I've been reviewing Hindi films since 2011. And by 'Hindi films,' I mean not just the visible Bollywood ones, but possibly every other small B-movie and illegitimate release through the year.
This includes not only the conventional biggies like Grand Masti, Fan, Dangal, Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Baahubali, but also Extraordinaari, Ishq ke Parindey, Sorry Daddy, Hey Bro, Dirty Politics and Dilliwaali Zaalim Girlfriend. I'm not making up those names (though if you say them all together rapidly, it sounds like a bunch of C-grade producers talking passionately about the film industry in a quarter bar). These dubious titles deserve a separate post – one that I will compile in the near future.
For now, I have another list. I must share with you an intimate collection of experiences – of the mainstream Hindi movies that made me reconsider not only my profession but my life choices and existence, those that had me crawling out of halls gasping for air and respect and moksha, those that I personally took longer to get over than crippling breakups and deaths of furry little pets.
Mind you, these may not be the worst of them all, but on that day, in that mood, in a frustrated-critic universe of no escape, in my torn book, the forces of nature combined to make these the most unbearable monstrosities to endure in the moment.
The biggest and last weekend of the year saw Rohit Shetty's magnum opus and Bajirao Mastani lock horns on the same Friday. Dreary critics had a packed Thursday, with Bajirao previewing in the 6-to-9 slot followed by Dilwale late into the night. To this date, I believe that Bhansali's film was propelled even further by the preposterousness of Dilwale; it got excellent reviews primarily because it was succeeded by perhaps the most arrogant Bollywood "entertainer" of all time.
Imagine the mental space. Just as I was coming to terms with a haphazard final act in which brave Bajirao seemed to have overdosed on existential acid, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol partook in a "homage" to themselves so lazy, so dishonest and so much of a commercial scam that I could almost hear them rattling off box-office figures in post-release interviews using Shetty's dubbed voice. At one point, I wept during the film – sad, frustrated, offended, cheated and hurt. Suddenly, Khan's vein-poppingly unfunny performance in Chennai Express wasn't the worst thing he had done in his pursuit to out-Salman Salman Khan.
HAUNTED 3D (2011)
I was still at the beginning of my young career when this happened. At one point I remember naively asking for a change of 3D glasses because mine seemed pointless and blurry. Apparently, the spectacles were innocent. Mohan Kapoor's eighty fifth role as a priest/psychiatrist and Arif Zakaria's legendary role as an evil jilted teacher ghost raping a female student ghost (poor Tia Bajpai) aside, the third dimension to this Vikram Bhatt hit – a hit that convinced the auteur he was desi horror cinema's second coming – was Mahaakshay Chakraborty's (Mimoh, for the star-son uninitiated) phenomenally constipated turn as the heroic puppet in Bhatt's Circus Bizarro.
All the filmmaker had to do was market this as India's first horror comedy instead, and Haunted 3D would have automatically become a self-aware new-wave masterpiece. AIB and TVF would've had nothing on Bhatt. For once, I missed Bipasha Basu.
On the morning of November 12th, 2015, I walked into a shady cinema hall in Goregaon to experience a pure Sooraj Barjatya discourse on Hinduism the "aam junta" way. Three hours, two Salmans and one debacle later, I came out a changed sanskaari man: a tradition-embracing pure vegetarian teetotaler, religious to a fault, in awe of Sonam Kapoor's underrated acting versatility (playing an Indian princess in designer lehengas and perfect hair is never easy), and convinced of rumours that the Barjatyas were born on the fourth sacred holy night of Krishna's tenth moon of the seventeenth century.
I could sense my virginity growing back with every frame; this is a 21st century film in which cigarettes and alcohol demonstrate villainy (Neil Nitin Mukesh and Armaan Kohli respectively), an estranged (royal) family is a worse omen than a black cat crossing the street on World Aids Day, a prince and a simpleton switch roles and still resemble the same superstar notorious for facial-paralysis and 'artistic' philanthropy, a family football game (sans a Pomeranian) is used to woo a sporty girl away from domestic chores, and a shiny mirror-glass mansion at the edge of a river flowing down a steep cliff is used as the ultimate identity metaphor. I've seen a lot of pea-brained Bhai vehicles over the years, but this one takes the eggless cake.
Kareena Kapoor's running mascara, crimson nose and her penchant to chomp on a cigarette with varying degrees of intensity to demonstrate different levels of stress made for her most memorable performance as a heroine in a movie about Bollywood – for all the wrong reasons. I watched this once as a reviewer, and the second time as part of a drunken group of rowdy men attempting to test the filmmaker's delicious so-bad-it's-good reputation. The template: small-town girl, big city, male-dominated profession, gay stereotype friend, rise, conquer, fame, wealth, arrogance, fall, rock-bottom (drugs, alcohol, sleeping with black men), death of caricatured side role, wise, rise again. Do not rise. Repeat.
In hindsight, I can't tell the difference between any of Madhur Bhandarkar's 'hard-hitting feminist' extravaganzas. Specifically between Fashion (2008) and Heroine – perhaps the perfect metaphor for the state of mainstream acting in this country, given that it's all about "looking" the part. Which one had Kangana Ranaut playing the jealous outsider and losing her mind again?
DHOOM 3 (2013)
I was on a self-imposed break from reviewing when Dhoom 3 released. I had begun exploring other career options. The third film of the YRF franchise, which went on to become the highest Bollywood grosser of the time, enraged me so much that in some perverse way it brought me back from the dead and made me the film critic I am today. I just had to write about it. My incoherent notes went thus: Idiot Circus in Chicago – ruining The Dark Knight memories of city – 'father of the year' Jackie Shroff kills himself in front of son because he is a failure – son vows to avenge banks for (gasp) doing their job – grows (?) up to be bank robber Aamir – same height though – Aamir in Fanaa mode – worst suave villain-hero ever – most acting ever – Abhishek Bachchan and Uday Chopra still relevant? – called to Chicago because Ghatkopar isn't aesthetic enough – ooh, Aamir double role at interval – no resemblance to The Prestige at all – Aamir acting harder because autism means practicing for PK – idiot circus again – idiots everywhere – is that Katrina Kaif? – oh my, that is definitely Katrina Kaif – Ek Tha Tiger was far more sensible – Aamir acting even while dying – falling down bridge forever – idiot movie – idiot industry – idiot audience. Thanks to inflation, Baahubali, Dangal, PK and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, we've been spared the ignominy of Dhoom 3 being the most successful Indian film of all time.
Happy New Year – an incompetent ensemble cast that belongs to the same idiot "heist" circus of Dhoom 3.
Jab Tak Hai Jaan – Yash Chopra's last and worst film, where Jesus, retrograde amnesia and bomb disposal paraphernalia outperforms Shah Rukh, his guitar, Anushka Sharma and Katrina Kaif.
Bodyguard (2011), Players (2012), Ragini MMS 2 (2014), Kick (2014), Heropanti (2014), Rustom (2016)