Tag Archives: Film Review

Top 10 Hindi Movies of 2019

It was a year for the creative and the restless in Hindi cinema as filmmakers told inspirational stories which balanced reality and fantasy in equal measure. Innovation won and we had some brilliant winners in the process.  Here are my top 10 picks for 2019.

1. Soni

This Netflix movie quietly and softly won hearts. Ivan Ayr spent significant time watching female police officials go about their jobs, the result shines in every frame of Soni. He also hired Kimsi Singh, his own producer to get a female perspective on the first draft of his story. It shows. It is a compelling glimpse into why India is unable to free itself from its pervading rape culture, without even showing a rape.

Rating: 5 out of 5

2. Gully Boy

A giant response from director Zoya Akhtar to her critics. She does slums as funky as the high-brow movies. Gully Boy soared sky high.  The movie paid an ode to real-life Indian street rappers Divine and Naezy and was filled with textured, crackling characters to the brim.  The writing, direction and music shone bright. The angst and aspiration speak loud with a deft rhythm and foot-tapping emotions. Dive in and be dazzled. 

Rating: 5 out of 5

3. Article 15

You can’t go wrong with Anubhav Sinha’s crime drama Article 15. Laalgaon, a small village, operates eerily in an oppressive, caste-dominated political setup. New ACP Ayan ( golden boy Ayushmann Khurrana) faces resistance as he attempts to investigate the rape and disappearance of two Dalit girls, taking on the caste system as he tries to trace the clues. Although grim and gritty, it’s also heartening and reaffirming.

Rating: 5 out of 5

4. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota 

Director Vasan Bala creates a wonderful fantasy world inspired by his childhood of karate classes, tributes to various movies including Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan et al, and a real life story. The lead character has Congenital insensitivity to pain and goes on a mission to conquer his foes. Giving him a fight on an equal footing is his childhood friend and girlfriend. If you adore movies, this is a rockstar of a movie that you do not want to miss.

Rating: 5 out of 5

5. Laal Kaptaan

Navdeep Singh unites Saif Ali Khan and Deepak Dobriyal to satisfying results, with the historical Battle of Buxar as the backdrop. A ferocious Naga Sadhu is hungry for mukti aka salvation by exacting revenge while Deepak Dobriyal guides him with an acute sense of smell. The movie burns slowly and surely to create a fascinating human tale filled with adventure, sorrow and a sense of loss. It didn’t get the success it deserved but that doesn’t take away from its genius.

Rating: 4 out of 5

6. Sonchiriya

Set in 1970, Sonchiriya captures the ravines of Chambal with assured confidence as it captures a group of dacoits and their anguish with grit and determination – they fight to exist with caste, gender, masculinity and patriarchal issues. Abhishek Chaubey’s taut, tense and masterly narrative shines, aided by a superb cast and crackling performances.

Rating: 4 out of 5

7. Judgementall Hai Kya

Prakash Kovelamudi’s  Judgementall Hai Kya tackles complex themes of domestic violence and mental illness aided by black humour at every jump and turn in the dark narrative. The fact that Kanika Dhillon pens this quirky whodunit with a conscience makes it all the more delicious. Kangana Ranaut and Rajkummar Rao don’t play one false note and hold the movie together with panache. The film deserves applause for its quirkiness and over delivering on its thriller template.

Rating: 4 out of 5

8. Section 375

Like it or loathe it, Ajay Bahl’s Section 375 is one for the watch list. A filmmaker is arrested when a costume assistant accuses him of rape. The movie plays out in a courtroom, setting the stage for defense lawyer Tarun Saluja (Akshaye Khanna) and Hiral Gandhi (Richa Chaddha) who fights for the survivor. Both points of view are represented well until the final tilt and twist, which divides the audience. Talks about law vs justice appear futile when one thinks about the responsibility of the makers towards a society that is unfair to a majority of women. Does presenting the oppressed gender as oppressor work for or against the rape problem? You decide.

Rating: 4 out of 5

9. Bala

With Bala, Amar Kaushik delivered a superb take on how the concept of beauty affects a man who lives with alopecia (baldness). It’s funny, it’s warm, it’s empathetic. Although, it’s mainly Ayushmann Khurana’s story and he is excellent, Bhumi Pednekar and Yami Gautam make their presence felt and heard with strong turns.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

10. War 

War is a slick and sassy masala action entertainer. Hrithik Roshan hangs from the sky, breathtaking, suspending our jaws in disbelief. Tiger Shroff conquers the ground with his moves and strikes. Watching them in tandem kicking, dancing and firing guns is a lesson in balance and coordination. When a Hindi movie delivers on action, entertainment and superstars, the question about story and authenticity is automatically moot. Siddharth Anand directed this box office bonanza.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women and social equity.

Swinging Second to None

Swinging Second to None

SACHIN–A Billion Dreams.  Director: James Erskine.  Music: A. R. Rahman.  Marathi, Hindi and English with Eng sub-titles.  Theatrical release (200 NotOut Productions)
No matter how one approaches an entry like Sachin: A Billion Dreams, either as docu-biopic or nostalgia trip down sporting glory memories, one thing become abundantly clear. India can get as crazy about cricket as, say, Argentina or Brazil get about soccer, Americans about football, Canadians about ice hockey and Cubans about baseball. That is to say the entire nation goes completely gaga around major cricket events in the year. The other takeaway is that the story of Indian cricket, indeed the story of all cricket, cannot be complete without a chapter or two on Sachin Tendulkar, the Indian cricket king who, as outlined pretty well in Sachin: A Billion Dreams, elevated the sport and the nation along with him to new heights.Sachin: A Billion Dreams

Etched out as an origin story in the early going, Tendulkar’s middle-class Bombay upbringing is nicely reinforced with the story of his father Ramesh Tendulkar, a professor of Marathi, and his homemaker mother Rajni. Taken under the wing by older brother Ajit from Sachin’s early teens, the spark of raw talent showed promising potential. From a prodigy selected to play in a test match against Pakistan at a record-setting and astonishingly young age of sixteen to his courtship and eventual marriage to his wife Anjali, that part of the meteoric arc flows with ease. A portrait begins to coalesce; that of unassuming, modest by any measure, and surprisingly grounded personality more interested in keeping in touch with his close-knit family then with any scoring statistic.

As appealing as it is, Sachin: A Billion Dreams, in part because Erskine’s movie has Tendulkar’s early childhood events staged with actors to maintain narrative cohesion, goes lacking as a true documentary. The overall feel is that of Tendulkar sitting down to narrate his life-story and then news footage or play-acting getting inserted for dramatic flair. Sachin: A Billion Dreams falls somewhere between fictitiously made biopics of real-life sport starts (Mary Kom, Baag Milkha Baag, Paan Singh Tomar, Azhar, M. S. Dhoni: The Untold Story or even Dangal) and outside observers connecting lost footage or home movies, formal or scratchy-mike informal interview and press clippings. In Hollywood, Steve James’ Hoop Dreams (basketball) and Stacey Peralta’s Dogtown and Z Boys (skateboarding) sway in that direction.

Where Sachin: A Billion Dreams misses out takes away absolutely nothing from Tendulkar as a phenomenal cricketeer, second perhaps only to the legendary Australian batsman Don Bradman as the all-time greatest, who broke and still holds so many records in test matches.  The feeding frenzy Tendulkar inspired in Indian cricket —making him by the far the greatest sports figure in India’s history—resulted in a mass following where the entire country practically shut down when this great player was doing his magic on international cricket pitches in televised games.  The closest popular figure to compare to such mass adulation would arguably be the following that movie star Amitabh Bachchan—a megastar of a different kind —generated in his prime.

Tendulkar’s arrival on the big cricket stage more or less paralleled the unveiling of “New India” under Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister. For international satellite channels first pitching globally-linked broadcasting tents in India, Tendulkar’s ascent pretty much summed up the story of India.  A talented/outward looking, young/youthful, man/nation,   breaking out onto the world stage, to batting invincibility/as a budding regional superpower.  The sports star symbolized the nation as much as the nation idolized this star.

Sachin: A Billion Dreams is more than nostalgia dressing and more than the true story of a sporting figure’s achievements as a first-among-equals modern gladiator with kill ratios that count on non-lethal charts. Sachin: A Billion Dreams may be appealing to something deeper. This simple surefire legend of a grounded mortal, whose followers may readily believe that his feet don’t necessarily touch the ground, resonates today when there is a subliminal hunger for truth, when many news stories are suspect, the ground rules are being re-written and perhaps even the playing field is shifting.  Let Sachin: A Billion Dreams resonate.

EQ: A

Lipstick Under My Burkha

Director: Alankrita Shrivastava
Cast: Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra, Plabita Borthakur

Heartfelt and made with much gusto, Lipstick Under My Burkha amuses, shocks and even makes you cry. Director Alankrita Shrivastava surprises us in this tale of four women, separated by individual contexts but joined by a common will to be free. These women, trapped in their circumstances, go beyond convention, in rebellious but secret stealth measures. The characters are complex and multi-dimensional, flawed and funny, with shades spread over the whole spectrum-just as real people are. The voice of buaji (Ratna Pathak Shah), relayed as her reading of an erotic novel, connects the film beautifully. It gives multiple layers to the visuals, and meanings beyond what one can see. Lipstick Under My Burkha

Lying on a waxing table, a mother of three looks distraught. Her beautician and she have been discussing her husband. “He doesn’t touch you with love down there, does he?” The woman, looks away, trying to hold tears. “Why do you ask, when you know?” You feel a lump rising in your throat. In another scene, the beautician records her sex act with her boyfriend, just after getting engaged to another man. But she is also a woman in love. A 55-year old woman secretly has phone sex with a much younger swimming instructor, and he has no clue about her identity. Scenes like these and many more make Lipstick Under My Burkha tick and make the characters real. The actors give superlative performances, with a rare slipping of accent.

It takes a break from run-of-the-mill Bollywood romances, and speaks from the heart, in this case that of a woman. A film that unlike Bollywood films refuses to objectify women, and gives them real heart and soul. Women have dreams, women have desires, women have sexual desires, and seek control, at least of their bodies.

In an old residential building owned by buaji that houses all the central characters, Konkona Sen Sharma plays Shirin, a young mother of three and a secret saleswoman. She shines in the role of a repressed yet defiant wife, raising many a questions about independence, self-reliance, and respect for women.

Rehana (Plabita Borthakur), a young college girl, dreams of becoming a singer, struggling against her ultra-conservative upbringing. She attempts to blend in with the other college goers, even if it requires stealing, smoking or late night partying. This story seems to have a flawed sense of modernity, and in that sense falls short of the expectations and bars that the others set. It seems to propound conformity over exploration and adherence over questioning.

Leela (Aahana Kumra), a young beautician with a sizzling sex life with her boyfriend, is being forced into an arranged marriage. She is desperate to make money and struggles to start her own business. She is open and unabashed, even to the extent of cheating on her fiancé.

Buaji, addicted to erotic fiction, and widowed for far too long, craves to explore her sexuality. Her fascination threatens to spill into real life. At the age of 55, she seeks intimacy, which in case of a man would never even be question. But here, it is set to ruffle a few feathers.

The attempts of these women, at stealing this small slice of freedom results in comedy, and often in tragedy. The key strength of this plot is that these women don’t judge each other, taking their lives with a pinch of salt as they continue forward with indefatigable spirits.

The cinematography of the film adds to its realistic, raw feel. The editing helps seamlessly navigate through multiple narratives. The songs and music elevate the film. The pace in the middle part slackens a bit, but the engagement is high and we tide over it.

Refused a censor certificate for being “too lady oriented” and cited for “sexual scenes, abusive words and audio pornography,” the film has been blazing a remarkable streak on the festival circuit. Under that burkha lies a lipstick, and a heart.