More than halfway through 2019, it’s a good time to compile a list of the best Hindi films of the year. Notorious for producing an unusually large number of films, this year was no different – packed with releases, full of activity and lots of stars and faces staring at you from the billboards and your Twitter feed.
So, frankly, how has 2019 been so far, strictly cinematically speaking? A combination of some terrific titles and overlooked gems on one hand and mindless entertainment and bona fide clunkers, on the other. Chances are you have already seen the major ones that include Salman Khan’s Bharat, Akshay Kumar’s Kesari, the multi-starrer Total Dhamaal and recent Super 30 that marked Hrithik Roshan’s big comeback.
Khan’s ambitious Bharat offered him an opportunity to turn over the history pages while Kumar’s Kesari was a lesson in history. Both defined by their own brand of jingoism engulfing what Uri: The Surgical Strike called the “new India.” Starring Vicky Kaushal, Uri (with shades of the riveting Zero Dark Thirty) was easily the biggest surprise of the year grossing more than Rs 342 crore at the box office worldwide until the misogynistic cautionary tale Kabir Singh came along, quickly replacing it to clinch 2019’s ‘most commercially successfully blockbuster’ tag. Zoya Akhtar’s rap saga Gully Boy showed that it is possible to bridge the gap between commercial and critical success if you have a good script and A-team to boot. Truly, one of Ranveer Singh’s finest performances.
In a year packed with one sleeper hit after another, there was also the low-budget quickies and dark horses that thoroughly charmed the critics. Vasan Bala’s Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota was personal cinema at its best, a madcap mix of martial arts and meta-love. So was Ritesh Batra’s intimately nostalgic Photograph, continuing his fascination for love, longing and loss in the city of dreams.
The notable downers of the year came chiefly from the KJO camp. The top-budgeted Kalank and Student of the Year 2 had it all. Yet, they were nowhere near the top-grossers’ list – neither were they exactly critical darlings. Two of the major disappointments were Fanney Khan and last week’s Judgementall Hai Kya, both starring the usually bankable Rajkummar Rao. Judgementall Hai Kya reunites Rao with Queen co-star Kangana Ranaut who has made headlines pretty much all of 2019, but mostly for her off-screen shenanigans. Nobody’s being judgmental here, but Judgementall Hai Kya could have been a good watch. Sadly, despite Kangana’s electric performance (playing the typical mentally-unstable girl with a curl, suffering from childhood issues) and Rao’s villainy (he does a Kangana on Kangana), the film doesn’t find its way into the best of the year listing.
So, which ones do? As we enter August, here are our contenders for the five best Bollywood films of 2019.
Zoya Akhtar gives the excesses of the upper-class society (to which she belongs) a break to set a riveting underdog tale of struggle and achievement in the heart of the Dharavi slums. Murad (Ranveer Singh) is the son of a driver who punches a bit above his weight. His abusive father (Vijay Raaz) dismisses his dreams of rising above the social station by saying a driver’s son can only become a driver. But with a little morale boosting from girlfriend Safeena (Alia Bhatt, first-rate), Murad is set to conquer all his desires as a street rapper.
The plot is simple: Two strangers – they have nothing in common and belong to different social strata and different life experiences – are joined together by an amusing ruse. If you found Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox (2013) a tad slow, you might find his latest something of a snoozefest. But those who enjoy their films languidly nostalgic, Photograph is their best bet. Batra puts Nawazuddin Siddiqui (the chatty Shaikh from The Lunchbox) and Sanya Malhotra at the centre of an unlikely romance, as it plays out in the warm comfort of Bombay nights, Mohammed Rafi songs and a slow pace that takes you back in time.
Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota
Marrying martial arts with madcap comedy, Vasan Bala’s indie is a tight hug to the genre movies the fanboy grew up on. Surya (debutant Abhimanyu Dassani) is a ‘hood superhero born with congenital insensitivity to pain. He reunites with two childhood loves, Supri (Radhika Madan) and karate king Mani (Gulshan Devaiah in double role) to whoop some asses, as Bala bolts nods to everyone from Manmohan Desai and Amitabh Bachchan to Bruce Lee.
Gritty and gripping, Abhishek Chaubey’s dacoit drama resembles that other masterpiece of this genre – Shekhar Kapur’s hard-hitting Bandit Queen. From the Chambal ravines, Chaubey explores violence, patriarchy, social values and concept of dharma. The moral laws among the outlaws, so to speak. Manoj Bajpayee, Sushant Singh Rajput, Bhumi Pednekar and especially, Ranvir Shorey turn in brilliant performances.
After the impassioned Mulk (2018), Anubhav Sinha comes back with an equally biting critique of Indian society. This time, the object of commentary is caste. His new film follows IPS officer Ayan (Ayushmann Khurrana, earnest and) as he investigates the rape and murder of two Dalit girls. In Article 15 (title borrowed from a section of the Indian Constitution), Sinha takes issues that burn headlines across India and gives it a humane treatment. A lot to ponder and amend.