Friday, December 28, 2007

My Favourite Hindi Films in 2007 - Part I

Year 2007 is drawing to a close. Like every year, I’m trying to draw up a list of what I thought were the best Hindi films I watched during the year. While putting together this list last year I had observed, “…I really struggled to put together the list of the top-ten Hindi films released during 2006”. I find myself in exactly the same situation this year… but for diametrically opposite reasons. Last year I struggled to find 10 films that could be considered ‘good’ by my definition – a sad commentary on the overall quality of Hindi films in 2006. This year there were just too many good films, how do I pick 10?

I have my own system of rating films – a ten point scale, which admittedly is quite random and subjective, but is good enough for comparisons i.e. a higher rated film was definitely deemed better by me than a lower rated one. If I use that yardstick, I can easily pick the top 10, but the problem is that the 11th and 12th on my list are not that different as compared to the 10th. So, I’m not going to restrict myself to just 10.

Disclaimer: This list is purely based on my assessment of what worked for me and what didn’t, and if it doesn’t match your list (which is very likely), please, please forgive me! I also apologize to Shahrukh Khan, Farah Khan, David Dhawan, Sajid Khan, Priyadarshan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, etc. etc. I tried really hard to like their films but Om Shanti Om, Partner, Heyy Babyy, Bhool Bhulaiyaa, Namaste London, et al (biggest hits of the year) left me pretty cold.

So here is my list:

  1. Taare Zameen Par: If a film makes me cry, I’m sold. This film not only made me cry, it forced me to overlook all the flaws. Amole Gupte, Darsheel Safary and Aamir Khan took me into the wonderous world of a dyslexic child with such sensitivity and visual flourish that it was hard not to like the film.
  2. Black Friday: Till last week I was sure that nothing could dislodge Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday from the top of my list. Then TZP happened and AK relegated AK! Still, it remains a great film. How often do you get to watch a film that's based completely on facts, yet doesn't end up like a documentary? Rock-solid content turns dynamite in the dexterous hands of the director.
  3. Manorama Six Feet Under: I had signed off on this list, till I found this gem of a film at a DVD store. There was no way I could avoid revising my list. This "homage to the noir genre" is brilliantly written and has a great ensemble cast delivering exceptional performances. The real strength of this film lies in its pacing. Most directors think that thrillers can work only when they are stylized and move at a frenetic pace. Wrong! Navdeep Singh proves that a moody pacing can work brilliantly for a thriller as well.
  4. Chak De India: Writer Jaideep Sahni and director Shimit Amin were the real stars of this film. They managed to transform a clichéd sports film formula into something thoroughly engrossing and eminently watchable. Jaideep Sahni’s knack of creating solid peripheral characters is commendable. Despite Shahrukh Khan’s towering presence, what you take back home are the characters of Bindiya Naik and Komal Chautala. After a long time we got to see Shahrukh who wasn’t…well, Shahrukh! What we saw on screen was Kabir Khan not Shahrukh Khan. Of course, how can one forget the song that became the sports anthem of the country?
  5. No Smoking: Okay, this was probably the most self indulgent Hindi film ever (I found the usage of the Paakhi Paakhi song from Dil Se in the background music particularly insulting to my intelligence…with the director proudly saying, “I’m sure you can’t get this one”). But how can one dismiss the originality of the concept? This was a film that refused to leave my mind for days. I salute Anurag Kashyap for his arrogance and obstinate refusal to make an audience-friendly film (which was diluted a little when he chose to ‘explain’ his point of view on his blog). If you get into the intrinsic rhythm of the film and refrain from applying logic or finding a reason for everything that unfolds on the screen, you have the key for enjoying No Smoking.
  6. Johnny Gaddaar: This tribute to James Hadley Chase and Vijay Anand by Sriram Raghavan showed what a true homage is (something Ms. Farah Khan can learn from). With a truly ‘pulpy’ plot ( I mean that as a complement) reminiscent of action thrillers from the 70s, this film had a very tight script that packed the right punches and twists. What stayed with me, however, was the way in which the colour red sneaks into every frame of the film.
  7. Khoya Khoya Chand: Sudhir Mishra's attempt at recreating the golden era of Hindi films, Khoya Khoya Chand is an insider's view, a view that can see the grime behind all the sheen and glamour; a view that is besotted by the beauty of the moon, but does not ignore its spots; a view that still longs for that imperfect moon because, imperfect as it might be, it is still the moon. Even though the tone of the film was clearly reverential, it made no attempt at idealization. The bygone era was beautifully recreated by some great art direction, which was precise and authentic without being extravagant. The music by Shantanu Moitra also played a significant role in evoking a sense of nostalgia.
  8. Life in a... Metro: Metro is a classic example of the role directorial vision plays in imparting a distinctive character to a film. Traditional love stories in Hindi cinema, no matter how entertaining they might be, tend to be superficial and shallow, relying more on froth rather than real emotions. Metro, on the other hand, is what a love story ought to be – gritty and real. And who can forget Pritam’s soul-stirring tunes? Both Anurag Basu and Pritam can be pardoned for plagiarism, looking at the unique treatment they gave to someone else’s work.
  9. The Blue Umbrella: I think it was Anurag Kashyap who said that Vishal Bhardwaj’s children films are more mature than most mature films. How true! Vishal’s take on Ruskin Bond’s novella, is like a visual poetry, with picture perfect frames. A seemingly simple children story gets a multi-layered treatment in Vishal’s masterly hands. Strong performance by Pankaj Kapoor is another plus.
  10. Eklavya: India’s entry for the Oscars might have resulted in some very strong reactions, but this Vidhu Vinod Chopra film worked well for me. The beauty of Eklavya lay not in its theme; nor in the visual opulence that the theme demanded. Rather it was the director's vision and the actors' sincerity that made it stand out. All through its 107 minutes, Eklavya kept reminding me of Vishal Bhardwaj's Omkara and Maqbool because of its Shakespearean quality. Vishal's approach is earthy and raw, while Vidhu Vinod Chopra goes for more polish and bigger scale. But they have one thing in common - whatever they serve is delicious and hugely satisfying!

And then there were more.... Guru, Ek Chaalis Ki Last Local, Jab We Met, Bheja Fry, Cheeni Kum, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (yes, shoot me!), Nishabd (that too!).... (to be continued)