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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.

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