Top 10 Bollywood film endings of this millennium

Life doesn’t end when a film ends. The story continues; it’s only our frame of vision that closes. Some of the best movie endings resolve a “before” and evoke a sense of “after”. The conclusion can be a climax, a twist, a tragedy, a song, a happily ever after, calm after the storm, a new phase – a culminatory scene that gives the viewer an emotion to leave the cinema hall with. We like to leave with strong feelings: hope, shock, horror, joy. But other films keep you thinking by ending only in spirit, or by ending without finishing. So often I’ve left the theatre still immersed in the world of fictional characters, wondering what they must be doing when the camera isn’t on them anymore. 

On that note, here are ten of my favourite Hindi film endings of this millennium:

Devdas (2002)

It later became fashionable to hate on Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Shah Rukh Khan starrer, but I remember the pin-drop silence in the hall when a married Paro sprints – abandoning any semblance of elegance and dignity – towards her mansion’s slow-shutting gates. She wants to reach a dying Devdas, whose last rites are reflected in a desperately beautiful theme. The crescendo of Paro throwing herself against the doors and “Deva” breathing his last: that’s the sound we go to the movies for. A life ends, but dying ends too.

Rang De Basanti (2006)

Top 10 Bollywood film endings of this millennium

It’s the failure of an entire generation that an angry, irrational and mesmerising film like Rang De Basanti cannot exist in India today. Dying by bullets at the All India Radio Station, then, is both dramatic and fitting – you kill a politician, you die in a space where voices matter. And Rang De Basanti did Rumi’s “beyond right and wrong, there’s a field, I will meet you there” before Rockstar: The gang is reunited just as they once were, college kids yet to perform the roles of modern freedom fighters. 

Mumbai Meri Jaan (2008)

Top 10 Bollywood film endings of this millennium

Nishikanth Kamath’s Mumbai Meri Jaan – a multi-narrative snapshot of the city centered on the 2006 train bombings – ends with Mohammed Rafi’s playful voice crooning “zara hatke, zara bachke, yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan”. But that’s just one of two masterstrokes. This is preceded by a two-minute silence, both in reel and real time, to mark one week of an attack that tore through the lifeline of the metropolis. All the film’s characters – the Islamophobe (Kay Kay Menon), the traumatized everyman (R. Madhavan), the immigrant (Irrfan Khan), the veteran cop (Paresh Rawal), the bereaved TV journalist (Soha Ali Khan) – come of age, without saying a word, after a tough week. To see Mumbai at a standstill is to see the movie pause and reflect on everything it means.

Luck By Chance (2009)

Zoya Akhtar’s first and best film is about two industry outsiders at the beginning of long but lonely careers. Following some wise advice from a superstar, Vikram (Farhan Akhtar), a new film star, tries to secure his happily ever after with his ex, Sona (Konkana Sen Sharma), in the final few scenes. But she walks away, and suddenly we realize that the film was probably about her all along. It ends with an interview of Sona, now a TV star, where she reflects on her journey. “Someone once told me you choose your successes and failures in this industry,” she continues, while we see her hailing a taxi. “Now I understand what that means,” concludes her voiceover, a giant hoarding of Vikram receding in the background. The taxi moves towards her destination. In 2020, this is a powerful image. 

Udaan (2010)

This moment has already been written about in our decade-best scenes list, but not enough can be said – both in context of the story and in singularity. A teenage son sprints away from his abusive father and outruns him: a breathtaking release of pressure after their narrative reaches boiling point. The breakaway is so literal and physical and primal – a sprint, which is a direct measure of speed, strength and power. One is simply faster than the other, because the will to grow overwhelms the desire to escape. The body is where the mind always was.

Ship Of Theseus (2012)

Top 10 Bollywood film endings of this millennium

There’s a distinct sense of melancholy about the way director Anand Gandhi weaves philosophy into cinema, or vice versa, in his feature-length debut. This is most evident in the final scene, where Plato and metaphysics speak through visuals within visuals. The threads of the three protagonists – an Egyptian photographer, a Jain monk and a stockbroker – intersect at an anthropology museum. They are three of eight organ recipients from a late donor whose cave-exploring footage is being screened for them. The lights go out, the projector comes to life, and all the different “parts” of the donor watch their whole – his shadow – explore the inner organs of Earth. Yet the camera is on them, in more ways than one. The strings of the background score rise, and it’s fitting that the frame of an audience moved by images on a screen is followed by the name – the identity – of this film. 

Masaan (2015)

Masaan ends with a beginning. Devi (Richa Chadda) and Deepak (Vicky Kaushal), traumatized protagonists of separate stories, meet on their way to the Sangam: the “meeting point” of two rivers and a mythical third (Sanjay Mishra’s story). Unlike most multi-narrative films, this isn’t a token thread-tying moment. It feels like Deepak and Devi were destined to go through what they did – humiliation, heartbreak – only so that their paths cross. The scene itself is tender: They’re waiting for the boat, and Deepak notices Devi weeping at a lower step. He quietly places a bottle of water next to her before the boat arrives. When they make conversation, the boat is already on its way. The camera pans to the sun in the horizon – the sun is setting, but it’s actually rising. The song Bhor (“dawn”) takes over. 

Mukti Bhawan (2016)

Top 10 Bollywood film endings of this millennium

Shubhashish Bhutiani’s debut film says a lot about death, closure and familial resentment. Rajiv (Adil Hussain), who reluctantly fulfils his ailing father Daya’s (Lalit Behl) wishes of seeking salvation in Varanasi, spends the whole film torn between arranging a goodbye and avoiding a thank you. It’s the adult son who attains salvation during the final moments of Mukti Bhawan. In an unbroken take, we see Rajiv shouldering his father’s body to the funeral pyre – struggling through the narrow bylanes that seem to widen to accommodate the corpses that pass through them. He starts to break down because that’s what he thinks he’s supposed to do, before his daughter clutches his hands, urging him to dance and celebrate a life rather than mourn a death. Adil Hussain outdoes himself in this bittersweet moment: Rajiv looks guilty for feeling relieved, and relieved for finally feeling like more of a father and husband than a son.

A Death in the Gunj (2017)

Film Companion death in the gunj First shot last shot

A reticent man kills himself at the end of Konkana Sen Sharma’s A Death in the Gunj, but the form of the film – a family gettogether, a period setting, underlying tensions, a servant – deliberately builds it up like a murder. It’s a stunning moment that involves a rifle and an inspired Vikrant Massey. And that Morricone-style soundtrack. The shot of blood dripping down a tree trunk. And the icing on a tragic cake: The opening-closing scene, of the ghost of the tranquil man in the car, with his body in the trunk. The herring was always going to be red in colour.

Kaamyaab (2020)

Sanjay Mishra is lyrically appropriate as Sudheer, a veteran Bollywood extra pushing for a record 500th role. But the final scene of Hardik Mehta’s Kaamyaab is its finest – an emotional high and spiritual low. Sudheer is roped in as the “filler” to perform for a school auditorium while everyone waits for the chief guest, a superstar. Sudheer acts his heart out, throwing himself around the stage, enacting famous movie scenes. He continues – because he knows nothing else, and because this is his 500th role – even as everyone’s gaze turns towards the superstar walking in. The curtains closing on an old man fated to be a third wheel even when the cameras aren’t rolling is the essence of Kaamyaab. His daughter, almost estranged, watches from the audience in awe. She finally understands her father, the man who has spent a lifetime remembering to be forgotten. 

Special Mentions:

Manmarziyaan: A casual stroll from the family court deconstructs a divorced couple back into man and woman. The slate feels wiped clean.

Maqbool: Miyan Maqbool is shot – by a man, also by his conscience – outside the hospital. The last thing he sees is a bird in the sunny sky.

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi: A revelation adopts the language of a dance performance, but the priceless end-credits sequence is a shyly voiced honeymoon album. 

Andhadhun: A “blind” pianist swats away a stray can with his walking stick. Were we watching closely?

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