I’ve never really reacted to a teaser trailer before, but I am super excited about this one for Mahesh Babu’s Spyder, due out in September. I went on a binge of Mahesh Babu films last year, and unfortunately, the first film of his I saw in the theater was Brahmotsavam, which was a confusing mess. Spyder is directed by the Murugadoss who gave us Aamir Khan’s Ghajini, which is a masterpiece. Crossing my fingers that he gives Mahesh as great a movie. September seems very far away!!
It’s still January, if barely, right? This is a list of my favorite films in Indian Cinema released in 2016. I have not seen every film released, by a long shot, but I’ve seen quite a few of the top releases in Hindi and Malayalam cinema in theaters. I still haven’t seen Pink, although that is definitely on my list, and it’s now on Netflix streaming.
1. Kapoor and Sons (Since 1921)
Kapoor and Sons was hands down my favorite Indian film of the year. I just love the way the cast interacts. It feels like you’re a voyeur in a real family and their drama. I will admit that Sidharth is the weak link, but Alia and Fawad are so great in this. Fawad Khan especially just blew me away. And the soundtrack! Kar Gayi Chull is my phone ringtone for a reason, because I never tire of hearing that hook.
2. Kammatti Paadam
Dulquer Salmaan had an amazing year, but Kammatti Paadam is just a masterpiece. I’m so glad I saw this Malayalam gangster epic in a theater. I was nearly shell shocked by the experience of seeing this Rajeev Ravi film. Dulquer is our eyes into this world of gangsters, and dalit toughs. He is very, very good, but the two actors, Vinayakan and Manikandan steal the show.
3. Udta Punjab
Alia Bhatt also had a great year. I’m still thinking about how fantastic she was in Udta Punjab, a film filled with great performances. This is the film that introduced me to Diljit Dosanjth. And how great was Shahid Kapoor as the comic relief? This was an entertaining film, but also one with an important message about how the drug trade affects everyone– a message the censor board tried to suppress, and thank goodness they did not prevail. Udta Punjab is currently streaming on Netflix.
Oh my goodness, Kaliis such a tense thriller. Kali means rage. I admire the script and how the director kept me on the edge of my seat. I did not know what would happen next at any given moment. I felt that anything could happen. And I loved that about this Malayalam movie! The first half is a personal story of a marriage with young man with anger issues. Then the second half grips you by the throat. Dulquer Salmaan gives another stellar performance in a great year, matched by Sai Pallavi.
5. Dear Zindagi
I adored Shahrukh Khan and Alia Bhatt in Dear Zindagi. We were afraid when the film was announced it was going to be a romantic relationship, but SRK is her mentor and therapist in this fantastic film. This is my first Gauri Shinde film, and she is a wonderful director. This was a nice crossover film that I took some Bollywood virgins to see, and they loved it.
Although not a perfect film, I submit Fanmay be the one of the best performances of Shahrukh Khan’s career in the double role of Guarav and Aryan.
This really felt like a year for women in Hindi cinema. Sonam Kapoor was perfect casting for Neerja. This film reminded me very much of United 93 – you know what’s going to happen, but you’re still on the edge of your seat watching it unfold, filled with tension. Neerja is currently streaming on Netflix.
I love that Aamir Khan made this movie about girl empowerment. He let the young women at the center of this true story take the lead, and he was brave enough to play a father with a paunch, no less. Dangalwas one of the biggest family films of the year.
9. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
I’m still not happy with the ending of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, but man it has some glorious moments. It’s full on lush Karan Johar film making – actually my first Karan film on the big screen. I’m reading his autobiography now, An Unsuitable Boy, and he says that Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is about his own unrequited love story. It’s a very personal film. I wish there hadn’t been all the controversy about Pakistani actors, and Fawad Khan had a bigger part. That soundtrack!! I listened to the title track on constant repeat.
I really enjoyed Sultan, and Salman made a great pairing with Anushka Sharma. It was another Hindi film with a message of female empowerment, even if the majority of the film was about Salman’s character. Great soundtrack, too!
Special mention for Brahman Naman which I saw the premiere of at Sundance back in January. I’m not sure if it’s a purely Indian produced film, but it’s a quirky and wonderful teen sex comedy. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.
There have been a string of inspiring movies about empowering girls in sports recently in Indian cinema. Just this year there’s been Sultan and the boxing movie Irudhi Suttru. Dangal is not groundbreaking because it’s about the first women wrestler to win a gold at the Commonwealth games (and then the first Indian woman wrestler to make the Olympics.) What’s groundbreaking is that Aamir Khan plays his age, and shows it.
He’s not the first of the three Khan’s to play a father. Salman was just a father figure in Bajranig Bhaijaan and while Shahrukh Khan played a widowed father in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to little Anjali, he also was still acting like he was still in high school! Aamir Khan took the bold step of actually playing a father of young adult girls with gray hair and a paunch.
An Aamir Khan film is a true event since he is only making at most one a year, but it’s been two years since the blockbuster PK. I’m glad he took the time to make this one right. He’s so method that he gained lots of weight to show the older Mahavir Singh Phogat, and then lost it over months to play the younger wrestler in his prime.
From what I’m gathering some of the true events of the sisters Geeta and Babita and their coach and father Mahavir were changed for dramatic purposes. But the basic outline remains. They lived in a rural village in Haryana, an area that has one of the worst women to men ratios in India. The film shows what the girls’ life could have been — married off by age 14. Mahavir had four girls and no sons, so he decides gold is gold, and will train his daughters to be wrestlers to win gold for India.
They took their time putting this movie together, and the casting is just exceptional. The girls at the young ages are really good young actresses, and the older girls phenomenal. Aamir lived with all four girls that were playing his daughters while they trained in wrestling together. It paid off in a comfortable family relationship with the girls. You can see the warm rapport they have with Aamir on the recent Koffee with Karan episode that aired last weekend.
I loved the structure of the first half, as Aamir decides to train the girls in wrestling after they beat up a couple of boys (as we see in the trailer.) The local wrestling school won’t let the girls train, so he builds his own mud arena for their training. At one point the girls rebel against his strict regimen, and I loved how they impishly reset the time on his alarm clock and so on.
This is a film all about the relationship of a father and his daughters. There is no romance subplot. It’s another wrestling movie like Sultan, but it’s completely different than Sultan. The conflict comes in Mahavir’s unwavering dream of gold medals for his girls and all that he puts them through to give them enough grit to accomplish it.
The second half conflict comes when Geeta reaches a level where she must move to another city to train with the national wrestling team under a new coach. I adored a scene where the other girls on the team introduce her to DDLJ. Geeta’s first visit home is quite bumpy in their relationship, and one of the most gripping scenes in the movie to me is when a quarrel over her new techniques learned from her new coach ends in Geeta and her father wrestling, and wrestling hard. I actually gasped out loud it got so intense.
Since this is a real life biopic, we know the ending, but it’s the journey getting there that is so enjoyable. It’s really an incredible story, and the neighbor I went with said she wants to take her young sons to see it. It’s a great family film. There’s no sex or bad language or violence. It’s not bloody like boxing movies. I was very glad of a nice little scene that explained the point system in wrestling so I could follow along when we got to the big matches. The story is simple, and if it wasn’t real life, would almost be unbelievable that one father could train two girls to be gold medal winners.
Sports movies are really not my favorites, but I found the story really compelling. Aamir is a driving force in the movie, but all four actresses really get to shine on their own, especially newcomers Sakshi Tanwar as Geeta and Fatima Sana Shaikh as younger sister Babita. There’s a plot twist that I won’t spoiler that leads Geeta’s father to not be present at her gold winning match. In retrospect, it was purposeful to show that she wins it on her own merit and grit – not because her savant coach father was yelling what to do throughout the match.
I’m glad they cast unknown actresses in these roles, because I could really just see them as Geeta and Babita. But even Aamir, with so much screen presence truly disappeared into his role as Mahavir. That’s a great actor. He’s like Daniel Day-Lewis in that way, and equally devoted to his craft. I applaud Aamir for getting this film made, as it has a great message, and not just for girls. There are only a few songs, but they are woven into the film seamlessly, and make sense in their place in the movie.
Took some visiting relatives to the Art Institute and to Millennium Park in Chicago today, so this song was of course on my mind! Seriously, Millennium Park and Navy Pier have never looked more beautiful on film, ever.
A few weeks ago, I answered a question on Quora, “Does anyone besides Indians watch Indian movies?” This post is adapted from the answer I gave. At first I gave a brief answer, but then people commented and wanted to know WHY? Why would a non-Indian love Indian films? Many commenters were at first incredulous, but then thanked me for showing them an outsider’s view of their cinema. As of this writing, the answer has garnered over 170,000 views, and made me a Most Viewed Writer about Bollywood on Quora. (Which still blows my mind.)
Netflix in the US has over 80 Hindi films at anyone time. Because of the kind of films I enjoy, Netflix recommended I watch Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge about 2 years ago. Since I fell in love with Bollywood, I’ve seen over 200 Indian films. I’m lucky that in my area new release films play in a few local theaters. I was able to see Kapoor and Sons just last night and I absolutely loved it.
I’m not the only non-Desi in America to love Bollywood movies, but I wouldn’t say it’s very common.
My father’s church has a monthly movie night, and he asked me to show a Bollywood movie last week. I chose Dil Se, and showed it to 15 people, including my parents, who had never before seen a Bollywood film. They all loved it!
Editing to add my answer from the comments below, WHY I love Indian films:
I also love old Hollywood musicals like Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly films. Hollywood does not make them anymore. I love the singing and the dancing in Indian cinema, but also the earnest love stories are not the kind of films that Hollywood makes either. Rom Coms are becoming rarer and rarer in American films which tend to be more cynical. The emotions in Bollywood films are something that is rare to see in Hollywood or English films. People joke about how much Shahrukh Khan cries in his films, but I really respond to the emotions shown in Indian cinema. Also, the colors on screen! Bhansali’s film Ram-Leela is an example of this.
I listen to Bollywood music all the time, as well.
Indian films just give me things I cannot get from Hollywood or other Western cinema. Plus Shahrukh Khan. I’ve watched 47 of his films alone (which doesn’t count the countless times I’ve watched DDLJ.) 🙂
I do love South Indian films as well, and I have seen a little over 30 South Indian films. I fell in love with Prabhas after watching Baahubali last year (four times in the theater!). I now own many of his Telugu films on DVD.
Recently, I’ve been watching quite a few Malayalam films, especially recent ones with Nivin Pauly and Dulquer Salmaan. I have watched fewer Tamil films, but I asked my neighbor to bring me back some DVD’s from her recent trip to Chennai, and have been working through the dozen films she brought me. Last week, I watched Raja Rani, and liked it.
I asked for commenters to recommend their favorite Indian films — and oh boy, did they. I’ve created a Letterboxd list now of all the films recommended there in the comments that I have not already seen. Now up to 372 (!!) films in several Indian languages: Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi, etc. The question now is will I live long enough to watch even half of them!
My first Bollywood film ever was Lagaan, back almost 15 years ago when it was nominated for the Foreign language Oscar. That was back when you could only rent Netflix movies via DVD in the mail. I then watched Dil Chahta Hai, because that also had Aamir Khan. But it was not so easy back then for a non-Hindi speaker to find out about other Bollywood films. The internet has helped so much, and Netflix’s recommendation engine is the reason I fell in love with Bollywood 2 years ago. DDLJ was recommended to me, then I was able to watch Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi right after that. I texted my Indian next door neighbor for other suggestions, and she loves Hrithik Roshan and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was also streaming on Netflix and I was off to the races with my new obsession.
I have been mentored by two other non-Desi lovers of Bollywood who then suggested many other films for me to try, and in some cases pushed the DVD’s into my hand saying, “YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS!”