In the spirit of Jab Tak Hai ‘Jan’, I’ve waited out the new year shenanigans in making this post available, so that you all get a peep into my recommendations from the year past while you may be knee deep amidst the plethora of award ceremonies happening in parellel.
Beginning at the fuller picture, here’s the full list of releases this year (in order of release). The few that I have bolded are the ones I managed to catch, from this I will put together a bunch of toppers below. So that you see the list as my recommendations rather than a countdown, I’ll keep the order of them consistent with release date.
So, I got round to seeing 59 from the 94 mentioned, some I missed intentionally, some were too narrow a release to get to at my convenience. All said and done, it’s been an interesting mix.. Here are my top 10 recommendations of 2013:
Director: Bejoy Nambiar
Three Lives. Three Destinies. One Name. A tagline that leaves you with the right expectation. London (1975), Neil Nitin Mukesh, loyal henchmen to a dreaded criminal. Mumbai (1999), Vinay Virmani, misunderstood son, struggling musician. Goa (2010), Vikram, washed up drunk, hopeless romantic.
The lives of three very different men named David who are about to be coerced into making such decisions in their lives that will redefine them as people. It’s served over three eras to us with the backdrop of three different cities, in three different tones & distinct styles.
Perhaps the sales pitch on this one might be tilting focus towards how the distinctions are treated, however I felt it was the stories individually that were it’s actual strength. The protagonists of each show complete conviction in their performances. They manage to involve you in their journey. Some may have hoped that the three stories were more intwined than just in the climax, but I didn’t feel that need. I had missed this directors first film at theatres, am glad I caught the second.
I’d keep an eye on this new lad Vinay Virmani too. Despite being unable to shake off his resemblance to Jake Gyllenhaal, he left a hefty impression. I’ll be interested to see how his career shapes up.
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Loosely based on true events, it focusses on series of heists that were pulled off by a group of con artists around the country during the 80s. They targeted and robbed a number of dodgy successful businessmen and politicians of their dirty (untaxed) money under the pretext of conducting investigative raids on them, by posing as government officials.
The real cat and mouse games began once the actual CBI caught wind of their shenanigans and commence an operation to stop & capture this team.
From the directors prior film: ‘A Wednesday’, this is quite a contrast in that it’s a lot more light-hearted. Heist films with their ‘sticking it to the man’ syndrome very much appeal to me. It’s rewarding to that inner rebel, to those of us that wish we were more cheeky, disobedient, rising up against the unjust madness of the world.
What makes this one novel is the setting, being based (loosely) on facts a mere cherry on top. The attention to detail in creating an era is worthy of applause, as is the pacing. It packs a good strong punch. The star cast is fabulous too. It was good to see Akshay Kumar do this one, it was an actor film, rather than a star film. Provided they keep dropping into the filmography, I’m okay with them doing the auto-pilot star flicks too.
The star of the show however has to be Anupam Kher, totally on form during the heists oozing authority & confidence, and a sharp contrast in every other scene, where his panic and insecurities light up the scenes.
Kai Po Che!
काई पो छे
Director: Abhishek Kapoor
Based on the novel by Chetan Bhagat titled The Three Mistakes of My Life, it follows three friends (not 3 idiots this time), Ishaan Bhatt (Sushant Singh Rajput), an ex district level cricketer who is a victim of politics in the cricketing selection fraternity, Omkar Shastri (Amit Sadh), the nephew of a Hindu politician and Govind Patel (Rajkumar Yadav), the brains behind their new venture, a sports shop which doubles as a sports academy.
What follows is their journey together with the backdrop of some of the traumatic history of Gujarat that they become intwined with.
This one just all round felt fresh. New faces, new location from the standard-fare, I was drawn into their world. It’s a bittersweet story, a hard balance to find. I do think being one of those suckers that doesn’t really know the history, probably helped amplifying the impact on me, but it’s not just that. Much like the above, the pace was just perfect. The trend towards two hour films is definitely progressive. I did walk away very impressed, I even cancelled my plans to watch a follow-up film to let this one soak in.
Director: Suparn Verma
This is the story of a struggling single mother Maya (Bipasha Basu) protecting the impressionable young daughter (Doyel Dhawan) from the truth about her father (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) whom she idolises, hiding from her that he was an abusive husband, hiding from her that he has since died. Unfortunately, dead has merely made him more protective, more powerful, more sinister.
The traditional horror has evolved over time. Is this a horror, or a supernatural thriller? Some of the lines maybe a blur. I’ve never been a fan of films where mere jolts of sound create shock value, and horror is achieved through disgust, unpleasant visuals, gore, et al. That’s not horror, that’s just unpleasantness. What interests me is story & execution thereof, if it has a supernatural aspect, I’m okay with that, in the same vain as sci-fi, action, anything else.
It’s those thoughts that made this film work some magic for me. It was a clean film, no messing about. In 2 hours, it tells a story. In the telling of it, attention is given to creating a suitable atmosphere. Nawazuddin is as always aptly creepy, but it’s the direction & writing that amplify his work here. It was good to see a ‘less is more’ attitude towards creating those chills. Bipasha Basu too is a revelation in a mature role, I’m hopeful she’ll get more opportunities in this acting space, it suits her well.
Shootout at Wadala
शूटआउट एट वडाला
Director: Sanjay Gupta
Based on the novel Dongri to Dubai, this film tells a dramatised version of the story that led to the first-ever registered encounter by the Mumbai Police at the junction next to Dr. Ambedkar College in Wadala, in 1982, where gangster Manya Surve (John Abraham) was shot dead by police officials.
Sanjay Gupta has a reputation of reinventing international films, some well, some not-so-well, but he has to be given credit for style. This time, despite what box office reflects, I’d say this was possibly his best work yet. The item numbers were unnecessary and there merely to tantalise, but the intense journey of the gangster was gripping.
What worked for me is that the entire cast, and there are a lot of them, all held their own individually, were memorable. The smallest of roles had significance. With all the different layers of conflict our protagonist was facing, I was often conflicted myself about who’s side I was on. Nobody was clear-cut black or white, the whole ensemble were multiple shades of grey, it added a subtle sense of darkness to the drama, which served it well.
Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani
ये जवानी है दीवानी
Director: Ayan Mukherjee
Told in the traditional theatrical two halves, the first of which is the flashback story of a relationship between students Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor) and Naina (Deepika Padukone) who grow close through their respective friends, but hold back on their emotions. They end up parting ways when they reach those crossroads of post-study decisions about their lives and futures. The latter half brings them together again in a more mature phase of their lives, where they get the opportunity to rekindle some old sparks and are able to let those rational and emotional conundrums lock horns.
A couple of aspects that worked to it’s advantage even prior to it’s release: It’s release was timed at a point where there was a drought in that high-budget rom-com pool. There had not been a decent feel-good romance in months. In addition, the soundtrack was strong. Not the one chart buster & some filler type non-sense, but full soundtrack. I find these days that this seems to be becoming a rarity. Even the flagship production house (Yashraj Films) with some of the best soundtracks over the years, seems to have dropped the ball.
The film itself was something of an emotional journey. I think it was smartly balancing quite a lot of different relationships & in doing so, ensured an element was there for most to be able to relate to. I imagine it would’ve been pretty tough to write these layers, but they’ve done a commendable job of it.
Having arguably the most bankable star cast of today was only going to heighten what was already a sure money-spinner. The supporting cast were too a breath of fresh air. As was the case with this director’s prior flick (Wake Up Sid), the relationship between the protagonist and his father, though a subplot, hit home with me. If that wasn’t enough, the songs only amplify the grandeur and in resulted in what I perceive as the years biggest ‘deserving’ blockbuster. Did I mention this is yet another directors second film. The new-age entries seem to be on a total roll. This pleases me.
Director: Aanand Rai
The story of the depths a small-town boy Kundan (Dhanush) is willing to go to break through the class divide and gain recognition and acceptance of his childhood sweetheart (Sonam Kapoor) who is in love with herself and her big city ideals.
Dhanush. What a screen presence. The energy in this guy is astounding. Yes, perhaps the narrative allows him to shine more so than the average love story, but actually no, scratch that. It’s not just that, a strong supporting cast also leave an impact with you. In particular the trio of childhood friends, our protagonist, Murari (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) and Bindiya (Swara Bhaskar) share a chemistry onscreen that’s enviably sweet.
Adding a layer of music from A. R. Rahman, the output, it’s something magical. Definitely one of the films this year that I’ll be re-watching with friends in years to come.
Director: Raj Kumar Gupta
Sanjay (Emraan Hashmi) lives with his wife Neetu (Vidya Balan). One fine day, he is offered the chance to use his once renowned self-cracking skills in a small heist with a couple of local criminals. After some thought and discussion with his wife, he accepts. It doesn’t go entirely free of hitches, however the trio do manage to make off with a hefty sum of money. As they decide to lay low and re-connect after a few weeks to distribute the loot, Sanjay is tasked to hide the loot in the interim.
As the duration elapses the duo return to pick up their share, only to be shrugged off. He dismisses them entirely, as though he doesn’t recognise them at all. Could he be faking it, attempting to rip them off, or has he genuinely got an extremely inconvenient case of amnesia? The desperate duo decide the best course of action is to move in with the couple, holding them hostage until he confesses or remembers where he hid the money.
I felt this dark comedy was just promoted all wrong. Even the poster is horrible. For this reason I think a lot of people that probably would have appreciated it probably skipped it. It keeps you guessing and double guessing throughout the duration what to believe, while sneakily wringing a laugh out of all those who have a bit of a twisted side. I think it would be unfair to share too much about it, but check it out, for sure!
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
भाग मिल्खा भाग
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Based on the autobiography of Olympics-level runner Milkha Singh, (The Race of My Life), the film starts in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, where he’s in the lead, closing in to the finishing line & abruptly drops to fourth place, out of a moment of hesitation. We go rewind, as his story getting to this juncture is narrated to us. It takes us through his childhood struggles, the India-Pakistan partition, his early youth, his love life, and how these events led him to become the renowned athletic phenomenon that the world widely knows as The Flying Sikh.
Farhan Akhtar outdid himself here. We’ve known him to be a great storyteller, director and singer. I’ve much enjoyed the films he’s acted in prior to this too, but this one takes the cake. The effort he’s put into transforming himself physically in itself is mighty impressive. He’s embodiment of Milkha Singh was to the point where I can’t imagine any other pulling it off. Watch him move in one of the songs and he even moves like a punjabi dude. Anyway, enough praise there, on to the film itself.
It’s a pretty long film, as often biopics are, but it doesn’t feel that way. I remember at interval wondering how speedily that first half had passed. It focusses plenty on his training throughout, with just the right dose of backstory injection between races and training montages. The background score and music of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy fit perfectly for the film. I hear some facts may have been stretched a little in the telling of this story, but it didn’t bother me. It was an inspiring feel-good sports film.
Director: Nikhil Advani
India Strikes Back says the tagline. It’s the story of an expert team of covert operatives, who have been activated on a mission to capture and bring back to home, the most wanted and notorious criminal on the Indian watch list. Though the Pakistani government aren’t admitting it, the secret service have obtained intelligence that he’s hiding out in Pakistan, which is where this story begins.
The tension is evident from the very outset. Each of the characters that’ve come together to form this team, have a past that’s shown in the way they interact, emote, react. The way the mission takes its turns, the way the characters improvise, it kept the rhythm going.
There was definitely something special about the way the actors portrayed the characters in this. Everyone let their expressions & actions do the talking where plausible. It’s not as loud as you’d expect for this genre, which works perfectly.
I had some apprehension about the relationship subplot between Shruti Hassan and Arjun Rampal before I saw the film, that it would dampen an otherwise sharp edged thriller, but that subplot turned out to be one of the highlights.
You know that feeling when you go to see a film where the concept looks engaging and you really hope that no part of it ruins it. I had that going into this, and walked away thinking, perfect, just perfect. An engaging thriller that I’d call world class.
So that’s my list done. One of the films I wish I had got a chance to see that slipped by me that I think potentially could have made it into the list is Shahid. I’ll be watching it soon enough and will report back if it dislodges any one of these. 🙂
A special mention now to that film that was making a lot of buzz around the film festival circuits:
Director: Ritesh Batra
An innocently charming story commencing from one mistaken delivery by the Mumbai’s famously efficient lunchbox delivery system, which initiates a stream of hand written communications between a young housewife to an older man in the almost-retired phase of his life. As they form a bond over these exchanged notes in the daily back and forth of the lunchbox, somewhat of a fantasy reality forms between each of their minds.
In the age of rapid digital communication, this certainly has an element of nostalgia. It paints beautiful picture of Mumbai much as it’s habitants would see it. Living here this backdrop allowed me to slip into the drama on that canvas effortlessly.
The characters we get to meet are all realistic and easy to relate to and empathise with. The way our duo and their story progress leads us on a little, but then there lies the masterstroke. it had me hoping for things to head in a direction that probably wouldn’t happen. I still walked away happy with that.
Had India sent this as our contribution for the Oscars, (it was in the running at a point), I do feel it would definitely have been a strong contender. Having not seen the film we sent in its stead (The Good Road), I can’t really comment on whether we made the right call, but I can’t deny this was definitely worth the watch.
So, there you have it. As always, should you have any questions or queries about any of the films I’ve mentioned, or if you just want to pick a fight about why I’ve chosen them over others, drop me a comment & I’ll happily elaborate / discuss.
That’s all for now. Will make a point of posting more frequently than an annual affair here-on. Promise. 🙂