Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: The Best and the Worst

As 2010 draws to a close, I realised that it’s been quite a mediocre year in Hindi cinema. There have some moments of brilliance, but they have been few and far between. By and large, it has been a disappointing year, with big names delivering small works. But thankfully, there have also been some small names delivering big works. It’s been the year for the newcomers, who have stolen the thunder from the biggest of names. Here are, what I think were, the best Hindi films of 2010:

3. Ishqiya: Where do I begin? There is the fearless performance by Vidya Balan, the best I have seen this year from a female actor; the confident direction by Chaubey-ji, who joins the growing legion of new kids on the block; the impeccable lyrics of Gulzar who captures something highly elusive, the soul of the film, in 8 lines of poetry; Chutiyam Sulphate and other acidic lines from that genius that is Vishal. This was undoubtedly, one of the most involving, path-breaking and innovative films of 2010. It represents the changing face of Hindi cinema. And it is a beautiful face indeed.

2. My Name Is Khan: If Ishqiya and others represent innovative storytelling, MNIK was the finest example of classic Bollywood. Kajol and SRK proved that their chemistry is ageless and timeless. After over two decades in the business, they gave the best performances of their career. The film gave its audiences the best love story of the year, an unforgettable protagonist, stellar performances from the entire cast and uncharacteristically intelligent, if loose, writing on the immigrant experience in post 9/11 America. It was the only Hindi film I bothered seeing twice at the cinema; the only one I cried in like a baby, both times. This is conventional Hindi cinema at its best; unapologetically corny and emotional; epically entertaining and enlightening.

1. Udaan: Good things come in small packages; the adage finds a great example in Udaan. A quiet, raw and intimate experience, this was the best film I saw this year. A brilliant slice-of-life story; an emotionally resonant script, sharp direction and some powerhouse performances: these were the basic ingredients that went into making Udaan. But the resulting product was more; so much more. In Rohan’s poetry, we find a silent cry for people like him, whose creativity and aspirations were stifled by parental and societal pressures to conform. In Arjun, we see a desperate longing for love, attention and affection, a longing subconsciously articulated; something which even his young mind does not fully understand. In  Bhairav Singh, there is a menacing villain, but one which is more complex and identifiable than the legion of one dimensional bad father figures littered across cinema. This is an important film that finds hope in the darkest places; serves as a vehicle for suicide prevention; and tells a story with the power to touch both, the children and their parents. It is passionate as it is simple. This is a far more intelligent and effective film about the pressures, pains and joys of growing up than 3 Idiots could ever be. It is entertainment, but of a very different kind. We need more of such cinema.

Other noteworthy films: Peepli [Live], Love, Sex Aur Dhokha, Dabangg, Break Ke Baad, Phas Gaya Re Obama, Raajneeti and Band Baaja Baaraat.

My list of the worst films of the year was considerably longer. But that is usually the case in both, English and Hindi cinema. However, I list the following three films, as they could have been something more, but fell way behind the mark.

3. Anjaana Anjaani: For its countless absurdities, its sexism, its humourless existence and its squandered potential. Priyanka Chopra’s character needs a crash course in self respect and Ranbir Kapoor looks more like a sub-standard model than an investment banker. They don’t have money to fly to Vegas but they have enough money to rent boats and sail to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Stupid, silly and painful to watch. This could have been an Indian Harold and Maude. Instead, it is one of the worst romantic comedies in a while, by any standard.

2. Kites: How can a film so gorgeous to look at be so shockingly awful? Inconsistent, erratic, hollow and mind-numbing, Kites was plagued with bad acting, bad music, a mediocre story and a disjointed and weak script. As a story, this is the worst kind of 80s road movie, the kind that should have never been made then, let alone now. It makes you wonder how such a script ever got accepted, let alone receive such an enormous budget. The cinematography was the best Hindi cinema can boast of; it had an artistic vision and finesse that was lacking in the rest of the film. Anurag Basu as a filmmaker, always lacked subtlety. But this was an awful film, even compared to his previous films. Hrithik Roshan is a terrific actor. But, he has never been the best judge of projects. Unfortunately, instead of getting better at it; he appears to be getting worse.

1. Raavan: Like in the case of Ishqiya, where do I begin? Was it the awful performances, the bizarre characters, the stranger story or the self-indulgent direction? It is remarkable how faithful Raavan is, at least broadly, to the Ramayana. However, unlike the epic, it has no depth, meaning or emotional resonance. The characters are awkwardly mixed with shades of gray without much thought and the actors rightly look confounded by them. Mani Ratnam gets it wrong; terribly wrong; so much so, that his previous work, Guru looks like a classic in comparison to this. He is, I think, to blame, singularly and entirely for this disaster. A.R. Rahman’s score, overall, lacks punch. Abhishek and Aishwarya both disappoint, even by their own self-imposed standards. But the fault lies in their characters more than their performances. If there could be a negative star rating, this movie would be a perfect candidate for it. Without a doubt, this is the worst film I saw this year.

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