Saturday, December 7, 2013

Best films of '13

Cinema offers us a joy that is nearly impossible to replicate. Each time we sit down to watch a film; we do so with an expectation of being entertained through a remarkable celluloid tale. Storytelling can warm our hearts, moisten our eyes, hurt our jaws, and spark our minds. Cinema has that power.

Every film comes with some expectations. Some because of its trailers and makers, some due to the audience's perceptions. There is pleasure in having our desired expectations fulfilled while watching them, but there's even more so in having those expectations upended and subverted with to our pleasant, unexpected surprise. We know the genres; it is the deviation from a genre that is fascinating.
Here's a list of films, that for me really stood out. Some of them went beyond the classical, expected environs of Hindi cinema in search of the new. Cinematic excellence apart, all of these were flag-bearers of experimentation and fine screenwriting. So, here goes the best films from Bollywood in ’13, independent of any ranking, and in no particular order.

The Lunchbox
Directed by Ritesh Batra 
The story of the instance when six-sigma of the dabbawallahs goes wrong. Banking on stellar acting, emotive pauses and a subtle hark back to the late 80s-early 90s, it brought the poignant to the screen. Is it a love story? Yes. Do they meet? Maybe, not. A bittersweet movie with just the right ingredients, just the right proportions, and just the right tadka. A film that is universal in appeal and clearly in the growing list from India which can qualify as World Cinema.

Bombay Talkies
Directed by Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap
This anthology clearly indicates that an auteur always leaves his signature on any and every work of his or hers. While Dibakar Banerjee’s adaptation of Satyajit Ray’s short story Patol Babu Filmstar would have made Ray proud; Anurag Kashyap’s short Murabba found resonance through its depiction of the underdog and the pains of keeping up a promise. Banerjee skillfully turned the original into a father-daughter story, but Kashyap’s would have been much better without the cameo.

Ship of Theseus
Directed by Anand Gandhi
Hands down the most cerebral film of the year. It took the winding festival circuit route to the theatres. It released in India, long after it had already won critics and audiences the world over with its avant-garde bent and sure footed philosophical dialogues. A film for whose genius and appreciation will grow indefinitely with repeat viewings. It is life-changing for a few, faith affirming for many. Remember, when the DVD comes out, buy it. Support independent cinema.

Directed by Bejoy Nambiar
I wish David was trimmed down ruthlessly at the editing suite. However, each frame is lit and shot with passion, which makes this worth a watch. Just so for witnessing all the cool stylistic tropes and flourishes that Bejoy Nambiar seems to have an eager indulgence for. The connections between the 3 Davids are loose. And, importantly, it doesn’t faze away from giving a rollicking, guilty pleasure of a movie.

Directed by Hansal Mehta 

Another eponymous film. Gritty, wrenching and truthful. It is the story that documents the struggle of a young educated person and a study in identity shaping tendencies of events that polarize and strain the social fabric of India.Rajkumarr Rao has shouldered the film with such elan! The guy is a serious star, seriously. Must surely check out the next venture of the director-actor combine City Lights due next year.

Madras Café
Directed by Shoojit Sircar 
A background score that could rival the Bourne movies for the tension that it created while complementing a screenplay that had both restrain and research. My grouse against it is that the producers chickened out by calling Sri Lanka as the Island and Rajiv Gandhi as ex-PM. It could have elevated itself to a true classic, were it were for a more expressive lead, someone better than John, who himself did a great job backing and producing the film.

Go Goa Gone 
Directed by Raj Nidimoru–Krishna DK
Cheesy, corny, over the top, in a nice way. A zombie comedy. Zom-com. The director duo's follow up to the terrific Shor in the City, it Saif Ali Khan as Russian Mafia organising weed-a-thon/cocaine bonanza of sorts in Goa and three bumchums from Bombay searching for the party of their lives. Everybody gets their wish. The fun should ideally begin when the zombies come in, but it dips.Nonetheless it is harmless fluff and kudos for experimentation and Kunal Khemu for the dialogues.

Mere Dad Ki Maruti
Directed by Ashima Chibber 
It is surprising to have come fromY Films - this effervescent and fun film. Shot in locales of Chandigarh, the spunky dialogues in local twang, gave it a certain goofy freshness. A young film that is not gimmicky and uses product placement quite well. The story is simple, the performances sincere. Especially from Ram Kapoor as the portly, loud mouthed dad and Prabal Punjabi as the best friend of Saqib Saleem the lead. Who by the way is responsible for the entire shenanigans by managing to lose a brand new car at a valet parking while impressing the Shakira of his town. #kthnxbye

Shuddh Desi Romance
Directed by Maneesh Sharma 
Jaideep Sahni took the formula, dismantled its template and served a film that is now the benchmark for triangular youth tribulations. Mighty irony then that Yash Raj’s formula was taken apart in a film from the same production house. It is never boastful about how far it is pushing the envelope, it knows it is. Quietly, the sparkling writing does it work. For a young film, it has not got a single mention of facebook, twitter or whatsapp. Remarkably different, brilliantly worded.

# The list will be updated post Dec. 31, 2013 accounting for December releases.