For Hindi cinema, 2019 has been a difficult year. With streaming services upping their game with Made In Heaven and Family Man, and easy access to regional films, Indian audience has had access great content at their finger tips. What we did get from Bollywood, were more sequels, like Dabangg 3, Housefull 4 and Total Dhamaal. Oh, and polarising films like Uri and Kabir Singh, and least we forget, flat-out propaganda films like The Accidental PM, PM Narendra Modi and Thackeray. However, unlike 2019 it wasn’t all bad throughout the decade.
Before we enter 2020, here’s a list of 15 Hindi films that changed the course of Bollywood:
1. Love Sex Aur Dhokha
Dibakar Banerjee took the found-footage format of a film, and told three stories that painted a gut-wrenching portrait of society. Shot primarily through amateur camcorders, web cams, CCTVs and mobile phones, Banerjee delivered one of the most provocative films of the decade. Produced by Ekta Kapoor on a shoe-string budget of two crores, this is also Banerjee’s only hit film.
Sujoy Ghosh had delivered two bombs after Jhankaar Beats, namely Home Delivery and Aladin, and therefore no one knew how to react to the Kahaani poster. After all, Ghosh was pegging the entire film around a pregnant woman in search of her husband during Kolkata’s Durga pujo. And yet, the way Ghosh expertly pulls the rug from beneath our feet, marked the dawn of a new era. Vidya Balan was now the face of the year’s most profitable film.
3. The Dirty Picture
Carrying forward her star brand of content-driven vehicles, Vidya Balan pulled a rabbit out of the hat with her role of Silk Smitha. Weaponising the male gaze against the very men who objectified her, Balan’s performance was fearlessly unapologetic. Another 100-crore film, Balan’s success paved the way for future women-led films like NH10 and Raazi.
4. Vicky Donor
With Ayushmann Khurrana’s very first film, directed by Shoojit Sircar and written by Juhi Chaturvedi, he birthed his own genre of Hindi films. Nine years later, Khurrana is one of the busiest and successful actors working today having gone through a range of predicaments – erectile dysfunction, hair loss etc. It would serve us right to remember that it all began from Dr Chadha’s (Annu Kapoor) fertility clinic and sperm donation.
5. Gangs of Wasseypur (I and II)
When Anurag Kashyap announced his two-part familial crime saga, some of us thought like it was going to be a B-version of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, the two-part films unleashed upon its audience such a myriad of flavourful characters that the film soon pierced its way into everyday pop-culture references. Keh Ke Lenge found its way into street lingo, thanks to Sneha Khanwalkar’s splendid soundtrack.
6. The Lunchbox
A love story via written correspondence isn’t entirely new for Bollywood. But Ritesh Batra’s version of it kicks off because of an error on the part of Mumbai’s Dabbawallahs (who reportedly make only one error for every 10 million deliveries undertaken by them). Batra’s two characters of the love story – a middle-aged man (played by Irrfan) and a lonely housewife (played by Nimrat Kaur). An Indo-French production, The Lunchbox gave cinema its greatest gift – Ritesh Batra.
7. Ship Of Theseus
Anand Gandhi’s film based on the Theseus’ Paradox is one of the most notoriously verbose films of the decade, one that believes in (too much?) discourse. All the characters in this film love to talk. And yet, Ship Of Theseus is also one of India’s most fearlessly original films, one that asks many questions of itself. One gets the sense that it’s looking for something few Indian films care about – a higher truth.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of Hamlet in 90s Kashmir, was a dense, messy and delicious slow-burn. Choosing to tell the story from the conflicted Kashmiri’s point-of-view, Haider featured splendid central performances from Shahid Kapoor and Tabu. Aided by a superb score (by Bhardwaj himself), the film painted a haunted portrait of the Kashmir conflict.
Neeraj Ghaywan’s directorial debut had a disarming sincerity to it. Following three sets of story-lines – a young woman trying to escape the ‘small town mind-set’ after a mishap, a love story addressing the rigid caste system and its tragic end, and a middle-aged man’s relationship with a small boy (also his employee). Masaan features one of the most famous breakdown scenes, starring Vicky Kaushal.
10. Kapoor & Sons
Shakun Batra’s film navigated the complicated machinations within the dysfunctional Kapoor family, one that hides secrets from each other in spite of their apparent closeness. What it also did was that it broke the glass ceiling by featuring Fawad Khan playing Hindi cinema’s first gay leading man, without resorting to lazy stereotypes. Apart from Khan, all members of the Kapoor family churned out splendid performances… including Sidharth Malhotra.
SS Rajamouli’s film redefined the Indian blockbuster with its own spin on the fable around The Lion King. But what it lacked in originality, it made up for in pomp and grandeur. Such was the pan-India success of this (originally Telugu) film, that it soon became a yardstick for Hindi films. Films like Thugs Of Hindostan, Kalank and Manikarnika have tried to recreate the Baahubali pomp, but none of them have come even close to changing the course of the Indian blockbuster like the two-part Baahubali films.
12. An Insignificant Man
Vinay Shukla and Khushboo Ranka’s documentary around the meteoric rise of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party during the 2013 Delhi Elections, is one of the most important films of our times. Capturing the internal politics and the strong-arm maneuvers that resulted a group of IAC activists into astute politicians, An Insignificant Man documents something that will only seem greater in retrospect.
13. Badhaai Ho
Quietly perfecting the Ayushmann Khurrana formulae over the year, Badhaai Ho became Khurrana’s first film to earn over 200 crore. Talking about the slippery topic of a middle-aged pregnancy, the film addressed the Indian parents’ sex lives with humour, warmth and a generous dose of progressive values. Capturing the tender romance between the characters of Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao, the film also featured a great performance from Surekha Sikri, as the aged mother-in-law.
14. Article 15
Anubhav Sinha’s film about a city-bred, upper-caste cop investigating the rape and murder of three Dalit women, became one of the few Indian films to discuss the prevalence of caste system in full public view. In spite of its saviour complex, Article 15 embraced the rules of a mainstream Hindi film without being frivolous about its politics. And the film’s commitment towards saying its bit, comes through in the way the cops discuss their political leanings by talking about party symbols.
15. Gully Boy
Zoya Akhtar’s film about Mumbai’s underground gully rap scene might not have been the most potent films of the year, but it certainly changed things for Hindi cinema. Telling the typical underdog story with compelling performances by Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt and a great supporting cast, Gully Boy managed something rare: not make a mockery of a subculture far removed from mainstream Bollywood sensibility.