From Karwaan to Kaalakaandi, the 5 most underrated Hindi films of 2018
The year 2018 has been an important one for Hindi cinema. It has been the year of the mid-budget movie, with films that wouldn’t even have been made a few years ago doing the business of something a Khan might star in. We’ve seen would-be sure shot hits crash and burn before our eyes. It seems, at long last, that the Indian audience is warming up to new stories, and roundly rejecting shameless cash grabs.
A film can no longer get away with being mediocre, or by tempting a potential punter by shoving a Khan in their face. With a resounding boom in Hollywood imports, and in online streaming, audiences have been exposed to something they didn’t necessarily have in the recent past: options.
With options comes the power to reject. When a film’s fate lies in the hands of an attention deficit person with somewhere else to be and something else to do, the stakes are raised. Quality is what matters.
In the next couple of years, 2018 will be seen as the year in which the industry underwent a tectonic shift. With films such as Badhaai Ho, AndhaDhun, Stree and Raazi doing astonishing numbers at the box office - and with Sacred Games, Mirzapur and Lust Stories distracting audiences from making trips to the theatre - it will be interesting to observe just how swifty the movie business adapts to these changes.
So as a retrospective, here’s looking back at some of the films that simply slipped through the cracks - excellent examples of mid-budget storytelling that deserve a larger audience. Here are the five most underrated Hindi movies of 2018.
While many of the films we’ll talk about here are united by their anger against the system, Karwaan is the odd one out. It’s a film that relies more on the performances of its fine cast than subtext; and more on its warm tone than any larger message it might have for us.
It features a tour-de-force performance by the great Irrfan Khan, who was sadly missing around the time of its release because of his unfortunate illness - but it also serves as a tremendous introduction (to us) for Dulquer Salmaan, who is just as appealing as everyone said he was.
Karwaan represents a coming together of different styles and textures - with one foot in both zones, Mithila Palkar acts as a bridge between its classical storytelling and the power of the internet. It’s something that you might watch on a lazy weekend, the sort of movie that leaves you with a certain warmth, and inspires you to do more with your life than you already are - all very valuable lessons, if you ask me. You can check it out on Amazon Prime.
Bhavesh Joshi Superhero
It is shocking to me that in the span of only a couple of months, our country could have such a polarising reaction to the same issue: corruption. While on one hand, John Abraham’s Satyameva Jayate represents everything that is wrong about our nation and its people - it is an irresponsible atrocity that peddles dangerous ideas - on the other end of the spectrum we have Vikramaditya Motwane’s Bhavesh Joshi Superhero.
Like Kick-Ass - a film with which it shares several similarities - Bhavesh Joshi is a scrapper of a movie, the perennial underdog trapped in an arena dominated by the Marvels and the DCs. But that’s what makes it more human. It’s a film that should have struck a chord with virtually everyone who has lived in modern India, but tragically disappeared from theatres almost immediately after its release - ironically because of the same advances in distribution that could perhaps give it a future. It’s on Netflix. Don’t miss it.
Mukkabaaz is possibly the bravest Hindi movie of the year. And what makes its very existence all the more astonishing is that it arrived bang in the middle of the Padmaavat row - when a fringe group of nuts threatened to chop off the nose of one of the country’s biggest stars, for hypothetically disrespecting a fictional character. It doesn’t get more distressing than that. Meanwhile, shielded by the shroud that covers all smaller films, director Anurag Kashyap’s boxing drama serves as a mouthpiece for him to take on some of the most controversial issues plaguing our country - vigilantism, radical politics, Hindi nationalism.
Mukkabaaz suffers from some of the same problems that have affected Kashyap’s previous films - so many of them graze greatness, only to swerve away at the crucial moment. It’s overlong, has more endings than the Return of the King, and too many songs - but it needed to be rough around the edges, just like its central character, played with raging intensity by Vineet Kumar Singh.
Nandita Das’ unconventional biopic on the Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto was never meant to be a box office hit. Like so many films this year - two of which are mentioned in this list - it bravely confronts the truths about modern India.
With a uniquely engaging framing device - Das’ film weaves in and out of Manto’s real life and his stories, seamlessly blending reality with fantasy - the film is a strong (but emotionally reserved) takedown of autocracy. It’s ironic that the fools who protested against it did not realise that the film is fighting for their right to express themselves as well.
You can admire Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s excellent central performance on Netflix.
The best thing Saif Ali Khan did in what is perhaps the most successful year he’s had in a long, long time is the one thing no one talks about. Kaalakaandi is a madcap thriller, a deliriously entertaining dark comedy about a loser who decides - way too late in his life - to become a winner. It’s structured like a Quentin Tarantino movie or something Guy Ritchie might have made in his heyday, but feels like watching Hera Pheri for the first time - albeit with a naughtier tone.
If you thought Saif was good in Sacred Games, wait till you watch his completely uninhibited and fearless performance here. No other mainstream star could have done it.