Over the past few years, popular Hindi cinema has crossed over to genres that straddle the line between serious, so-called art house cinema and commercial, star-driven plots. As we gradually wrap up the year, let us take a brief look at the top ten unconventionally themed Hindi movies of 2019.
A heart-rending tale of loss and longing, Hamid is one of the most underrated films of the year. It narrates the story of young Hamid in militarized Kashmir. Like so many others in conflict-ridden Kashmir, Hamid and his mother are desperately looking for his missing father, Rehmat.
While Ishrat tries to come to terms with her loss, Hamid etches out a brilliant plan to trace his father’s whereabouts. He dials 786—after all, who doesn’t know that that is Allah’s number? The twist comes when someone actually answers his call and little Hamid thinks it is Allah himself. A profoundly heartening relationship is born between Hamid as he seeks his father and the CRPF jawan, who is in reality on the other end of the call and is himself longing to see his little daughter far away in a distant land.
Hamid is a deeply moving story that stays with you long after the end credits roll.
Photograph is a soulful tale of longing that develops in the most unlikely places. Directed by Ritesh Batra of The Lunchbox fame, this film stars Nawazuddin Siddique as Rafi who earns a meagre living, clicking and selling photographs in front of the Gateway of India and Saniya Malhotra as the affluent Miloni, who is preparing for her IAS exams, but finds herself profoundly disengaged from her rather artificial, high-society environment.
This is a movie that finds itself in its own gentle pace and plays out almost like a slice of visual poetry. The city of Mumbai also plays a major role, bringing together the awkward couple in a strange but beautiful bond of hope and empathy where silence speaks volumes.
Set in the 1970s, this is a Western style action drama tracing the story of a gang of bandits in the Chambal valley.
The unforgiving starkness of the valley makes for a perfect canvas for the portrayal of a society that is steeped in patriarchy, injustice, caste and gender violence. Helped on by some smoldering performances by the likes of Manoj Bajpayee, Ranvir Shorey, Sushant Singh Rajput, Ashutosh Rana, the film is a deftly crafted narrative of a bunch of outcasts fighting for survival as they teeter on the verge of despair and seek redemption for their past.
Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15 is disturbing to say the least. Ayan Ranjan is a foreign-educated IPS officer, posted in Lalgaon, in the heart of rural Uttar Pradesh. Even before he arrives to officially assume his post, there are subtle hints of what is to follow—he is informed gently by his chauffeur that he should not be drinking water from the Pasi community. At first, Ayan seems amused, but he quickly realises that this is a veritable wormhole of deep-rooted taboos and caste-based politics.
Based on the infamous Badaun gangrape of 2014, the film is a harsh reminder of social truths that shatter the everyday reality of the majority of Indians, which the so-called urban masses tend to forget as they sit in their ivory towers.
In post-Section 377 India, this film is a sensitive endeavour to drive home the idea of same-sex love. While movies like Kapoor & Sons (2016) have made sincere efforts to explore gay relationships in popular cinema, Ek Ladki is probably one of the first films in mainstream cinema to revolve around a lesbian couple.
Homosexuality and the entire spectrum of fluid genders is something that sadly, has still not penetrated the Bollywood cinematic experience. That is to say, it still has a long way to go before it breaks out of the comic, stereotypical representation of people who do not necessarily fit into the socially-accepted and endorsed binary genders. With commercial stars like Sonam and Anil Kapoor in crucial roles, the film aims to subtly but firmly reach out to the masses about an extremely relevant and critical issue in society.
Black comedies are hard nuts to crack. Although, to be fair, Bollywood has a history of some brilliant dark comedies going way back to the likes of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983). But these films are far and few between.
This year, Judgmental Hai Kya made a bold, albeit somewhat half-hearted attempt at a mind-bending cat and mouse game between Keshav (Rajkumar Rao) and Bobby (Kangana Ranaut), both of whom rise up to the occasion with aplomb. Quirky from beginning to end, this dark whodunit is one of the most unconventional films of the year.
Another underrated film of the year, Jhalki focused on the rarely touched upon social issue of child slavery.
Somewhere in the interiors of UP, young Jhalki’s parents have sold off her little brother in return for a meagre amount of money. Jhalki, however, is only aware of her brother’s disappearance and sets out on a grand mission to find her lost brother.
Jhalki is a collage of colours, childish imagination, hope and harsh social truths. The film hangs on the precipice between a fairy tale and a social drama, and while it ends up doing neither very smartly, it is at least a sincere endeavor to bring to light some disturbing realities from a child’s perspective.
This film addresses the gap between law and justice. Law, the film declares, is not synonymous with justice, it is a tool to get there. Thus, even when the law is implemented scrupulously, it does not necessarily ensure justice.
Section 375 offers a counter argument to the #metoo movement that has rocked the world recently. Too often do we forget about the opposite end of the spectrum, where innocent men are punished and traumatized for life, usually because there is very little evidence to clear them of false charges.
At a time when the gender politics in the world is heading towards a crescendo, a film that is sarcastic of the woman’s narrative does leave one with an element of unease. Yet, hats off to the film for daring to offer an alternate perspective to the politics of gender violence in the current socio-political climate!
Mired in controversies, Bala finally saw the light of day to narrate the story of one young fella whose life becomes a living hell as he starts balding.
Led by Ayushmann Khurana, this is a romantic comedy with a quirky plot; it tries to become a commentary on the bizarre social psychology that endorses body shaming, puts the fair over the dark-skinned and makes fun of those suffering from hair loss. With an entertaining screenplay and competent actors at the helm, Bala is one of the popular Bollywood films of the year quite expertly addressing an off-beat topic.
Set in rural UP, mostly shown as the backdrop for some of the most bleak narratives these days, Saand Ki Aankh is a fun ride about two women who take up sharpshooting after crossing into their 60s, and well, go on to become champions in that particular sport.
Based on the actual lives of one Chandro and one Prakashi Tomar, the film makes a clear feminist statement, never venturing into the stereotypical woman-needs-to-be-validated-by-man-in-so-called-feminist-film domain. Even the voice-over, which is usually seen as a male prerogative in commercial cinema, is done by a little girl played by Sara Arjun. For the most part, the film hits the Saand Ki Aankh and is definitely one of the more unconventional films of the year.