It's been a middling year at the movies. 2018 was a furiously fertile game-changer – lazy star-led vehicles like Race 3 and Thugs of Hindostan underperformed while outliers like Stree, Badhaai Ho, Andhadhun and Tumbbad notched up numbers and critical acclaim. In 2019, even though the box office increased by approximately 10 percent, the films didn't seem to have the same momentum or inventiveness. A few however pushed the boundaries. Here are my favourites.
Director: Siddharth Anand
Popcorn entertainers are routinely dismissed as being easy or escapist but I think there is much to be said for pleasure, beauty and the joy of losing yourself in an improbable fantasy. War delivered this in spades. Hrithik Roshan as a special agent gone rogue and Tiger Shroff as the protégé who must now pursue and kill his mentor were both delicious. The plot didn't entirely make sense but the glossy locations, high-octane action and Hrithik's sheer gorgeousness made up for it. I hope we get a sequel soon.
Director: Abhishek Chaubey
Sonchiriya is a harrowing blend of spaghetti western and social commentary. The film is set during Emergency in 1975. A rag tag team of doomed dakus try to create their own destiny but the toxic fusion of caste, violence and jungle law ensures that eventually everyone bites the dust. Sonchiriya features a terrific ensemble cast featuring Manoj Bajpayee, Ranvir Shorey, Sushant Singh Rajput, Ashutosh Rana and Bhumi Pednekar. The film didn't find too many takers in the theatres but you can catch it online on Zee 5.
Director: Vasan Bala
Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota is a joyous ode to the movies. Writer and director Vasan Bala mines the films he grew up loving – from Manmohan Desai to martial arts movies – and creates an action-comedy about an unlikely superhero who feels no pain. A lot of the delirious delight in Mard came from Gulshan Devaiah who plays a double role – the clichéd psychotic villain Jimmy and his brother, the one-legged Karate master Mani. This is a richly imaginative film brimming with inspired mayhem.
Directors: Anubhav Sinha (Article 15) and Ivan Ayr (Soni)
Two cop films that broke new ground – Article 15 tackled head-on that which cannot be named in Hindi cinema – Caste. Soni, with its masterful single shot scenes, immersed us into the lives of two Delhi policewomen who must routinely confront harassment and casual sexism. Ayushmann Khurrana in Article 15 and Geetika Vidya Ohlyan and Saloni Batra in Soni delivered terrific performances. In Article 15, director Anubhav Sinha makes his point forcefully. In Soni, Ivan Ayr gives us an understated character study. Both hit hard.
Director: Zoya Akhtar
By the end of Gully Boy, I was wiping tears and cheering furiously for Murad, Safeena, MC Sher, Moeen and even the minor characters in this rousing story of a rapper who refuses to downsize his destiny. Gully Boy followed a predictable underdog trajectory but Zoya Akhtar and co-writer Reema Kagti built on these layers of finely etched relationships, memorable characters and an unforgettable 18-track soundtrack. When Murad finally says, Apna Time Aayega, you believe, for a brief moment in time, that you can also overcome the odds. And what could be better than that?