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.

Advertisements

Pakistani soaps Humsafar and Zindagi Gulzar Hai now on Netflix!

I finished up watching The Crown (so good!) and all of a sudden there were new recommended for me shows on Netflix.  Usually, Netflix turns over new content at the beginning of the month, but this time, it was mid-month.  My jaw dropped.

stoke

The Pakistani soaps Humsafar (Soulmates) and Zindagi Gulzar Hai (Life is a Rose Garden) are now streaming in glorious HD with subs on Netflix!  Netflix gave me an early holiday gift!  To say I was excited would be an understatement.

jonah-excit3ed  mm3dk_f-maxage-0

I was literally jumping up and down in my family room.

elf-santa

Why was I so excited?  I fell, and fell hard for Pakistani actor Fawad Khan when he debuted in the Bollywood/Disney film Khoobsurat with Sonam Kapoor in 2014.

khoobsurat-wallpaper_140982736850

At that time, I wanted to see more of his work, and there was nothing else on film, but he had done two soaps in Pakistan that were sensations in both that country and India.  ErosNow.com put all the episodes of Humsafar to stream on their site with subs and I was totally hooked.

humsafar2

These soaps are not like American soaps that are open ended.  These productions are just one season or about 25 episodes long.  They have a complete story arc.

526499-mahira-khan-raees.jpg

Humsafar also stars Pakistani actress Mahira Khan who will debut in the Bollywood film Raees opposite Shahrukh Khan next month.  (Bonus!  There’s another Mahira Khan soap on Netflix, Saqday Tumharay).

346242-humsafar-1331447861-566-640x480

In Humsafar, Mahira is the poor cousin of Fawad.  Her mother is dying of cancer and asks Fawad’s father to arrange their marriage so she knows her daughter will be taken care of.  It’s rich boy/poor girl with a love triangle and a scheming mother-in-law.  To me, it was absolutely fascinating to get a glimpse of life in Pakistan and Fawad is amazing.

zindagi_gulzar_hai_tv_serial_poster_timing_trp_2015

Zindagi Gulzar Hai is even better but was much more of a challenge to find with subtitles, and there were a few episodes I never could find with subs, but I watched anyway because I was hooked right from the first episode.  I am thrilled to be able to watch this with subs, and in high def since I was scrounging on Youtube and Pakistani sites to find the episodes in questionable quality.  Again, we have the poor girl (Sanam Saeed as Khasaf) and the rich boy (Fawad Khan as Zaroon) dynamic but both characters are flawed and complex.  It’s also hate-to-love which is just about my favorite romance trope.

zindagi-gulzar-hai-fawad-zaroon-1

Zaroon and Khasaf meet in college, and Zaroon is frosted that this arrogant girl bests him in the class rankings.  Khasaf thinks Zaroon is a shallow playboy, and Zaroon thinks Khasaf is a too traditional stick in the mud.  It’s just delicious to see their feelings change over time.  Your heart aches for Khasaf who has so many struggles in her life, but she’s also so prickly a character.  I loved what a spitfire she is.  Pakistani actor Javed Sheikh, who was SRK’s father in Om Shanti Om, plays Fawad Khan’s father.

chai

The proposal scene (which I can’t find with subs) is just the ultimate.  Khasaf can’t believe the guy who hated her through college now wants to marry her, but is convinced he’s changed when he catches hot chai in his hands when it’s about to spill on her.

 

But it doesn’t just end there — there’s more to the story as they adjust to each other in their marriage and have to accommodate for Khasaf’s career in the civil service.  The reason Khasaf scoffs at marriage and men is because of her complex relationship with her father who married a second wife to get a son, and abandoned his first wife and daughters.  I just loved getting to see these actors portray complex characters who grow and change over time.  Highly, highly recommend both soaps.  I’m going to enjoy watching those episodes I couldn’t find previously with subs, and trying Mahira’s other soap.  I love how Netflix is getting content from all over the world!

Check out this post on BrownGirl to get a sense of what a sensation both Humsafar and Zindagi Gulzar Hai were in Pakistan and India when they first aired.

sandstorm205

Another new addition to the Netflix line up is the excellent Israeli film Sand Storm.  It was the winner at Sundance for World Cinema last January.  It’s set in the Bedouin community in Israel. Sand Storm is a family drama where the father in the family marries a second wife, and his headstrong daughter has a secret affair with a boy from another tribe she’s met at college.  Such a great film!  The Q and A was fascinating with the Israeli director Elite Dexer.  She said that most audiences see the film as an intense drama, but when she showed it to the Bedouin community where she was allowed to film it, they laughed and viewed it as a comedy, especially the put upon husband dealing with two strong willed wives.

 

Check out AccessBollywood for an up to date list of Indian content on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil – Karan Made Me Cry! Modern Relationships Can Be Complicated (Spoiler Free)

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

I realized that Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is actually the first film directed by Karan Johar that I have seen on the big screen.  Sure, I’ve seen Johar/Dharma productions, like Kapoor and Sons, on the big screen in the two plus years that I’ve been watching Indian cinema, but this is the first totally Karan Johar film.

I went to the first day, first show, at my local theater and they were NOT prepared for the Diwali crowds.  The theater was pretty full, and there was a long line at the ticket window.  Interestingly, I was not the only non-Desi there.  There were two women who were fans of Aish from Bride & Prejudice, but didn’t even know what the title of the film meant or who SRK is.  (!!!)

This will be as spoiler free a review as I can make it.  We know the film is about unrequited love.  If you think about it, many of Karan Johar’s films are about unrequited love, be it from a lover or a parent.

ae-dil-hai-mushkil-5a

Anushka and Ranbir meet when they are both fighting with their boyfriend/girlfriend.  They kiss and Ranbir sweetly hugs her, and Anushka pulls away.  “What kind of kiss was that?  Save those kinds of hugs for your family!”  There is no sexual chemistry from her side, but they are soul mates in every other way.  They both love old 80’s films, quote dialogue to each other and sing old song lyrics to each other.  I caught some of the filmi references (like them doing the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai finger to the noise bit), but there were many I didn’t catch.  (Can’t wait for Margaret to do a full summary on Don’t Call It Bollywood where she can instruct me on all the ones I missed!)

We knew about the Shahrukh Khan cameo as Aish’s ex, but there are some other fun ones.  Alia Bhatt and Lisa Haydon!  Fawad Khan’s role has been cut down so much that it’s not much more than an extended cameo.

_55c6b15c-87b1-11e6-92b8-e7f1e026a3c4

I wish the songs in the film had had subtitles, because I felt like I was missing meanings from the lyrics now that I was seeing them in the film itself.  Anushka is his friend, his best best best friend, but we can see that Ranbir wants more.  He declares himself after she returns to her former love, but it’s too late.

ash_083116021113

Then he has the passionate relationship with Aish, and I loved her as this mature seductress!  She and Ranbir had great chemistry, and the cameo with SRK was a delight.  Shahrukh and Aish just give off that old lovers vibe and it was perfection for this film.

There is a twist in the final 15 minutes or so of the film that I mentally said to myself, “Oh, Karan, really, you’re going there?”  But damn it.  Karan made me cry!  It was predictable, but he played my emotions like a violin and the tears were running down my face.

The music as we know, is just sublime in this film.  The title track and the way Ranbir perform it is so amazing.   Really his performance through the film is excellent.  But I was most impressed with Anushka.  She just gets better and better with each film.

Anushka criticizes Ranbir’s singing in the film (he wants to be a singer) and says he can’t really sing with emotion until he’s experienced heartbreak.  And that, I think, is ultimately the message of the film.  Great art, be it film, music or poetry, comes from heartbreak and pain.

star_rating_4_of_5

 

s

 

Happy Bhag Jayegi – just a nice enjoyable comedy movie

happy-bhaag-jayegi-759

When I saw the trailer for Happy Bhag Jayegi [Happy Will Run], I was so excited.  It looked funny, and most importantly had Jimmy Shergill as the heavy, and Abhay Deol looking bemused.  The reviews have not been stellar, but I’m here to tell you it’s a fun little over two hour romantic farce.  And who doesn’t want to spend two hours with Abhay and Jimmy?

Jimmy-Shergil-Happy-Bhag-Jayegi

I really admire what Jimmy Shergill is doing with his career.  He’s taking the supporting villainish (but not too villainish) character roles now in this and in movies like Tanu Weds Manu 2, as well as supporting roles in action films.  Because he’s Jimmy Shergill, he’s the bad guy here, but he’s still so charming you almost feel sorry for him that his bride ran away.

Happy (Diana Penty) is a spitfire.  Her father has arranged her marriage to politician Jimmy Shergill, also the head of the local goon gang.  While Jimmy dances (badly!) at their engagement, Happy jumps out the bathroom window into a waiting truck.  Trouble is, it wasn’t the truck her boyfriend had arranged.

happystory_647_072916054210

She pops out of a box in the home of Abhay — son of the ex-Governor in Lahore, Pakistan.  Abhay’s father is played by the always great Pakistani actor Javed Sheikh.  Bollywood audiences know him  as SRK’s father in Om Shanti Om, but I loved him as Fawad Khan’s father in the Pakistani soap Zindagi Gulzar Hai.

engagement

Abhay just wants to play cricket, but his father has great political aspirations for him.  They’d been in Amritsar on a diplomatic mission, and the truck is full of diplomatic gifts!

Happy is stuck in Lahore, without the fiance she really wants to marry, and poses a problem because she has no passport or visa?  And Abhay is of course engaged as well, so how to explain a strange girl in his house?

53740352

The whole thing is a lighter than air farce.  Even when Happy gets kidnapped at one point, you know she’s really in no danger, as the goons are scared of our feisty heroine.  Happy’s intended Guddu (Ali Fazal) is a rather feckless musician.  It’s no wonder her father had doubts about him!  Abhay has to figure out a way to get Guddu into Lahore, get them married and then deport them!  All while keeping Jimmy Shergill at bay.

What I liked about this movie is that the Pakistanis are all nice people.  They are not the bad guys at all!  I can’t for the life of me understand how this movie could be banned in Pakistan, because it’s so positive about Pakistan!  The misunderstandings between the two countries are presented in a humorous way, and barriers between people broken down.  The director wrote an open letter to Pakistan, and the official who banned it, because he doesn’t get it either!

The women in the movie are strong, both Happy and Abhay’s fiance Zoya (Momal Sheikh).  They make the men in their lives rise to the occasion.

It was a very pleasant way to spend a little over two hours, and I laughed out loud at quite a few points.  Abhay, it’s great to have you back.  I’ve missed you.

Looking up Ali Fazal, I don’t remember him at all from 3 Idiots, but he’s set to play Abdul in Stephen Frears’ Victoria and Adbul opposite Judi Dench!  I wasn’t super impressed with you in this trifle, but go you!

Three and a half out of five stars.

Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood and I saw it together.  Read her spoiler free review here.

Some of My Favorite Indian Cinema Rom Coms

Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order, although number one is my top favorite.

  1. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi — Can’t even count how many times I’ve watched this one.

2.  Jab We Met

3.  Band Baaja Baaraat

4. Dil Chahta Hai

5. Hasee Toh Phasee

6.  Dum Laga Ke Haisha

7.  Khoobsurat — Fawad Khan Fever!

8.  Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

9.  Tanu Weds Manu

10. Queen

11. Bunty Aur Babli

12. Dostana

13.  Bang Bang

14.  Mere Brother Ki Dulhan

15. Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania

16. Main Tera Hero

Does DDLJ count?  🙂

And if you’re willing to go outside Hindi cinema, I have a few South Indian films that are great rom coms:

OK Kanmani – 2015 Tamil Mani Ratnam film (currently on US Netflix streaming)

Bangalore Days (Malayalam) – Multi-starrer about three cousins and their romantic adventures

Ohm Shanti Oshaana (Malayalam) – A fantastic female centric coming of age romantic story.

And a Telugu film-   Mr. Perfect, a rom com with Prabhas of Baahubali fame:

(This post is adapted from a Quora answer.)

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!