Unmindful of their box office gains, I present a list of 10 films which I rate as the best churned out by Bollywood in 2012. A few obvious choices, a few dark horses. If you still haven’t seen any of them, consider this list as a recommendation.
But first, the consolation prizes. Films that narrowly missed making the cut. Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai. Maybe because I saw the Costa-Gavras’ version only a few days before Banerjee’s version and the latter simply paled in comparison. Jannat 2, defying all low expectations was very watchable. And finally Cocktail. Nothing new about the story but Saif, Diana and Deepika all had their moments.
Right so here’s the main list:
# 10 – English Vinglish
If you can ignore the irritating quiver in Sridevi’s voice, this was perhaps the comeback of the year. A Maharashtrian housewife (with a South Indian aaksent) finds her feet by enrolling in spoken-English classes. She also could have found love but married Indian women know better than to have flings. Ironically, the best performances come not from our desi actors but foreigners; Mehdi Nebbou as Sridevi’s co-student and Cory Hibbs as her gay teacher. Balki who specializes in this kind of cinema produces and his wife Gauri Shinde makes her directorial debut.
# 9 – I Am 24
A screenwriter befriends a Miss India contestant and lies to her about his age and looks. When they meet in person, there’s bound to be disappointment. The Ranvir Sheorey-Rajat Kapoor-Saurabh Shukla-Neha Dhupia-Vijay Raaz team once again pull off a film thanks to their focus on better writing and even better acting. Sheorey in particular is very funny. You probably won’t find this one on any other ‘Best of Bollywood’ lists this year. Does not mean you should not watch it.
# 8 – Agent Vinod
I can’t think of a single Bollywood film whose action scenes match their Hollywood counterparts. Either there’s no budget, or no imagination or both are missing. Agent Vinod sets that record straight. Before it bores us with an extended climax, it has entertained us enough to merit a mention in this list. Saif Ali Khan is at his wisecracking best, very Bond-esque. Special mention for the choreography of “Raabta”. Shot in slo-mo, in the middle of a shoot-out, it has an ethereal quality to it. After Johnny Gaddar, this is another winner for Sriram Raghavan.
# 7 – Ishaqzaade
Most Bollywood films have first halves stronger than the second. Ishaqzaade is much more interesting post-interval. A Romeo and Juliet set in the hinterland. Arjun Kapoor makes a confident debut and Parineeti Chopra justifies the bunch of Best Debutante Awards she won last year. Let’s hope she doesn’t get typecast as the bindass babe. Gauhar Khan is equally good in a supporting role. Wish filmmakers would cast her in lengthier roles. Good music too. Strike two for director Habib Faisal.
# 6 – Ferrari Ki Sawari
Offer Boman Irani a supporting role and he’ll make the film his own. Even though Sharman Joshi does a fine job as the lead actor, its Boman who steals the show as the scowling, disgruntled Parsee. Boman, Sharman and Ritwik Sahore play three generations of a cricket obsessed family. The grandfather never made it big, the father wasn’t allowed to and so he seeks vicarious satisfaction in seeing his son do well on the field. After Raju Hirani, director Rajesh Mapuskar is the second big find for the Vidhu Vinod Chopra stable.
# 5 – Gangs of Wasseypur, I and II
Not everyone will be able to digest its running length of 5 hours replete with bloody violence and expletives in one go. But if you can, GOW is a rewarding experience. Yes, it’s flawed, but the positives far outnumber the negatives. A revenge drama that spans three generations, Anurag Kashyap obviously owes a heavy debt to Quentin Tarantino. But this is inspiration in the true sense of the term, not plagiarism. From long tracking shots to an irregular soundtrack (to say nothing of the film being split into two), there is a whiff of QT everywhere. Listing them will only occupy space so I’ll simply say that performances are uniformly brilliant.
# 4 – Aiyyaa
If there is any justice (and there isn’t), Rani Mukherjee will win all awards for Best Actress this year. She is outstanding in this often adult comedy about a girl with a hyper sense of smell who is torn between a perfect groom and a man of her fantasies. Director Sachin Kundalkar expands one of the sections from his own film Gandha (Marathi). “Dreamum wakepum” is the spoof song of the year. Great supporting cast too!
# 3 – Kahaani
It does seem like the climax of Taking Lives stretched to feature length. But even that is a formidable task. Director Sujoy Ghosh, whom I had written off, makes you sit up and take notice. Vidya Balan will probably be polishing off the awards this year too. But most importantly, it was the first film this year that brought an actor call Nawazuddin Siddiqui into public glare.
I sincerely hope the critical and commercial success of this film makes filmmakers give a serious thought to the biopic genre, a category that has sorely been neglected in India. Tigmanshu Dhulia, who was equally impressive as an actor in GOW, gives us his best film since Haasil. This one too has a go-for-gold (literally) performance by Irfan Khan as the soldier turned athlete turned dacoit.
There wasn’t much to dislike in this movie that makes light of a subject that would have been deemed un-filmable only a decade ago – sperm donation. The best written movie of the year (Juhi Chaturvedi) also had a memorable ensemble cast. Ayushman Khurana made a dream debut and who can forget Annu Kapoor twisting his index and middle fingers every time he says “sperm”. Shoojit Sircar, who was lost after directing Yahaan proved that he is still very much around. People may forget items numbers but Ayushman’s “Paani da rang” is a song for the ages.