My Top 10 Indian Films of 2016

It’s still January, if barely, right?  This is a list of my favorite films in Indian Cinema released in 2016.  I have not seen every film released, by a long shot, but I’ve seen quite a few of the top releases in Hindi and Malayalam cinema in theaters.  I still haven’t seen Pink, although that is definitely on my list, and it’s now on Netflix streaming.

kapoor-and-sons-movie-poster_650x400_51459142088

1.  Kapoor and Sons (Since 1921)

Kapoor and Sons  was hands down my favorite Indian film of the year.  I just love the way the cast interacts.  It feels like you’re a voyeur in a real family and their drama.  I will admit that Sidharth is the weak link, but Alia and Fawad are so great in this.  Fawad Khan especially just blew me away.  And the soundtrack!  Kar Gayi Chull is my phone ringtone for a reason, because I never tire of hearing that hook.

Kammatti-Paadam-Movie-Second-Poster-Revealed-Dulquer-Salman-Vinay-Forrt

2.  Kammatti Paadam

Dulquer Salmaan had an amazing year, but Kammatti Paadam is just a masterpiece.  I’m so glad I saw this Malayalam gangster epic in a theater.  I was nearly shell shocked by the experience of seeing this Rajeev Ravi film.   Dulquer is our eyes into this world of gangsters, and dalit toughs.  He is very, very good, but the two actors, Vinayakan and Manikandan steal the show.

alia-bhatt-wallpapers-udta-punjab-(1)

3. Udta Punjab

Alia Bhatt also had a great year.  I’m still thinking about how fantastic she was in Udta Punjab, a film filled with great performances.  This is the film that introduced me to Diljit Dosanjth.  And how great was Shahid Kapoor as the comic relief?  This was an entertaining film, but also one with an important message about how the drug trade affects everyone– a message the censor board tried to suppress, and thank goodness they did not prevail.  Udta Punjab is currently streaming on Netflix.

kali-malayalam-movie-wallpaper-0922-006394. Kali

Oh my goodness, Kali is such a tense thriller.  Kali means rage.  I admire the script and how the director kept me on the edge of my seat. I did not know what would happen next at any given moment. I felt that anything could happen. And I loved that about this Malayalam movie!  The first half is a personal story of a marriage with young man with anger issues.  Then the second half grips you by the throat.  Dulquer Salmaan gives another stellar performance in a great year, matched by Sai Pallavi.

dearzindagi-story_647_112416112052

5. Dear Zindagi

I adored Shahrukh Khan and Alia Bhatt in Dear Zindagi.  We were afraid when the film was announced it was going to be a romantic relationship, but SRK is her mentor and therapist in this fantastic film.  This is my first Gauri Shinde film, and she is a wonderful director.  This was a nice crossover film that I took some Bollywood virgins to see, and they loved it.

srk-fan-759

6. Fan

Although not a perfect film, I submit Fan may be the one of the best performances of Shahrukh Khan’s career in the double role of Guarav and Aryan.

neerja

7. Neerja

This really felt like a year for women in Hindi cinema.  Sonam Kapoor was perfect casting for Neerja.  This film reminded me very much of United  93 – you know what’s going to happen, but you’re still on the edge of your seat watching it unfold, filled with tension.  Neerja is currently streaming on Netflix.

aamir-dangal-trailer-759

8. Dangal

I love that Aamir Khan made this movie about girl empowerment.  He let the young women at the center of this true story take the lead, and he was brave enough to play a father with a paunch, no less.  Dangal was one of the biggest family films of the year.

top-5-things-we-instantly-liked-about-ae-dil-hai-mushkils-teaser-3

9. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

I’m still not happy with the ending of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, but man it has some glorious moments.  It’s full on lush Karan Johar film making – actually my first Karan film on the big screen.  I’m reading his autobiography now, An Unsuitable Boy, and he says that Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is about his own unrequited love story.  It’s a very personal film.  I wish there hadn’t been all the controversy about Pakistani actors, and Fawad Khan had a bigger part.  That soundtrack!!  I listened to the title track on constant repeat.

 

sultan-trailer-647_05241607500610. Sultan

I really enjoyed Sultan, and Salman made a great pairing with Anushka Sharma.  It was another Hindi film with a message of female empowerment, even if the majority of the film was about Salman’s character.  Great soundtrack, too!

Special mention for Brahman Naman which I saw the premiere of at Sundance back in January.  I’m not sure if it’s a purely Indian produced film, but it’s a quirky and wonderful teen sex comedy. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.

Dear Zindagi – Alia Bhatt is wonderful in this portrait of a complex young woman at a life crossroad.

dear-zindagi-day-1

I unabashedly loved Dear Zindagi.  It’s a true measure of my love of my family that I didn’t see Dear Zindagi the day it came out in the US due to our Thanksgiving holiday travels.  I have been looking forward to this movie for some time, hoping it would live up to my sky high expectations, and it did.  I have yet to see director Gauri Shinde’s feature film debut English Vinglish, which evidently deservedly garnered accolades.  (I actually downloaded English Vinglish to watch on my trip but the subtitles were in Arabic. ARGH!)

I’m not saying a male director can’t tell the story of a woman, but there’s a different special perspective a woman writer/director brings to a film.  Alia Bhatt’s Kaira (Koko) is allowed to be a complex young cinematographer who is troubled, and frankly, sometimes unlikeable.  She is no manic pixie dream girl for anyone.  And that is just refreshing to see in itself.  The film totally passes the Bechdel test!  Kaira has a tight knit group of friends who she can be totally herself with, but a tense awkward relationship with her parents.

dear-zindagi-story-647_110716125257

She has a working and romantic relationship with producer Kunal Kapoor.  He offers her a dream job directing her first feature film in NYC, but admits his ex-girlfriend will also be working on the project.  He wants to make his relationship with Kaira more serious, but she demurs.  Then she can’t sleep thinking about her quandary — should she go to New York even though it will be incredibly awkward?

Kunal is one of 4 men in her life in this movie (not including SRK).  There’s Sid, the handsome restaurant owner (Angad Bedi) and Rumi (Ali Zafar), a charming musician she meets when she returns to her hometown of Goa.  She has to go back to Goa because her landlord in Mumbai makes her move out because she’s a single woman.  And he’s not the only one harassing her for being single, once she gets home she is barraged by her parents and her aunt and uncle for continuing to work, and not settling down.

dearzindagi-story_647_112416112052

She happens to overhear SRK speaking at a therapist conference and goes to see him.  If only all therapists looked like Shahrukh Khan.  When through several sessions, they get to the root of her insecurities, I was crying right along with Alia.  She is just fantastic in this film.  She has this quality about her that reveals her vulnerability and she sucks me right in.  It’s hard to believe how far she’s come as an actress since Student of the Year.  Highway was my first glimpse and then this year she was devastating in Udta Punjab.  I can’t wait to see her work in the future.

Some reviewers have questioned the epilogue at the end of the film, but I liked it.  As suspected, Aditya Roy Kapoor is the final cameo man in her life.  I liked that the movie left us at a hopeful point — that she’s moved on and is ready for new possibilities.  I like that kind of ending in my romance novels, and I liked it here.

dear-zindagi-new-still-759-f

Shahrukh Khan is fantastic in this as her therapist and mentor.  He has unorthodox methods, like playing Kabbadi with the surf on the beach outside his office.  But best of all is his message to young girls through the words he says to Kaira (Alia).  She thinks everyone thinks she’s a slut because she’s had relationships with more than one man.  SRK asks her if she’s ever bought a chair.  “Did you buy the first one you saw without trying it out?” as he pops from chair to chair in his office.  He gives her permission to live her life without worrying so much what “everyone” else thinks.

The music in the film didn’t send me, but the title track is decent.  It’s not that kind of movie.  There’s mostly montage type song sequences.  Really this is sort of a bridge film between Parallel type cinema (The Lunch Box, etc.) and mainstream Hindi fare.

I’m glad Kaira found support with her Dr. Jehangir Khan, and that director Gauri Shinde has backing from producers SRK (Red Chilies) and Karan Johar (Dharma).  She’s a great talent.  Loved this film, and already have plans to see it again in a few days.  I’m taking some friends who don’t even watch Bollywood films.  This is a great crossover type of film.

star_rating_4-5_of_5

Student of the Year – A look back ahead of the Dream Team concert

tiger-story+fb_647_041816015009

I woke up to this @KaranJohar tweet this morning:

And my reaction was just like this one I saw on Tumblr:

“student of the year 2!!!”

“…starring tiger shroff”

I have yet to see a Tiger Shroff movie (and I hear I’m not missing much).  But he is a good dancer:

Student-of-the-Year-Movie-2012

I looked back at my original Student of the Year review, and it’s quite the time capsule.  I wasn’t into Indian cinema when it came out in 2012.  I saw it in November of 2014, and it was my first introduction to Alia Bhatt, Siddarth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan.  (Whatever happened to that Fault In Our Stars remake?)

student-of-the-year-star-cast-rishi-kapoor1

It was curiosity about Varun Dhawan, who has been cast as a lead in the Bollywood remake of Fault in Our Stars (with Deepika), that led me to check out this Karan Johar film. SOTY is set at a junior college where the gay dean (Rishi Kapoor) has an annual contest for, you guessed it, the Student of the Year to win a scholarship to an international college. And this contest is not just academic, there is a triathlon, a scavenger hunt AND a dance contest. The film begins with the group of former students gathering at the hospital bedside of the dying dean, and then flashes back 10 years in the past.

Evidently, it was quite notable that Karan Johar debuted several young actors and actresses in this film, rather than matching one unknown with an established actor/actress. Of the students, only the college vamp is played by a familiar face, Sana Saeed albeit when she was a child actress in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai as little Anjuli.

student-of-the-year-17v

This film reminds me of John Hughes films of the 80’s with the rich kids pitted against the scholarship kids from the Indian equivalent to the wrong side of the tracks. Or Gossip Girl or The O.C., etc. Karan Johar is just SO good at setting up melodramatic love triangles. Varun is the rich kid and Sidharth Molhotra the scholarship kid, and Alia Bhatt plays the rich girl that they both love. I had not seen any films with these three young new actors, and while all are good, Sidharth Molhotra’s performance is the standout. (Seems like all the Indian awards agreed, nominating him for best male debut.) Very Ben MacKenzie (a la O.C.) silently pining over the rich girl while trying to act all tough.

 

Also notable was a supporting role by Kayoze Irani who gets a big “Go to Hell Dean” speech near the end, who it turns out is Boman Irani’s son. Huh, fancy that, a child of a Bollywood star getting a role in a KJo film. 😉 Boman, Kajol and Farah Khan all have cameo appearances.

tumblr_m9zfxtcLtN1rflt3mo4_1280

Fairly predicable plot with the Bollywood emphasis more on the bromance of the two male leads than on the romance of Sidharth and Alia’s characters.  Karan Johar is masterful at taking you on that emotional journey, and I tip my hat to him.  Very entertaining and enjoyable.

I gave the film three and a half stars back then, out of five.

What’s fascinating to me is how I wasn’t that impressed with Varun and Alia, and they have gone on to mature so much more over the subsequent years in film.  Alia blew me away in Highway and in Udta Punjab.  Varun just was off the chain in Badlapur and fantastic in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and Main Tera Hero.  We got a hint of Varun’s great dancing in SOTY, but he was so good in ABCD2, and worth watching even if the plot wasn’t.  Siddarth tried to do more dramatic work, in Brothers, and Kapoor and Sons, but he just doesn’t seem to have the chops of the other two.  But that’s okay – he’s carved out a niche as the strong silent type in romantic movies like Hasee Toh Phasee and the upcoming Baar Baar Dekho.

Thank you Karan, for giving us all three young new stars.  And for this.  Always for this:

from Baawri’s Tumblr

AND for SOTY’s fantastic soundtrack!  Can’t wait to see these three stars and the rest of the Dream Team this Friday perform live in Chicago!

Udta Punjab -A Triumph. A triumph of film making, acting and most importantly, over the censor board

udta-punjab-movie-trailer-to-be-released-april-2016

I saw Udta Punjab on my birthday which may not have been the best idea.  Because it’s a very dark film.  It’s taken me some time to process it and mull it over.  I’m really impressed with the film making of writer/director Abhishek Chaubey.  I enjoyed his film Ishquiya, and he was also a writer on Kaminey and Omkara.  This film straddles the issue of drugs in the Punjab (the title means Punjab’s High or Punjab’s Flying) by telling the stories of four people affected by it.

v9q4q

Alia Bhatt is a field worker who comes across a packet of drugs from Pakistan.  Shahid Kapoor is a coke addicted rapper rock star who sings about drugs.  Kareena Kapoor is a saintly doctor who runs a drug clinic, hands out needles and speaks out against the drug problem.  And then there’s Diljit Dosanjh who plays a cop, complicit in looking the other way and taking bribes until he realizes that his younger brother is an addict.

This reminded me immediately of the Hollywood film Traffic that told the story of how the Mexican drug cartels impact four people.  I actually have not seen that Oscar winning film, but I did see the BBC series it was based on, Traffik which dealt with drugs from Pakistan in the UK, and it’s a British politician’s daughter who is the addict.  The story of Traffic/Traffik and Udta Punjab are not the exact same plot, but the intention is the same — show the impact through four different characters involved in the drug crisis in different levels.  And show how the problem is very political.  That is overt in Udta Punjab, and that’s why the Indian Censor Board demanded 89 cuts.

Abhishek Chaubey fought back, with the backing of other filmmakers and took it to the High Court.  In the end, the only cut and change was re-editing a scene where Shahid’s rock star urinates all over his audience at a concert.  Which we saw in the trailer!!  I’m so glad this film was released on time and that it is basically exactly what the filmmakers wanted to show us.  There was such a rush that the subtitles on the copy I saw still had some copy errors – when characters sang the subtitles were supposed to be italicized, but we saw typed out <i>.

Udta-Punjab-movie-trailer-still-Shahid-Kapoor-beaten-black-eye-640x480

I don’t want to spoiler the movie.  The performances were amazing.  Kareena Kapoor was well cast as the cool, collected doctor.  I wasn’t surprised that she was good.  After the bomb of Shaandaar (which I did enjoy parts of), Alia and Shahid are back with a bang.  Shahid in Udta Punjab is acting at the levels he reached in Kaminey and Haider.   His character is a rock star.  He’s larger than life at nearly every moment, but he’s not just a comic caricature – Shahid manages to find some nuance and depth in the quiet moments, like when he’s arrested for lewd behavior and is thrown into a cell filled with criminals.

alia-bhatt-wallpapers-udta-punjab-(1)

Alia Bhatt just keeps getting better and better.  I thought she was a lightweight when I first saw her in Student of the Year, and she is very good in romantic comedy roles.  But when she’s in a drama like Highway, she can really pull out the stops with some amazing scenes.  And there are even more show stoppers in Udta Punjab.  Horrible things happen to her in this movie, and it is her indomitable spirit that carries us through.  I was stunned at what happens to her and how she just perseveres to the end.

diljit-dosanjh-udta-punjab

But Diljit Dosanjh’s humble policeman was the revelation of the film to me.  Diljit is big star in Punjabi films, but I have not seen him before Udta Punjab.  I have had Jatt and Juliet recommended to me, and I’m definitely going to seek it out now.  He was adorable in his timid romance with Kareena Kapoor’s doctor.  He wants to be the hero, and show her he can make a difference.  He’s trying to save his drug addict younger brother, as their father has died and he is the head of the house.  He has amazing quiet everyman screen presence and then can be explosive when an action scene calls for it.

This is a film that left me stunned, as it has realism like you rarely see in Hindi cinema.  It gives you a lot to think about.  And it lays bare just how big the drug problem apparently is in Punjab.  Udta Punjab already garnered a lot of press and talk just because of the censor fight.  I hope now that everyone can see for themselves the content of the film, that it will spur conversations about the issues raised in the film.

Four and a half out of five stars.

If you don’t mind spoilers, or if you’ve seen the film, I urge you to read Margaret Redlich’s excellent analysis on her blog Don’t Call It Bollywood.  She delves much deeper into the film than I have here.

 

 

Kapoor and Sons (since 1921) Film Review

Sometimes there are movies you have been anticipating for months and you do a little prayer before it starts that it lives up to your hopes for it. This is a movie that not only exceeded my every expectation – it blew me away it was so excellent.  I’ve seen the movie twice now.

I don’t want to spoiler this movie, because I really enjoyed going into it guessing what might happen in this intense family drama, but not knowing. I laughed, I cried, I gasped in shock at more than one point. This film puts you through the emotional wringer. I really cried at more than one moment in the film.

This is an incredible ensemble of actors. Rishi Kapoor was a hoot as a fun loving 90 year old grandfather whose sudden heart attack brings home the two brothers, played by Siddarth Malhotra and Fawad Khan. There are tensions and secrets that burst out over the family coming together again. The trailer plays up the romantic angle with Alia Bhatt’s character, but that’s just a small part of the drama.

I do love Siddarth, but he is the lesser actor of this stellar cast. The stand out, by far, is Fawad Khan. This Pakistani actor had his Bollywood debut in Khoobsurat in 2014, and I’ll admit it, I caught Fawad Fever. I watched his entire Pakistani soap Humsafar (on Watch Bollywood Movies Online – Eros Now), and this guy can ACT. He’s also incredibly generous with the actors sharing the screen with him. What a choice of a sophomore Bollywood role. It has felt like it’s been forever since Khoobsurat came out, but this film was so worth the wait. When the movie was over I wanted to watch it all over again!