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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Why I Love Indian Cinema

A few weeks ago, I answered a question on Quora, “Does anyone besides Indians watch Indian movies?”  This post is adapted from the answer I gave.  At first I gave a brief answer, but then people commented and wanted to know WHY?  Why would a non-Indian love Indian films?  Many commenters were at first incredulous, but then thanked me for showing them an outsider’s view of their cinema.   As of this writing, the answer has garnered over 170,000 views, and made me a Most Viewed Writer about Bollywood on Quora.  (Which still blows my mind.)

Netflix in the US has over 80 Hindi films at anyone time.  Because of the kind of films I enjoy, Netflix recommended I watch Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge about 2 years ago.  Since I fell in love with Bollywood, I’ve seen over 200 Indian films.  I’m lucky that in my area new release films play in a few local theaters.  I was able to see Kapoor and Sons just last night and I absolutely loved it.

I’m not the only non-Desi in America to love Bollywood movies, but I wouldn’t say it’s very common.

My father’s church has a monthly movie night, and he asked me to show a Bollywood movie last week.  I chose Dil Se, and showed it to 15 people, including my parents, who had never before seen a Bollywood film.  They all loved it!

Editing to add my answer from the comments below, WHY I love Indian films:

I also love old Hollywood musicals like Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly films.  Hollywood does not make them anymore.  I love the singing and the dancing in Indian cinema, but also the earnest love stories are not the kind of films that Hollywood makes either.  Rom Coms are becoming rarer and rarer in American films which tend to be more cynical.  The emotions in Bollywood films are something that is rare to see in Hollywood or English films.  People joke about how much Shahrukh Khan cries in his films, but I really respond to the emotions shown in Indian cinema.  Also, the colors on screen!  Bhansali’s film Ram-Leela is an example of this.

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I listen to Bollywood music all the time, as well.

Indian films just give me things I cannot get from Hollywood or other Western cinema.  Plus Shahrukh Khan.  I’ve watched 47 of his films alone (which doesn’t count the countless times I’ve watched DDLJ.)  🙂

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I do love South Indian films as well, and I have seen a little over 30 South Indian films.  I fell in love with Prabhas after watching Baahubali last year (four times in the theater!).  I now own many of his Telugu films on DVD.

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Recently, I’ve been watching quite a few Malayalam films, especially recent ones with Nivin Pauly and Dulquer Salmaan.  I have watched fewer Tamil films, but I asked my neighbor to bring me back some DVD’s from her recent trip to Chennai, and have been working through the dozen films she brought me.  Last week, I watched Raja Rani, and liked it.

For those interested, I keep track of all the Bolllywood films I’ve watched on Letterboxd.com, and here’s my list of Regional films I’ve seen, up to 32 now after watching the Malayalam film Classmates last night.

I asked for commenters to recommend their favorite Indian films — and oh boy, did they.  I’ve created a Letterboxd list now of all the films recommended there in the comments that I have not already seen.  Now up to 372 (!!) films in several Indian languages:  Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi, etc.  The question now is will I live long enough to watch even half of them!

My first Bollywood film ever was Lagaan, back almost 15 years ago when it was nominated for the Foreign language Oscar.  That was back when you could only rent Netflix movies via DVD in the mail.  I then watched Dil Chahta Hai, because that also had Aamir Khan.  But it was not so easy back then for a non-Hindi speaker to find out about other Bollywood films.  The internet has helped so much, and Netflix’s recommendation engine is the reason I fell in love with Bollywood 2 years ago.  DDLJ was recommended to me, then I was able to watch Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi right after that.  I texted my Indian next door neighbor for other suggestions, and she loves Hrithik Roshan and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was also streaming on Netflix and I was off to the races with my new obsession.

I have been mentored by two other non-Desi lovers of Bollywood who then suggested many other films for me to try, and in some cases pushed the DVD’s into my hand saying, “YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS!”

Kathy Gibson of AccessBollywood.net  and Margaret of DontCallItBollywood

Shout out also to the gang at Bollywhat forum!

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!