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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Song of the Day – Evare/Malare from Premam

Ever since I watched the Telugu remake of the Malayalam blockbuster Premam, I have been playing the song Evare, and the original Malare over and over.  The sweeping melody and the lyrical voice of Vijay Yesudas in both versions just transport me into a place of peace.

The Malayalam song video I found has English subtitles.

Premam – Naga Chaitanya shines in this Telugu Remake of the Malayalam blockbuster

Premam [Love], the Malayalam film starring Nivin Pauly was one of the first Malayalam films I ever saw, and it remains one of my all time favorites.  When I heard they were making a Telugu remake of this massive hit film, I was filled with dread.  They’ll ruin all that made it special, no one could match Nivin Pauly’s charm in the three different ages, etc.  Then I saw Naga Chaitanya in Manam and discovered he was the lead in the Telugu Premam.  Now I HAD to see it because he was so adorable in Manam.  I saw one of the last screenings at my local theater, all alone.  For the most part, Naga Chaitanya captures the magic that is Premam.  He’s great in the three parts, playing Vikram (Vicky) at 16, 20 and his late 20’s.

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First, one of the best decisions of the remake was to have two of the actresses reprise their roles.  Anupama Parameswaran returns as the wild haired teen that is the object of 16 year old Vicky’s massive young love crush.  In the Malayalam film, she is the Christian Mary, here she is Suma.  The Telugu love song sequence references that great wild hair, slightly tamed in the Telugu remake.

In this first section of the film, I nearly thought that Chaitanya was doing an impression of Nivin Pauly as a teen.  He must have really studied Nivin’s performance, because so many expressions were similar and head tilts and so on.  If you’d never seen the Nivin Pauly film, you would love this Telugu film unreservedly.  One thing from this early sequence that differs is that I think the Malayalam film was in a more rural setting which added to the feel of innocence about the adolescent love story.

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The middle section is the strongest in the Malayalam film, and the weakest in the Telugu.  And that’s not Chaitanya’s fault.  He is fantastic as the college rowdy.  Since it’s a Telugu film, and they probably had a higher budget than the Malayalam, they take the initial explosion prank in the first college scene up a notch.  It’s a huge fireball explosion of a transformer instead of a little firecracker to disrupt the festival performance of their rivals.  And then the fight is not just a simple mud fight, but a big slow mo fight sequence in a construction sight with big sprays of sand, and bricks flying and what have you.  There is also a typically Telugu cameo of star Daggubati Venkatesh as Vicky’s uncle.

The issue with this middle section is that Shruti Haasan is no Sai Palavi.  The filmmakers have basically admitted that including Shruti in the remake was for financial reasons to have a name star.  She just does not have an ounce of the charm and for lack of a better word, gravitas, of Pallavi.  The romance doesn’t seem as deep.  I remember Malar and Vicky talking marriage in the original, but it doesn’t seem to go that far in the Telugu.  Since the romance isn’t as deep, the tragedy isn’t as deeply felt either by the audience.  Chaitanya doesn’t handle that overcome with grief scene as well, but granted, it’s probably one of the best Nivin Pauly acting scenes of his career.

In the Malayalam, part of what made this college romance section so special was that the rogue Vicky falls, and falls hard for a young woman with acne, and not just a little facial acne.  His friends mock him and don’t understand what he sees in her, but we the audience see how beautiful she is through Vicky’s eyes.  Shruti Haasan with her flawless porcelain skin?  Who wouldn’t fall for your teacher when she looks like that?

They used the same melody in both films for this beautiful love song  (Malare becomes Evare), and the scenery in this Telugu version is just jaw droppingly gorgeous:

One nice addition to the Telugu remake is that Vicky wins over Sithara (Shtuti) by making her a (Marathi??) traditional sweet for a holiday.  So that when we get to the final section of the film, and Vicky has become a prominent chef with his own restaurant, you see that he has taken his love of cooking from his college romance.  In the Malayalam the final section, where Vicky finds his bride was the the shortest and an underdeveloped romance, and the fact that he owned a bakery/sweet shop seemed to come out of nowhere.  This is supposed to be the love of his life and his bride, and maybe they ran out of money or Madonna Sebastian didn’t have longer dates for filming in the Malayalam version.   I had always wanted a bit more, and the Telugu gives it to me.

We get a love song in the Telugu!  It shows their developing relationship in the film, and when she reveals that her parents have arranged an engagement, the betrayal hits that much harder for Vicky.  I think Chaitanya really came into his own in this final part of the film.  Nivin Pauly played the older Vikram as reserved and lonely.  Here, Chaitanya’s Vikram is a busy chef who doesn’t care about the marriage arrangements his sister is trying to make in a phone call.  I really liked that they beefed up this section a bit more.

The wedding scene however, doesn’t have quite the same punch.  Shruti sees that same dessert on the buffet (that Vicky had made for her) and that spurs her memory, and she just looks back a little wistfully.  Again, she’s no Sai Pallavi.

So, not spoiling it, if you’ve never seen the Malayalam original ( and you should because it’s fantastic!), but this is a worthy remake.  The plot is nearly identical, with a few nice additions.  I really enjoyed it.  It’s no hardship watching Chaitanya for a few hours!  His father Naga Nagarjuna has a nice little cameo at the end as well.

Also, one of the things that had me laughing so hard out loud happened when a certain character is tied up and being beaten up.  His tormentor yells, “Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?!  Tell me!!”  LOL  Gotta love Telugu films.

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Kali Film Review

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Kali in an incredible film with fantastic performances by Dulquer Salmaan and Sai Pallavi. Siddarth is a hot head. Siddu and Anjali marry against her father’s wishes. We see Siddu struggle to find a job, and quell his natural temper. Everything seems to set him off, and working in customer service at a bank doesn’t help matters. The first half of the film shows the struggle of their marriage, and Siddu’s attempt at changing. After a huge blowup, Siddu drives Anjali late at night to a family get together some distance away. Along they way, they are almost run off the road by a truck driver. Anjali begs Siddu not to go after the truck driver.

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Then the movie completely changes. It becomes a taught thriller. They stop at a road side restaurant, and the situation becomes incredibly tense and dangerous. I was gripping my seat with the tension. We have gotten to know this couple. We know that the moment of tension comes after they are both reeling emotionally. They aren’t sharp to see the warning signs. And then things go south in a major way. We know that Siddu is full of bottled rage, and we wait for the moment he will boil over. But will it be enough to save Anjali — and himself. I have never seen Dulquer like this. This is not the easy going charmer of Bangalore Days or OK Kanmani. He has come into his own. I’ve never seen him do action sequences like this either. Sai was exceptional. She shows that wistfulness. She loves Siddu, but she doesn’t know if she can live with him and his 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 movie!