At the very outset I wish to express that I personally felt that 2014 was overall an ordinary year for Indian Cinema. It was largely devoid of truly path breaking content and Hindi Cinema in particular was very disappointing, especially the second half of the year. This is even more alarming considering that the 1st quarter of the year saw some decent films like Dedh Ishqiya, Hasee Toh Phasee, Highway, Queen and true blue indie films like Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely, the long pending Om-Dar-B-Dar of Kamal Swaroop and Rajat Kapoor’s Ankhon Dekhi. The last among the films mentioned (Ankhon Dekhi) in particular was a delight, more on that later. But with subsequent weeks throwing up disappointment after disappointment, I had almost given up on the year but thank goodness for the last 2 Fridays of the year which brought in some relief. 19th December saw Raj Kumar Hirani’s Aamir Khan spectacle PK release, one of the most awaited films of the year while 26th December saw Anurag Kashyap’s long pending Ugly release. PK for me is Raj Kumar Hirani’s weakest film, but it is still an earnest film and Aamir thankfully is good in the film. So while I have no problem with the film’s spectacular success, I do oppose the way the so called moral and religious police are dragging it into an unnecessary controversy.
Ugly thankfully restored some order, albeit right at the fag end of the day, turning out to be a film which is probably Anurag’s finest work ever (on par with Black Friday) and the only true contender to Ankhon Dekhi as Bollywood’s best film of the year. Malayalam and Tamil Cinema continued to throw up a few good films, but again I would say that in comparison to say 2012 and 2013 the output in 2014 was not all that impressive for both these industries. Both these industries will be covered in depth in terms of this year’s output in separate posts coming up soon from yours truly and Mani Prabhu respectively. Bengali Cinema continued its tradition of having a few good, a few average and a lot of bad films. Srijit Mukherji and Kaushik Ganguly demonstrated that they are truly talented filmmakers, both of them came up with 2 releases each, with some really remarkable subjects. Srijit’s films Jaatishwar and Chotushkone, as well as Kaushik’s films Apur Panchali and Khaad showed that Bengali Cinema need not only have to depend upon potboilers for commercial success.
Punjabi Cinema surprisingly saw a couple of non-formula films turning out to be blockbusters, Punjab 1984 and Chaar Sahibzaade. The latter has not only gone on to become India’s most commercially successful animation but also the all-time biggest blockbuster in Punjabi Cinema. Telugu Cinema has hardly had anything much to offer in terms of quality content, with a few small films being exceptions like Naa Bangaru Talli and Minugurulu. In terms of commercial success, the biggest hit was the Allu Arjun starrer Race Gurram, a typical formula entertainer. But thankfully some genuinely interesting films like Manam, Run Raja Run and Oohalu Gusagusalade also turned out successful. Kannada cinema once again saw the odd quality film like P.Sheshadri’s December 1 struggling for a release and at the same time even some big star films didn’t work at the box office like Puneeth Rajkumar’s Ninnindale and Shivarajkumar’s Aryan . Thankfully there have been a few interesting films also like Ulidavaru Kandanthe and Ugramm to bring in some cheers to an industry which otherwise continues to depend on remakes, both official and unofficial :).
Marathi Cinema has had a good year overall both in terms of critically acclaimed films and commercial success, some of them achieving both as well. Nishikant Kamat returned to Marathi films after a long time with Lai Bhaari, which saw Riteish Deshmukh making his Marathi debut. With a formula ‘mass’ concept (Sajid Nadiadwala) and featuring many popular actors including a cameo from Salman Khan, it was no surprise that the film went on to become an all-time blockbuster. Ravi Jadhav continued his good form at the box office with Timepass and films like Fandry, Rege, Dr.Prakash Baba Amte, Elizabeth Ekadashi, Happy Journey managed to do gain the respect of critics and audience as well. Films like Ajoba, Astu and Ek Hazarchi Note may not have set the box office on fire, but certainly left an impact with the kind of subject handled. Marathi Cinema seems to be very bullish with films centred around children and films like Fandry, Timepass, Elizabeth Ekadashi and the recent Avatarachi Goshta are all examples. With films like Lokmanya, Killa and Court lined up for 2015, probably these are good days for Marathi Cinema overall.
Now that an overview of Indian Cinema in 2014 has been done, I would like to now throw some light on the best Indian films of 2014. Films considered are across Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. Kindly note that this is purely a personal selection, you are free to differ with my choice. Care has been taken to include only those films which I have personally watched.
So here I go with my list keeping the release date to decide the order (Jan-Dec).
1. Jaatishwar: Directed by Srijit Mukherjee, Language-Bengali
A period film, steeped in music and a biopic of sorts, this film saw Srjit Mukherji excelling on many fronts. The successful combination of Srjit-Prosenjit continued their good form with this film as well. The film talks of Hensman Anthony, a Portuguese settler in 19th century Chandernagore (now Chandannagar). He went on to become popular among the local population as Anthony Firingee and was known for his music as he gained a reputation in the ‘kavigan’ circuit. Jaatishwar is a film which leaps across time zones comfortably as we see the contemporary tale of Rohit Mehta (Jisshu Sengupta) a research scholar who decides to take up Anthony Firingee as his research subject. His research leads him to Kushal Hazra (Prosenjit), assistant librarian at Chandannagar and how the characters of Rohit, Kushal and even Mahamaya (Swastika Mukherjee) the girl whom Rohit fell for in his university, all get interconnected with Hensman Anthony’s tale in the past is what the film is all about.
Prosenjit came up with an outstanding performance and was wonderful as both Anthony and Kushal Hazra. With the supporting cast also rising to the occasion and performing admirably, the film was a delight to watch. Kabir Suman’s music was more than a key factor in making the film memorable, as the film would never really have worked without the right kind of music. While Prosenjit or Srijit might have missed out on a National Award, the film still ended up winning 4 National Awards, including Best Music for Kabir Suman. Jaatishwar was a good start in a way for Indian Cinema in 2014.
2. Fandry: Directed by Nagaraj Manjule, Language-Marathi
A hard hitting film on a very relevant subject, this was a film which pleased both the critics and the audience. The film talks of how caste discrimination still exists in our society in various ways and forms. Jabya (Somnath Awghade) is a teenager in school in Akolner, a village near Ahmednagar. He belongs to a Dalit family but develops a liking for an upper caste girl from his school. This is the basic premise of the film and while at the outset one might feel it could go the Shala or Balak Palak way, Nagaraj Manjule makes his intentions very clear by keeping the setting and language authentic and extracting wonderful performances from the cast. Except for a veteran like Kishor Kadam the cast is almost completely comprised of newcomers, a lot of them being locally picked up. The way the film culminates is a masterstroke from Nagaraj Manjule as you are completely shaken up and begin to question yourself.
Fandry is a rare example of a film which had a wonderful festival run and also finding a good outing in theatres, a lot of credit to Zee Entertainment’s marketing of the film as well. Fandry has received 2 National Awards, for the Best Debut Director and Best Child Actor.
3. Ankhon Dekhi : Directed by Rajat Kapoor, Language-Hindi
Undoubtedly the best Hindi film of 2014, this is a true blue indie film which also launched a new name in the industry, producer Manish Mundra who has gone on to greenlight a few more films after this. Rajat Kapoor weaves in a tale around a middle class Delhi based join family led by Raje Bauji (Sanjay Mishra). After a particular incident Bauji decides to only believe in things which he has seen himself with his own eyes. How this predicament goes on to affect not only Bauji and his family but all those around him is demonstrated with great style and confidence by Rajat Kapoor. The film literally ends on an emotional high and you realize that there’s more to Sanjay Mishra than just the routine comedy roles he gets to enact in Hindi films mainly.
4. Apur Panchali: Directed by Kaushik Ganguly, Language-Bengali
Drawing parallels between the lives of Subir Banerjee who portrayed Apu in Satyajit Ray’s iconic film Pather Panchali and Apu himself, this innovative film by Kaushik Ganguly brings in a sharp and interesting contrast between the two. Seamlessly merging scenes from Apu Trilogy and the life of young Subir Banerjee (Parambrata Chatterjee), the film is a delight in every sense. Irrespective of whether you have seen Apu Trilogy or not, the film would still work for the discerning viewer.
5. Jigarthanda: Directed by Karthik Subbaraj, Language-Tamil
Karthik Subbaraj who shot to fame with Pizza (2012) demonstrated with Jigarthanda that he is no one film wonder and that he is a talented director who’s here to stay. And all the talk of the film being an uncredited remake of the Korean film A Dirty Carnival (2006) turned out to be nothing serious eventually as the similarity between the two films was hardly anything to be worried about. Jigarthanda is a surprise in many ways, a Madurai gangster film that’s high on humour, the interval block of the film is easily the best I’ve come across in any Indian film this year. Considering that Karthik could have chosen to continue treating the film as a thriller in the second half and a good one at that, it’s more than commendable to see him break conventions with a totally different second half. Jigarthanda pays tribute to many iconic films in style, the music by Santosh Narayanan (probably the most exciting composer in Tamil Cinema these days) absolutely rocked be it the BGM or the rocks.
The film also benefited from its casting choices and if I could give an award for the iconic character of the year in Tamil Cinema then undoubtedly it would go to Assault Sethu (Bobby Simha).
6. Munnariyippu: Directed by Venu, Language-Malayalam
A film with A list actors, toplined by a superstar (Mammootty), a director who’s also a renowned ccinematographer and an industry veteran (Venu), a release period that looked ideal as it came out 2 weeks before the crowded Onam season and yet the film did not find many takers. And before anyone suggests that it’s an offbeat film, let me tell you that while it may not be a regular commercial subject, it’s a riveting film right till the end. The film mainly is about 2 characters, C.K.Raghavan (Mammootty), a jail prisoner who has long served his period for two murders, but happy to continue being in jail and Anjali Arrackal (Aparna Gopinath) a lady journalist who comes across Raghavan while meeting the jail superindent (Nedumudi Venu) to work on his book.
Aided by a wonderful supporting cast which includes a well introduced cameo by Prithviraj, this is an unconventional thriller which I am sure will catch you unawares as the film culminates. Mammootty who has been having a torrid time of late with a spate of bad films redeemed himself to an extent with this wonderful film (and Varsham later on). Aparna Gopinath’s performance, Bijibal’s BGM and Unni.R’s writing have all ensured that this ends up as the best Malayalam film of the year. For lovers of serious cinema this is a film that I would seriously recommend to understand why Malayalam Cinema still has the ability to come up with well written films where even a superstar surrenders to the character he is portraying.
7. Sapthmashree Thaskaraha: Directed by Anil Radhakrishnan Menon,Language-Malayalam
Everyone seems to be making heist films these days and we even saw SRK and Farah Khan come up with one this year (Happy New Year). But while every heist film cannot be and should not be another Oceans Eleven or Italian Job, what we need is a film which is rooted to our culture and surroundings and takes note of what can be achieved within the space. Considering all this Anil Radhakrishnan Menon’s second Malayalam film Sapthamashree Thaskaraha was a wonderful follow up act to his previous film, the National Award winning North 24 Kaatham. A smart and witty heist film, Sapthamashree Thaskaraha is all about a bunch of 7 guys, just out of prison and who attempt a heist. Despite being one of the producers and being part of the cast, it was great to see a popular actor like Prithviraj not hogging the limelight and allowing others to get ample visibility. The film has some really witty dialogues, doing full justice to the Thrissur dialect.
8. Chotushkone: Directed by Srijit Mukherji, Language- Bengali
Srijit Mukherji features in the list once again with another film, this time a thriller that’s high on human emotions, Chotushkone. The film has the distinction of having not one but four directors featuring prominently in the film-Aparna Sen, Gautam Ghose, Chiranjeet Chakraborty and Parambrata Chatterjee. All four of them play filmmakers who have been assigned by a new producer to make an anthology film with each one of them making a short film/segment each and with all of them to be connected via a common theme. Despite a lot of uncertainty and concerns, the four of them proceed to meet the producer for a narration, what happens from thereon is basically what the film is all about. Playing out beautifully like a Russian roulette, there’s a whole gamut of human emotions on display and the film culminates in a fashion that’s not all that easy to spot. With Chotushkone Srijit also doffs his hat at a lot of traits and happenings peculiar to the Bengali film industry in a lucid, yet tactful style.
9. Iyobinte Pusthakam: Directed by Amal Neerad, Language-Malayalam
A year ago people would have laughed if I would have said an Amal Neerad film will not just feature among the best Malayalam films of the year, but also among the best Indian films of the year. But with Iyobinte Pusthakam he has achieved exactly the same, and achieved it in great style. Easily the film with the best ensemble cast in this whole list, each and every actor does justice to this period tale set in the hills of Munnar. A tale of treachery, revenge and passion that runs in breath taking fashion, the visuals by Amal Neerad and the music by Neha S.Nair and Yakzan Gary Perreira work well for the film. Despite being the producer (along with Amal Neerad) it’s good to see Fahadh Fazil doing justice to his character and ensuring others like Lal, Jayasurya, Chemban Vinod, Jinu Joseph, Padmapriya etc get ample scope as well. With Iyobinte Pusthakam Amal Neerad finally managed to merge his obsession for style with substance, resulting in a cinematic treat.
10. Elizabeth Ekadashi: Directed by Paresh Mokashi, Language-Marathi
After making his debut with the wonderful Harishchandrachi Factory, Paresh Mokashi returns this time with a film around children set in contemporary times. The film is based on his wife Madhugandha Kulkarni’s childhood experience of growing up in Pandharpur and watching people set up temporary kiosks to sell knick-knacks during the popular bi-annual Ekadashi pilgrimages. The tale is centred around Dnyanesh (Shrirang Mahajan) and his sister Mukta (Sayali Bhandarkavathekar), and their lives which revolve around their mother (Nandita Dhuri), grandmother (Vanmala Kinikar), friends and ‘Elizabeth’ their beloved custom made bicycle made by their late father. Thankfully devoid of emotional manipulation, this is a simple feel good tale which despite its touch of poignancy is still humorous as well. Elizabeth Ekadashi was the opening film of Indian Panorama at this year’s IFFI and it is still playing in theatres despite having released on November 14.
11. Pisaasu: Directed by Mysskin, Language-Tamil
After the successive failures of Mugamoodi (2012) and Onaayum Aattukkuttiyum (2013), the former a lavish attempt at making a superhero film and the latter a well-made critically acclaimed film, any other director would have played it safe but not Mysskin. Instead he gave us Pisaasu, a horror film which tries to break as many conventions possible without trying too hard. Produced by Bala, an extremely competent director himself, Pisaasu has the Mysskin stamp written all over it. With this film he again shows us that content will always remain the king as he slowly in his inimitable style hooks us into the tale. Ravee Roy’s camera work is impressive as it teases us just the way a film of this type should. Arrol Correli’s BGM is terrific and coupled along with Tapas Nayak’s sound design; the film becomes that much more special. And even if you are not so much into horror, the film might still work as it has so much to offer. Check out the haunting “Nadhi Pogum Koozhangal Payanam” song or an extremely realistic fight sequence based in an underground subway and you’ll probably get what I’m saying. Pisaasu has survived the Lingaa onslaught and despite the 4 Christmas releases, it is still holding fort at the box office, an achievement that Mysskin can be proud of.
12. Ugly: Directed by Anurag Kashyap, Language-Hindi
In a year that’s been largely disappointing for Hindi Cinema it is good to see the year end with this wonderful film from Anurag Kashyap. A dark twisted thriller of sorts with a relevance that’s hard to ignore the film narrates a tale that begins as it ends, on successive Saturdays. The film has been drawing a whole lot of reactions, lots of questions are being asked, some even feel that the climax is hurried etc. But I personally feel its Anurag at his non-indulgent best and an effort that sees wonderful performances from the entire cast. It’s not an easy watch, but cast aside your apprehensions and you could be in for a riveting tale that hits you hard not in desperate fashion, but in a calm and composed style. Ugly (like Ankhon Dekhi) may not result in box office success, but it is an indication of quality output still emerging from an industry which all of a sudden is seeing a creative drought of sorts going by the current output.
I would like to specifically mention Sachin Kundalkar’s Happy Journey (Marathi) which I feel narrowly lost out to Elizabeth Ekadashi in this compilation. I had a great time coming up with this post and could not include films like Avinash Arun’s Killa or Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court because they are yet to be released theatrically. The films mentioned in the list above are my favourite Indian films of the year, it would be great to know what’s yours so feel free to use the comments section to share your list with me.