2017 was an exciting year for Hindi cinema, not necessarily because it gave us big-budgeted box office smash hits, but because it steered away from conventional plotlines. The failure of Raees and Tubelight — both critically and commercially — showed that a Khan tag alone cannot float a film. Simran and Rangoon, too, underperformed, thereby ending Kangana Ranaut’s dream run at the box office and awards circuit. And the Swachh Bharat sermons of Toilet: Ek Prem Katha were readily flushed down, undercutting the patriotic zeal that won Akshay Kumar a National Award earlier this year. In other words, films with smaller budgets and fresh narratives, which did not rest on the shoulders of celebrities, performed better than their counterparts. #DSSCRecommends six films that you should not have missed this year.
India’s official entry to the Oscars this year, Amit V Masurkar’s second feature film takes a satirical look at the country’s electoral system. Newton Kumar, a young, naïvely idealistic and rigidly principled Elections Officer volunteers to set up a voting booth deep within the Naxal-occupied forests of Chhattisgarh. Every vote counts — that’s what makes India the largest democracy — but Newton’s incorruptible ambitions are met with resistance from the police, who are tasked with providing him and his team security from any Naxal threat. To make matters worse, the local villagers neither know, nor care about the elections. The film offers a non-partisan view of the electoral system as well as the issue of the State versus Naxalites. Newton also became the first Indian film to receive a grant of 1 crore rupees from the Central Government.
Lipstick under My Burkha
Alankrita Shrivastava delves into the inner lives of four different women, who are united in the oppression they face in their daily lives. The film cleverly uses excerpts from an erotic novel as the background voice, and stitches together narratives of the various ways in which female sexuality and emancipation is deemed dangerous. The very idea of 56 year-old Usha ‘Buaji’ as a sexual partner is discarded as improbable; Shireen works as a door-to-door saleswoman by day, only to surrender her bodily agency to a dominating husband for whom protected sex is an alien concept; college-going Rihana shoplifts and lies and carves a ripped-jeans wearing identity to be able to join the college band; and Leela, a beautician, wants both love and lust in equal measure. Temporarily banned by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) for being too “lady-oriented”, the film garnered plaudits at several film festivals, including Tokyo International Film Festival, and London Asian Film Festival, after which it was finally released in India to great commercial success. The film steers clear of any kind of resolution, and therein lies its strength. We don’t know if the four characters get to live happily ever after, but their narratives raise enough questions about the patriarchal mindset.
Rajkummar Rao puts on a one-man show in this survival thriller by Vikramaditya Motwane. Shaurya accidentally gets locked inside in his flat on the 35th floor of a high-rise building in Mumbai. There is no food, no water, no electricity, no battery in his phone, and no other living soul in the entire building. What makes the film unique is the way one man is rendered invisible in the hustle and bustle of a city like Mumbai. Unlike 127 Hours or Life of Pi, Motwane evokes terror and loneliness by setting his film in closed quarters, thus letting the viewer empathise with his sense of claustrophobia. The thriller keeps you on the edge of your seat, and at the same, Motwane and Rao’s collaborative efforts challenge you to look away from the most banal experiences, such as travelling in a crowded bus or eating pav-bhaji, that are worth surviving for.
Raj and Mita Batra want to get their daughter enrolled in an English medium school. Determined to break into the upper echelons of Delhi, they move from Chandni Chowk to Vasant Vihar, but their own lack of command over English holds their daughter back. Irrespective of the wealth they have, language becomes a class identifier. Much hilarity ensues when they change tracks and apply for admission at a 5-star school through the reserved quota. Although it resorts to pontificating in the latter half, Saket Chaudhary’s film was praised for its comic timing and the performances. Hindi Medium is a strong indictment of not only the class-consciousness of the upper echelons of the society, but also of the private school system that ensures that English-medium education remains the prerogative of the elite.
When Sulochana Dubey is not doting on her husband and son, she spends her time by participating in radio contests and winning gift hampers. One such incident leads her to the FM studio, where she ends up with a job as a radio jockey. Sulu has middle-class aspirations, a television and food processor make her wishlist, she is full of life, but is rendered submissive by her elder sisters, who never let Sulu forget that she failed the 12th standard. With the help of her husky and full-throated voice, Sulu is able to carve her own identity as she answers late-night phone calls from lonely men. Vidya Balan and Manav Kaul’s performances stood out in the movie. The movie promotes feminism by incorporating it seamlessly into the ordinary, everyday life.
A Death in the Gunj
Konkona Sen Sharma’s directorial debut is set in the sleepy town of McCluskiegunj in Bihar in 1979. Nandu and Bonnie Bakshi — along with their daughter Tani, cousin Shutu, and friend Mimi — arrive at their parents’ home. They are joined by Vikram and Brian, and the motley crowd spends a week together, enough time for family members to reveal vulnerabilities and draw knives, particularly in a small space. Shutu is the black sheep of the family, and is made to run everybody’s errands. He has recently lost his father, is trying to suppress some secrets, and is bubbling with silent rage at being constantly bullied. The film also brings out the hypocrisy of the society in trying to cover up an extra marital affair for the sake of the man involved, whilst chastising the “seductress”, excellently portrayed by Kalki Koechlin. Vikrant Massey, however, took the cake for his performance as Shutu, who switches from innocent and vulnerable to troubled and secretive with a fluid grace. The film was also widely applauded for Sirsha Ray’s cinematography and Sagar Desai’s background score, which drew comparisons with the legendary Ennio Morricone.
If your favourite film of the year did not make it to our list, write to us here!
Featured Image Courtesy: news18.com; mediaindia.eu; filmcompanion.in