'Hindi popular cinema has declined considerably in the last two or three years with patriotic films coming to the fore'
India has many film industries like Bollywood, Malayalam, Tamil, Bangla and so on. There has always been a divide here between the commercially successful films and the critically acclaimed ones. While we can easily Google the top 10 box office hits of 2019 in India, do the critics agree on a singular list of best films? In an attempt to find that out, the Dhaka Tribune Showtime reached out to three eminent Indian film critics and here are their verdicts.
Film scholar, theorist, critic and writer Raghavendra authored six volumes on cinema, and received the National Award for Best Film Critic in 1997.
He told us: “I can't think of 10 best films. That's too many and it will include many films that don't deserve to be called good films.”
He gave us a list of five films instead, not in any particular order:
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar, Hindi)
Super Deluxe (Thagarajan Kumararaja, Tamil)
Article 15 (Anubhav Sinha, Hindi)
Ek Je Chhilo Raja (Srijit Mukherjee, Bangla)
Bharat (Ali Abbas Zafar, Hindi)
“These films have been chosen for different reasons and not necessarily for aesthetic reasons,” he added.“It seems today that films needed to be appreciated simply for their choice of subject matter.”
"Gully Boy, he said, is unusual and deals with a subculture not dealt with. It is a mainstream film with good performances. Super Deluxe is daring, unusual and reminiscent of Pedro Almodovar when it deals with subject matter that might have been considered too risky for mainstream cinema like sex change, adultery and porn but still bringing a light touch to it. Its use of colour is also exceptionally interesting and unusual. Article 15 deals with caste discrimination and works like an exposé, which could be quite shocking to people in urban areas, not exposed to life in parts of rural India. Ek Je Chhilo Raja is a respectable film version of Partha Chaterjee's A Princely Imposter set in East Bengal and is about an important legal battle in colonial times. Bharat is mass entertainment which is not highly regarded but represents a working-class hero, a fast disappearing species in popular films - which are either patriotic excesses or celebrations of rich people spending money abroad.
“Hindi popular cinema has declined considerably in the last two or three years with patriotic films coming to the fore,” he also said.“They are poor in stories, character and relationships but high in action. Even their technical achievements are not laudable considering that they get people from Hollywood to handle the action. That way regional films are better since they are still being inventive and choosing subject matter which is unpredictable.”
In Raghavendra’s opinion, mainstream Hindi cinema played a big role in nation building by helping Indians to become involved in national issues but that role is not much in evidence today, when it is all being reduced to jingoistic patriotism.
Premendra Mazumder is the Vice President of Federation of Film Societies of India, General Secretary of Fipresci-India and the Asia Pacific Secretary of the International Federation of Film Societies.
His top-ten favourite Indian films in 2019, in no particular order, is as follows:
Bini Sutoy/ Without Strings (Bangla) by: Atanu Ghosh
Biriyani/ Flavors of Flesh (Malyalam) by: Sajin Babu
Aani Maani (Hindi) by: Fahim Irshaad
Darkness/ Irutt (Malayalam) by: Satish Babusenan and Santosh Babusenan.
Hellaro (Gujrati) by: Abhishek Shah
Rise/ Uyare (Malayalam) by: Manu Ashokan
Aamis/ Ravening (Assamese) by: Bhaskar Hazarika
Bombay Rose (Hindi) by: Gitanjali Rao
Super Deluxe (Tamil) by: Thiagarajan Kumararaja.
Kumbalangi Nights (Malayalam) by: Madhu C Narayanan
“The year was neither good nor bad for Indian cinema,” he told us. “We got a few very good films, some good films and mostly insignificant ones. The year further proved India as the highest film producing country of the world with more than two thousand feature films made in more than twenty major languages for theatrical release, and thus reconfirmed India as the biggest film market of the world. But as far as the artistic quality is concerned, a very negligible number of films could break through the A-grade international film festivals.”
He added that the young film makers were quite impressive with many good films and new ideas, which were critically acclaimed and commercially successful as well. This is undoubtedly a good sign.
Meenakshi Shedde is India Consultant to the Berlin and Dubai Film Festivals, based in Mumbai. She has been India/Asia Curator/Consultant to the Toronto, Locarno, Pusan, and Mumbai Film Festivals. She also won the Indian National Award for Best Film Critic.
“Overwhelmingly films from South Asia addressed feminist concerns as well as of gay and transgender issues, backed by strong yet nuanced screenplays,” she told us. “In Bollywood, Gully Boy by Zoya Akhtar was a radically feminist Bollywood film that opened at the Berlin Film Festival and was India's entry for the Oscars. It is also an aspirational 'minority report' about a Muslim couple from the Dharavi slums. Bravo to Ranveer Singh for redefining a Bollywood hero who is okay being financially dependent on the heroine.”
In the film, when Murad dreams of becoming a rapper, Safeena, in hijab, says, "Go ahead, follow your dream, I'll become a surgeon and support both of us."
“Soni, on women police battling patriarchy at home, was remarkable, and Section 375 on sexual harassment of women and #MeToo was notable,” Meenakshi added.
Other regional Indian films, in her list, included Kumbalangi Nights by Madhu C Narayanan (Malayalam), which evoked femininity in an all-male family and ripped machismo. Super Deluxe by Thiagarajan Kumararaja (Tamil) refused to judge a porn star, a married woman having an affair, and a missing father who returns as a sexy transgender.
Prathi Poovankozhi by Rosshan Andrrews(Malayalam) is a powerful film on what happens when a woman is groped in a bus and why women's decency keeps them from taking easy revenge.
“In Bangladesh Rubaiyat Hossain's Made in Bangladesh, on the rise of a woman union leader and her insecure husband, was at Toronto film festival and released in 70 theatres in Europe, a remarkable feat," she also said.
2020 has also begun well with Meghna Gulzar's Chhapaak on an acid attack survivor and Thappad (Slap) on a woman who divorces her husband because he slapped her the first time, which is a great start in Meenakshi’s opinion.
Her top 10 Bollywood films of 2019 are:
Gully Boy by Zoya Akhtar
Soni by Ivan Ayr
Article 15 by Anubhav Sinha
Sonchiriya by Abhishek Chaubey
Hamid by Aijaz Khan
Section 375 by Ajay Bahl
Bala by Amar Kaushik
Noblemen by Vandana Kataria
Mission Mangal by Jagan Shakti
The Sky Is Pink by Shonali Bose