The best films of 2018: From October to Andhadhun, Hindi cinema that dazzled us last year
A new year brings with it new possibilities, new movies, new performances. The new year brings us films to look forward to — from the swaggery hip-hop stylings of Gully Boy to the decidedly brave Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, from Badla to Brahmastra — but all that starts next week. For now, here’s a round of applause for the best 2018 had to offer. Let’s see you top these, 2019.
Rahi Anil Barve’s dark and rain-lashed Tumbbad had the most atmospheric visuals of the year, with spellbinding artistry from cinematographer Pankaj Kumar. The film is a golden goose tale that holds up a funhouse mirror, showing us what we crave in the shadows. Metaphors get muddled in the urge to imply too much, but there is no faulting the film’s immense ambition, something that takes it well beyond the horror genre.
Nandita Das took some of Saadat Hasan Manto’s best known (and most infamous) short stories and wove Manto’s own life and legend through them, persistently blurring the line between reality and the written word. The storyteller may have approved.
8. Laila Majnu
If I had watched Sajid Ali’s film on TV and were told it was made in 1989 or 1993, I’d swallow it. There is a soothing timelessness to this telling of the classic romance — written by Imtiaz Ali — where the film sticks to the basics and still bowls us over. Much like love.
Anubhav Sinha used broad masala-movie brushstrokes to give us this well-argued, well-intentioned drama about Hindu-Muslim preconceptions. It is a solid courtroom drama about a Muslim family trying to regain its reputation when accused of links to terrorism. Finely written and performed, Mulk benefited from this mainstream approach since it needed to preach beyond the choir.
Aanand L Rai made the weirdest mega-budget film seen in a while, a gamble starring Shah Rukh Khan as a dwarf who is horrid to the women he cares about, and — like all men bred on the toxic masculinity of Hindi cinema — relentlessly romanticises the pursuit. It’s a weird fable about relationships and space, and I’m immensely grateful it exists.
Vishal Bhardwaj took a delicious six-page short story by Charan Singh Pathik, folded in some metaphors, added swearwords straight out of fairy tales, and threw in a Shakespearian Iago to make this unexpected little sparkler, a film about two sisters who live to strangle one another. The constant oneupmanship turned into an India-Pakistan allegory, but through these small-town sisters with significant and progressive professional aspirations, Bhardwaj actually gave us a tale of two Indias.
4. Badhaai Ho
The plot is simple — a couple get pregnant in the autumn of their lives — but Amit Sharma’s comedy is sharply observed and acutely written. It features a young middle-class man insecure about his own progressiveness, and is set realistically in a society that looked at an expectant husband and an expectant wife through very different lenses of judgement. It is a joyous film that will allow families to laugh together at topics considered off-colour, and all its hullaballoo is born out of a poem.
A politically potent jab from Anurag Kashyap, Mukkabaaz is a boxing film that — like all the best boxing films — is about much more than the squared circle. This particular concoction is about bigotry, race riots, casteism, segregation, mob violence, the inefficient power structure in sports administration, and one helluva love story. It’s a stunner.
This is a film about empathy. Director Shoojit Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi crafted a touching film about an irresponsible drifter, a young man who — by chance — chooses to take on the responsibility of a wounded colleague. It is a gentle, lyrical film about how the way the very act of feeling, of choosing to care, allows each of us to grow. October assures us that it’s perfectly okay for faith to leave mountains unmoved.
My most satisfying moment at the movies this year came when I thought Sriram Raghavan had made a mistake. A man pretending to be blind walks into a bathroom and continues to act even after the door is shut behind him. It is only then that the camera swivels and we see a stout man holding a gun, meaning he is still being watched, and there is more audience for the performer. I gasped, grinned, and were I wearing a fedora to the movies, I would have taken it off.
Raghavan perfectly pulled the rug from under our collective feet with this superlative thriller that zagged whenever we expected it to zig. I gushed about the film in my review, but it’s hard to stop applauding. Nothing works better than a strong surprise — and this film was packed with glorious ones. The humour stayed dark, deadly decisions were made drily, and morality dared not stand in the way of intoxicating storytelling. Breathlessness rarely feels this good.
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