30. Water: Deepa Mehta’s final work as a part of the elemental trilogy went through the most trouble in order to get made. Originally intended to be made with Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das with shooting in Benaras, the film had to be shelved after fanatical Hindus got up in arms about the depiction of the treatment of widows in colonial India. Deepa Mehta was already an eyesore for them thanks to the depiction of a lesbian relationship with mythological tones in “Fire”. As a consequence, the film was shelved only to be revived for a 2007 release with a brand new cast of Lisa Ray, Seema Biswas, Manorama and John Abraham. Written by Deepa Mehta and Anurag Kashyap, the movie is fairly conventional for the most part and almost seems coldly mechanical in its approach. Nevertheless, the movie sensitively portrays the plight of child widows in colonial Benaras. The power of imagery is well utilised to drive home the issues the film is depicting. Also, what really lifts the movie to a memorable experience are three performances: first and foremost is the performance of the child actor Sarala as the mischievous child widow Chuiya. She gives a surprisingly powerful and mature performance way beyond her years. Seema Biswas is as always super efficient in her performance. She gives that one grim, sad, hollow look into the horizon which she perfected in “Khamoshi” that gives you goosebumps. Last but not least, Manorama as the matriarch of the home for the widows returns to screen after a hiatus and still retains that wickedness that made her so popular in the 1970s. Finally, it is Deepa Mehta’s choice to depict hope and find the poetry in the grim realities that make this movie one worth remembering the decade gone by.
29. Hera Pheri: The movie did wonders for the careers of all that were involved. But cinematically it did more harm than good. Priyadarshan got reduced from a director showing flair in diverse genres to one who churned out an assembly line of (bad) comedies where one can’t tell one from the other. Akshay Kumar’s career in slapstick comedy also got a boost; as did Suniel Shetty’s. Paresh Rawal got typecast for a while in similar obnoxious (and increasingly unfunny) roles. As a movie, it was a hilarious tale of mistaken identities and it featured a stunning performance from Paresh Rawal and Babubhai. Made on a show string budget, the movie did well at the box office thanks to word of mouth and has gathered a strong following over the years. It is an iconic film of the decade that started a mini-movement of sorts.
28. Chandni Bar: Marking the second innings of Madhur Bhandarkar after the forgotten “Trishakti,” “Chandni Bar” was dark, gritty and depressingly realistic in its depiction of the bar dancers in Bombay. Featuring Tabu in one of her finest performances, her unflinching portrayal of the bar dancer and the bleak storyline made the film a powerful and moving experience. The closing scenes are gut wrenching. While the movie is not for the faint hearted and the pessimistic approach may be too heavy for many others, “Chandni Bar” is a powerful film with something relevant to say about the problem although it may not provide any solutions.
27. Gulaal: 2009 was Anurag Kashyap’s year through and through. “Gulaal” was a typical Shakespearean tale of power, love, betrayal and redemption. Kashyap’s master stroke here was to set it in the context of the Rajputana movement and the student politics in Rajasthan. In so doing, he takes us into a world never explored in Hindi cinema before and provides us some highly memorable characters and moments that, by themselves, make the movie worth gold. He extracts some stunning performances from character actors like Aditya Srivastav, Piyush Mishra, Mahi Gill, Abhimanyu Singh and Kay Kay Menon. The only problem is the fact that the lead actors (Raj Singh Chaudhary who also co-wrote the film, Jesse Randhawa and Ayesha Mohan) are relatively lacklustre. You don’t give two hoots about their fate as they fail to evoke either sympathy or empathy. Nevertheless, the novel idea, gritty screenplay and stunning supporting performances make Gulaal one of the best films of 2009 and a memorable film for the decade.
26. Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na: Abbas Tyrewala’s first movie as a director caught the attention of the youth in a big way. Few movies (Maine Pyar Kiya, Rang De Basanti, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and some others) have enjoyed such appeal among the youth. A tale as old as time about friends falling in love, the movie worked because of the witty dialogue, the fresh cast, a zesty musical score and at its heart, an authenticity. The main plot seemed straight out of the life of the urban youth. Genelia had the spunk and Imran Khan was infectiously funny. Prateik Babbar was the surprise package as the dysfunctional brother who knows much more than he lets on. Aamir Khan proved his ability to sell a film to the audience. With no remarkable stars in the film, that it was a blockbuster is a testimony to this. It also proved that a big budget and big stars are really unnecessary for a film to work. A good film promoted in the right manner will find its audience. JTYJN proves that.
25. Veer-Zaara: Yash Chopra’s first directorial work in 10 years was looked forward to with much anticipation. The music was unique as it was the work of the late Madam Mohan. The casting was perfect with SRK, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherjee, Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini in pivotal roles. The result was a conventional tale told with lots of heart and care. It took the Indo-Pak backdrop and chose to highlight the similarities and not the differences. The dialogues were gems penned by Aditya Chopra, particularly the poem in the end. It was the best movie to come of the YRC camp since DDLJ. A classic romance with lovable characters and solid performances, Veer-Zaara was testimony to the master director that Yash Chopra is, especially when it comes to emotions. Despite the copious usage of Punjabi, the message was universal and the romance, epic.
24. Sarkar: Very few directors have had a career graph like Ram Gopal Varma. Oscillating between masterpieces and complete trash, one thing that is interesting about him is that his choice of subject is very unique and often very original as well. This is why when he chose to remake perhaps the most enduring classic of Hollywood, “The Godfather” with Amitabh and Abhishek in the shoes of Brando and Pacino, the curiosity generated was tremendous. When I saw the movie, I realised that the curiosity was hardly unjustified. A highly creative adaptation that while keeping the principal plot line and characters of the original set it in the very volatile regional politics in Bombay (and more generally, the Maharashtra region). The performances were very strong and the look of the film was exceptional. Right from the colour palette to the background score, every aspect of the movie was fresh and perfectly in sync with the cold, dark saga it was telling. RGV’s best work since the epic “Satya”, “Sarkar” was a superb film from a supremely erratic director.
23. Kal Ho Na Ho: One of the most promising directorial debut of the decade was seen in Nikhil Advani’s “Kal Ho Na Ho.” It was a dream debut of sorts with stars like SRK, Preity, Saif in lead roles and an army of good character actors (Reema Laagoo, Sushma Seth and Lilette Dubey). After the heavy handed K3G, Karan Johar was surprisingly in form insofar as writing was concerned here. The dialogues were wonderful in places. The story was simple, the execution sensitive and the film had all the opulence that is typical of Karan Johar films.
No one really cared that they got the medicine all wrong. An emotion-heavy story, the film struck a right note nearly every time be it the depiction of the dysfunctional family or the conclusion of the love triangle. It also pushed boundaries with the gay humour and in Kantaben reflected the traditionalists in India. Unfortunately, Karan Johar followed this with “KANK” and Advani gave us the disappointing “Salaam-e-Ishq” and the downright pathetic “Chandni Chowk to China.”
22. Swades: As a follow-up to “Lagaan”, Ashutosh Gowarikar’s “Swades” came with a lot of baggage and expectations. However, the two movies were as different as chalk and cheese. Admittedly, “Swades” bit off way more than it could chew by taking on basically all major grassroots problems within a 3 hour narrative. However, “Swades” was an excellent film for being largely well thought out, albeit idealistic and preachy. At least, for the sake of preaching, it didn’t send out dangerous ideas like “RDB” did. It dealt with most issues with great care and sensitivity. My favourite scene is when the lead character discusses why India is not the greatest country. The climax was just as riveting and awe-inspiring as that final over in “Lagaan.” Moreover, the movie featured SRK, the actor rather than SRK, the superstar. Instead of playing his usual starry eyed stud, he dared to take on the role of Mohan Bhargava, a man conflicted with the choice of the life he left behind and the life he can live ahead. His transformation from the typical NRI to a socially conscious individual is sensitive and very believable. Despite its length, “Swades” is enlightening cinema, a rarity in today’s world.
21. Kaminey: I have already said a fair bit about the movie here. With a repertoire including Maqbool and Omkara, Bharadwaj had proven himself as a compelling storyteller against all odds. In four movies, he has successfully told two children’s tales (one by Ruskin Bond) and two Shakespeare tales (Macbeth and Othello). With “Kaminey” he made a foray into yet another uncharted territory, conquered it and delivered a daring film that was, at once, Tarantino-esque and a throwback at the classic masala movies of the 70s. He made an actor out of Shahid Kapoor and proved that Priyanka Chopra doesn’t need makeup and glamour to be a bombshell. He reinvented the Hindi movie heroine from one that runs around trees and plays damsel in distress to one that tots a machine gun and can be as foul mouthed as any other guy while still retaining a feminine charm. He gave us a powerful new actor in Amol Gupte and presented Bombay in a whole new light. Last, but not least, the movie was armed with a fresh and wildly inventive soundtrack and some of the most memorable lines in recent years. All in all, “Kaminey” was an excellent film from a master storyteller.