10. Taare Zameen Par: Aamir Khan made his directorial debut with “Taare Zameen Par”, a relatively small film about a child with dyslexia. However, what could have been melodramatic and sappy turned out to be one of the most sensitively made films about kids. That is not, by any stretch of imagination to say that it’s a kids film. It is, on the contrary, a film that must be made mandatory viewings for all adults who have children or come in regular contact with them. Aamir Khan takes the story of Ishan (Darsheel Safary) and through it tells a universal tale that is true of all children. Dyslexia is a tool he uses to explain the alienation that children often face and their need for unrequited love, attention and care. It also is a surprisingly resonant depiction of the challenges and pressures that pre-teens and teenagers face today in terms of academic performance. Nothing is good enough. More is less. And any interest in the arts is considered as a hobby, at best. No one is really interested in knowing what the child wants. Everyone wants robots for kids who get excellent grades, do sports, extra classes and everything under the sun exceptionally. Aamir Khan takes these themes and explores them with a remarkable emotional depth. It’s a beautiful film that rests on two superlative performances: neither of which is Aamir Khan’s. The first is Tisca Chopra. As Ishaan’s mother, she is the embodiment of the motherly love and with one look makes you weep as she is torn between her overbearing husband and her love for her son who she doesn’t understand. After playing small roles throughout the 1990s, Tisca Chopra finally got a role she could sink her teeth in and she springs upon the opportunity. The result is a career defining performance. However, the true show stealer of this movie was none other than the child himself, Darsheel Safary. As Ishaan, he is absolutely perfect, vulnerable, sweet and misunderstood. He emotes amazingly well for a child his age and gives a superb performance as the central character. The usage of special effects in places is wonderful and left me in childlike wonder. Overall, this is one of the most sensitive and big-hearted pictures in recent years. Once again, Aamir Khan proves that big is not always better. A good story and strong performances with the right promotion can carry films better than big budgets any day.
9. Omkara: Vishal Bharadwaj’s third feature film was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic work “Othello”. The tale of kings and kingdoms is transported effectively into the Indian hinterland and power struggles in gun-totting gangs. Vishal Bharadwaj wowed one and all with his first Shakespearean adaptation “Maqbool.” Once again, here, he proved his brilliance as an expert story teller who has all the confidence, style and creativity to do justice to Shakespeare and yet, create something which is distinct, unique and very much original. He proves that even in remakes and adaptations, there is immense scope for ideas and innovation. As far as the main plot is concerned, it reflects the original work not only in word but also in spirit. The tale of Iago’s treachery and Othello’s insecurity is so well transposed into Langda Tyagi’s scheming and Omkara’s manipulation, that one watches spellbound as the saga unfolds. The performances are all excellent. However, the shining star of this film was Saif Ali Khan’s performance as the cold and calculating Langda. He is demonic, vicious and very much human. The unrestrained performance is raw, powerful and easily his best. Vishal Bharadwaj extracts such a wonderful performance that it is hard to believe that this is the same actor who did movies like “Aashiq Awaara”, “Main Khiladi Tu Anari” and “Dil Chahta Hai”. Vishal Bharadwaj proves that “Maqbool” was no fluke. He weaves the web of love, jealousy, deception and betrayal so intricately that one is at a loss for words. His music is also perfectly in sync with the mood of the film ranging from the raunchy “Beedi Jalaile” and the rustic title track to the passionate “Naina” and beautiful “Jag Ja”. Gulzar’s lyrics are gems and compliment the music and the mood of the film in a way that only Gulzar can achieve. In “Omkara”, Vishal Bharadwaj cemented his position as one of the most innovative storytellers whose ability to reinvent classics is unparalleled in Bollywood.
8. Black Friday: Anurag Kashyap’s first movie as a director to actually reach the theatres, “Black Friday” came quietly and yet, created quite a stir. Although it was ready since a few years before its release, it was struck by an injunction from the Bombay High Court as the trial of the accused allegedly involved in the activities depicted in the film was reaching its conclusion after nearly 13 years and the accused believed that the release would prejudice the courts against them. As a result of this, the movie’s release was delayed till after the decision of the courts. I saw the movie on the first weekend of its release and was completely blown away.
The movie is a docu-drama on the Bombay blasts in 1993. It delves into the planning and players behind the carnage in meticulous detail. At the same time, while exploring the micro level in such detail, it places the events within the macro framework of the charged atmosphere that was prevailing in the society in the time. What is remarkable about the movie is its unflinching execution. It took a strongly factual view of the riots that took place in Bombay after the demolition of the Babri Masjid (which was the trigger for the conspiracy that led to the blasts). Instead of taking a normative view (and consequently “balanced view”) of the events the way other movies on the riots like “Bombay” did, Anurag Kashyap has the balls to say what really happened and the extent to which it was a political event in which the minorities were unfairly demonised, targeted and exterminated by the powerful majority. In so doing, his work rises above merely being a factually correct depiction and becomes a political comment on a historical event and in some ways, sets the highly distorted historical record straight. At the same time, he makes a strong comment about the cost at which “justice” was achieved here. The police practices are barbaric and make you rethink what was achieved and whether it was worth the cost it entailed. And he does all this in a quiet and calm manner. Not once does the film seem dramatised or melodramatic. This makes its conclusions all the more chilling. This is a rare feat in Bollywood where most political comments are either based fictitious or hardly well thought out. “Rang De Basanti” is an excellent example of that. What Kashyap achieves here is to make the audience uncomfortable. He makes them squirm, think and take an opinion. That is his greatest achievement.
At the same time, Anurag Kashyap does not ignore the human element of the story. The characters are well drawn out and the performances exceptional. The frustration of Rakesh Maria (Kay Kay Menon) in heading the investigations and the transformation of Badshah Khan (Aditya Srivastava) from accused to approver was exceptionally portrayed. Tiger Memon (Pawan Malhotra) is appropriately kept slightly enigmatic as little is known about him apart from his meticulousness in the planning and his hot temper. To have tried to explain anymore would have been conjecturing and taken away from the authenticity of the film. The most chillingly frightening performance is that of Vijay Maurya as Dawood Ibrahim for no other reason but the striking resemblance.
The movie is technically superb. The movie very effectively captured the look and mood of the time period in which the events occur. The background music is perfect and absolutely in sync with the tone of the sequence. The cinematography is exceptional and again, sets the tone in several sequences like the slum chase (which inspired Danny Boyle for the opening sequence in “Slumdog Millionaire”). All in all, Anurag Kashyap’s first feature film opened to a wide audience is gritty, realistic, highly entertaining but most importantly, relevant.
7. 3 Idiots: This was the movie that forced me to delete my post on the best movies of 2009. Although S warned me about this one, I still went ahead with the post without seeing this movie and was forced to eat my words subsequently. However, I have no regrets in eating them. This was, without a doubt, the best film of 2009. In his distinct style, Rajkumar Hirani made us laugh, cry and realise that, at the end of the day, “All Izz Well”. One of the most remarkable films in recent times, it takes a substandard literary work (“Five Point Someone” by Chetan Bhagat), realises its crap and turns it on its head. While FPS was frivolous and celebrated slackers, “3 Idiots” places its characters within the larger context of the problems in the education system today. The overtly competitive and unhealthy work environment and the toll it takes on students are portrayed really well here. It advocated the need to promote interests and hobbies rather than submission to social stereotypes (engineer, doctor etc). It celebrates creativity and innovation over memorising and grades. Although Rajkumar Hirani has a strong tendency to get preachy, it is a forgivable flaw as he gives us movies worth cherishing one after the other.
Apart from these messages, the movie is also a superb celebration of friendship. The relationship between Rancho (Aamir Khan), Farhan (R. Madhavan) and Raju (Sharman Joshi) is instantly relatable, enjoyable and occasionally highly poignant. Although the movie seems to lend more weight to Aamir Khan’s character than the others. However, that is understandable as it chooses to make his character the mouthpiece for the ideas it wants to convey. Also, there is a strong element of truth in the characters of Chatur (Omi) and the diabolical Virus (Boman Irani). They are the embodiment of the unhealthy competition that this film attacks. The performances are excellent throughout. Each actor fits in his/her role extremely well and compliment each other at every stage. It is remarkable how Aamir Khan can look like a guy in his 20s when he is actually well over 40 years old.
The script is absolutely wonderful and finds a delicate balance between the funny, the emotional and the preachy bits. These parts are beautifully woven into a whole and in many ways, Rajkumar Hirani proves that he is perhaps the only filmmaker today who can get away with the audacious and the obnoxious (in re the pregnancy sequence). He either makes it so funny or emotional that you forget how outrageous it is and simply choose to go with the film. The dialogues are gems with Chatur’s speech right at the top. They are natural, poignant and witty in all the right places. This is the biggest strength of the film and of Raju Hirani. He proves time and again that boss, at the end of the day, it is the solidity of the story and script that makes a film great. Do yourself a favour, and go watch this movie. If you have already seen it, see it again. The best end one could have expected from a remarkable decade.
6. Lage Raho Munnabhai: This is perhaps the only worthy sequel ever to come out of Bollywood. It surpassed the original by leaps and bounds and its impact on culture is undeniable. It’s plot was unexpectedly audacious and pulled off with such élan and finesse by Raju Hirani that I was completely floored. In today’s conflict ridden society, he found a unique tool to revisit the morals and principles enunciated by one of the most prolific leaders of modern times: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
Munnabhai falls in love with a radio jockey and claims to be an expert on Gandhi. When asked to give a lecture on Gandhi at an old age home, he is forced to read about Gandhi and suddenly finds that he can see Bapu and communicate with him. The remainder of the film is about the conversion of Munnabhai and the impact he has on the people through his propagation of Bapu’s teachings. But how is it that he sees Bapu? Is it his ghost? Or is it something else?
Raju Hirani took giant leaps as a story teller in his second outing. He made a film that Hrishikesh Mukherjee would have been so proud of! In the film, he made us laugh, cry and taught us some valuable life lessons. The script and dialogues are so well penned that despite the obnoxiousness of the plot, Raju Hirani pulls it off almost effortlessly. There are several scenes that leave a remarkable impact. The scene of Jimmy Shergill was one of the most emotionally powerful scenes ever. The simple applications of Gandhi’s principles in today’s world are also remarkable to watch. Sure, Raju Hirani is a preachy sentimentalist. However, that does not take away from the fact that he has something relevant to say and he says it in an entertaining manner. In fact, that is his strength. His work may not be high art but it certainly is inspiring and occasionally, even life-revising. He is an audacious and yet, efficient storyteller and makes you care about his characters.
All the performances in the film are very good. Boman Irani is brilliant as usual as the greedy contractor. Dilip Prabhavalkar is effective as Gandhi. Arshad Warsi is in top form as Circuit once again. Sanjay Dutt is lovable as the uncouth but big hearted Munnabhai. The movie dramatically impacted the view in society of Gandhi and introduced a new term “Gandhigiri” in the local lingo. It also reached out to a global audience as it was the first full length feature film to be screened at the United Nations and was opened to a thunderous reception at the World Cinema section (Tous les Cinemas du Monde) at the 2007 Cannes Festival. It is without a doubt, Hirani’s best and one of the best overall of this decade as well.