This too had to happen. 2013 witnessed Hindi language releases that went on to become some of the biggest box office hits in India’s history. This not-so-subtle seismic shift in the power of box office validation created a near miraculous alignment of boffo box office big tent events that also received generally positive critical reception.
In an ever more increasingly transparent and still-evolving world of how Hindi movie financing works, the newest box office reports carry far more credibility than in the days of yore when some of the biggest movies were financed by gray-market sources and when word of mouth had to be relied on by the bean counters.
These are exciting times and here are some of the reasons to be excited about catching Hindi movies.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.
1. THE ATTACKS OF 26/11.
Image found at Eros Now Movies
The power of cinema to contemplate humankind’s inhumanity—warts and all—as it unrolls has seldom been so starkly captured in Hindi movies.
Ramgopal Varma’s precise take on the final hours leading to the capture of Ajmal Kasab in the 2008 terrorist attacks on central Mumbai takes on breathtaking urgency from the get-go.
Unflinching in its depiction of the horrors that a handful of cross-border killers carried out, Attacks goes as far as fingering complicity by Pakistan’s intelligence services. Taking on a near-documentary façade as the camera makes stops at each successive killing field, this is riveting stuff. Seen through the eyes of a high-ranking Mumbai cop (Nana Patekar) in charge of the initial response to the attacks, Varma filmed at some of the actual venues where the attacks took place (the city’s main train station and the posh café where some of the attacks were staged). We have met the enemy. He is most definitely not us.
2. YEH JAWAANI HAI DEEWANI. By far the more impressive of Ranbir Kapoors’s two outings this year, (the other being Besharam) Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (YJHD)solidified Kapoor’s box office creds in the topmost tier. Along with Deepika Padukone who has had an incredible string of six hits in a row (Desi Boyz, Cocktail, Race 2, Chennai Express, Yeh Jawaani Yeh Deewani and Ram Leela), YJHD celebrated all the fun reasons for going to movies—good story-telling (he is a detached TV journalist, she is a mousy med student), great setting (a feast of scenic backdrops from Paris to Kashmir), romance and comedy in the tradition of the grand romantic movies from the 1960s, the last time that romance was let loose with such carefree, musically charged reckoning. And a one, and a two: “Budtameez Dil, Budatameez Dil …”
3. KAO PO CHE! Abhishek Kapoor’s would be small entry proved to be one of the most talked, best and successful movies of year.
Based on yet another Chetan Bhagat best-seller (an earlier Bhagat book resulted in the megahit 3 Idiots), Kao Po Che! more-or-less sticks to Bhagat’s theme of using three bromancing young men. Directly or indirectly tapping on the biggest stories out of the Indian state of Gujarat—everything from the Bhuj earthquake to the rise of Narendra Modi—Kapoor’s movie follows three grown-up wannabe younger men who jointly open a sporting goods store.
Kapoor effortlessly intertwines the larger news headlines into the lives of the three BFFs played by Raj Kumar Yadav, Amit Sadh and Sushant Sing Rajput, even though the acting kudos are hijacked single-handedly by Digvijay Deshmukh as a budding cricket protégé whose Muslim family is victimized by sectarian strife.
The memorable finished product is a testament to smartly made smaller-budget movies in the tradition of Vicki Donor (2012).
4. DAVID. Bijoy Nambiar’s highly evocative time-shifting entry disappeared without as much as a ripple. That is a shame. Navigating an unusual story ofthree central characters by the same titular name from three different time periods, Nambiar successfully juggles three timelines. The three David characters are played by Neil Nitin Mukesh (as a mafia enforcer in London circa 1975), Toronto-born newcomer Vinay Virmani as a Mumbai musician whose family gets caught up in religious bigotry in 1999 and south Indian actor Vikram as a contemporary beach-going Goan silently pining for the mute girlfriend (Isha Sharwani) of his best friend. Supported wonderfully by Tabu as a massage parlor madame and Rohini Hattangadi as a hate-mongering politician, Nambiar proved that the sum of the parts can add up to under-the-radar fireworks.
5. SPECIAL 26.
Setting aside the odd-sounding title, Niraj Pandey’s bank-heist thriller transformed a recent headlining news story about a band of crafty robbers who posed as income tax collectors into a first-rate Robin Hood-esque story with thrills galore. Pitted against the hoodwinking robbers who are led by a shrewd mastermind played by Akshay Kumar, is an equally determined anti-corruption squad headed by a clever fiscal gumshoe played by Manoj Bajpayee (who is everywhere these days), Special 26 proved entertaining. The gang’s shenanigans, always threatened by implosion and pseudo-defections (which ones are real and which ones are staged?), take tongue-in-check jabs at India’s seemingly permanent regime of government-by-red-tape. Even though Kumar’s character outwardly romances a comely neighbor (played by newcomer Kaajal Aggarwal), the real courtship is the battle of egos between the criminal alpha-male and the determined cop as they attempt to outwit each other. As a perpetual testosterone booster, director Pandey uses brisk pacing and eye-catching camera work to elevate the duel to a grand territorial pissing contest. This is Akshay Kumar’s best movie ever.
6. KRRISH 3.
The convergence of super hero and science fiction themes is a relatively modern phenomenon in Hindi movies. As the third installment of Rakesh Roshan’s man-in-tights franchise after Koi Mil Gaya and Krrish, Krrish 3 proved a surprisingly well-made entry with great action choreography and special effects. Hrithik Roshan’s credible double role playing a scientist father and his city-slicker son Krishna who moonlights as the daredevil Krrish is countered nicely by Vivek Oberoi’s vampire-like Kaal, the diabolical degenerate who stole scientific secrets from Krishna’s father to half-manufacture/half-recruit a breed of super-powered half-human baddies including Kangana Ranaut’s hard-to-dismiss shape-shifting vixen Kaya. Triangulated in the crosshairs of hyper-marketed pre-release buzz and generally favorable reviews, the Roshans stormed the box office. Within three weeks of a sensational Diwali weekend release, Krrish 3 beat out the previous record holder (and recent release) Chennai Express to nail the crown as India’s all-time box office champion. Let that sink in. Krrish 3. Biggest. Box Office Hit. In India’s history.
Rising from the cacophony of high-octane action features that ruled at the movies in the summer (Go Goa Gone, Zanjeer, Shootout at Wadala), Lootera was a breath of fresh air. Director Vikramaditya Motwane, who made a sensational debut with the phenom entry Udaan (2010) returned with Lootera, a love-sublime romantic thriller. Based on an O’Henry short story, Motwane seductively draws the viewer into a hook up between the nubile daughter (Sonakshi Sinha) of a feudal land baron and the rogue archeologist (Ranveer Singh) as they teeter-totter on the will-they-won’t-they odyssey from the outback of West Bengal to the snow-covered hills at Dalhousie. A heightened romantic pulse has so rarely been captured this beautifully. Close your eyes and imagine Sinha as a modern day mountain recluse Sharmila Tagore in Daag and Singh as a rugged, stacked, imposter Dev Anand in Hum Dono.
8. SHUDDH DESI ROMANCE.
The Yashraj label has had an impressive string of romantic comedies on their books (Hum Tum, Bunty Aur Babli, Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl and Mere Brother Ki Dulhan). Director Maneesh Sharma stages a loose love triangle involving a bossy lass (Parineeti Chopra), a runaway groom (Sushant Singh Rajput) and his jilted would-be-bride (Vaani Kapoor). The gimmick here is the script’s pseudo-realistic sensibility—its 2013, so there might be premarital coupling, women who smoke and performance anxiety at all junctures. Skewing towards a hip urban demographic (something Yashraj does well, instantly forging a generational connection that worked well for them in selling Shahrukh Khan in the 1990s), the subtext is the fear of being single—none of the characters appear to want to be alone even as they clamor for solitude. A techie-created conundrum indeed!
Prakash Jha never met a populist card that he wasn’t tempted to deal immediately. And Satyagraha, a modern day Gandhian hunge-strike and euphemistic salt-marches drama, was fundamentally no different. Hinged on a retired headmaster (forcefully played by Bachchan) emerging from a family tragedy to confront a municipal highway construction scandal, Satyagraha succeeded better at proving the same point that Jha’s earlier Aarakshan had to lift heavier weights for. Jha’s social commentary also benefited by keeping alive a discourse on two hot button socio-political Indian news stories with extraordinary shelf lives—Anna Hazare’s anti-graft hunger strike and the so-called 2G spectrum scandal spiraling outward from the under-selling of extremely lucrative telecom bandwidths to a handful of deepest-pocket buyers, a scandal that Time magazine named as the second greatest abuse of power in modern times, behind only Watergate. Witty, well-written and sentimental without being sappy, Satyagraha stood its ground.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s retro-feel modern day Romeo and Juliet set in the hinterlands of Gujarat was hands down the biggest explosion of color on the screen. Bhansali, who directed, co-produced and even leant a hand to the soundtrack, injected incessant sexual references and imagery that suggested sexual violence, especially against the women folk—a woman’s shawl violently pulled off and thrown into a lake and then riddled with bullet holes as a metaphor for rape and near unlimited jokes about guns as euphemistic cod pieces representing proven or unproven virility, to name but a few. Though the elaborate circus of a 500 year-old blood feud between two rural mafia clans pivots from a near-phantasmagoric spread of ethnic threads, make-up and jewelry, the bawdiness of the delivery has the unintended effect of having the leads Ram (a pumped up, scantily loin-clothed Ranveer Singh) and Leela (a midriff baring Deepika Padukone) appear more in lust than in love—a distant whimper from what the bard intended. The most memorable acting was Supriya Pathak’s tyrannical matriarch and Leela’s control-freak mother and also Richa Chadda and Barkha Bisht as two young widows victimized by clan warfare.
Minor rant: Because of tight deadlines, some year end 2013 releases could not be considered here, including Yashraj’s Aaamir Khan-Abhishek Bachchan headlining action adventure franchise install Dhoom 3 and Sanjay Tripathy’s middle-age comedy Club 60, featuring Farookh Shaikh and Sarika.
EQ for Year 2013: B+
On to 2014. Happy movie going!