There’s a reason that short films have their own category at the Oscars (even Filmfare has created a special template just to acknowledge shorts).

Over the last few years, the quality and quantum of short fiction features has increased manifold. In some cases the script, direction and performances outclass big budget full-length feature films. Innovative storytelling, thoughtful content (recurring themes included infidelity, gender discrimination and city life) and impressive acting defined the films that populated the internet in 2017.

There’s also a notable proclivity towards the public service, do-gooder messages or a pandering to brands looking for surrogate advertising, in these films.

Keeping this in mind, and restricting my list to Hindi language, here’s a curated pick of some of the finest shorts (under 40 minutes) of the year (most are available on youtube.com), in alphabetical order:

Shefali Shah in a still from Neeraj Ghaywan's Juice. Youtube screengrab

Shefali Shah in a still from Neeraj Ghaywan’s Juice. Youtube screengrab

Anukul
Director: Sujoy Ghosh

A modern take on a Satyajit Ray story, in this 21.54-minute film, Parambrata Chatterjee plays a robot in the service of a schoolteacher (Saurabh Shukla). Anukul throws up a number of questions as humans resist the takeover by artificial intelligence and the robot begins to questions morality and conscience. Detailed production design and seamless, if slightly leisurely, storytelling makes this a provocative film with subtle performances.

Chhuri
Director: Mansi Jain

After Chutney, now Chhuri — Tisca Chopra could write a short film manual on satirising infidelity and the reactions of a wife to a cheating husband. In Jain’s 12-and-a-half-minute film, Chopra’s reactions cut like a knife as she takes on her husband (Anurag Kashyap) and his paramour (Surveen Chawla). This one is enjoyable mostly for the way Jain creates tension and power play between Chopra and Chawla.

Chumbak
Director: Prabhakar Pant

This one almost blew my socks off – almost, because it was one of the few films to test a different genre. Dark, twisted, experimental and edgy on one hand but theatrical with stilted dialogue on the other, Pant squanders the gain of the first three minutes in the remaining seven. Chumbak makes it to this list for its darker theme, and for what it almost was.

Death of a Father
Director: Somnath Pal

Somnath Pal’s exploration of grief, loss, ritual and mourning is beautiful and inventive. At a fraction over 10 minutes, the Hindi-Bengali language animated film follows a son as he mechanically goes through the motions after his father’s death, barely finding time to mourn. The colour palette and weather-beaten human figures add to the sombre mood.

Dekhne Main Kya Harj Hai?
Director: Himanshu Rai

It takes Rai just 6.51 seconds to capture a vignette of family life. Ayesha Raza and Brijendra Kala play parents who skillfully connive to guide their otherwise reluctant daughter (Priya Chauhan) to consider an arranged match. Funny, and sly, this short respectfully balances the position of a modern, emancipated woman with that of her concerned and perceptive parents.

A still from Jai Mata Di.

Jai Mata Di
Director: Navjot Gulati

At just a shade over 10 minutes, Gulati’s satire on urban living captures a slice of Mumbai life with humour. Set around the story of a young, unmarried couple looking to rent an apartment, it paints an accurate picture of the component characters, in particular the broker and the building society secretary. Shriya Pilgaonkar and Shiv Pandit play the couple whose bid for a flat can only be secured by ‘mom’ (Supriya Pilgaonkar) — and maybe a little ‘divine intervention’.

Juice
Director: Neeraj Ghaywan

Between chicken kebabs and office banter, Manju (Shefali Shah, superb) is serving snacks to her husband (Manish Chaudhari) and his office colleagues. In the kitchen, over the sound of spluttering spices, the women are chatting about their domestic lives. There’s a broken fan, a jar of chilled juice and a caustic comment on society. How do you tell a complete story with layered script and taut character interplay all in under 15 minutes? This is how.

Khujli
Director: Sonam Nair

Want a summary of Fifty Shades of Grey and an explanation of BDSM? Watch Neena Gupta and Jackie Shroff as a middle aged couple trying to spice up their lives in this naughty, funny, charming, kinky short. The 15-minute Khujli might just have you checking online shopping sites for fluffy pink handcuffs.

Naked
Director: Rakesh Kumar

At 14.30 minutes, Naked feels long. But Rakesh Kumar’s film delivers a powerful message. The two-hander featuring Kalki Koechlin as an actress caught in a controversy and Ritabhari Chakraborty as a rookie reporter interviewing the star makes comments on both the vacuousness of celebrity journalism and on violence and abuse of women.

Syaahi
Director: Varun Tandon

The coming of age story of schoolboy Vansh (Himanshu Bhandari) who learns about peer group pressure, family, responsibility, repentance and absolution through one small impulsive act. With passable performances by the adult actors, it’s down to Bhandari to carry you along his journey in this undulating hilly town. The almost 30-minute narrative feels more long than short, as we stand on the sidelines of the lives of a struggling writer and his family.

The Affair
Director: Hardik Mehta

In just over 6 minutes, Mehta uses irony to spotlight the issue of privacy in a crowded city like Mumbai. The seafront might be the only place where you can catch five minutes of respite and intimacy. Amit Sial and Khushboo Upadhyay play a couple trying to steal time in a city that makes it hard for you to take a break, but it’s Mumbai that the hero and villain of this succinctly told story with a twist.

The Good Girl
Director: Ritesh Menon

Another female-lead two-hander, Gurdeep Kohli and Plabita Borthakur play mother and daughter, respectively (and impressively). The 11 minute film is set in a bathroom. Using sound design, silences, performance, space and script, Menon tackles issues of pre-marital sex, unwanted pregnancy, parental guidance and conforming to a template of ‘the good girl/boy’.

Also check out:

PaniPath by Jai Mehta is a cautionary tale about the importance of conserving water told from the viewpoint of a low-income family with a moving performance by Tejaswini Kolhapure as the mother.

• Sumit Aroraa’s The White Shirt is a languid relationship drama where the shirt is a symbol of a couple’s (Kritika Kamra, Kunal Kapoor) connection and disconnection.

In The School Bag director Dheeraj Jindal’s film looks at the impact of militancy and violence on the innocent through the story of a mother and son. Rasika Dugal and Sartaaj RK deliver heart-rending performances.


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