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Bollywood Films In 2017: A Few Sparkling Gems In A Sea Of Mediocrity

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Compiling a year-ender in terms of films is usually a difficult exercise, especially when over a hundred films are released and there’s an array of content to choose from. But, 2017 has seen the average being celebrated – films with no plot or logic have joined the Rs 100-crore club and broken records for being the ‘Masala Entertainer Of The Year’. The year has also seen revivals and sequels of films that were best left to be remembered for their originals.

Biopics of Mumbai’s dreaded dons made their presence felt too – from the Haseena Parker biopic that starred a highly incompetent Shraddha Kapoor to the one on Arun Gawli, featuring a de-glam Arjun Rampal.

And yet, coming up with films that are terrific in terms of content and execution is far from simple. Out of the hundreds that released, these are the handful that thoroughly pleased us. Nowhere close to the 100-crore club or the usual commercial fare, these films impressed with their originality and treatment of women, and stood out in terms of delivering something that we, the audience, really needed.

(Note: This list is in no particular order)

Anaarkali of Aarah

Anaarkali Of Aarah, where Swara Bhaskar repeats an equally convincing performance after last year’s Nil Battey Sannata, shows that no matter how many times you scream it, no matter what language you spell it out in, and across caste, creed and level of education, there’s one simple message that many people don’t seem to get – ‘No means No’. And, that is why the film hits home. And, hits home hard.

In this film, we have a heroine who is razor-sharp and unapologetically saucy. She sings songs filled with double entendres that give the audience what they want – a tantalising show. She enjoys the fame and attention; and men from all over town flock to see this woman who is comfortable in her own sexuality.

Mind you, she enjoys all this. And, has no qualms telling off a man who thinks she ought to be treated like desi tandoor.

Also, the film has the same theme of consent like in Pink from 2016. But, Anaarkali’s story is set in the reality of a smaller town, where corruption and sexism are rampant, and a woman fighting for herself has no one by her side.

Read: Anaarkali Of Aarah Review

Lipstick Under My Burka

Credits: Sify

It’s a pity that Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha was subjected to irrelevant scrutiny and judgement that stalled its release several times. Much of the objection by the then-CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani was because women were so open with their sexuality and bodies in the film. Words such as ‘lady-oriented’ were thrown in too.

In an interview to Silverscreen, Alankrita spoke of the male gaze and the fact that men are just not comfortable with a woman being so sure of herself. “Whatever women in our films and in real life are made to do is what men like to see them do. We have been watching cinema through the eyes of men for a long time, and even women are used to it. The feminist point of view is scarcely represented in our culture. Are women really happy being confined to the roles men have assigned them? Of course, not. Women are normal human beings with all the ambitions and passions others have. You cannot deny it.”

The film, like its promotional posters, points a middle-finger at patriarchy. The women in the film, their stories and backgrounds, echo sentiments close to the reality of most middle class Indian women. Whether it’s the mundane, almost boring life in Usha’s case, the sexually liberating life that Leela and Rehanna yearn for, or Shireen’s need to make herself feel worthwhile – Lipstick Under My Burkha is 2017’s only film that had no qualms in calling out patriarchy, and about screaming feminism on the streets.

Read: Lipstick Under My Burkha Review

A Death In The Gunj

Not everyday does one get a taste of life in the ’70s. Silences punctuated only by the tapping on phone screens didn’t exist then, just idyllic existence in the company of family and friends.

Shutu, played by a terrific Vikrant Massey, spends the holidays at McCluskiegunj with his aunt and cousins. Being the second youngest, after Tani, he is visibly depressed and has been ever since the death of his father. He has failed his exams, his mother constantly worries about him, and he has no one to talk to. One’s heart goes out to Shutu, especially when his cousins are not all that understanding. He finds a friend in Tani but not for long.

Director Konkona Sen Sharma’s attention to detail is remarkably indigenous and original. The Indian flavour in this English-speaking family is a haunting portrait of the growing sense of toxic masculinity, and dysfunctional families  at a time when most shunned mental health. It’s not the dialogues that impress, but the use of silence and the motley characters in this family that seems normal from the outside.

Read: A Death In The Gunj Review

Trapped

Vikramaditya Motwane’s Trapped is Charles Darwin’s ‘Survival of the Fittest’ theory set in a high-rise Mumbai apartment. You needn’t be stranded on an island or a jungle to learn how to survive. Sometimes, with all the technology by your side, you can struggle to stay alive even within the confines of your own apartment. And, if you don’t adapt, you don’t survive – the rules are simple.

There are barely any dialogues, mostly actions and movements, and Rajkummar Rao puts in a stellar performance, even when the script fails him. Director Vikramaditya Motwane’s story is not just about the trapped man and what he goes through to survive; it’s also about how a filmmaker successfully hooks his audience into looking at the simplest, most banal things in life with a whole new perspective.

And, Motwane proves one more thing – that you need not stick to one genre. No wonder, he’s earned the adjective of ‘versatile’.

Read: Trapped Review

Hindi Medium

A commercial Hindi film that focusses on the difficulty of being parents isn’t new. But here, the emphasis is on chasing dreams  – that too in English. The protagonists have grown up with the notion that in India, if one has to do well, one has to know English.

The film speaks about the educations system in the country and several other misconceptions that govern someone being regarded as successful and bright. The strength of Hindi Medium is its well-scripted story and characters – every character is sincere, and not exactly perfect. Add good acting to that, and what you have is a film that is well-intentioned, and, thankfully, with no forced moral lesson.

Read: Hindi Medium Review

Newton

Newton, Oscar, Rajkummar Rao

In this film, the story is nothing to write home about – it’s about an honest man who is simply doing his job. Just like most leads in films, the protagonist named Newton (his real name is Nutan Kumar) is faced with conflicts over his job and his principles. He is disciplined and far too staunch in his ideals, which is what leads to the many troubles he faces.

The film also takes on the issue of voting in a system that is so corrupt and doctored that the first to be targeted is always the one who does his duty. At a time when votes are hijacked, Newton sticks to doing his job and rules.

The actors put in stellar performances, and Rajkummar Rao convinces you that no one else could have played Newton. Anjali Patil, Pankaj Tripathi and Sanjay Mishra are effortless. No wonder, this film is India’s official entry to the Oscars.

Read: Newton Review

Tumhari Sulu

Tumhari Sulu has a recognised trope – a bored housewife who longs to do something with life. But there’s something different about this one. Sulu (an effervescent Vidya Balan)  is more than just an RJ with a sexy voice with a no-inappropriate things principle, she’s also the glue that binds her middle class family with real problems and real dreams.

As RJ Sulu, she listens to people. Some call her for problems, others simply love to hear her talk. Sulu’s background is also carefully placed, with the other characters revealing more about her nature. It’s rare to see that in a film headlined by an actress. It’s almost like Sulu is a real person.

The film goes on to show how there are far too many Sulus out there who yearn to break out from their monotonous life, and who aren’t given credit for raising a family.

Read: Tumhari Sulu Review

***

There were some other films in the middle-of-the-road cinema that sparkled with their content. Think Bareilly Ki Burfi, Shubh Mangal Saavdhaan, Secret Superstar, G Kutta Se, Toilet Ek Prem Katha (this went on to gross more than Rs 130 crores), Ribbon, Qarib Qarib Singlle and Kadvi Hawa.

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