10 most impactful Bollywood films of 2019


10 most impactful Bollywood films of 2019

Published: Thu 26 Dec 2019, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Jan 2020, 8:07 AM

The year's about to end on a buoyant note. Commercially, there have been over a dozen cushy cash-earners, with War, Kabir Singh, Bharat, Mission Mangal and Uri topping the list. The Christmas release - Dabangg 3 - is expected to make whoopee as well, courtesy Salman Khan.
Going strictly by that good ole criterion called 'quality', though, 2019 has been a year of slim pickings. While indie cinema, which addresses unconventional themes and displays technical chutzpah - never mind the lean budgets - continues to thrive in other regions, Hindi cinema couldn't yield too many surprises on the theatrical circuit this year. Still described as 'arthouse' films, they may have made an impact on the international film festival circuit and on streaming channels, but that's it. The indie cinema movement in Mumbai, alas, has been on a slow fade-out.
Be that as it may, here's the annual round-up, wherein I list my top 10 favourites of 2019 - in order of merit - derived largely from the confines of the mainstream Bollywood monolith. You may or may not agree...
Here was a gender-bender romedy that was laugh-out-loud uproarious. Entertaining and thought-provoking (a rare combo, believe me), director Raaj Shaandilyaa showcased the current flavour of the season Ayushmann Khurrana as a hapless young graduate with a talent for mimicking female voices at a small town's call centre. Quite smartly, the sub-text of the need for secularism was weaved into the consistently humorous screenplay. Both Khurrana and Annu Kapoor, as his widowed father, delivered good performances.
Cut to a rare independently-realised film that studied the unrest in strife-torn Kashmir through the eyes of a knee-high boy (sensitively performed by child actor Talha Arshad Reshi), who's hoping against hope that his missing father will return home some day. In his quest, he tries to reach out to divine forces to answer his prayers. Beautifully directed by Aijaz Khan, here was a little gem that was critically applauded, besides winning the National Awards for Best Child Actor and Best Urdu Film of the Year.
Culled from the real life stories of rappers Divine and Naezy, director Zoya Akhtar was in terrific form, venturing into the underbelly of a slum colony to focus on a Muslim youngster whose dream is to write and sing rap and hip hop songs. Ranveer Singh was gratifyingly restrained, reliably supported by Alia Bhatt as his beyond-possessive beloved, and by the impressive Siddhant Chaturvedi as his buddy. One reservation: quite a few plot situations seemed to be brazenly borrowed from Hollywood's biopic on Eminem, 8 Miles.
Again bulwarked by real-life events, this behind-the-scenes dekko at the anxieties endured by scientists of Indian Space Research Organisation who worked on the Mars Orbiter Mission, the nation's first interplanetary expedition, was rivetingly narrated by director Jagan Shakti. Although the star-cast was dominated by Akshay Kumar, the female acting crew comprising Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu and Sonakshi Sinha also made their presence felt - especially Balan, as a housewife dealing simultaneously with her domestic and professional duties diligently. In fact, her showstopper performance was the most underrated one of the year.
Hrithik Roshan was the pièce de résistance in this biopic of the Patna-based mathematician, Anand Kumar, who earned worldwide fame by initiating coaching classes for underprivileged students. Eschewing glamour in favour of realism, Hrithik's role was a difficult one that he succeeded in carrying out with conviction. Director Vikas Bahl fluctuated from competent to slipshod, particularly towards the finale. Yet, undeniably the big-budget production wore its social reformist card on its sleeve. Overall, here was a relatively earnest effort from the big Bollywood factory.
Vasan Bala's modern fable zoomed into the misadventures of a boy who suffers from the disorder of 'congenital insensitivity to pain'. Weaned on martial arts movies, he grows up to encounter a gallery of (at times, far-fetched) characters. A spoof of sorts on superhero films, the visuals were grungy and the action of the bone-breaking variety. Though a film festival hit, it was too 'weird' for the masses. Unfortunately, the likeable performance by debutant Abhimanyu Dassani - son of the Maine Pyaar Kiya heroine Bhagyashree - went right through the cracks. He deserves a second chance.
The ubiquitous Ayushmann Khurrana slipped effortlessly into the skin of a small-town man, who balds prematurely. Directed by Amar Kaushik, the saucy satire sniped at the societal attitudes towards balding and also tackled skin colour prejudice. Released on the heels of a controversy (it was alleged that the story idea was heisted from a film called Ujda Chaman, also released this year, but featuring lesser-known actors), the Khurrana version attracted 'housefull' shows, thanks to his star power, backed by Bhumi Pednekar and Yami Gautam. Quite a harebrained date flick this, ideal with caramel popcorn.
This war drama, which struck up nationalist fervour, coined the catchphrase "How's the josh!". Whatever its well-timed political agenda may have been, Aditya Dhar's technically-competent direction ensured tension-crammed combats with an emotional wallop. Vicky Kaushal, in the role of Major Vihaan Singh Shergill, achieved a major hit, placing him among the power list of the Bollywood hierarchy, where the natural-born actor deserves to be.
A sequel to the 2014 Mardaani, in which a fearless woman police officer, Shivani Roy, demolished a child racket, Rani Mukerji reprised her role here, taking off on a hunt for a fiendish serial killer in Kota, Rajasthan. The screenplay was punctuated with sermons, and the direction by Gopi Puthran was just about adequate. Yet, Rani Mukerji and Vishal Jethwa, as the psychotic killer, kept you engrossed throughout this compact 100-minute cops-versus-crime thriller.
Director Nitesh Tiwari, widely lauded for Dangal (2016), reunited a group of college friends who exchange bittersweet notes about how the years between 1992 to the present-day altered them for better or worse. Manipulative of the viewer's tear-ducts, the ensemble endeavour - led by Sushant Singh Rajput, Shraddha Kapoor and Varun Sharma - echoed the message of 3 Idiots (2009) that students should be allowed, without parental interference, to make their own career choices.
Now on to 2020 then, with a wish that Bollywood stays robustly well and kicking.


Khalid Mohamed

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