10 Best Hindi Films of the Decade: 2001 was a landmark year in Indian cinema. Films like Dil Chahta Hai and Lagaan ushered us in a new era of Bollywood. A period that saw the distinction between mainstream and alternative cinema fading. A lot of stars endorsed films that were till then only done by “actors”. There was a lot of experimentation.
With the rise of multiplexes, people found a new set of cinema-goers. Filmmakers and storytellers found the freedom to experiment. The production houses were getting bold enough to back them. An era that started with a disaster called Mela ended with one of the most popular films of the decade, 3 Idiots. It was, as far as I’m concerned, the Golden decade of Bollywood. Its finest since the 60s. This decade promised to be even better. Filmmakers who would have not even dared to meet the superstars were now making films with the biggest names.
A lot of international production houses started investing in India. Then suddenly it crashed. The reasons could be many, films like Bombay Velvet proved to the final nail in the coffin. Even other films with the so-called “European style” filmmakers didn’t do well.
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The ever-reliable Aamir Khan did some good films, but one couldn’t miss the fact that they were all fuelled by commercial considerations. The much-celebrated Dangal had a terrible tearjerker of a climax, so did PK.
Shahrukh tried to do something different but failed in his attempts to balance out the sensibilities of commercial cinema and honest cinema. Fan was a good attempt, but the illogical 2nd half full of pointless chase sequences killed it, Zero was a great concept, but the execution failed.
Yes, we saw the rise of some new stars like Nawaz, Rajkumar Rao or Vicky Kaushal, but to be fair even they built an image. Rajkumar Rao keeps playing the different versions of a common man, he’s either overconfident or stammering. Nawaz for all his attempts to try different things is accepted only when he does those dark roles. Roles where he’s either playing a gangster or a murderer or a pervert. The lines between mainstream and parallel cinema remain blurred. That has only led to the commercialization of even the alternative cinema.
There’s some hope with some decent films doing well, and even mainstream stars like Ranveer Singh and Varun Dhawan supporting something different. But we have regressed in terms of quality of films, and I’m not sure this pattern is changing anytime soon.
Here are my picks for the best 10 films of this decade (its completely subjective, and based on how much impact they had on me).
It is tough for me to chose between them. Thematically similar, powered by brilliant performances and great music, they touched my soul. The films had a flawed screenplay, it was tough to buy into their plots, why would a young girl fall in love with her kidnapper? Why would a woman give a damn about a guy who left her one-day without any information? Why is she so interested in changing him and how does that make him leave his job?
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It might never happen in reality, but somewhere deep inside us, these characters resonated with us. Maybe we won’t behave like them. Most of us won’t even dare chase our dreams. That’s the magic of cinema, in those moments, when you sit in the theatre, you don’t only feel a part of their world, you feel like them. These films made us reflect on our life. They unlocked those feelings of freedom buried deep within us, and in those moments of catharsis, we felt that freedom and that was bliss.
9. Peepli Live
If you ever wish to watch a comedy switch on our news channels. No other film ever made in India captures the reality of Indian TV like this film. When it released some people found it overdramatized. But in the last few years, we have seen our news channels run stories and programs that are even more bizarre and hilarious.
Set against the backdrop of drought, this is one of the most original films to have come from Bollywood. Terrific camerawork, outrageous and hilarious sequences and some top-class performances. In my favorite sequence of the film, a journalist focuses on the shit of Natha who promised to kill himself to find out about his disappearance. Its quirky, eccentric, and one of our finest black comedies.
8. Gangs of Wasseypur 1 and 2
Anurag Kashyap once said that this film has been the curse of his life. No matter what he makes, this film will always remain the benchmark against which all his films will be judged. Inspired by films like City of God and Godfather. The film has gained a cult status over a period. Even though neither parts were box office hits, within a few years all its characters achieved legendary status. The dialogues became a part of everyday language.
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The gratuitous violence, offbeat music, ingenious lyrics, cracking dialogues, a generous sprinkling of Humour, the camerawork, and some of the best-staged sequences made this film an instant classic. It was one of those films where everything fit. It had all the elements of commercial blockbuster, romance, action, comedy, drama, and songs. Amalgamated together in the right amount to deliver a modern Indian classic. Anurag Kashyap’s epic masterpiece is #8 in the list of 10 Best Hindi Films of the Decade.
A lot of people might have liked Motwane’s Udaan more. That film reminded me too much of Leo and De Niro starrer – This Boy’s Life. To be fair even this film reminds me of Oasis, but I enjoyed it. Everything in this film from the costumes to set design transports you to that era. Even if by the end of the first half it comes across as a suspense thriller. The 2nd half is when the film soars.
A romantic film can never work unless both actors have genuine chemistry. Sonakshi Sinha as a girl battling a deadly disease looks her part. She has no reason to love a man who not only betrayed her in love, stole her treasure but also led to her father’s death. Still, she can’t help herself from falling for him again. She plays the role of betrayed, conflicted yet hopelessly in love girl to perfection. Her vulnerability and her inability to let him go is palpable.
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Ranveer Singh carries his burden, for a man who has made a career playing loud animated characters, he plays his part with so much restraint, it’s incredible. They both deliver the performances of their career. Amit Trivedi’s rousing background score just makes everything much more beautiful. Watch the scene when Ranveer is falling from the tree onto the Ice, and in the background, you can hear a song which reads” Qabr par mere sar utha ke khadi ho zindagi aise marna hai mujhe” – Goosebumps.
6. Kapoor and Sons
There are a lot of things we do well in Bollywood, great music, great costumes, sometimes great direction, and great performances. One thing where we don’t do too well is writing Original screenplay. ‘Kapoor and Sons’ directed by Shakun Batra is one of those rare Hindi films that plays out like a well-written novel.
All the main characters get enough time to develop, there are some terrific scenes, my favorite being the scene with the plumber. It’s so well structured that it should be taught in film schools. Batra allows the viewer to first understands the characters, builds them up from scratch, and then slowly peels of layers, uncovering their hidden secrets. Even though its a drama, it works as an edge of a seat thriller, one by one we come to terms with the realities of this dysfunctional family. All the characters deliver award-winning performances. Special mention to Fawad for taking on a character like that at a time when most mainstream actors would have rejected a role like that.
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5. Ankho Dekhi
This film by Rajat Kapoor about a man who isn’t willing to accept anything he hasn’t witnessed himself is hilarious and poetic at the same time. Its a film that forces us to question anything and everything, What is infinity? Why not question it? Why are we ready to believe anything as unquestionable truth based on what society believes to be true?
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Even though some of the sequences are hilarious where he answers with “maybe”, Questions that are known to be facts. The importance of this film lies in its philosophical quest of finding your Truth. A truth that you haven’t learned from the media or the society but a truth that you have lived. Sanjay Mishra is sublime in a role in which he flies. How do you know how does flying feel? Spread your wings and Jump.
4. Ship of Theseus
At no. 4 in the list of 10 Best Hindi Films of the Decade, we have Ship of Theseus. One of the most technically perfect, and philosophically engaging films ever made in India. It’s a film that still makes our best filmmakers envious. Three different stories about three different people merge to complete an incompleteness. All three stories are about characters dealing with their conflicts.
The film raises some very interesting questions, isn’t it terrorism if you’re hurting your own body by giving up on food? Is that violence justified? Is a rich man’s body part more important than a poor man’s body part? Can money buy anything? and the most important, if you replace every part of a system, is that the same thing? Ethereal and captivating long shots, some great performances, and the quixotic philosophies make this one of the most interesting films of this decade.
Directed by Neeraj Ghaywan and screened at Cannes, this festival darling kickstarted the career of the industry’s new blue-eyed boy Vicky Kaushal. Set in the Holy City of Varanasi, it focusses on two different stories dealing with subjects like caste identity and sexual awakening. Varanasi is at the criss-cross of modernity and traditionalism, and through the prism of its protagonists, it dives deep into the reality of youngsters in this city.
Richa plays a girl who wants to have sex with her boyfriend, like many other girls her age, but it leads to the tragic death of her lover. She and her father have to face humiliation and intimidation by the upper caste police. Vicky and Shweta are a young couple, in love but from a different caste. The anger and the embarrassment visible in Vicky’s eyes as he informs her of his status is heartbreaking.
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It shows us that even though India has reached the 21st century, there are still areas in this same nation where caste discrimination is a massive issue. Cities where young girls still can be tainted for life for having sex outside marriage. Varun Grover’s lyrics and his writing are the high points of this drama. “Tu Kisi Rail Si Guzarti hai, Main Kisi Pul Sa Thartharata Hoon”, Indian cinema is blessed to have such artists in our country. Masaan takes the 3rd spot in the list of 10 Best Hindi Films of the Decade.
2. Love Sex Aur Dhoka (LSD)
When I first saw this film I loved it so much that I saw it again as soon as I finished watching it the first time. How many times do you see an Indian film working magic through its lens? A rare film that realizes that more than storytelling, cinema is a visual medium and that’s what drives the audience to the theatre. The film focusses on every minute visual detail. A rich man watches a lecherous dance, the camera focusses on her breasts to make us feel his perversion.
The brother murders his sister and her lover alive. The use of black and white hand-held camera not only gives us a suffocating feeling, but it also makes the brother look demonic. The beauty of LSD lies in its atmospheric, throughout the film, it feels like you’re stuck in a shady prison while someone is watching you. The extreme close-up shots, the neon lighting, and those lecherous dialogues ensure a creepy experience.
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Dibakar Banerjee wants you to feel his characters asphyxiation. He wants to make you uncomfortable and he succeeds. The way he uses multiple storylines that eventually connect reminded me of Tarantino. The writing is like a roller coaster ride, at one moment there’s a hilarious sequence, the next moment is harrowing. Dibakar also deserves credit for getting out completely natural performance from all his characters, it is raw and unrehearsed which makes us even more uncomfortable. – The name makes perfect sense, as this film is nothing less than an LSD Trip.
At no. 1 in the list of 10 Best Hindi Films of the Decade, we have Haider. Adaptations are never easy, most of the time the makers either end up imitating the original story or make a mess of it. In India adapted screenplay is restricted to epics like Ramayana. Vishal is an auteur and Haider is the final tale of his Shakespeare trilogy. His boldest and most provocative film ever, especially at a time when everything about Kashmir leads to a polarising reaction. The film comes as close to being Politically incorrect as possible, it condemns AFSPA and shows the plight of ordinary Kashmiri.
While we are no one to judge those facts, he deserves credit for his unflinching vision in his depiction of the miseries of state. It’s not just bold for allowing a writer like Basharat Peer to be associated with the film, it’s also bold in its depiction of relationships. The scenes between Shahid and Tabu are the high points of the films. There’s a hint of sexual tension between them, but its never fully explored leaving it to the viewer’s discretion.
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The performances are all terrific. Kay-Kay as the calculated “Baaz” is brilliant, Irrfan Khan makes an impression as “Rooh”, but at the end of the day this film belongs to two people – the “Zeher Khubsurat” Tabu and Shahid Kapoor who channels his inner De Niro to deliver an unhinged performance that will define his career.
Honorable Mentions not among the 10 Best Hindi Films of the Decade:
Mukti Bhawan, Delhi Belly, Lunchbox, NH10, Piku, Pataakha, Ugly, Dhobi Ghaat, Tumbbad, Newton, October, Andhadhun, Dedh Ishqiya.