Let me begin by honestly admitting that 2016 was a lukewarm year for Indian Cinema, at least that would be something that I firmly believe in. Be it Bollywood/Hindi cinema or any of the regional language film industries, things were largely subdued for a major part of the year. Be it businesswise or with respect to the quality of output, 2016 definitely seemed to lag behind 2015, forget going anywhere beyond that for a comparison. It’s not that the year was totally beyond redemption, there were some positives as well, but they were not sufficient enough to completely lift up the spirit of Indian cinema overall. Let’s begin by taking a look at Bollywood to start with. 2016 saw only 2 big blockbusters, Sultan and Dangal, none of the other successful films were runaway hits as such. So while Salman Khan and Aamir Khan delivered big time with Sultan and Dangal respectively, SRK came up with Fan which met with a mixed response, while gaining back some traction with one of the better Hindi films of the year, Dear Zindagi.
Akshay Kumar had a rocking year at the box office, with Airlift, Housefull 3 and Rustom turning out to be hits, with only the first of the 3 being appreciated by critics as well. Ajay Devgn returned to direction with the much anticipated Shivaay, which did not completely meet expectations. Hrithik Roshan came up with a major dud in the form of Ashuthosh Gowariker‘s Mohenjo Daro while Ranbir Kapoor managed to finally score a hit with Karan Johar‘s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. 2016 continued to see films with a strong women centric focus including Ram Madhvani’s Neerja, Sudha Kongara Prasad’s Saala Khadoos, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s Nil Battey Sannata, Shakun Batra‘s Kapoor and Sons, Omung Kumar’s Sarbjit, Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab, A.R.Murugadoss’s Akira, Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink, Leena Yadav’s Parched, Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi and of course Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal. Quite a few biopics got made, mostly on sports personalities including Tony D’Souza’s Azhar, Omung Kumar’s Sarbjit, Soumendra Padhi’s Budhia Singh: Born to Run, Shashank Udapurkar’s Anna, Neeraj Pandey’s M.S.Dhoni: The Untold Story and Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal. 2016 also saw quite a few sequels getting released in Bollywood including Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3 (3rd in the series), Ghayal Once Again, Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive, Great Grand Masti (3rd in the series), Rock On 2, Tum Bin 2, Force 2 and Kahaani 2 and it was no surprise that the audience did not really warm up to most of these films.
Malayalam cinema had a slightly disappointing year, not matching the output of 2015 in terms of either quality or quantity. Since I’ve already put up a detailed write-up on the best of Malayalam cinema in 2016, I will leave that out for this article. Tamil cinema had a mixed year of sorts, in terms of the variety of themes looked at then it was certainly satisfactory, but if one goes by the number of outstanding films then the results were not too many to be honest. Horror including horror comedy continued to be a popular genre this year as well including films like Peigal Jakkirathai, Aranmanai 2, Sowkarpettai, Zero, Hello Naan Pei Pesuren, Jithan 2, Kalam, Meera Jaakirathai, Jackson Durai, Dhillukku Dhuddu, Bayam Oru Payanam, Nayagi, Mo etc. getting released but very few of them managing to leave an impact. Kamal Haasan and Ajith did not have any release this year while Rajinikanth managed to leave an impact with Pa.Ranjith’s Kabali which was probably the most anticipated Tamil release of 2016.
Vijay managed to bounce back in a big way with the super success of Atlee’s Theri while Suriya and Vikram managed to put up decent shows with 24 and Iru Mugan respectively. Dhanush came up with a disaster in the form of Prabhu Solomon’s Thodari, before regaining some ground with R.A.Durai Senthilkumar’s Kodi. STR finally saw 2 of his long pending films release, Pandiraj’s Idhu Namma Aalu and Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada, with the latter turning out to be quite successful. Sivakarthikeyan continued his success streak with Rajini Murugan and Remo, managing to once again prove that his films are review proof. As for filmmakers who impressed, we had Vetrimaaran with Visaaranai, M.Manikandan with Kuttrame Thandanai and Aandavan Kattalai, Sudha Kongara Prasad with Irudhi Suttru, Karthik Subbaraj with Iraivi, Vijay Kumar with Uriyadi, Raju Murugan with Joker, S.U.Arun Kumar with Sethupathi, Ananda Krishnan with Metro etc. (For more on the best of Tamil cinema in 2016 check out the article from Mukesh Kumar).
Telugu cinema continued to disappoint by and large and this time it did not even have a commercially spectacular film like Baahubali to boast of. Thanks to small films like Pelli Choopulu, Terror and Kshanam there was some balance maintained, as most of the bigger commercial films failed to work unfortunately. Pawan Kalyan and Mahesh Babu faced major failures with Sardaar Gabbar Singh and Brahmotsavam respectively, while NTR Jr. had a good year with Nannaku Prematho and Janatha Garage. Venkatesh just about managed to get away with Babu Bangaram, while Nagarjuna found success with Soggade Chinna Nayana and was appreciated for Oopiri before featuring in a cameo as himself in Nirmala Convent. Of the younger lot of actors Nani continued his good run with hits like Krishna Gaadi Veera Prema Katha, Gentleman and Jyo Achyutananda (cameo), even ensuring that an otherwise below par movie like Majnu made money. It was a decent year for Kannada cinema with films like Ram Gopal Varma’s Killing Veerappan, Pawan Kumar’s U Turn, Raam Reddy’s Thithi, Hemanth M.Rao’s Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu and Rishab Shetty’s Kirik Party turning out to be among the better films of 2016. The stars like Shiva Rajkumar (Killing Veerappan and Shivalinga), Puneeth Rajkumar (Chakravyuha, Doddmane Huduga), Sudeep (Kotigobba 2, Mukunda Murari), Yash (Santhu Straight Forward) continued to do well within the commercial mould.
Punjabi cinema had a low key year, with neither a mega blockbuster nor many critically acclaimed films getting released. 2016 saw sequels of successful films getting released, most notably Sardaarji 2 and Chaar Sahibzaade: Rise of Banda Singh Bahadur and though both did make money, they could not turn out to be as successful as Sardaarji and Chaar Sahibzaade respectively. Gurvinder Singh’s National award winning film Chauthi Koot which has already had a successful festival run finally released in 2016. Some of the other successful Punjabi films of the year included Ardaas, Love Punjab, Ambarsariya, Bambukat etc. Bengali cinema had an average year of sorts, the number of really fantastic content driven films being few in number. And among the commercially successful films again one did not see too many films that mattered. 2016 saw Srijit Mukherji, one of the finest Bengali filmmakers in recent times turn up with a completely commercial vehicle, the much anticipated multistarrer, Zulfiqar which was a mixed bag of sorts. Kaushik Ganguly continued to impress with films like Bastu Shaap and Cinemawala.
Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee followed up the mega success of Bela Seshe (2015) with the successful Praktan this year. Pratim D.Gupta’s Shaheb Bibi Golaam which was lying at the mercy of the CBFC for a long time finally released later in the year and managed to make an impact. Veteran director Goutam Ghose came up with the wonderful National award winner Shankhachil and Arindam Sil found success with his follow up film to Ebar Shabor, Eagoler Chokh and then followed it up with his second Byomkesh film, Byomkesh Pawrbo. 2016 also saw the release of another Byomkesh movie, Anjan Dutt’s Byomkesh O Chiriakhana. Sandip Ray teamed up with Eros International to come up with 2 films, Monchora and Double Feluda, the latter bringing back Sabyasachi Chakraborty as Feluda. Shree Venkatesh Films continued being the leading content provider in Bengali cinema once again and Prosenjit with films as diverse as Shankhachil, Praktan, Khawto and Zulfiqar proved that he is still a major force to reckon with, even as the younger stars like Jeet and Dev continued to be happy coming up with commercial potboilers.
Marathi cinema went through a bad phase in 2016, surprising considering that 2015 was quite a remarkable year for the industry. The silver lining in the cloud indeed was Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat which broke all records and went on to become the all-time biggest blockbuster in the history of Marathi cinema, a rare Marathi film that made a huge impact even outside Maharashtra. Some of the other Marathi films which managed to make some impact included Mahesh Manjrekar’s Natsamrat, Samit Kakkad’s Half Ticket, Sameer Vidwans’ YZ, Rajesh Mapuskar’s Ventilator, Sachin Kundalkar’s Vazandar and Aadish Keluskar’s Kaul. Esselvision Productions/Zee Studios continued to be the major force behind producing and distributing Marathi films in 2016, with their involvement being seen in films like Natsamrat, Sairat, and Ventilator.
Now that an overview of Indian Cinema in 2016 has been done, let me go on to share my thoughts on what I feel are the Top 10 Indian films of 2016 (2015 was a better year and hence my list saw 15 films being mentioned unlike only 10 for 2016). Films considered for 2016 are across Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi (though none make it to my list), Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. Kindly note that this is purely my personal selection, you are totally free to differ with my choices. Care has been taken to include only those films which I have personally watched. While I have seen most of the worthy films of 2016 across the languages being considered, I haven’t yet watched Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru (Tamil) and Kirik Party (Kannada), both of which released during the fag end of 2016 and have been carrying excellent feedback from critics and audience alike. Also as always only films which have had a theatrical release in the period 1st January-31st December 2016 have been considered for the shortlisting.
Here I go with my Top 10 Indian films of 2016, the films being listed only on the basis of their release date and not ranked in any other fashion.
1.Visaaranai: Directed by Vetrimaaran (Tamil)
India’s official entry to the 89th Academy Awards, triple National Award winner and winner of the Amnesty International Italia Award at Venice, Vetrimaaran’s Visaaranai is easily among the best of Indian films that released in 2016. Based partly on a book Lock Up by M.Chandrakumar, the film focuses on police brutality, corruption, power struggle within the police force and the ensuing loss of innocence amidst all this. It is a film which actually makes one realize and wonder how difficult it is to lead the life of an immigrant worker in another state. Visaaranai talks of 4 youngsters from Tamil Nadu who are working in Guntur in Andhra Pradesh and trying to earn a living. Their life goes through hell and due to no fault of theirs as they get picked up by the police in connection with a theft in a rich and influential household in the city. Subjected to a very high level of brutality by the police, the men refuse to accept the charges foisted on them. Just when they had almost resigned themselves to their fate, they receive an unexpected ray of hope in the form of Muthuvel (Samuthirakani), a cop from Tamil Nadu who is in Guntur on a mission. The youngsters never realize that their ordeal is far from over. Visaaranai is certainly not a film for the faint hearted; the police brutality scenes are quite raw and appear to be as real as it could be. The film benefits with taut writing, excellent performances and it is a technically well-made product on all aspects. If you haven’t yet watched the film then do make sure that you go on to do so at the earliest, you won’t be disappointed.
2. Maheshinte Prathikaaram: Directed by Dileesh Pothan (Malayalam)
In a sleepy little town called Prakash lives the protagonist Mahesh Bhavana (Fahadh Faasil) who runs a photo studio. He leads a simple existence and lives along with his father. He does not manage to marry his childhood sweetheart and is heart-broken. One fine day unknowingly he ends up getting into a brawl with some strangers and gets badly beaten up. His ego having been bruised severely, he swears to take revenge on those people and takes a pledge to remain barefoot till he extracts revenge. Now with a storyline like this one could wonder if anyone would actually want to make a film like this, but that’s where actor turned director Dileesh Pothan shows that execution can make a lot of difference. Based on a true story that’s been adapted well by Dileesh and his co-writer Syam Pushkaran, the film turns out to be a stirring tale of a common man and his trivialities in life. Fahadh Faasil bounced back in style and put up a bravura performance, the supporting cast also proving to be very effective. Maheshinte Prathikaaram easily is one of the best Indian films of 2016, not just among Malayalam films.
3. Aligarh: Directed by Hansal Mehta (Hindi)
An extremely sensitive film by Hansal Mehta which tackles the taboo subject of homosexuality with care, this is a film which made for earnest viewing. Based on the real life story of Dr.Ramchandra Siras, a former professor of Marathi and Head of the department of modern Indian languages at Aligarth Muslim University, this was a sad, powerful and emotional tale brought alive on screen by Hansal Mehta wonderfully. One fine day a couple of local TV news channel people barge into Siras’ house and catch him while he was indulging in consensual sex with a rickshaw puller. AMU goes on to suspend him for gross misconduct and Siras decides to fight against his suspension in court. Manoj Bajpayee played Siras with great maturity and needless to say it was one of the best performances by a leading man seen in Indian cinema in 2016. Rajkummar Rao’s portrayal of Deepu Sebastian, a journalist with a conscience complements the performance of Manoj Bajpayee and their combination scenes in particular were a treat to watch.
4. Shankhachil: Directed by Goutam Ghose (Bengali)
Winner of the National Award for Best Feature Film in Bengali, this Indo-Bangladesh co-production venture is a film where veteran filmmaker Goutam Ghose once again leaves a strong impression. Shankhachil brings to the fore a very relevant topic of whether man made boundaries can actually bring in differences among either side of the boundary wall. After all partition may have carved out Pakistan and Bangladesh from the erstwhile Indian subcontinent, but culturally aren’t people on either side of the Indo-Pak or Indo-Bangladesh border quite similar even today? Through Shankhachil Goutam Ghose tells us that not every illegal immigrant from Bangladesh is here for earning a livelihood, sometimes some of them are forced to land up for reasons beyond their control. Muntashir Chowdhury Badal (Prosenjit) is a school teacher who lives with his wife Laila Chowdhury (Kusum Sikder) and daughter Roopsha (Shajbati) in Bangladesh. Muntashir and Laila’s peaceful life is shattered when they realise that Roopsha is suffering from a severe heart ailment and the only option in front of them is to enter India (they live right across the border and only have to cross a river to enter India) in a clandestine fashion. But in the border town of Taki they realize that Roopsha requires a heart surgery which can only happen in Kolkata and they are forced to take up false identities leading to turmoil in the mind of Badal. With stellar performances from the cast, especially Prosenjit and Shajbati, this is a poignant tale of feeling alien of in the land of our forefathers, of how man made borders can create divisions that are far more complex than expected.
5. Sairat: Directed by Nagraj Manjule (Marathi)
Sairat is one of the few films on this list which probably does not need much of an introduction; this was a rare Marathi film which reached out to the rest of the Country as well and pleasing both the critics and the audiences alike. After the well-received Fandry, Nagraj once again went back to his roots in the form of Sairat, but this time the focus was on romance as the film features the classic template of a rich girl falling in love with a poor boy but with a difference. While the basic premise is as old as the hills, what made Sairat relevant is the cultural angle involved and the treatment of the film. Despite the length of the film (174 minutes) neither the trade complained, nor the audience. Also it was a master stroke by Nagraj to keep all the songs in the lengthy first half itself, while keeping the crisper second half to focus on what happens once a young couple decide to settle down and lead a life together. Ajay-Atul came up with a fantastic soundtrack, Sairat’s album easily being among the top 3 Indian film albums of 2016. “Zingaat” in particular was a rage, a song that was probably on the playlist of most DJ’s in 2016. Like Fandry even in case of Sairat we saw Nagraj opting to go with new faces and both Rinku Rajguru and Akash Thosar (who played the lead couple) went on to become extremely popular. Though a little similar to Balaji Sakthivel’s Tamil film Kaadhal (2004) in terms of the theme, Sairat was still a whiff of fresh air both for Marathi cinema and Indian cinema overall in 2016.
6.Thithi: Directed by Raam Reddy (Kannada)
After a fantastic film festival run, even winning a couple of awards at the prestigious Locarno International Film Festival (among other awards) and winning the National Award for the Best Kannada film, Thithi went on to finally release in a small fashion in Karnataka and a few cities in the rest of India. Comprising completely of a cast of non-professional actors from villages in the Mandya district of Karnataka, the film is a light-hearted story about three generations of men reacting to the death of their 101-year old patriarch, fondly referred to as Century Gowda. Raam Reddy and his co-writer Ere Gowda weave in a tale that is filled with humour but of the subtle kind and not the over the top variety. What makes it interesting is that this is a comedy against the background of a funeral and its associated rituals. The tale includes elements of greed, love/lust, spirit of breaking free etc. and the character of Gadappa (Channegowda) in particular is a standout one, leaving a deep impact on the audience. Thithi is a film that’s rooted and as native as it could be, yet in terms of its treatment and demonstration it is international as well. Thithi is easily among the best of Indian cinema in 2016.
7. Cinemawala: Directed by Kaushik Ganguly (Bengali)
Kaushik Ganguly’s Cinemawala couldn’t have been made and released at a better time than 2016. A story that is relevant across India, it is the pan Indian nature of the subject that itself should make the film reach out to film lovers, irrespective of whether one knows Bengali or not. We all know that single screen theatres are dying and giving way to multiplexes all around us, not only that, cinema viewing as an activity is also largely getting confined to our homes thanks to a host of factors, partly to do with technology and partly with our mind-set. Cinemawala is about the conflict between a father and son, the father Pranabendu Das (Paran Bandopadhyay) being the proprietor of a single screen cinema which is now non-functional and the son Prakash (Parambrata Chatterjee) who doesn’t see eye to eye with his father. Prakash believes that the days of the single screen cinemas are now over and deals with selling pirated VCD’s and DVD’s of films, a matter that irks Pranabendu and causes a rift between them, with only Hari (Arun Guhathakurta), the trusted associate of Pranabendu and Moumita (Sohini Sarkar), the wife of Prakash being people common with whom both Pranabendu and Prakash communicate. As the tale proceeds Kaushik Ganguly beautifully transports us straight to the location itself and through the eyes of Pranabendu we see not just his single screen cinema crumbling down, but also a legacy of Indian cinema in itself.
8.Kammatipaadam: Directed by Rajeev Ravi (Malayalam)
Rajeev Ravi’s third film as a director, Kammatipaadam is quite different from his previous films, Annayum Rasoolum (2013) and Njan Steve Lopez (2014). Based on a slum locality of Ernakulam (part of Kochi) i.e Kammatipaadam, the story spread over 3 decades tells us how the downtrodden including the Dalit community was forced to give up their lands to real-estate mafias and how the modern urbanisation of the bustling city of Kochi took place right over the plight of the Dalits and the others for whom Kammatipaadam was more than just their home. Narrated through the viewpoint of Krishnan (Dulquer Salmaan) now a man in his early 40’s working with a security firm in Mumbai, all of a sudden he decides to go back home on receiving a couple of calls from his old friend Ganga (Vinayakan). Somehow Krishnan gets the intuition that Ganga is in danger and hence wants to trace him out and help him if necessary. And thus Krishnan lands up in Kochi after ages, but then he realizes that the area that always belonged to him, Ganga and his other friends from childhood, Kammatipaadam isn’t really looking the same as before. Kammatipaadam is a true blue gangster film from Malayalam cinema and Rajeev Ravi has made it with panache. Except for the filmy culmination to the tale, the film is a case study in all respects. Fantastic casting, technically pleasing and striking a raw chord with the viewers, this was certainly one of the best Indian films seen in 2016.
9. Pink: Directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury (Hindi)
National Award winning Bengali filmmaker Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury made a confident debut with Pink, under the able tutelage of Shoojit Sircar who was also the presenter of the film. This was an extremely bold and relevant film, even disturbing in a way as well. The film also one again showcased the acting credentials of Amitabh Bachchan, even as he himself more than graciously shared the spotlight with Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Andrea Tariang. Except for a bit of court room theatrics (mainly by Piyush Mishra), the film is shot in a realistic fashion and it’s almost like watching the re-enactment of an incident and its associated trial in court. The film takes a strong view point on what constitutes sexual harassment against women and the dialogue “ NO simply means NO” went on to become a popular catchphrase by itself. Yes there are certain liberties taken in the film and I’m not sure why Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan) in his initial scenes was shown as being someone too watchful over Meenal (Taapsee Pannu), Falak (Kirti Kulhari) and Andrea (Andrea Tariang). But leaving all these aside it was a film with a conscience and for once the audience and critics were largely fine with the preachy mode adopted as well.
- Aandavan Kattalai: Directed by M.Manikandan (Tamil)
M.Manikandan had announced his arrival in style as writer-cinematographer-director with Kaakka Muttai which was easily one of the best Indian films of 2015. He followed it later with Kuttrame Thandanai and Aandavan Kattalai, both of them going on to release within a gap of 3 weeks in 2016, also showing clearly that he was certainly not a one film wonder. While it may not be path breaking like Kaakka Muttai, nevertheless Aandavan Kattalai was a fine film on a serious topic but full credit to Manikandan for treating it like a satire. On one level the film throws light on how people try to go abroad and do whatever it takes to make a living, even taking the risk of living there illegally. While on the other level the film also talks of how Sri Lankan Tamils still continue to face a tough time if they want to live properly in Tamil Nadu after following all the relevant protocols. Most importantly Manikandan throws light on the influence of middlemen in getting any official work done and why it’s important to steer clear of them.
Gandhi (Vijay Sethupathi) is an educated villager who is neck deep in debt and decides to move to Chennai along with his friend Muthu Pandi (Yogi Babu) in order to try and shift to London in the hope of earning enough to pay off all his debts. They approach an agency to help them with getting them a passport and a British tourist visa. Gandhi’s visa gets rejected and thus he stays back in Chennai and starts working with a drama troupe as an accountant while Muthu Pandi manages to go to London. Gandhi continues to harbour hopes of going to London but little does he know that he will soon have other worries to take care of. The film benefits with some smart writing and fantastic casting choices. Most importantly the proceedings carry an undercurrent of humour, but not the loud and over the top variety. Aandavan Kattalai ultimately is a smart film and a good example of how even a commercially successful film can make it to the list of best films.
Note: It’s been a tough and interesting experience while compiling this list and writing this long post and I will be happy to hear from you all about what your favourite Indian films of 2015. Feel free to use the comments section to indicate your choices and and also as to whether you agree or disagree to my choices.