From AndhaDhun to Raazi: The top 5 Hindi films of the year that toppled the Khans
Magic is real. It happens when the lights switch off, you sink deeper in plush red chairs and the big screen comes alive with stories from around the world, sometimes fanciful fairytales, at others gritty real life dramas. You give yourself up to them for the next two hours, hoping to experience the world from their perspective.
That experience was intermittent if you were a Hindi film fan, and even that was an improvement from the previous year. For before 2018, we had to live through the highly depressing 2017 where while a few – a very few -- films burnt bright, it was mostly an industry in doldrums, laid low by its lack of content and unhealthy dependence on formula and stars.
The lessons were learnt well as 2018 proved. A more self aware audience – thank you Netflix -- demanded better, not bigger, stories. The first casualty of this was the Hindi industry’s obsession with stars. Sure the presence of a Khan or a Kumar can ensure you a big opening but the footfalls the day after can only be brought by solid content. The industry’s ruling trinity – Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan – went down one after another as the audience voted with its feet.
Salman’s Race 3, Aamir’s Thugs of Hindostan and Shah Rukh’s Zero may be the biggest earners of the year but the return on investment comes down drastically when compared to the films’ massive budgets. While Race 3 was made at a cost of over ₹100 crore, Thugs’ budget was ₹335 crore and Zero was made for ₹200 crore. Race 3 at least earned money but it was also among the worst reviewed films of the year -- a film that even Salman’s fanbase found hard to digest.
Now compare it to the films of the Raos, Khurranas and Kaushals – the new breed of actors that is slowly but steadily winning the ground. Badhaai Ho, the sleeper hit of 2018 that had the family audience enthralled, was made for less than ₹30 crore; its box office earnings stand at over ₹136 crore. It is just one example of this resurgent year where the old chestnut that tired old stories are regurgitated because that’s what audience wants held water no more.
The script is the king and no one accepts this more than the actors riding the crest of content-driven cinema.
Ayushmann, who delivered two superlative performances in Badhaai Ho and AndhaDhun, credits scripts for his success. “It feels great that audience has accepted my choices. When I choose a script, I look at it as an audience member. I consume them as a layman, as a paying audience member. Both the films had unique scripts.”
It was the year we had a sublime Karwaan and an intense Manto throwing light on the lives we lead and a Mukkabaaz and Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, that were not afraid to get scrappy. We wrote about them in the underrated films of the year.
Now, the spotlight is on those five films which changed the plot when everyone was busy discussing the tentpoles.
The film dared to go where few have gone before – what happens between parents when the kids have gone to bed. Ayushmann Khurrana, who has done more to de-stigmatise sex in India than sex education classes in school, played a mid-level executive who realizes his parents are pregnant. While he is excellent as the bemused son, the film really belonged to the hapless parents -- Gajraj Rao and Neena Gupta -- and Surekha Sikri as the crotchety grandma. Director Amit Sharma’s grasp on his craft gave our staid worldview and film tropes a thorough beating.
Ayushmann Khurrana got under the skin of a pianist who may or may not be blind. As the eyewitness to a murder, it is up to him to go to the police till a manipulative Tabu takes the choice out of his hand. Director Sriram Raghavan toyed with us throughout this delicious thriller, daring us to look away. We didn’t – there are still threads on Reddit and Quora, which are trying to understand the perplexing climax. But then, that is the beauty of a true howdunnit.
In the middle of the #MeToo revolution in India (who would have thought?) came a film that had men afraid of stepping out of their homes after dark; social critique doesn’t get more riveting than this. A horror-comedy that again brought together the fabulous combination of Rajkummar Rao and Pankaj Tripathi, it was a boisterous comment on patriarchy.
Alia Bhatt delivered yet another vulnerable performance as a Muslim Kashmiri girl who offers her body in the service of her country. As a 20-something spy, a lot of what she did in the way of espionage was hard to digest but such is the heartbreaking intensity with which Alia plays Sehmat. The welcome absence of chest-thumping nationalism makes it realistic.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s crackling little film is about two sisters forever skirmishing, whose father is called Bapu by all who know him. The India-Pakistan allegory is not subtle; it is worn with pride by Pataakha. As wacky as the two sisters forever at each other’s throats, the film bravely asks why India-Pak, North Korea-South Korea and Israel-Palestine fight forever and what will it take for them to make peace. Vishal doesn’t have the answers, but he sure gives you a climax you will remember.