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10 Films That Drifted Away From The Conventional Bollywood Themes In 2019

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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.

1. Hamid

A still from Hamid.

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.

2. Photograph

A screengrab from the film.

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.

3. Sonchiriya

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.

 4. Article 15

A still from the movie.

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.

5. Ek Ladki to Dekha to Aisa Laga

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.

6. Judgmental Hai Kya

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.

7. Jhalki

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.

8. Section 375

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!

9. Bala

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.

 10. Saand Ki Aankh

 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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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