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Best Bollywood Films 2017: When indies saved the day and the mainstream hit an all-time low

2017 has been a mixed bag for the Hindi film industry a.k.a. Bollywood*. It has been a year in which mainstream filmmakers persistently took the audience’s intellect lightly – and sadly, were rewarded for it at the box office – but it has also been a year in which the exhibition sector gave more space than usual to small independent films that warmed our hearts with their thematic courage and brilliance. My pick of 2017’s best Bollywood films released in theatres is dominated by little indies.

* (For a note about the use of the term Bollywood in this article, and the parameters on which this list is based, scroll to the bottom.)

BEST BOLLYWOOD FILMS:

Winner: Ribbon

Still from the song 'Har Mod Pe Umeed' from the film Ribbon. Screen grab via YouTube

Still from the film Ribbon. Screen grab via YouTube

If Kalki Koechlin and Sumeet Vyas were not already familiar faces, it would have been easy to imagine that Ribbon is a reality show about their own lives. So natural is the narrative style and acting in director Rakhee Sandilya’s debut film that it feels like a home video of about half a decade in the lives of its protagonists. This is an acutely observed take on what being together entails through a fly-on-the-wall portrayal of a middle-class, upwardly mobile couple who go from being in a live-in relationship to marriage to parenthood.

Sandilya’s social conscience is evident in the film though she judiciously chooses not to wear it on her sleeve. As new voices go, she is the big find of 2017 and her Ribbon a worthy successor to the middle-of-the-road cinema once epitomised by legends like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Bhattacharya, Basu Chatterjee and Sai Paranjpye.

First runner-up: Newton (Hindi with some Gondi dialogues)

Rajkummar Rao in a still from Newton.

Amit V. Masurkar’s Newton distinguishes itself with its clever use of humour in a depressing setting and the multiple political statements it makes on issues Bollywood rarely bothers with. This story of a conscientious government official assigned to election duty in a remote Chhattisgarh forest is that rare Bollywood venture set in tribal India, rarer still because it is not a weepie and is highly entertaining despite its serious subject. Rajkummar Rao as the polling official in the lead delivers a flawless performance as does the underrated Anjali Patil as an educated tribal girl assigned to his team. The scene-stealer of the cast though is Pankaj Tripathi as a cynical local policeman.

Newton is the sort of film that extracts the maximum out of every single shot, every moment, every frame, every spoken word and every silence. It is a work of deceptive simplicity and unpretentious genius.

Second runner-up: Mukti Bhawan

Still from the film Mukti Bhawan. Image via Twitter

Still from the film Mukti Bhawan. Image via Twitter

Who would have thought that the story of an old man counting down to his death in the company of his child in the holy city of Varanasi could result in a film that is equal parts laughter and tears? Yet that is what director Shubhashish Bhutiani delivers with the tender warmth of his Mukti Bhawan (Hotel Salvation) in which Lalit Behl and Adil Hussain play Daya and Rajiv, a father and son whose perennial squabbles mask their deep affection for each other. If you have known the loss of a parent, this film will certainly speak to you, but even for those who have not experienced that life-altering sorrow, Mukti Bhawan raises questions about mortality and what it means to have a (beloved) parent around even when s/he is convinced that their time is up. The film’s vehicle is Hindu spiritualism, its theme universal.

Through the eyes of cinematographers Michael McSweeney and David Huwiler, we get to see an unexoticised Varanasi, sans touristy sights and sounds. There is a shot towards the end of Mukti Bhawan in which Rajiv’s face crumbles as he struggles to control his emotions. For that moment alone Mukti Bhawan is worth a watch. For its understanding of life, death and the relationships that come in between, it is unmissable.

Third runner-up: Anaarkali of Aarah

Swara Bhasker in Anarkali of Aarah.

Every throbbing song, pulsating tune and exuberant dance move in Anaarkali of Aarah brims with the strength of its heroine, a stage performer in small-town Bihar who fights back when an influential man molests her in full public view. Writer-director Avinash Das’ film gives us an extreme close-up of how patriarchy closes ranks to protect its own, especially when its victim inhabits the margins of society. Das’ achievement is that despite Anaarkali’s overt messaging, it is not preachy and, in fact, is perhaps the most fun, conventionally commercial package among 2017’s best cinematic works, filled with naach-gaana, dialoguebaazi – if you wish to see it as such – and headlined by Swara Bhasker’s superlative performance as the titular character.

The film is brave for being unapologetic about its feminism, in a world more comfortable around women who camouflage their rights-consciousness with populist remarks such as “I am not a feminist, I only believe in equality”, whatever that means. Unlike the no-doubt laudable Pink last year, this time the reins of the battle are completely in the hands of the woman protagonist who tops the films many wolf-whistle-worthy lines with this one she spits out at her attacker: “Randi ho, randi se thhoda kam ho ya biwi ho, aainda marzi poochh kar haath lagaaiyega” (Whether a woman is your wife, a prostitute or one step below a prostitute, in future ask what she wants before you touch her). Seetiyaan, and a big thank you, dear Swara Bhasker and Avinash Das.

THE CONTENDERS:

5: Tu Hai Mera Sunday  

Milind Dhaimade’s Tu Hai Mera Sunday is just the sort of film that we viewers tend to take for granted. It is so casual in its loveliness that it makes great look easy. On the face of it, this is a story about five men who meet every Sunday to play football and get a break, at least in the case of four of them, from their troubled lives. During the course of the film, each of them has a coming-of-age moment and/or a meltdown. Through their journey of self-discovery, Dhaimade provides us with insights into the joys this world can offer if only we would look hard enough or shrug off our lethargy or take a risk. Without any in-your-face old-style “Hindu Muslim Sikh Isai / hum sab hai bhai-bhai” spoonfeeding, he also offers us a microcosm of Mumbai society in this circle of friends, their friends and families. The all-round stellar performances are led by Barun Sobti whose charming Arjun appears to shuffle his feet through his days now that he has opted out of the corporate rat race and Shahana Goswami whose Kavya he instantly bonds with.

Tu Hai Mera Sunday is so sweet that I wanted to give it a big bear hug. Beyond its breezy, light-hearted veneer though, Dhaimade’s film is a telling commentary on Mumbai, a reminder that some fights are worth fighting, others are not and that we must always, always make time to stop and smell the roses.

6: G Kutta Se (Haryanvi and Hindi)

The gut-wrenching G Kutta Se tells intersecting tales of ‘honour killings’ and the hypocrisy that is intrinsic to patriarchy. Writer-director Rahul Dahiya injects full-blown conviction into his treatment of his profoundly disturbing subject. His efforts here are complemented by his talented cast, which includes the ruggedly handsome model-turned-actor Rajveer Singh and the striking Neha Chauhan who was earlier in Love Sex Aur Dhoka. Considering the theme, violence is inescapable, but though Dahiya provides us with no easy escape, he never closes in on the bloodletting merely to titillate.

With its stark reminder of the prejudice and cruelty human beings are capable of in defence of the status quo, G Kutta Se is a soul-crushing cinematic experience.

7: Lipstick Under My Burkha

The women of Lipstick Under My Burkha. YouTube screengrab

The women of Lipstick Under My Burkha. YouTube screengrab

Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha is one of the most uplifting films on this list, a saga of four women constantly straining at the straightjacket that a patriarchal, misogynistic society at large and their families in particular have saddled them with. Among other themes, Lipstick is one of the very few Hindi films to deal with marital rape, the sexual yearnings of an older woman, the missteps that could result from innocence bred by gender segregation and the burdens men place on themselves in the quest to socially and economically dominate women.

Female bonding films are uncommon in Bollywood, and this one is gloriously, unabashedly female, while taking a sympathetic view of the better men on its canvas. A bouquet of heart-warming performances includes Ratna Pathak Shah’s tragi-comic elderly businessperson, a widow who finds an escape from her humdrum existence in silly Mills & Boon-type fiction and fantasies about a young man she meets. The portrayal of Shah’s character without condescension is one of the many intricate balances this delightful film strikes.

8: Gurgaon (Hindi with Haryanvi)

Haryana has been the setting for a stream of excellent films from Bollywood in recent years. Shanker Raman’s Gurgaon is about the conservatism behind those swish condominiums and malls, and the appearance of liberalism that many of the city’s denizens adopt. It is about a clash of civilisations that results from unthinking urbanisation and the consequent explosions waiting to happen. The film’s on-point cast is top-lined by Pankaj Tripathi who has delivered a parade of marvelous performances in lead and supporting roles in 2017. His Don Corleone-like godfather figure in Vivek Shah’s intentionally darkly lit frames exemplifies the pulls and pushes that conservatism imposes on its own practitioners.

9: Secret Superstar

Posters for Secret Superstar

Posters for Secret Superstar

Actor-producer Aamir Khan’s eye for compelling stories is in evidence once again in writer-director Advait Chandan’s Secret Superstar, in which Khan plays a significant supporting role but does not allow attention to waver at any point from the heroines of this enterprise: a teenaged YouTube singing sensation desperate to break free of a violent father and her mother who is willing to take any beatings so long as she can protect her daughter and son from that cruel man. There are no guns and knives on display in their home but the fear he instils in them is not only almost palpable, it is also terrifying for the viewer.

Zaira Wasim, who debuted just last year in Dangal, proves here that she is fully capable of carrying an entire film on her very young shoulders and gets ample support from Meher Vij as her long-suffering mother. Secret Superstar’s ending may seem too optimistic to some, but it goes well with the overall tone of this film, which is about never giving up in the most trying circumstances. Besides, it is the bearer of one of the most life-affirming through unassuming lines spoken in a Hindi film this year: “Sapne dekhna toh basic hota hai. Itna toh sabko allowed hona chahiye” (Dreaming dreams is a basic minimum that should be allowed to everyone).

10: Kadvi Hawa

Climate change is not a distant calamity waiting to happen, it is in the here and now in director Nila Madhab Panda’s film about an agrarian community coping with a long-running drought. While foregrounding a blind old man who over-compensates for his feeling of helplessness in the face of his family’s troubles, it also makes a point about the oppressed becoming oppressors and vice versa in the struggle for survival. Sanjay Mishra, who is usually wasted in bit parts in mindless comedies, delivers an immersive performance as the old chap in question, while Ranvir Shorey, again usually wasted by commercial Bollywood, is in cracking form as an aggressive bank loan recovery officer.

Interestingly enough, despite the dire circumstances, Kadvi Hawa finds space for laughter without being offensive. Through its very human stories, this film is the most startling reminder to come from Hindi cinema of what awaits us if we play too much longer with planet Earth.

SPECIAL MENTIONS:

A Death In The Gunj (English, Hindi, Bengali)

Tumhari Sulu

Simran

Raag Desh

Monsoon Shootout

Footnote: Since every list must have parameters, here are mine. Some people see Bollywood, Kollywood, Mollywood etc as condescending terms since they are derived from the word Hollywood and thus, in their view, imply that our cinema is a derivative of or subordinate to the American film industry.

I can see where they are coming from, but I use these terms for purely practical reasons, in the case of Bollywood, for instance, to denote the Mumbai-based industry that makes films primarily in Hindi. In the interests of being factually accurate, I am not calling this a list of “best Hindi films” since at least one of them is in Haryanvi and another primarily in English.

This is also the reason why I am not including here Milind Rau’s spine-chilling thriller The House Next Door, the Hindi version of the Tamil film Aval. The House Next Door was not a dubbed version of Aval, it was shot in Hindi, but including it on this list would amount to claiming it as a Bollywood film and ignoring the existence of Kollywood (the Chennai-based industry we have nicknamed Kollywood, which makes films primarily in Tamil), no different from the way so many people based in the north are claiming Baahubali as a Bollywood film as if the Telugu industry, a.k.a. Tollywood, from which it emerged is inconsequential.


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Diljit Dosanjh on picking projects in Hindi films: ‘Unlike in Punjab, I’m not in a position to choose roles in Bollywood’

A few years ago people would wonder whether a turbaned sikh guy could be a mainstream Bollywood hero but Diljit Dosanjh has put those doubts to rest. Not only is the singer-actor having back to back releases in Bollywood but is also being cast opposite A-list heroines. After making a promising debut and an earnest performance in Udta Punjab opposite Kareena Kapoor, he was seen with Anushka Sharma in Phillauri. In his upcoming release, Welcome To New York, he will be seen with Sonakshi Sinha and then with Taapsee Pannu in Soorma, a biopic on hockey player Sandeep Singh, which will hit the theatres in June. He is currently shooting with Kriti Sanon for Arjun Patiala.

Diljit Dosanjh. Image from Twitter/@diljitdosanjh

Diljit Dosanjh. Image from Twitter/@diljitdosanjh

Naturally, Diljit’s confidence has taken a boost. In his initial days, he would have probably wondered in self doubt when asked if there was a limitation to the kind of roles offered to him, but today he confidently states in a mix of Hindi and Punjabi, “Isn’t there a turbanator in every field? Sikhs are there in Navy, Army, the police force…there is no profession left where there is no sikh. So how can I have any such limitations?”

He further adds, “In the beginning when I started with music in Punjab and was keen on acting as well, people would dismiss me saying it wasn’t possible as no sikh had ever been seen as a Punjabi film hero and that I should be restricted to music. My first Punjabi film didn’t but I slowly started delivering hits, some of which even became top grossers. (Diljit has been appreciated for his versatile performances in Punjabi films like the Jatt & Juliet series, Punjab 1984 and Ambarsariya). Later, people said that I won’t be successful in Bollywood because I wear a turban, but my turban helped me get films here.”

Not easily accessible and also considered media-shy, Firstpost tracks him down on the sets of the singing reality show, Rising Star, where the jovial and happy go lucky jatt is the centre of attention. He is in the midst of young singers and some big names from the music industry – Shankar Mahadevan and Monali Thakur. Sporting a shiny yellow jacket and black turban, Diljit seems to be enjoying every bit of it. “I am enjoying both, acting as well as singing, I just wanted to do some good work which I am doing, let’s see where my life takes me. I enjoy each day of my life. Sometimes I have my mood swings but I still try to maintain a balance,” says the singing star, who candidly talks about his upcoming stage-show reality film, Welcome To New York which is based on an award show. “There are so many actors in it, and I, too, have a small part. But if you ask me the experience of doing the film, I really didn’t understand anything. I don’t know how they shot the film in so much chaos. I have no idea. It was difficult to shoot but I kept taking orders from the director and went on doing what I was told,” he laughs.

Known for his rustic charm and simplicity, Diljit might have a lot in the pipeline, but he isn’t someone who would succumb to stereotypes. He wants to do roles that are integral to the story. “I won’t do as many films now. It is just that I had lesser commitments and hence I can be seen in so many films. Last year I refused three to four films. If I don’t like anything I say no to it. Even in Punjab, I did just one film a year and I will follow the same in Bollywood provided I am offered one. I am in no hurry, no greed, as I am getting more than what I am capable of. I would like to use the remaining time on my singing and churn out more Punjabi films for my fans. I also have fans in the US, UK, Canada and I would like to continue doing stage shows for them. Whatever I have to say from my heart, I do it through Punjabi music,” he says without displaying an ounce of stardom.

“I enjoy making music more because there are no limitations as compared to movies. You have a team with who you gel and make music. But the film is not under your control. You listen to the story and script but what finally comes on the canvas could be different, whereas in music you can reject your own composition if you don’t like it and try something different. But films are huge projects; a lot of money is invested and directors have their own point of view,” he adds.

Secondly, Diljit says, he finds more freedom in the choice of movies back home. “I am not in a position to choose roles right now in Bollywood but in Punjabi films I have that choice. Producers are friends there but in Bollywood whatever is being offered I am taking up. My upcoming Punjabi film, Rangroot is on World War I which was something I was passionate about,” he says.

Considering the fact that Diljit never played any sport earlier in his life, one would expect the Shaad Ali-directed Soorma to be one of his most challenging roles of that of a hockey champion. Diljit says jokingly, “When I was a kid, I didn’t get the opportunity to play much sports as my parents would tell me to study. And now when I am getting paid to play so why not? (laughs) But I didn’t face any difficulty while shooting for Soorma. I didn’t have to do much training in the sport, I just had to play the game. I am very happy that in the second year of my acting career in Bollywood I got to do a biopic. Actually, I don’t find my work difficult. Just that when I am acting, I try to feel for the character I’m portraying but every take of mine tends to be different. I don’t treat myself as an actor who has a process, I perform with instinct.”

And even as Bollywood is showering love on him, Diljit prefers to meet people only for work as he doesn’t like “bothering people unnecessarily”. “I don’t stay in touch with industry folks much. I am here only to work. I never got work because of networking or meeting producers in parties. I don’t believe in PR,” signs off the endearing star.

Published Date: Feb 22, 2018 08:57 AM | Updated Date: Feb 22, 2018 08:57 AM


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The Joker origin film, directed by Todd Philips and produced by Martin Scorsese, to roll from 1 May

IANS

Feb,22 2018 09:29 23 IST

Los Angeles: Filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s untitled The Joker origin film is scheduled to start production in May.

Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Image courtesy: Facebook

Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Image courtesy: Facebook

The production house Tracking Board’s Jeff Sneider announced the news on social media. Sneider posted what appears to be a part of a press release which featured the project’s logline and listed a start date of 1 May, reports aceshowbiz.com.

The post, which was shared by him on Wednesday, also revealed the status of three-time Oscar-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix, who was recently revealed to be in talks with the studio for the role of the Clown Prince of Crime, as “interested”.

Sneider, however, wrote that the details are subject to change. Details on the upcoming Joker origin movie’s plot are currently unknown though the film is set in Gotham City in the early 1980s and has more of the look of a gritty crime drama than comic book movie.

It is also said that the film will be separate from the DC Extended Universe in an effort to create new and unique storylines.

Acclaimed filmmaker Scorsese will serve as a producer for the project. Todd Phillips is set to direct the standalone film from a script he co-wrote with Scott Silver. Release date has not been locked for the Joker stand-alone film yet.

Published Date: Feb 22, 2018 09:29 AM | Updated Date: Feb 22, 2018 09:29 AM

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‘Beyonce needs to auto-tune’, says TV host Wendy Williams; Twitterati roast her for remark

Los Angeles: American TV host Wendy Williams has faced backlash from fans for criticising singer-actress Beyonce Knowles and saying she needs auto-tune.

Beyonce. Image from Twitter.

Beyonce. Image from Twitter.

Williams criticised the singer on her show on Tuesday, where she said, “There are only a few people who can sing raw dog and Fergie is not one, she needs autotune. Jennifer Lopez needs autotune. Janet Jackson needs autotune. Beyonce needs auto-tune.”

Her remarks sparked rage on social media. While one user tweeted, “Wendy Williams, Beyonce has autotune where?”; another posted along with a clip of Beyonce flawlessly hitting high notes during a live performance.

Another shared a clip of the singer at a cappella performance of ‘Halo‘ and wrote, “Wendy Williams: ‘Beyonce needs auto-tune to sing.”

Beyoncé the ONLY!! And I repeat ONLY bitch we got that sounds better than her studio recordings live. And NO I DONT want to hear about your out of breath ass, throat surgery needing, can’t hold a note for dear life faves!!!! I SAID WHAT I FUCKING SAID!!!! pic.twitter.com/Dlw9VlKfRm

— 💎 (@KnowlesCarta) February 21, 2018

With inputs from IANS.

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