Dare I say it’s been a better year for short films than their longer, mainstream cousins? This isn’t entirely surprising. With film festivals and content platforms actively pushing this medium in pursuit of digital glory, Youtube has been ablaze with all kinds of short content. While this is heartening, with there being no excuse for aspiring filmmakers to “wait” for their big breaks anymore, I’ve noticed a few typically Indian trends, too. First, the average length of these films is invariably more than ten minutes. At times, it even touches the half-hour mark. And second, the thin line between branded content and artistic language is getting a little thicker. This results in more clutter, but also clear standout efforts; there is rarely any middle ground.

Nevertheless, after combing through the internet all year, here’s my list of the ten best Indian short films in 2017:

10. SYAAHI

Dir: Varun Tandon

When there’s an angsty writer, there’s a quaint hill station town and a self-flagellating existence. And at times, even a disillusioned family. This languidly paced short revolves around the neglected son of a failed author – that is, the oft-overlooked “price” of artistic ambition. Perhaps it’s the wrong time in life for the man to have selfishly pursued his passion – a young wife and kid in tow, circling the peak of financial anxiety – but is there ever a right time? Often, there’s no real end point in such stories. But with a son named Vansh (meaning: lineage), Tandon’s film feels like more of a beginning. And a hopeful one: rare, given the obsessive, sociopathic tendencies of writers who subconsciously exit the very life that inspires them to fictionalize it.

Read the full review here

9. AAI SHAPAT

Dir: Gautam Vaze

A beautifully acted little slice of childhood, this Marathi-language short thrives on the staging of its unassuming environment. As we watch a little boy worryingly shadow his aunt after his cousin carelessly “swears on his mother” during a cricket match, it’s hard not to fall in love with the linguistic nostalgia of innocence. We’ve all been through it, and have perhaps discarded such embarrassingly naïve memories. Vaze’s middle-class Maharashtrian characters – especially the throwaway sounds and superstitions framing their foreground – remind us that the world seen through an impressionable child’s eyes is also an “adult” children’s film. The blind faith in fantasy, after all, is as young as the fantasy itself.

Read the full review here

Shriya Pilgaonkar, Supriya Pilgaonkar and Shiv Pandit in Navjot Gulati’s Jai Mata Di

8. JAI MATA DI

Dir: Navjot Gulati

One of two distinctly “Bombay” films on this list, Gulati’s short is resourceful and amusing because its situation doesn’t need satirizing. And unlike most scripted interactions, its characters walk the behavioral tightrope between familiar and outlandish. An urban couple (Shriya Pilgaonkar, Shiv Pandit), embarking on a live-in relationship, faces the ultimate city test: to rent a flat in a notoriously judgmental suburban housing society. The film explores the very relatable reality of their “jugaad”. A shifty broker, some topical bickering, an emotional building secretary and a loving mother later, Jai Mata Di becomes the rare life episode that can pass off as a comedy as well as a soft-hitting tragedy.

Read the full review here

7. THE MANLIEST MAN

Dir: Anuj Gulati

Arguably the scariest short film here, The Manliest Man cleverly compares the futility of the rural caste system to the horrific mundaneness of female infanticide. Designed as an unforgiving Shakespearean saga set in a remote hinterland village, it pulls off a near-impossible feat of making us empathize with different degrees of “legal” patriarchy. The village potter, an untouchable, fails to produce a son after one daughter; this kick-starts a sequence of events that puts the focus squarely on the morally conflicted sarpanch (an excellent Yogesh Tiwari). Gulati’s palette is chilling – a sobering reminder of the India most filmmakers tend to bastardize as “exploitation porn” in pursuit of commercializing social commentary.

Read the full review here

ALSO READ: 8 THINGS INDIAN FILM LOVERS SHOULD BE GRATEFUL FOR IN 2017

6. CHHURI

Dir: Mansi Jain

Writer-actor Tisca Chopra seems to have zeroed in on a subversive (timely?) Indian infidelity template. In both, last year’s record-breaking Chutney, and now Chhuri – a texturally ambiguous Mumbai-centric successor of Chutney – she plays a crafty homemaker that turns the tables on her younger, shiftier mistresses through creepy mental disintegration tactics. The playfulness of these deceptively serious shorts lie in the cultural mood of the cinematic era they occupy. For long, we’ve seen wronged wives lash out dramatically at cheating husbands, fuelling the emotional estrangement process that the men kick-start.

One can argue this loudness is only natural. But Chopra’s idea of this “hapless” wife is temperamentally aware and disturbingly rational – willing to sound like a woman who is consciously walking the rare imaginary line between anger and self-pity. That’s not to say her Meera in Chhuri or gossipy Model-Town “didi” in Chutney suddenly become scheming and perceptive; the film begins at a point where she has already internalized most of her pain, and has introspected enough to cut into the truth. Housewives spend so long in kitchens that there is enough time for tricky situations to simmer in their minds. As a result, their little victories acquire the identity of their strongest kitchen suits; hence, titles such as “Chhuri” (Knife) and “Chutney.” She recognizes that there’s no point fighting fire with fire (age and domesticity are irreversible traits), which is why she brings psychological gloves to a battle of naïve physicality. And perhaps it’s this confrontational tone of her writing, and performance, that lend a necessary brand of relevance to these thinly veiled and strangely entertaining “social message” dramas. Denial is not an option anymore.

Saurabh Shukla and Parambrata Chatterjee in Sujoy Ghosh’s Anukul

5. ANUKUL

Dir: Sujoy Ghosh

Based on a Satyajit Ray short story, Sujoy Ghosh’s extremely well detailed science-fiction adaptation takes the refreshing route of not “worshipping” its source material too hard. In stark contrast to the Kahaani franchise, Ghosh’s Kolkata-based film unfurls almost entirely indoors; it designs a quasi-futuristic, origin-story-ish portrait of a time when “domestic” robots replace household servants. The social upheaval of a country torn between evolution and joblessness is sensed off-screen, while a teacher (Saurabh Shukla) and his loyal machine (Parambrata Chatterjee) live out a fascinating Krishna-Arjun dichotomy through the empathetic prism of morality. With two fine actors and a storyteller in his rooted comfort zone, it’s easy to forget the thematic genre-ness of this world.

Read the full review here

4. THE AFFAIR

Dir: Hardik Mehta

One of the saddest, yet most optimistic, Mumbai-centric films in 2017 revolves around a “Marine Drive” couple – one of the passionate millions forced to locate privacy in the throes of public spaces. The director, also a co-writer on Vikramaditya Motwane’s Trapped, takes forward his fascination with the urban space-crunch epidemic through this lovely, gentle short. There’s an unmistakable sense of curiosity and humanism about the routine “facelessness” of this intimacy – something we usually dismiss as desperate and lustful without understanding circumstances. It stars Amit Sial and a charming Khushboo Upadhyay; their chemistry, little kisses and stolen glances make us smile, blush even, in the face of the city’s crushing lower-middle-class housing crisis.

Read the full review here

ALSO READ: HARDIK MEHTA ON HIS SHORT FILM THE AFFAIR AND MAKING FILMS FOR A DIGITAL AUDIENCE

3. THE BLACK CAT

Dir: Bhargav Saikia

What is any short-story list without some misty Ruskin Bond magic? Saikia’s beautifully vivid “children’s film” has no children, one mysterious cat, a Mussorie cottage, a broom, a crabby writer (Tom Alter in his final role, as Bond himself) and a gleeful witch (Shernaz Patel). This is the stuff kiddie dreams (and nightmares) are made of – the kind of unabashed Tim-Burton-esque imagination we often grow up with, only to see it diluted with age and economics. The country needs filmmakers like these, if only to nullify the rampant adultness of an industry that ends up condescending on youngsters in order to relate to them.

Read the full review here

2. JUICE

Dir: Neeraj Ghaywan

Perhaps the timeliest and most necessary short of the year, Juice stars the forever-in-form Shefali Shah as a housewife waking up to her culture’s inbred patriarchy while hosting a weekend dinner. She plays a slightly more middle-class, and therefore infinitely more relatable, version of her Dil Dhadakne Do domesticity – conveying through her eyes a lifetime of emotions that most actresses spend their entire career trying to understand. The importance of this scene’s cacophony – and all its finely observed little defeats disguised as routine and hierarchy – cannot be underestimated. These are the women who, shackled by the institution of companionship, mutter #MeToo under their breath every morning – at times, without even knowing it.

Read the full review here

1. DEATH OF A FATHER

Dir: Somnath Pal

The only “animated” short here is world-class story making. It is introspective, informative, subtle and angry without once eschewing the emotional intricacies of a tragedy. Pal’s brilliantly understated film is possibly the most perceptive snapshot of that infamous confrontational point – where tradition and culture jostles with grief and sentimentality. All we see is a regular Bengali man reluctantly executing the stubborn, apathetic customs of his father’s funeral. Not much is said, and even lesser is done. Without so much as a tear, it correctly expresses that it’s ironically the going-through-the-motions mechanism and sheer noiselessness of the aftermath that is way more Indian than the iconic post-demise melodrama.

Read the full review here

Special Mentions:

PAANIPATH (Dir: Jai Mehta) – A bleak, sensitive and expertly crafted immigrant short humanizing Mumbai’s water crisis through the day of a jaded housemaid (a superlative Tejaswini Kolhapuri).

PAROKSH (Dir: Ganesh Shetty) – A Tulu-language, atmospheric semi-thriller about an anxious family caught in the awkward void between modernity and tradition.

BRUNO AND JULIET (Dir: Khawar Jamsheed) – A live-action canine “update” of the star-crossed Shakespearean romance. The protagonists: a purebred and a stray, with humans as the baddies. Dog Lovers, unite!

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