Mukti Bhawan To Jagga Jasoos: Top 10 Bollywood Films Of 2017

It's been an interesting and unpredictable year for Hindi cinema. Our film critic Raja Sen lists out the very best of the bunch

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Mukti Bhawan To Jagga Jasoos: Top 10 Bollywood Films Of 2017

Mukti Bhawan tops the list (courtesy muktibhawan)

Mumbai: 

Highlights

  1. Mukti Bhawan finds its way to the top of the list
  2. Bareilly Ki Barfi ranks second
  3. Jagga Jasoos takes he third spot
It has been an intriguing year for Indian cinema. The crown jewels do not quite belong to Bombay, with the best film (Angamaly Diaries) coming from Malayalam cinema, and the biggest film (Baahubali 2) coming from Telugu cinema. Yet Hindi cinema has itself had quite a year, with several usual suspects failing to make a mark and, hearteningly, many a new voice breaking through. In my list of the ten best Hindi films of 2017, five are made by debutant directors. The future seems to be in good hands.

Here are the films of the year:

10. A Death In The Gunj

Konkona Sensharma's directorial debut is set assuredly between the lines. It leaves the audience to observe the myriad gaps and fissures in the inevitably intricate dynamic shared by an extended family on vacation. The mood and atmospherics are gorgeous, as is the music. Set in 1979, the story contains everything from infidelity to insecurity, rendering the death alluded to in the title nearly irrelevant. This is a story of several chipped characters, pretending to be whole. And of the echoes they leave behind.



9. Secret Superstar

Empowerment doesn't take place overnight. Advait Chandan's Secret Superstar is a film about a little guitar-playing girl who wants to sing for the world, but it is just as much a film about her mother trying to escape an oppressive marriage. First, however, she must accept that she even wants to get out, an unthinkable concept for so many unhappily married Indian women. The film gives both its ladies agency and allows them to make up their mind.



Here's what I wrote in my review:

"We do not usually see villainous parents in children's films, yet here Insia's father is a scoundrel, and the girl plots in order to free her mother from this tormented marriage. As she writes out a plan (number 29, her notebook tells us) this feels like The Parent Trap in reverse. Daughter and mother wish that the father is posted abroad so that he stays away for eleven months at a stretch. He might be back home 24 hours a day during the Ramzan period, but the two women decide they can bear him that long. It turns out they cannot - and should not - and Insia needs out."

Read the full review here

8. Trapped

Vikramaditya Motwane, one of the strongest and most lyrical storytellers we have, went bare-bones to make a tiny movie on a measly budget where he took one of our best actors and locked him in a Bombay flat. From that essence, Motwane and Rajkummar Rao created a harrowing survival drama that had the audience hunkering for open air - and for pao-bhaji.



Here's what I wrote in my review:

"Something that blew my mind when I first moved to Bombay over a dozen years ago was the fact that alcohol is home-delivered. Everything, in fact, is delivered to the doorstep, at all times of day and night, and you can go months on end without leaving the house - if that's what you want. Man might not be an island, but this particular island city specialises in letting you create your own self-sufficient bubble. Vikramaditya Motwane's ingenious new film, Trapped, exploits this detachedness the city gets off on, simply by taking the island metaphor further. This claustrophobic little film is the story of a man realistically locked inside a high-rise apartment, and - in form and structure - this is a survivalist film, a genre primarily made up of singular protagonists marooned on deserted islands."

Read the full review here

7. Rangoon

Without question the most visually striking film of the year, Vishal Bhardwaj's grandiose period drama might not be the director's finest work - the climax is unforgivably tacky - but it sprawls across an immense canvas set in pre-Independent India, its characters are textured enough to belong to a memorable novel, and its history is ambitiously, optimistically revisionist. Kangana Ranaut shines as the impossibly fiery lead, and while Rangoon itself - a nuanced and naughty film - can't entirely keep up with her character, it bloody hell tries.



Here's what I wrote in my review:

"She doesn't want to sit on his lap. Miss Julia is enraged, and all her billionaire boyfriend Russi Billimoria does - as the man in charge, her lover, her producer - is slap the inside of his left thigh, inviting his tigress to clamber aboard so he can make it all better. She seethes while he smugly and knowingly slaps his goddamn thigh, like a particularly unctuous Krishna. Julia wants to defy him but dare not, and she cycles through her fury, before, in her own way, showing as much non-compliance as may be mustered. She does indeed go to him and allow herself to be patted down and placated, but she perches on his right thigh instead."

Read the full review here

6. Newton

What happens when a system - a creaking, broken system, a system built on compromise - runs into one man who wants to play by the rules? What happens when that man cannot be moved? What hope is there for the system, or for rules? Amit Masurkar's thoughtful and inward looking Newton is a rarely political Hindi film that poses many questions and leaves us haunted by the lack of answers. Rajkummar Rao plays the unyielding Newton Kumar while Pankaj Tripathi, in the opposing corner, plays an army officer who knows he's in charge, and the two are flat-out fantastic.



Here's what I wrote in my review:

"Rao and Tripathi provide terrific performances, especially when pouncing on one another - even literally. They are well complemented by Raghubir Yadav in an entertainingly loquacious role, Anjali Patil as a smartly dignified Adivasi woman and, quite memorably, Mukesh Prajapati as an election officer who doesn't have much to say but is easily, enviably content. The reason he chose this high-security posting was because he wanted to ride in a helicopter, and while the film is all about witnessing the dog of democracy being wagged, this is one character who gets what he wants. Fresh free-range eggs, a meal of country chicken, a chopper ride. He is, therefore, the least likely to go anywhere. All beware the well fed."

Read the full review here

5. Tumhari Sulu

Winning is an addiction. When we read biographies of sportsmen and team leaders, we see how competitiveness becomes a part of their very nature, something they need in order to function. It is this unique driving force that director Suresh Triveni highlights with a delightful film about a housewife who refuses to be put into a box. She may not be a racecar driver or a cricket captain, but - as we see with her daily routine shown to us alongside streetside parkour - she knows what she wants. She calls the shots at home, she doesn't take no for an answer, and she likes the idea of playing late-night love guru to a desperate throng of listeners. She's an inspirationally great character in a warm, finely written film.



Here's what I wrote in my review:

"At one point in this film, the heroine identifies herself as a winner. Sulochana states this matter of factly - main winner hoon - because she has won a pressure cooker in a radio competition and feels the need to state who she is, but her character's hunger to rack up victories is strong. She keeps entering all manner of contests, including a Lata Mangeshkar Sad Song contest, and even when she places second in a lemon-and-spoon race, she sneaks onto the top step of the podium for a photo-op.

Sulu is a fascinating character, who failed - three times - to clear her school-leaving exams, and she overcompensates with a relentless hunt to find an identity."

Read the full review here:

4. Tu Hai Mera Sunday

This is a special film. It is a film I watched with a smile glued to my face right from the first scene, and the aforementioned smile never left me, even though my eyes may have moistened. Director Milind Dhaimade has made the truest of ensemble films, a heartening and warm film about Bombay and the people who keep this bizarre city's heart beating.



Here's what I wrote in my review:

"It is also a film that, miraculously, finds a new vantage point from which to look at Bombay. Bombay is a city of and from the movies, a city that has been captured by too many and caricatured by several, one that is familiar without laying a foot in it. Yet Dhaimade and cinematographer Harendra Singh show us the city as I don't remember seeing it before: from an overbridge above the ceaseless traffic, from the traffic itself that struggles to find a rhythm, from a cramped room that looks filmed by a stray webcam.

It is at once a time-capsule of Bombay as we know it now and a romanticisation because this can only ever be Bombay. When the characters from the film leave the city briefly, even if we're inside a bus with them, the film begins to breathe. It is impossible not to notice the way the film visually opens up and airs itself out, just like its characters who spread themselves wide. Those of us who love Bombay love also to leave Bombay."

Read the full review here

3. Jagga Jasoos

"Sab khana ka ke daaru pee ke chale gaye," goes a particularly lovely song in Jagga Jasoos. This refrain - that everyone has eaten and drunk and left - can be made for most of Hindi cinema, aiming only to kill time pleasantly enough, but not for Anurag Basu's fabulous, fanciful movie that tried, with ridiculous ambition, to challenge the very grammar of our cinema.

It is a film that bites off more than it can chew, certainly, because it tries to be a spectacular children's film (and succeeds) while being also a full-blown musical, where characters speak and complain and interrogate in song (and where the words are sometimes lost). It is a touch too long and occasionally inconsistent, but, anchored in place by Basu's imaginative vision and Ranbir Kapoor's bravura performance, this film is a magic trick. Who else would even dare to try and get children curious about farmer suicides?



Here's what I wrote in my review:

"Some children are born romantic. By this I mean not a desire to canoodle but the intense need to believe - in secrets, in adventures, in the inexplicable. To believe, most importantly, in stories. Jagga, a bespectacled knee-high stammerer, is just such a child. Raised on a diet of Sherlock, Hitchcock, Feluda, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Chaplin - names pointed to him via couriered videotape from a mysterious travelling father - here is a boy with a knack for seeing the wood before he examines the trees. An observant schoolchild fond of spotting bends in the narrative, he reunites old men with long-forgotten tabletop graffiti and solves murder cases mistakenly termed suicide.

"Horse's egg, suicide!" objects the teenage sleuth in Anurag Basu's Jagga Jasoos, a film dreamt up in Bangla and only half-translated out of it."

Read the full review here

2. Bareilly Ki Barfi

When we meet the heroine - the Barfi of the film's title - we are told she is both a daughter and a son. A cigarette smoking meat-eating tomboy full of spunk and derring-do, this is the kind of unapologetic character Hindi cinema needs more of, and it is no wonder she leaves admirers awestruck in her wake. Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari does very wisely to cast two terrific actors as the besotted men, and her crackerjack script - a script written with genuine wit, not merely local-sounding one-liners - does the rest.



The best comedies are built on true, telling details, and Tiwari's film is full of these touches, from the names of the characters - one is, deliciously enough, called Pritam Vidrohi - to the elaborate slyness within the lines. The girl's father, played by the inimitable Pankaj Tripathi, derisively refers to one of her suitors as a crow. "He's a peacock," the girl corrects, reassuringly. "He must have forgotten to shower today."

Superb.

1. Mukti Bhawan

Imagine knowing when you'll leave.

Death comes to us all, but imagine being prepared, packing a suitcase, checking into a hotel and literally lying in wait for the big sleep. Director Shubhashish Bhutiani accomplished something melancholy and marvellous with his debut feature, a film about making peace with mortality and letting go calmly and restfully. The film is about a father who wants to breathe his last and about a son who can't ignore his father's wishes, however strange - and spooky - they may seem. The stakes are high but there is admirably little drama on display as Bhutiani and his actors give us a film that softly and touchingly shows us the value of restraint.



Here's what I wrote in my review:

"How does someone know they're going to die?", asks Lata of her husband, slathering moisturiser on herself before bed as she wonders what her father-in-law's latest idea holds. Aged 77, Dayanand has told his son Rajeev that his time has come, and, like his father before him, wants to head to Mukti Bhawan and lay himself down to rest. Rajeev is irritated by how illogical this demand is, but can't bring himself to turn down such a sensitive request, and realises his wife is taking the thing even more absurdly. He lets go of his cynicism for a moment and allows himself to ponder her question. "Perhaps they just get to know", he says out loud to nobody in particular, suddenly existential.

'Suddenly existential,' in fact, is a good way to describe Bhutiani's film, a film about making peace with one's life - enough to want to bid it adieu. It is a journey of awareness, of realising when you may have drunk your fill of life and how that may not be such a bad thing. It is a film about loss, and how sometimes we need more of it to put our own finality in perspective. It is a film about being able to see death approach and embracing it instead of lapsing into desperate hysterics. It is a film about fathers, a film about faith and a film about farewells."

Read the full review here

(Raja Sen is a film critic, columnist and screenwriter. His first book, The Best Baker In The World, is a book for children that happens to be an adaptation of The Godfather, and is in stores now.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
 

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