This has been a phenomenal year of content with the South sharing a great share. The always wonderful Malayalam Cinema striking chords yet again with more or less blurring between the lines of mainstream and arthouse cinema. It has been a phenomenal growth with accolades flooding from international circuits, Moothon & Jallikattu being premiered at TIFF and Chola, being selected for Venice biennale. While this year also thrives success for Tamil/Telugu/Kannada, who are already passing through a renaissance. Here in this list, I’ll be sharing my best films of the year. You can also find where they’re streaming too — Most of them are available on Amazon Prime, by the way.
I have a few notable mentions besides making to the cut,
To Let (Tamil)
The Sky is Pink (Hindi)
Agent Sai Srinivas Athreya (Telugu)
10. Article 15 (Hindi)
Besides the not-so-convincing procedurals, Article 15 is a stunningly staged and well acted out drama with haunting soundscape comprising of a background score that plays it out like a horror movie music and breathtaking painterly of visuals that will surely give you nightmares. Anubhav Sinha dictates the narrative through an outsider POV into the devastating terrains of Uttar pradesh, a state which is well known for its scathing oppression. Ayan Ranjan played by Ayushmann Khurrana is the outsider, a naive Brahmin IPS officer who’s having his first posting at Laalgaon. The film follows his investigation into a child rape case and further to a search of one remaining missing victim. But it’s also sort of self redemption and discovery of the Motherland. Netflix owns the film.
10. Virus (Malayalam)
Based on the real life Nipah outbreaks happened in Calicut/Malappuram last year. Virus has an ensemble of Mallu Actors that you’ll be familiar with and veteran Rajeev Ravi behind the camera. This film is a benchmark set; in the ‘Medical thriller’ genre library of Indian Cinema, whether it be for Aashiq’s pulpy craft or the marvel screenwriting of Suhas-Sharfu that wonderfully manages to balance the ensemble, subplots and predominantly what would had been a documentary is elevated by the whodunit kinda investigation narrative style. Absolute tour de force! Watch it on Amazon prime.
9. Photograph (Hindi)
Miloni is all love;the pixie Saniya Malhotra, in her career best role, whom along with Ritesh Batra owns the film. Photograph is a non-typical love story of two unconventional protagonists (Other one is Nawazuddin) set in the flashy Bombay city, infiltrated with Melancholy and innocence. The film is like a poem. Ritesh Batra’s signature staging and the beautiful tail end will leave you yearning for more. Watch on Amazon Prime.
8. Gully Boy (Hindi)
Zoya Akther’s electrifying underdog story of a rapper; Murad (Ranveer Singh is terrific) is inspired from Real lives. With instant rap numbers and jango performances, Gully Boy might be the most entertaining and adrenaline pumping film of the year. Ranveer has almost reincarnated into Murad, by the time when the terrific Apna Time Aayega plays out. This was also India’s official entry to the Oscars for the year. Amazon prime owns the digital rights. Watch and induce gooseflesh.
7. Peranbu (Tamil)
Ram’s Father-Daughter story is a poignant examination of life. Peranbu titled after Resurrection in English, is also about Amudhavan’s (Mammootty in this years best performance) resurrection as a Father/ better human being. Narrated with different chapters of Nature, Ram takes on the Buddhist thesis emphasising ‘Everyone is equal under Nature’. Don’t miss the film. Available on Amazon Prime in Malayalam and Tamil.
6. Kumbalangi Nights (Malayalam)
This year’s most beautiful film, is about a dysfunctional family and a ‘complete man/villain’. Kumbalangi Nights written by Syam Pushkaran and directed by Madhu C Narayanan is a fascinating take on Humanity that is shelved inside Patriarchy. It literises this idea in a chilling climax showdown inside a House where Humanity takes down Patriarchy — a fishing net is used as a metaphor. We get a beautiful homage to the fisherman; who were the saving champs at the time of Kerala Floods. Soubin Shahir and Fahad Fazil’s performances in the film are certainly among the best this year. Streaming on Amazon Prime, must watch people!
5. Sonchiriya (Hindi)
A great western showdown, that is also a dacoit drama. Abhishek Chaubey’s Sonchiriya opens with a highly detailed gritty shot of a dead snake. It sets up the premise from the word go. You see extreme violence, gunfire, bloodshed, preying of minorities, gritty things coming. Sonchiriya runs a terrific socio-political commentary giving great exposure to caste politics and Patriarchy, which was the most engaging part of the film. It also refrains from genre clichés Hindi cinema has been associated with Daku-drama’s. Watch this brutally underrated film from Zee5.
4. Super Deluxe (Tamil)
Thiagarajan Kumaraja‘s sophomore feature after the ground breaking Aaranya Kaandam is a Butterfly effect, a wacky philosophical fairy tale about ‘God & Sex’. Sex comes as an important leitmotif here, sex change surgery, Extramarital sex, sexuality, porn are major threads in the basic storyline. 3 or maybe 4 narratives that baffles different phases of Life, one that’s about ‘God/Religion’ comes in contrast. Super Deluxe, as the name suggests is not just emphasising one single topic, it breaks into more profane debates through these. But the first half of the film is all fun, insane-wacky-fun. While the latter half goes gaga to many territories, even spins genre. The film is available on Netflix and Youtube.
3. Moothon (Malayalam)
Moothon is undoubtedly one of the most important films of this decade from mainstream Malayalam Cinema, and it’s a definite benchmark for Indian Cinema. For it’s unfussy and rational display of gender-politics. There are two timelines, two backdrops, both with a completely different pace. If the Lakshadweep portions – the tender gay romance is the emotional core, Kamathipura portions have the underpin politics of Moothon. Mulla’s search is about self-identity, but it’s ultimate closure is a terrible reality. Akbar’s destiny was also similar. Nivin Pauly gives a flabbergasting act, so does the newcomer Sanjana Dipu.
2. Chola (Malayalam)
Sanal Kumar Sasidharan introspects through Patriarchal power play in this chilling and fabulously twisted reiteration of The Ramayana. Chola is also the most atmospheric theatre experience I had in recent times. It opens as a road movie and transcends into horror. Joju George and Nimisha Sajayan gives their career best performances. The climax sequences are terrifically shot and unbelievably performed.
1. Jallikattu (Malayalam)
Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu is a frenzy spectacle that plays it out like a Man vs Beast film. But it sets out to be a socio-political satire, the beast turns into a metaphor and the line between man and beast dissolves. The metaphor is not limited to show the beast in men, but it’s socio political commentary takes a subtle turn into conscience. It reflects the current cultural and political scenario of India. From mob-lynching to Domestic Violence, chauvinism and sexism, till the fabled beef campaign. Jallikattu is everything, and it’s ultimately pessimistic, the climax is a visual-visceral savagery of a breakdown of civilisation. More than the conceit, it’s the filmmaking which is abso-fucking-lutely exhilarating. The film is available on amazon prime.