Here is the list of my favourite top 10 films of 2019.
The cinematic expression was never more invigorating than it was in this incredible tale of Indeginous talent, rapping its heart out. Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti setout to explore the unheard voices of Mumbai, that is often ignored in mainstream cinema. Loosely based on the lives of Naezy and Divine, Gully Boy tells the story of Murad Ahmed, a meek youngster who raps his way out of the undesirable life he lives. Zoya and Reema create a multitude of thematic threads while telling Murad’s story. Under the watch of these skilled individuals, like Zoya, Reema, Jay Oza (cinematography) and Nitin Baid ( Editor) these threads form a layered drama without a hint of convolution. The character writing was some of the greatest in modern cinema. In Moen, MC Sher and Safeena, Zoya and Reema create layered, bruised champions who live by their own will in a world that constantly throws a judgemental gaze at them. When the shield of this likeable stoicnesss is broken, we empathize with their vulnerable selves and these broken pieces become a part of our love for these people. Each of the actors playing these parts, leave a stroke of their colour on the bruises these characters carry. The depth in the writing and the uncompromised sincerity in the vision of Zoya Akhtar, culminate into a pulsating beast of a film in Gully Boy.
Sonchiriya is a soul crushing symbol of perennial patriarchy in our society. Abhishek Chaubey‘s earthly gaze at the tyrrany in the rural terrain of Chambal, shakesup the urban, privileged masquerade that we carry. A girl screaming in horror, as the bungalow lit with Diwali diyas is suddenly shot into darkness, by maoists. The camera zooms out as we see this terrorstricken girl trapped in a temple of darkness. Abhishek Chaubey’s direction of this scene left me shook from within like nothing ever has. My eyes closed, unable to face the questioning scream of the girl scarred by the unforgiving dagger of collective misfortune of a society. The experience of watching this film will register in your mind, more than the film itself and that seldom happens, when the film transcends you beyond the moving images on the screen and Chaubey and his team manage to do that.
Ivan Ayr’s restrained representation of woman in the force, is a top-notch attempt at addressing casual sexism in our rotting society. His direction brings in an assuredness to the proceedings as we see Soni, a young police officer living in a society that mirrors her marriage to an entitled man. Soni, the film, explores a beautiful arc of mentorship shaping into a friendship between two women police officers, a subordinate and a superior. Geetika Vidya Ohlyan and Saloni Batra play the roles to perfection. Saloni Batra plays Kalpana, a Cop who is a victim of sexism in the comforts of her home, with poignance and wisdom. The screenplay gives a feeling of Kalpana mentoring Soni and empowering her but we end up seeing two women surrender, finding some solace in each other in an otherwise relentlessly toxic world.
Mallesam – ( on Netflix )
Mallesam rides on the refreshingly original wave of earnestness that most biopics are devoid of. Raj Rachakonda, the director of the film, takes this inspiring tale of invention and discovery and applies a no-nonsense approach to the treatment. Mallesam is the inventor of ‘ Asu ‘ machine which came as a blessing to all saree makers. His astounding invention won him several accolades and Padma Shri. An invention, of which, the genesis was his mother’s plight as constant manual work damaged her arm, is expected to call for a film that will stay honest and sincere to the basic principles od storytelling without the shallow amplification of events and characters. The film maps a heartnening journey of a man’s invention leading to a discovery of the hero in himself.
Super Deluxe – ( on Netflix )
Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Super Deluxe is the most inventive piece of cinema one has seen in India. He coasts along on a spree of originality with narratives driven by controlled lunacy. Super Deluxe is an anthology of lives that are disrupted by a particular incident each in their lives. A husband/father who returns to an eagerly awaiting son and wife, as a Transgender. A wife guilty of infidelity, trying to deal with the death of her boyfriend, along with her husband. A teenager stumbling upon his mother starring in a porn film. A middle-aged man struggles with the idea of faith,as his belief of him being the only survivor of the great Tsunami, is shattered in a brilliant scene as he learns that he wasn’t the only survivor and it was a simple case of coincidence and not a miraculous escape. The writers on the film exhaust all their creative energies in telling these ludicrous, yet insightful stories which culminate into a stunningly philosophical climax that gets your heart throbbing and your mind thinking. The craft in this film adds a distinct flavour to the tone of the film. Like the title suggests, the world created by the director and the team is that of Magic realism, a world that is both magically vibrant and vividly real. Super Deluxe is the most original piece of cinema to come out of India.
Brochevaarevaru Ra – ( on Amazon Prime )
Telugu cinema has produced surprisingly high number of indies this year, each of them pushing the boundaries that have barely been moved in years. Brochevaarevaru Ra tops the list of all those stunning small films as it finds the ever-ellusive middle ground of commerce and art. The Writer-Director Vivek Aathreya hits the sweet spot with an intelligent script sparkled by the freshness of the new-age humour. The film is about a writer in search of a producer for his script and a bunch of purposeless college kids and a girl who’s ambition to dance is extinguished by the societal rigidity of her father. The script follows the story of the writer and these college kids simultaneously and your empathy rests with the protagonists in both cases. In one of the most brilliant screenplay moments, these characters from the two stories come across each other and at this point, the audience is gutted about whom to root for. This is probably the greatest achievement in script writing, where you have left the audience at a crossroads of emotional uncertainty. It is at the back of stupendous writing like this, that Brochevaarevaru Ra qualifies as one of the best films this year.
Virus – ( on Amazon Prime )
A film on the breakout of the deadly Nipah virus is treated like a philosophical tale of kindness and its unforseen repercussions. Virus is a medical procedural on surface, ticking off all the boxes of a good, tightly put-together thriller. The writers and the director diagnose this film with a much deeper social sense. While creating the promised tension of a thriller, they also make sure to explore the complexities of a society that functions in fear. Abu Asif executes the brilliant script with the precision of a surgeon. The editing of the film complements the written material to create an arresting cinematic experience. The performances by Asif Ali and Parvathy are understated and effective. The fact that not a single character can be labeled as a protagonist is a testament to the consistency in writing that is totally in service of the story. The extraordinary screenplay compels you to reconsider the idea of Kindness and its consequences. An act of Kindness causes the havoc and it is the same kindness that compels people to come together in an endeavor to fight this epidemic. This weirdly fascinating symmetry makes this film a lot more than just an airtight thrill ride, which it bloody is.
Ford vs Ferrari
James Mangold has bolstered his career as a filmmaker with a masterful tale of Rivalry and Friendship in Ford vs Ferrari after his excellent stint with the superhero genre in Logan. The story of an iconic rivalry between two of the greatest names in automobiles, Ford and Ferrari is told with a peculiar emotional and cinematic control which Mangold displayed in his earlier films, too. The clarity with which the film is made is astounding. Your racing heart is a testament to the ability of the filmmaker who has crafted the film about a famous brand rivalry into a deeply personal and moving, human drama. Matt Damon and Christian Bale drive the film home with their effective performances. Bale, in particular, shines as a troubled and difficult middle-aged underachiever, whose enormous talent is clouded by his irate persona. The emotional vulnerability Bale imbues into this character and his tender familial interactions add layers to the written part. It is his performance that holds the film together in moments of contemplation and gives the film, the much needed space to breath, before venturing into the heart racing finale. Razor sharp editing, sound design and the cinematography work in incredible harmony to create the climactic invigoration in the audiences. As you see Bale’s character Ken Miles succumb to the goodness within him and cherish the merriment in the moment of emotional victory, singing his happiness out loud, you too, in the cinemas, surrender to the surrealism of the moment and sit back to rejoice a highly satisfying film.
Famously marketed as Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a celebration of Hollywood of the bygone era. Like in everything, Tarantino, goes all the way and throws subtelty out of the window and relishes in his childlike love for Hollywood of the 50s and 60s and its idiosyncrasies. The film is loosely based on the murder of Sharon Tate. The film follows Rick Dalton who was once a star and is clutching at his fast diminishing self confidence and tries to swim out of his insecurity. Cliff Booth, his pal and a long-time body double is his usual drinking partner. In an audacious move, Tarantino completely ignores the part about Manson and Tate and indulges himself in exploring the insecurities of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth’s masculinity, as they drive along brightly lit streets. The irreverent vagueness in the narrative that shifts on will, from a story about the two men to that of Manson family and the massacre that happens is wickedly fascinating. The last few minutes of the film are the craziest moments of cinema. The first time I watched it, I dozed off through some portions of the film but then I woke up, without a worry in the world about narrative or context, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Now that is Tarantino at his best.
Photograph – ( on Amazon Prime )
Rafi played by Nawazuddin is a photographer at the Gateway of India and Miloni played by Sanya Malhotra is a student pursuing CA. Their friendship starts on the basis of a happy accident and both souls, that have otherwise been dormant, are kindled. Ritesh Batra has a unique sense of cinema. His camera is extremely considerate of the actor’s space and emotional privacy. This sensitivity in his direction reflects in the film. After the beautiful Lunchbox, he tells another unusual story of love between a loner, who is a photographer and a student who is an insipid product of her family’s wishes and commands. Evident from the way he uses sounds and the on screen location, one can figure that Ritesh Batra revels in the opportunity to create moments of surrealism. His use of rain and old Hindi songs and black and yellow taxies is incredibly personal and nostalgic. A friendship that starts off as a deal between Miloni, an upper class student pursuing CA and Rafi, a lower class man unable to make ends meet grows and blossoms into a feeling that cannot be dismissed by calling it Love. In the hands of Ritesh Batra, this relationship travels into a space that is untouched by the sameness of Hindi cinema romance.