Best Hindi films of 2019: Gully Boy to Article 15, films that made us pause for thought
2019 was the year of Kabir Singh and Uri: The Surgical Strike, Housefull 4 and Total Dhamaal. It was the year when the highest grossers and highest-rated films rarely intersected; one of its biggest hits was also its most divisive, calling in question not just our cinema but where we stand as a society. Crossroads are never a good place to be at, for that’s where hard decisions need to be taken, when we as a society prefer to quietly sweep it under the nearest carpet (the great #MeToo rehabilitation of 2019 being a case in point).
Strangely, the year succeeded one of the most productive 12 months in terms of quality cinema. 2018 was bubbling with new ideas -- the mainstream was neatly packaged with a message, no exposition needed. It was as if Bollywood had found its mojo the previous year; middle-of-the-road cinema with an everyman as its heart trounced the kings of Bollywood. This year, the old order was back: Salman Khan delivered two multi-crore hits, Akshay Kumar had four. Ayushmann Khurrana went fully mainstream (Dream Girl), Vicky Kaushal went man-o-man with terrorists and an entire country asked ‘How’s the josh?’
But amid the big hits came some truly interesting gems. Sometimes they get audience’s love, and other times they vanish without a sound. Here’s a list -- in no particular order -- that talks of both, and maybe works as a suggestion to watch them before a new year begins.
Ritesh Batra captures a moment in time, an unlikely relationship across the class divide that gives you pause. The director’s light touch makes the romance between a diffident photographer Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and middle-class student Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) real and believable while explaining the chasm in class that divides the two. Photograph restores your faith in people and in love.
One of the few films this year that got as much appreciation in critic columns as it did in theatres, Gully Boy balanced its white-knuckled rap with empathy and humanity. An underdog story that was elevated by Ranveer Singh’s internalized performance and compelling turns by Vijay Verma, Alia Bhatt, Sidhanth Chaturvedi and Vijay Raaz, Gully Boy captures the bleakness of being disempowered. “Kyun lagta hai yeh bustee ek andha kuan hain,” Ranveer’s Murad asks; the question is purely rhetorical.
There is a powerful scene in Article 15 in which Ayushmann Khurrana’s Ayan goes around asking the castes of his colleagues, ending with, “To mai kya hu?” Ayushmann is a stand-in for many of us existing in our bubbles, afraid to even ask the questions, worried that the truths will be inconvenient. Article 15 started that conversation between India and Bharat, between Us and Them.
A film can overcome bad prosthetics, purely by the heart it is imbued with(Saand Ki Aankh is another example of this). A refreshing burst of hope in these difficult times, Chhichhore invited us in, offered us a seat on the losers gang and went on to show that where tags and perceptions end, life begins. Nitesh Tiwari’s first film after Dangal couldn’t have been more anti-Dangal. Friendship trumps competition, love is always better than a corner office, it said. We will take it.
One has to marvel at the fact that Sushant Singh Rajput delivered Sonchiriya and Drive in the same year! Abhishek Chaubey’s film is a gripping story of crime and redemption in a world where gender and caste are set in stone. There is no place for those who transgress these boundaries. But in this unforgiving world, you find humanity in the most unexpected of places. The film set during India under Emergency is as politically relevant today: do lawmakers follow the law?