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.
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.
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.
Writer-director Anu Menon presents an unvarnished look at the lives of those with seriously ill loved ones in the smart drama Waiting.
A young wife, Tara (Kalki Koechlin), finds herself in the southern city of Cochin after her husband is injured on a work trip. The husband, Rajat (Arjun Mathur), suffered serious head injuries and lingers in a coma while doctors wait for swelling in his brain to subside.
Alone in a strange city at night, Tara turns to the only other person in the hospital cafeteria for comfort. Retiree Shiv (Naseeruddin Shah) can sympathize with Tara’s situation. His own wife, Pankaja (Suhasini Maniratnam), has been in a coma for eight months following a stroke.
Shiv patiently talks Tara through the torrent of emotions she’s experiencing: disbelief, anger, depression. He’s been through them all himself. Looking past Tara’s short temper and foul mouth, Shiv sees in her the daughter he and his wife never had.
Being together gives Shiv and Tara something they both need: a way to relieve their boredom. Having spent my fair share of time in hospitals in recent years, I can attest that the predominant feeling is not panic or sadness, but tedium. Everything happens slowly. Answers are vague and in short supply. The chairs are uncomfortable. The walk to the cafeteria isn’t nearly as long as you wish it would be to kill all the time you have on your hands.
Palling around gives the two spouses something to do. Shiv explains to Tara that her duty is to take care of herself while the nurses take care of Rajat. But time spent together allows them to put off answering the terrible question of what their own lives will be like if their spouses never wake up.
Dr. Nirupam (Rajat Kapoor) is the surgeon responsible for the well-being of both patients. His instincts are often correct, but he finds it expedient to project an air of confidence regardless of his level of certainty. He’s not exactly compassionate.
It falls to Dr. Nirupam to have a frank conversation with Shiv about Pankaja’s quality of life. The doctor says, “You have to ask yourself, what would she want?” Shiv replies, “She would want to get better.”
Sometimes people can’t get better, and the film addresses the challenge of accepting that fact. Menon doesn’t try provoke a reaction from her audience, instead presenting her characters in a natural way that sparks the audiences’ empathy. It’s sad without being melancholy.
Both lead actors are so strong in very different ways. Shah’s character is easier to sympathize with, but Koechlin makes Tara likeable and relatable, despite her brash exterior. Kapoor is solid as the film’s equivalent of a villain: a man who’s trying to do what he thinks is right, albeit in an off-putting way.
The straight-forward tone of Menon’s story makes it feel familiar to those who’ve spent time in hospital waiting rooms while also serving as a useful guide for those who haven’t. Waiting is a real achievement, and an enjoyable one at that.