Tag Archives: Aligarh

Best Bollywood Movies of 2016

2016 was a darned good year for Hindi films, with positive reviews outnumbering negative reviews 26-22 at this site. Here’s my list of the Best Bollywood Movies of 2016. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

I should start by noting that Dhanak — which released theatrically in the United States and India in June, 2016 — would have made the list had it not already appeared on my Best of 2015 list. I watched it as part of the 2015 Chicago South Asian Film Festival.

As for the ten films that did make the 2016 list, two stood out for employing narrative structures that reflect their subject matter. Pink begins with the aftermath of a sexual assault, and not until the ending credits do we see the events as they really happened, echoing the “he said, she said” nature of many sexual assault cases. Waiting isn’t afraid to show its characters being bored, a feeling anyone who’s spent time in a hospital can relate to.

Neerja and Aligarh were emotional true stories featuring riveting performances by their lead actors: Sonam Kapoor and Manoj Bajpayee, respectively. Parched also earned a nod for the stellar performances by its four female co-leads.

Two films mastered genres with spotty track records in Bollywood: superhero movies and sex comedies. A Flying Jatt was a welcome nod to the colorful, optimistic type of superhero flick that has fallen out of favor in Hollywood in recent years, featuring an ordinary protagonist who discovers his inner hero (with a little divine assistance, providing a compelling subplot about religious identity). Unlike the two worst Bollywood movies of 2016 — the mean-spirited sex comedies Mastizaade and Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3Brahman Naman is raunchy and hilarious, aiming most of its jokes at its hapless leading man.

South Korean films have inspired a number of Hindi thrillers in recent years (Rocky Handsome and Jazbaa, for instance), but the chilling Raman Raghav 2.0 is totally Indian, especially in regard to the way director Anurag Kashyap uses music to guide the audience through emotional moments.

The two films at the top of this year’s list earn their spots by tackling tough subjects in otherwise very commercial fare. Udta Punjab harnessed the star-power of Kareena Kapoor Khan, Alia Bhatt, Shahid Kapoor, and Diljit Dosanjh to deftly address Punjab’s drug crisis and make it relevant to people not directly affected by it.

My favorite film of the year also featured a top-notch cast, including Alia Bhatt (again), Rishi Kapoor, Sidharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan, Rajat Kapoor, and Ratna Pathak. Kapoor & Sons bravely examines the secrets that family members keep from one another and the resentment that builds because of it, addressing issues like infidelity, parental favoritism, and homosexuality with sensitivity and compassion. That Kapoor & Sons also manages to be lots of fun just further cements it as my Best Bollywood Movie of 2016.

Check my Netflix list to see which of these films are available for streaming in the United States.

Kathy’s Best Bollywood Movies of 2016

  1. Kapoor & Sons — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  2. Udta Punjab — Buy at Amazon
  3. Aligarh — Buy at Amazon
  4. Parched — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  5. Brahman Naman
  6. Raman Raghav 2.0 — Buy at Amazon
  7. A Flying Jatt
  8. Neerja — Buy at Amazon
  9. Waiting — Buy at Amazon
  10. Pink — Buy at Amazon

Previous Best Movies Lists

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CSAFF 2016 Lineup Announced

The feature films competing in the seventh annual Chicago South Asian Film Festival have been announced. Competitors predominantly hail from India, but the festival includes films from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the United States as well.

Hindi films account for half of the competition lineup. I’ve previously reviewed four of them:  Aligarh, Waiting, Masaan, and Island City. Two of the other three Hindi features — Nil Battey Sannata and Budhia Singh: Born to Run — released theatrically in India earlier this year, but not in the United States.

Aligarh, Waiting, and Masaan are all terrific, and Island City has its moments as well. This is a compelling lineup, and that’s just in regard to the Hindi films. The festival runs from October 5-10, 2016. The full schedule of screenings will be posted soon at the CSAFF website.

Movie Review: Aligarh (2016)

Aligarh4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

Aligarh was featured at the 2016 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.

Director Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh can be summarized as a film about a professor who loses his job for being gay, but the story is less about the issue and more about the man who reluctantly becomes the face of a civil rights movement.

64-year-old Professor Siras (Manoj Bajpayee) arrives at his apartment on the campus of Aligarh University on a foggy night in 2010. The young man driving the rickshaw brings the professor’s bags upstairs for him but doesn’t come down. The camera lingers voyeuristically outside the building. Moments later, two men — one holding a video camera and one holding a billy club — sneak into the apartment. We hear shouts from within.

The next day, a Delhi journalist named Deepu (Rajkummar Rao) spots a local news item about an Aligarh professor suspended for his involvement in a gay sex scandal. With the recent overturn of India’s Section 377 law that criminalized homosexuality, this seems like a clear violation of Professor Siras’ civil rights.

In Aligarh, Deepu discovers that neither the professor nor his friends share the reporter’s zeal for justice, hoping instead that the matter will go away on its own. The element of the case that piques Deepu’s interest — the videotaped violation of the professor’s right to privacy — is the same one that makes the professor hesitate. He’s an intensely private person, and speaking about the violation publicly will only invite more attention.

When waiting for the issue to blow over ceases to be an option, Siras opens up to Deepu. Siras resists referring to himself as gay, wondering how a person’s being can be encompassed by a three-letter word. He explains that he was attacked not for his sexuality but because of internal university politics. Outing him as gay was just the most expedient method to get him expelled from a conservative, predominantly Muslim school.

The interactions between Deepu and Siras are a delight to watch for how different the two men are. Deepu talks loudly and fidgets in his seat. He even listens aggressively, hunched forward, recorder in hand. By contrast, Siras sits still as a stone. He drinks slowly. He speaks slowly. He is not in a rush.

Out of respect to its protagonist, Aligarh‘s story unfolds at an unhurried pace. There’s an economy of camera movement, with Mehta and cinematographer Satya Nagpaul favoring still shots. Minutes are spent in closeup on Siras’ face as he cries while singing along to an old movie song.

Bajpayee is impossible to ignore in any scene, and Mehta puts the actor’s particular gift to good use. A court hearing regarding Siras’ reinstatement features the two opposing lawyers in the foreground arguing precedent, but one’s attention is drawn to the professor sitting in the corner behind his lawyer, dozing off from boredom.

Rao is one of Mehta’s favorite actors, and with reason. He’s terrific yet again as a young man with a great deal of empathy, but lacking a bit in wisdom. Pairing him opposite an actor as gifted as Bajpayee is magic.

Just as Siras opens Deepu’s eyes to a broader view of humanity, Aligarh provides an important lesson in understanding why a person may choose not to fight. Siras’ sexual orientation is only one part of him, and in the decades that he’s been forced to keep it hidden, he’s cultivated other aspects of his life that give him joy, such as poetry, music, and teaching. He fears that defending the attack on one aspect of his personality could put the other parts at risk. Deepu and the activists who rally to the cause are slow to realize that what’s best for Siras the gay man may be different than what’s best for Siras the professor.

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