls. But his mother dies and Faizi grows up with all his older sisters, mostly in the kitchen. His father sends him to Switzerland but he doesn’t know that Faizi is actually studying to be a chef. He returns to have a big fight with his father and goes to stay with his grandfather who runs a modest eatery called Ustad Hotel on a beach, famous for its biryani. It’s a film that appears simple but it isn’t. Anjali Menon’s script is layered and the performances from Dulquer Salman, Nithya Menon and Thilakan are wonderful. You can watch it on Disney+ Hotstar.
C/O Kancharapalem is a film about four love stories. But director Venkatesh Maha is also commenting on religion, gender and dignity in labour. At the centre of it is a man called Raju who’s almost 50 years old and still unmarried. Everyone in Kancharapalem even have a meeting to discuss why he isn’t married. This is a film with incredible female characters. There is a prostitute named Salima. When a man proposes to her, she rebuffs him saying ‘oh you think you are some big hero offering to rescue me from this job that I have chosen to do’. It’s a very special film. You can watch it on Netflix.
Amdavad Ma Famous
This is a delightful documentary from director Hardik Mehta about kids in the middle of a kite flying festival in the Ahmedabad. Hardik and crew followed these kids for 6 days over 2 years. We see how crazy they are about flying kites, like it’s the only thing that matters. They risk their lives jumping over terraces, and you’re afraid for them but they are just so energized, which Hardik captures beautifully. This film is a celebration of life.
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Y Tu Mama Tambien is the film that made me fall in love with Alfonso Cuaron. The title means ‘and your mother too’ in Spanish. It’s about two teenage boys who are in heat. It’s the summer between high school and university. They go on a road trip with an older woman who basically teaches them about life, sex and death. A young Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna play the boys and María Verdú plays the older women. Apparently the film was shot chronologically so the actors got to know each other as they shot together. You can see in the film the kind of chemistry that develops as it unravels.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool is Macbeth transposed to the Mumbai mafia. You’re in the middle of gang wars, corrupt cops and violence but Vishal uses this to give us this incredible meditation on love, lust, guilt and redemption. This film is like a masterclass in acting because there’s Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapoor, Tabu and at the centre of it all the amazing Irrfan playing Maqbool. This is a film that soaks you into its melancholy, atmospherics and textures. Beautifully written with wonderful music and certain scenes which are unforgettable. You can see Maqbool on YouTube.
One of my favourite performances of Rishi Kapoor is in Anubhav Sinha’s 2018 film Mulk. He plays a retired advocate in Varanasi. When his nephew gets drawn into this Jihaad conspiracy, and his younger brother Bilal gets arrested, he is forced to come out of retirement. Eventually, his daughter in law who is Hindu, played by Taapsee Pannu, has to go to court to defend him because this respected member of the local society has to prove that he is a patriot only because he happens to be a Muslim. The film speaks to the poison of communalism that has spread throughout the country. Mulk is persuasive and powerful. You can see it on Zee5.
Anjali Menon’s 2014 Bangalore Days is a film that spreads joy and gives you hope. It’s young, it’s frothy, instantly relatable and it stars a who’s who of Malayalam cinema, including Fahadh Faasil, Dulquer Salman, Nivin Pauly, Parvathy Thiruvothu, Nazriya Nazim and Nithya Menen. This is a story of three cousins who move to Bangalore because of their respective situations. One has a job, one gets married, and they have to deal with the various things that life throws at them. You grow with these characters and experience their lives and by the end, you feel like you’re part of this amazing gang. This film can be seen on Disney+ Hotstar.
Free Solo is one of the most panic-inducing films I have ever seen. It’s about those who enjoy the idea of climbing a mountain without any equipment or anything to secure you. The climber Alex Honnold is renowned all over the world for doing it. In June 2017 he climbed El Capitan which is one of the highest peaks in the Yosemite National Park in America. This is a mountain of 3200 feet of just granite and there’s Alex holding on from his fingers, toes, his entire body figuring out which way the wind is going. Filmmakers Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi follow him and record this climb. You can watch it on Disney+ Hotstar.
Nathicharami is made by Mansore and stars the lovely Shruti Hariharan. This story is about a widow named Gowri who lost her husband years ago. She hasn’t gotten over him, but she is also desperately lonely. She wants to have sex, and she actually pursues it in a very structured way. She sets rules for what can and cannot happen after she makes love. This film is just lovely because it’s portrayed in such a quiet and dignified way. It’s frank but not explicit. You see that Gowri is lonely but she is also strong and this whole pursuit is liberating for her. You can watch it on Netflix.
As Good As It Gets
As Good As It Gets by James L Brooks features Jack Nicholson as Melvin Udall, a New York Novelist. He writes these romantic stories but he is just awful. He is homophobic, sexist, he is rude to everybody he sees, especially to his neighbour Simon who is gay. Carol, a waitress who serves him every day in this restaurant, manages to tolerate him. Through the course of the film, Melvin learns to love Carol, he learns to love Simon. Now, this could have been the stuff of formula but the writing and the performances are so good that you just end up falling in love with this film. You can see it on Netflix.
Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja is about a pig. And it’s not just any pig. This is a genetically modified, gigantic pig created by a corporation to feed many more people and add billions to the bottom line. But when we first meet the pig, it’s being raised somewhere in this beautiful area in South Korea by a lovely little girl named Mija. Okja and Mija have a great friendship and you know it’s going to be ruined. Okja is a satire on corporate greed and how awful we are. I know people who stopped eating meat after they saw Okja. You can watch it on Netflix.
Punjab 1984 by Anurag Singh is the film through which I discovered the dazzling Diljit Dosanjh. The film begins during operation Blue Star and what unravels is the story of a mother looking for her son who is gone missing because of the political events that are happening. In the second hour, the action gets a bit overdramatic but the emotions pack a wallop. The acting is first class. There’s Diljit and there’s Kirron Kher who’s absolutely wonderful as this mourning mother, and Pawan Malhotra who plays a despicable police officer. The film has a lot of emotion, a lot of tragedy, and I guarantee that you will cry. The film is on Netflix.