And there goes another year at the movies. 2016 is widely being considered a disastrous year for the world as a whole, for innumerable reasons. Whilst I wouldn’t call it a disaster as such when it comes to Bollywood, it certainly has been a disappointingly underwhelming year for Hindi films.
Both in terms of the number of truly great films to grace the various ‘Top Films Of The Year’ lists, as well as the number of commercial successes, 2016 just failed to impress. However, it was a year which had no qualms about offering what felt like an endless production line of disappointments.
Having said that, it was anything but uneventful. Apart from the continued woes of censorship and piracy which plague the industry, 2016 also saw the return of Shah Rukh Khan the actor. King Khan has indisputably come out of his commercially focused daze to focus on more interesting, performance-driven picks such as Dear Zindagi and Fan – certainly one of the most intriguing films of the year. Salman Khan continued his streak of opting for more competent films with Sultan, and his picks for next year seem to suggest the same.
Perhaps what was most telling about 2016 was a shift in the industry towards telling real stories – those based, in part, on real events or people; a welcome change from the myriad of escapist affairs we are typically offered. We are a nation bursting with stories, perspectives and fascinating individuals who deserve their stories told on the bring screen. Examples from the year of bringing real to reel include MS Dhoni The Untold Story, Azhar, Aligarh, Neerja, Udta Punjab, Dangal, Sarbjit, to name but a few.
It’s also been a great year for women in film. Regardless of the critical and commercial reception, there’s been a noticeable increase in female-led films such as Phobia, Nil Battey Sannata, Neerja, Dear Zindagi, Akira, Kahaani 2, Jai Gangaajal. Not to mention, a noticeably greater focus on more three-dimensional female characters in mainstream films, such as Sultan‘s Aarfa. Add to that the fact that this year saw a measured increase in female directors, and you might find that 2016 had more to offer than you initially thought.
So without further ado, let’s kick off with the big disappointments of the year. These aren’t necessarily the worst films of the year, else this list would entirely consist of sex comedies and brain-numbing-commercially-exhausting ‘movies’, typically starring Tiger Shroff . Instead, these are films we had real hopes for, which were left sadly shattered. So in no particular order:
The John Abraham-starrer which he also produced, was an utter mess from the get go. It was nothing short of an off-putting show of violence and testosterone, with all effort, budget and importance being directed at the action and fight sequences, which were themselves unimpressive and entirely forgettable. The past has shown that an actor such as an Abraham needs a strong story to support him and Rocky Handsome offered nothing but a lazy, narrative, not to mention some of the worst villain characters seen in recent time, which begs the question of just where is the real John Abraham?
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s visually stunning, yet minimally cohesive film was the very definition of over-indulgence. Mehra got completely lost in his admittedly interesting vision and seemed to forget catering to an audience altogether. Whilst we appreciate an attempt to be different, particularly in our ever-formulaic film industry, Mirzya didn’t work on any level proving to be the poorest of launch vehicles for its stars Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher, resulting in among the 2 dullest hours of the year.
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
Granted this is a controversial pick to include on this list, but the fact is ADHM is one of the most painfully frustrating films I saw this year. I’m still trying to understand what it is about the film that has so many people seeing it in such different, polarising perspectives, but the fact remains it didn’t work for me on any level. Where to begin? Ranbir Kapoor was entirely disinterested in the role of Ayan, as it was completely apparent that he was just going through the motions and not bringing his much loved, and raved about A-game. Add to that a story that is so strongly reminiscent of Imtiaz Ali‘s Rockstar, and a final filmy twist which was nothing short of laughable. People say the film proves Johar has matured as a storyteller, and whilst I’m willing to accept that on some level, I would also argue that this is his least watchable film till date. I for one, am a Karan Johar fan who is still awaiting a film from him that is relevant to the times.
Ki And Ka
No matter how well-intentioned someone might be when setting out to make a film, all that ultimately matters is the result and what that conveys. For a film that aimed to break , or at the very least confront, gender stereotypes, Ki And Ka merely made a mockery of the very issue it set out to discuss. A film about a man who opts to be a house-husband offered a wonderful concept which needs to be brought into the mainstream, and yet all we got were characters who were more like caricatures. The film was a childish attempt to approach a serious issue and director R Balki really needs to take stock of his brand of cinema. Also, Arjun Kapoor‘s character in the film really liked trains. Why? That is a mystery that will go unsolved for the remainder of time.
Really not much to say on this one, apart from the fact that it is a prime example of why Bollywood has severe issues in how it approaches biopics. The film based on the controversial and admittedly fascinating life of cricketer Mohammed Azharuddin could have made for a layered insight into one of the most polarising personalities in Indian cricketing history, whose innocence is still a point of debate till today. Instead, it was nothing more than a hagiography aimed to glorify rather than take an unbiased approach, featuring poor production, performances, and the works.
Special Mention: Baar Baar Dekho, Shivaay, Mohenjo Daro
And now onto the winners of the year; films that truly left a mark and left us so wholly affected in one way or another.
Kapoor and Sons
Family dramas are in many ways a genre which makes up the lifeblood of Hindi cinema, yet all too often these films are injected with melodrama and OTT filmy excess. Yet Kapoor and Sons was nothing short of a game-changer, as director Shakun Batra finally gave us a restraint, relatable family drama which presented the notion of the dysfunctional Indian family as it is – a force which can be as upliftingly supportive as it can wholly crushing. Certainly the ensemble film of the year with stellar performances all round with particular nods to Rishi Kapoor, Fawad Khan and Siddharth Malhotra.
A fine example of the shift towards telling real stories, not to mention the power of cinema in shedding light on powerful stories which aren’t widely known about, let alone talked about. Raja Krishna Menon‘s thriller on the biggest civilian evacuation in human history, offered fine performances all round, continuing Akshay Kumar’s recent streak of ‘one great film a year’. Perhaps what was the most heartening about Airlift is the technical excellence which proved that Bollywood can do size and scale as well as any film in the west.
Perhaps the best Hindi film of the year, alongside Udta Punjab, Neerja is one of the most affecting, emotionally charged cinematic experiences had this year. The film tells of the unending bravery of flight purser Neerja Bhanot who saved the lives of hundreds of passengers when her flight was hijacked by terrorists in 1986, at the cost of her own life. The harrowing events of the flight were masterfully brought to life by director Ram Madhvani, not to mention Sonam Kapoor finally providing a performance to be raved about. The powerful editing and claustrophobic visuals had us believing we were on that flight, facing that ordeal with those passengers. Neerja will no doubt go down as one of the finest biopics we’ve ever made
Again, arguably the year’s best film which offered an unforgettable mix of fact and fiction. The way writers Abhishek Chaubey and Sudip Sharma crafted a fictional tale against the harsh reality of the rampant drug problem in Punjab that nobody wanted us to know about, was highly commendable. Not to mention offering up some characters we won’t soon forget like Mary Jane, Tommy Singh and Sartaj, brought to life with some of the year’s best performances, with a particular nod to Alia Bhatt who proved yet again that she is here to stay and shine. Udta Punjab was ugly, necessary, disturbing, and wildly entertaining. This film truly was the Gabru.
Every year we get a film wherein the social message transcends the story such that you feel the entire nation should be made to watch it, last year it was arguably Talvar. Although 2016 has offered a number of socially-aimed films, Pink certainly takes the cake. To call it important, or essential or relevant would be an industrial sized understatement. The film talks about the issue of sexual consent, which is a painfully fluid concept in India, and in its own way ir sends a message out to the misogynistic society we live in with Amitabh Bachchan stepping up to the plate as the man to convey that message to the audience. Pink explored some powerfully pertinent issues, such as male entitlement and patriarchy, and left us with the most important messages of the year. No means no.
Leave it to Aamir Khan to refuse to come in with something at the last minute and completely change our perspectives of the entire year of movies. Dangal was so needed. Khan did what Khan does, presenting a film which is as relevant to the times as it is widely appealing, thus grabbing the attention of the entire nation, generating discussion and changing mindsets. Director Nitesh Tiwari offered a wonderful show of heart and true conviction in filmmaking, telling the true tale of wrestler Mahavir Phogat who raised his daughters to complete the dream he never could: winning gold for India. Apart from some truly rich casting, Dangal saw Aamir Khan in one of his best performances in recent years, and perhaps ever, not to mention some unforgettable debuts in Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra and Zaira Waisim as Mahavir’s daughters who entirely stole the show.
Film Of The Year: Sairat
Though not strictly a Bollywood film in language, it couldn’t have been more so in soul. A Marathi film from acclaimed director Nagraj Manjule, Sairat was simply the best film of the year such that no summarised paragraph could do it justice. A film on the violent and harrowing attitude towards inter-caste marriages in India, Sairat offered one of the most heartfelt, touching and moving onscreen love stories I’ve seen in a long time. The film stole the show in performances, magical visuals and a soundtrack to stir the soul, leaving us with one of the most hauntingly powerful messages and is no doubt the film of the year.
Special mention of Aligarh, Befikre, Parched, Island City , Saala Khadoos
Finally just to leave you with some of our favorite cinematic moments and statements of the year, which were each, in their own way, game-changing.
- The statement of Dear Zindagi: Not only was this was a female-led film, on the more than capable shoulders of Alia Bhatt, the film featured Shah Rukh Khan in a supporting, yet essential, role playing second fiddle to the young actress. For our biggest movie star to take a back seat not be the focus was a monumental state and a sign of a maturing film industry.
- Sultan‘s Aarfa: That one of the year’s most memorable and talked about strong female characters was to be found in a Salman Khan film, known to be highly regressive, was a pleasant surprise by any stretch of the imagination. This is a clear indication that even our most large-scale, massy entertainers are trying to be better. Perfectly cast in Anushka Sharma, Aarfa became a far bigger national talking point than Salman’s role in the film and we hope to see more of the same.
- Sushant Singh Rajput to return to the stage: After his outing as Dhoni earlier this year, Sushant Singh Rajput is no doubt one of the most sought after leading stars today. And yet, in an unexpected move, the actor recently announced he’s due to do a play in early 2017, which in many ways is unprecedented for a leading star. In our industries stars are expected to maintain their image and aim to get as big as possible. This decision by the actor is a sign of a man who puts his craft before his stardom and in many ways an iconic move.
- Ranveer Singh’s ass: Yes you heard right. In Aditya Chopra’s rom-com Befikre, one scene features Ranveer Singh’s bare bottom just before he’s about to enter the bedroom with a girl. However ridiculous it may sound, that was a pretty historic ass. I for one don’t claim to understand the current sensor board’s grossly inconsistent approach to what is and isn’t acceptable to be shown onscreen, but I can’t remember the last time they showed the showed the maturity to allow partial nudity like that. We live in a country where almost nothing even remotely adult is allowed to be shown onscreen out of some childish sense of morality the government inflicts on its people, and for that scene to be allowed, is important and hopefully sets a precedent for what goes in the future.
- Finally, and perhaps the most important of the lot, Fawad Khan playing a gay character in Kapoor And Sons, which for us is the most powerful cinematic statements of the year. Firstly to see a gay character being portrayed as a normal human being rather than the regressive cartoons Bollywood normally makes them out to be was refreshing. However to have a leading actor essay that role and more importantly for it to be widely well-received and applauded by the industry and public at large was nothing short of revolutionary. The role was famously rejected by a number of mainstream actors out of fear, many of whom must be kicking themselves right about now.