I am guessing that a few of my choices this year are going to make you wonder whether I am a serious movie watcher or a frivolous masala film fiend. That notwithstanding I present my personal and unapologetic choice of the best Bollywood had to offer in 2013. Apologies if any go to Ship of Theseus which I have not been able to view in time for this list. No also-rans too. Just the top 10 in ascending order.
Do a string of gags put together constitute a funny film? Maybe not. In fact Go Goa Gone is not a very good film at all. But individually the gags are funny. And they keep throwing them at you from time to time. Kunal Khemu who has also written the dialogue keeps the best lines for himself. Saif Ali Khan is good in the few scenes he has been allotted. But this “zom-com” runs out of ideas by the time the climax arrives. Turn it off some twenty minutes before it ends and it won’t leave bad taste in your mouth.
# 9 – R…Rajkumar
The best bits in R…Rajkumar are throwaway moments where Prabhu Deva (or Dheva) embraces the preposterous premise he is dealing with and stuffs it with more ridiculousness. From the glut of directors today attempting to make a masala film he is the one who gets the closest. From his initial days as a sputtering non-actor, Shahid Kapoor is developing a very likeable screen presence. He was always a supple dancer but Prabhu Deva gets the best out of him. Sonakshi Sinha is the default heroine for any such attempted entertainer. This, embarrassingly, is my guilty pleasure of the year.
After Maqbool, Vishal Bharadwaj’s career as a director seemed to be on a downward spiral with 7 Khoon Maaf being the absolute rock bottom. Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola then is a move in the opposite direction. Not his best but definitely a sign than he still has a lot to offer. The film is so dominated by Pankaj Kapur’s performance that you are hardly likely to notice anything else. As the fearsome lord of a village whilst sober and garrulous oaf when inebriated, he is the prime reason why I include this film in my top 10. Anushka Sharma does what she always does and Imran Khan’s lack of expression is cleverly hidden behind a beard. Far more impressive are Shabana Azmi and even Arya Babbar in supporting roles.
# 7 – Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
I am not very fond of Rakesh Omprakash Mehra’s cinema (including Rang De Basanti). So I was surprised when I found myself liking this Milkha Singh biopic. Mehra shows good technique when he begins with a race that Milkha Singh famously lost and closes with one that he famously won, thus ending the film on a high note. Farhan Akhtar’s typically understated performance takes the film up a few notches.
# 6 – Jolly LLB
Last year, Saurabh Shukla held his own against Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi! This time he steals the show from right under the noses of Arshad Warsi and Boman Irani. As the malleable judge who suddenly turns stern, Shukla is nothing short of brilliant. Warsi as the small-time lawyer who makes it big and Irani as the hot-shot advocate are good in their own way. This one is better than director Subhash Kapoor’s earlier effort Phas Gaye Re Obama.
# 5 – Lootera
In her 10 film old career, this is the only role of substance Sonakshi Sinha has done. And it’s proof that she has what it takes to be a “serious-film actress”. Ranveer Singh is an archeologist who turns up at a small village in Bengal at a time when zamindari is still prevalent, but his true side is soon revealed. But by then he has already flown the coop after a fling with the zamindar’s daughter. The second half brings them together with a touching redemption. Vikramaditya Motwane may not have achieved the heights of Udaan with this one, yet it’s a satisfying watch for the discerning viewer.
# 4 – Kai Po Che
Chetan Bhagat’s sub-standard fiction provides the basic storyline on which Abhishek Kapoor builds this engaging effort. A fictional tale of three friends in Ahmedabad with contemporary events such as the Kutch earthquake and post-Godhra riots as the backdrop. The greatest complement you can give Rajkumar Yadav, Sushant Singh Rajput and Amit Sadh is that their presence does not make you yearn for more “bankable” stars in the cast.
# 3 – The Lunchbox
Would The Lunchbox have been nominated for Oscars had it been chosen as India’s official entry over The Good Road? We shall never find out but if I were to speculate, I would say no. Even though this is a master class in acting, the plot is a tad under-cooked. The romance between an ageing government employee and a neglected housewife through written notes in the muddled tiffin box begins a little unconvincingly. But there are many other things to appreciate. Take for instance, Nimrat Kaur’s interplay with her neighbour upstairs or Nawazuddin Siddique’s pesky assistant as a foil to Irfan Khan’s laconic senior. Ritesh Batra display’s assured control over most scenes.
# 2 – Shuddh Desi Romance
From the writer of Khosla Ka Ghosla and Rocket Singh and the director of Band Bajaa Baraat, there is no way this combination could have failed. This is a matter-of-fact look at a modern day romance and a live-in relationship. Who better to play the lead actress than Parineeti Chopra. Sushant Singh Rajput emerges as the actor to watch out for in the coming years. Vaani Kapoor makes a capable debut in completing the love triangle. Even though the film has Anushka Sharma written all over it, I am glad Maneesh Sharma did not repeat her for the third time. Her familiar expressions would have killed the cool vibe running through the film.
# 1 – Shahid
Rajkumar Yadav you beauty! He delivers what for me is the performance of the year. In playing the eponymous Shahid Azmi, Yadav creates a character that is completely believable and true to life. After sinking to the depths with Raakh: A Poem Masked in Blood and Woodstock Villa, this is a massive comeback by Hansal Mehta. He adopts a straight no-nonsense style of storytelling letting his well-drawn characters speak for themselves. Shahid Azmi was a lawyer who fought for the acquittal of innocents who were jailed as suspected terrorists primarily because they happened to be Muslims. Azmi wasn’t flawless himself, the film makes that very clear, but yet you support him in his noble endeavours. Even as I write this, I feel like watching the film again.