10 Most Underrated Hindi Films of the Decade 2000s: The decade of 2000s brought in a very prominent paradigm shift in the Hindi cinema. The language of cinema changed with Dil Chahta Hai, the magnitude of movies became ambitious with Devdas, romance turned relatable with Jab We Met, patriotism had a new meaning with Chak De India, and kindness was the new cool with Munnabhai MBBS. We also got introduced to the twisted, dark mind of Vishal Bharadwaj and Anurag Kashyap. Whatever the fruits of a more evolved and tolerant cinema we are bearing right now, are the results of seeds sown in the 2000s. Apart from these apparent, many celebrated movies, there’re some hidden gems in a lost treasure chest, lying on the sea bed of that decade.
These films ought to have much more appreciation from the Indian audience than they got during the time of their release. Here’s the list of the 10 most underrated, must-watch Hindi movies of the 2000s decade. Not in chronological order, but it’s fun to keep the guessing game alive. So let’s go backward.
10. Pinjar (2003)
Amrita Pritam’s contribution to Indian literature is illimitable. She had extremely individualistic and candid stances on fatigued social expectations and traditions. Many tried to puncture her will but she never wavered from her chosen path. Amrita Pritam was not just a poet or an author; she was the quintessence of feminism.
Pinjar (The Skeleton) is one of her most celebrated novels, which penetrated the mass platform by Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi with a film of the same name. Dwivedi is widely recognized with his TV show Chanakya, back in the 90s. He entered the big screen with the adaptation of Pinjar. Set in the backdrop of the holocaust of 1947, the film revolves around Puro, a Hindu Punjabi woman, who is abducted by a Muslim man, Rashid. The abduction was rooted in an old vengeance, which survived a generation.
The film abbreviates the silent anguish of women. In the conformist milieu, these women remained perpetually wrecked and displaced. But make no mistake by labeling the film irrelevant in the contemporary world. The atrocious verity of a woman’s virginity is coupled with a man’s honor, still lingers on. We still blame the rape survivors and exile them. Puro was rejected and disowned by her own family after her profane abduction. She concedes with her reality and wastes away. She is becoming a pinjar (skeleton), tangible but air-headed.
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Pinjar delineates Hindus and Muslims in the same token. Or at least attempts to. Neither is vilified or valorized. So Rashid is a person, not a character. In short, he is the antidote of Khilji from Padmaavat (2018).
Urmila Matondkar struggles with Puro. She could never find her spirit and strays to obscurity on-screen. Urmila needed a better director, or perhaps Dwivedi deserved a finer actress. Manoj Bajpai, on the other hand, owns Rashid. He injects so much compassion in Rashid that you end up rooting for him.
Pinjar, is an ambitious film, with scale and sweep. The true chevalier of the film is the art director, Muneesh Sappel. His painstaking, intricate research silently exalts the authenticity of the film. But all the sweat and effort is undersized by the lack of a cohesive screenplay. What could have been a great film gets reduced to a worthy watch.
Even with all its vices, the film pierces, largely because of its source material. This is definitely one of the most underrated Hindi movies of the 2000s.
Watch Pinjar Online on Zee5
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9. 15 Park Avenue (2005)
Aparna Sen is everything you’d expect from a Bengali director. Conceited, eccentric, sharp, and highly urbane in their approach towards cinema. So it’s no surprise that 15 Park Avenue is her creation. The film orbits around Meethi, whose husband and five children are waiting for her at their house, 15 Park Avenue, while she fervently tries to find that address. The only snag here is that Meethi is schizophrenic. There’s a world within a world here, though her family and friends are also as supportive as they can be. As you get more and more sucked into her world, the thread between the accepted concept and the scientific explanation of Schizophrenia gradually melts into a smudge. A cruel, horrific gang rape triggers Meethi’s hitherto dormant schizophrenia and the film explodes en masse.
Aparna Sen is more in command here than the preceding Mr. & Mrs. Iyer (2002). She has sprinkled dry, black humor through the film. If you dare to laugh, there’s adequate wit in the darkest corners of the film. She submerges the audience with such compelling manipulation that Meethi comes across as the only unified character in the film. All her decisions are reasoned. Sen has managed to capture the human dynamics in all its abstinence and vulnerability. The sincerity of the screenplay is unmistakable. Performances penetrate.
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But, 15 Park Avenue, is not without its lacunae. It’s a very verbose script, dialogues are bookish and repetitive, almost annoying. Also, the film struggles with a leisurely pace. The latter half of the film largely spends its time with Freudian scrutiny, which frustratingly tests your patience. However, even with the trifling offering of the plot, the film makes bleeding cuts in your sensibility.
The film is the reverse of A Beautiful Mind (2001) in an odd way. Both deal with all-consuming schizophrenia. But while A Beautiful Mind travels through a schizophrenic mind, 15 Park Avenue is the liberation of that mind. In an interview, Sen said that she has seen and dealt with the disease at a very close quarter, and it’s palpable. The staunch realism and loyalty to the disease in the film are unnerving.
The uncomfortable ending of the film doesn’t lead to a conclusion. It leaves the film at low ebb.
Watch 15 Park Avenue Online on Dailymotion
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8. Frozen (2007)
Frozen is a story told in an unusual language. The film is shot in black and white, and surprisingly you don’t miss the multi-hued reality. The film was shot in Leh, Ladakh, at a height of 15,000 feet, in minus degree temperatures. Such unsparing terrain can confound reality and the film depicts that beautifully. The uncertainty of simultaneously existing, and emotionally exhausted characters is the core of the film.
Debutant director Shivajee Chandrabhushan was a still-photographer, and Frozen is a testament of that. The film effortlessly achieves a visual opulence with scintillating frames. Cinematographer Shanker Raman is a revelation. The magnanimity of the mountains, snow chaperoned curvaceous roads, and brutal void of nothingness has been magnificently captured by his lens. Raman deservingly won the National Award for his work in the film.
Frozen, revolves around a family of three. The father is poor, caring, protective, and optimistic while carrying past grief. The daughter is an annoying rebel without a cause. Though there’s a cause, it reaches out to the audience a bit too late. There’s also a younger brother who’s either bullied by the sister or ignored by the father. Their harmless, oddly comfortable lives are disrupted when the army settles a hundred yards across their doorstep. There’s also a subplot that seems right out of the 80s Hindi cinema, where an evil moneylender is lusting after the young daughter of the insolvent father.
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Danny Denzogpa excels as the father with his intensity. Debutant Gauri Kulkarni plays the daughter and is frustratingly mediocre. And Skalzang Angchuk as the little brother deliciously exudes a restrained charm. The rest of the cast remains first-rate.
The wayward progression of Frozen gives it the twilight feel. And its ambiguous ending might be appealing too. The film brags an efficient execution of lyricism. Though hopeful, it remains a saga of the damned.
Frozen, is stunted by its lumpish script and pretentious screenplay. Astonishing frames and jaw-dropping aesthetics eventually feel gimmicky and calculated. The two-hour film registers doubly long. The monochrome tool is far more dexterously used in Rituparno Ghosh’s Bengali film Dosar (2006). The abstruse emotional conflict of the script beautifully complimented the black and white hue. But in Frozen, after a point, it feels ostentatious. However, it still manages to hypnotize the audience with its beauty. The film deserves to be seen and appreciated for the efforts, and for a singular cinematic fabric.
Watch Frozen Online on Vimeo
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7. Gaja Gamini (2000)
Before I even launch into my conversation about it, let me clarify, Gaja Gamini is not a film. It’s an experience. It’s an extremely divisive piece of art that you’ll either fall in love or detest (the latter for most). There’s no story to trace here. No hero, no heroine, no plot, no start, middle, or end. But, in an eccentric way, you’ll find each aforementioned aspect, and form of a film.
Gaja Gamini (One With A Walk Like An Elephant) is an homage to a magnificent muse from a genius artist. And wherefore, he narrates the story of a woman who has been an inspiration, a tease, a mother, a lover, a rebel, and an intelligent, commanding entity. The film is amaranthine in its structure. Timelines coalesce to pull the audience into this thick haze of perplexity. The theatrical narrative adds to the abstract virtue of the film. It is a moving painting with each frame, open to exposition. The film is an alternative reality.
Director Maqbool Fida Husain was trying to write a new language for cinema through Gaja Gamini. He was doing it for his muse, his inspiration – Madhuri Dixit. If there’s any actor in Indian cinema, who can turn the most bizarre experience discernible with a stunning smile, it is Madhuri Dixit. She is challenging sunshine here with her radiance. But I highly doubt, even she deciphered the language Husain was trying to carve with the film.
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The inherent symbolisms the film has can be really overwhelming for an average cinemagoer. You keep wondering what on earth is going on. In one of most elaborate dance pieces on screen, dressed in pristine white, Madhuri’s Sangeeta is consecutively making love to a white Cello and a white dholak! Yeah, you can read it again. There’s no reference to this film. It’s frustratingly unique and unprecedented.
The film boasts an assemblage of some of the most talented actors of Indian cinema. Madhuri Dixit is joined by Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Ashish Vidyarthi, Mohan Agashe, Farida Jalal, and Shah Rukh Khan among others. And it’s axiomatic that they all joined Husain Saab’s passion project out of respect more than a compelling script. Because the latter is missing in totality.
You might not know what exactly is happening but instinctively and intuitively, you know everything. If not for the experience, watch it for Madhuri, and for the most gracious dance moves on the screen, ever. But with the right expectations. It’s brilliantly bizarre.
Gaja Gamini is one of the most under-seen and underrated movies of Indian Cinema and the 2000s decade.
Watch Gaja Gamini on YouTube
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6. Firaaq (2008)
Firaaq (Separation) is set in the aftermath of the sectarian carnage that traumatized India in the state of Gujarat in 2002. Over two thousand Muslim and Hindu lives were lost. The film commences by stating it is based on “a thousand true stories” and follows the group narrative structure, intertwining multiple stories. These stories come from speckled genders, religions, social strata, and ages. Into all this, meanders a small boy who has witnessed the killing of the rest of his family, and now is in search of his father.
Firaaq, means both, separation & quest in Arabic, and there couldn’t be a better title for the film. Directed by the gorgeous Nandita Das, her commitment to secularism is evident in each frame. Firaaq, takes place over a period of 24-hours and we get to meet various characters, coping with the repercussion of this heinous violence.
A young Muslim couple (played by the marvelous Shahana Goswami & Nawazuddin Siddiqui) with a baby come back to their home, gutted by fire. A Hindu housewife (in one of the career best performances by Deepti Naval) is hauling her guilt because she failed to open her door to a frantic Muslim woman during the riots. A couple (played by Sanjay Suri & Tisca Chopra) in a mixed marriage is questioning their identities & consequently, the dynamics of their relationship. And an aged musician (always reliable Naseeruddin Shah) who is unable to subscribe to and comprehend the unrest happening around him.
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Firaaq is about humanity, and how it was ripped apart by communal violence. The film pursues people whose inner and outer lives are irretrievably altered after the unspeakable bloodshed. As Issac Asimov once said, “violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”. The film gives voice to the silent. It tries to sing hope for better times. There’s light beyond darkness in this film.
Even though the film is about personal conflicts it also shows that we cannot live is isolation. Hence, the context becomes imperative. Automatically, Firaaq is soaked in politics. The more you scratch the surface, you see so much of resentment, prejudice, apprehension, and divide.
Though bumpy, Das manages to remain evenhanded in most parts. Firaaq opens with one of the most powerful opening sequences of cinema. It’s a shame that characters stay underdeveloped, and sporadically, film overcomplicates the subject matter. But, Das, illustrates sanguinity from diverse narrative settings. Firaaq is one of the most underrated Hindi films of the 2000s decade.
Watch Firaaq Online on Zee5
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5. Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon (2003)
The one word that can describe Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon (I Want To Be Madhuri Dixit) is – Charming. With untainted honesty in its storytelling, the film is all heart. Debutant director Chandan Arora assembles the film with the least swank and a modest vision. He gives his film an alluring visual eminence with minimalism.
MMDBCH, is a tender tale of Chutki, an obsessed fan of the hypnotizing Madhuri Dixit. She doesn’t want to be like her; rather she wants to be her. Her Madhuri-esque dance performances make her massively popular in her small town and the encouragement from her childhood friend, Raja, persuades her to dare to dream big. She gets into a marriage of convenience with Raja, just to reach Mumbai because no one would have allowed her to embark upon her journey alone. Raja is so hopelessly in love with her, that he doesn’t mind being used. Even though Chutki is scarcely aware of his feelings, we never really see her acknowledging them, for the majority of the film. The script changes gears as soon as the couple reaches Mumbai.
Arora caresses multiple curves with MMDBCH, which are well into the familiar territory of Indian cinema. The dynamics of the village against the city; the naiveté of villagers contesting the infernal humiliation by the city, and many more. But the director cleverly abdicates the banality of the structure with humor and a strong emotional anchor.
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Raja is unlike any leading man you’ve seen before in Hindi movies. He is unremittingly supportive of Chutki and believes in her even when she herself doesn’t. He is intuitive yet not intruding. And honestly, we don’t deserve Rajpal Yadav. He infuses such modulations to Raja that you forget its Chutki’s story, not his. Conversely, Chutki is so engulfed by the 90s screen Goddess, and her desperation to rise above her ordinary existence that she turns egomaniacal. Well, almost. This is Antara Mali’s Queen (2014) but she collapses. Not that the efforts are concealed. From dance moves to expressions, her Madhuri-ness is immaculate. It’s the essence of Chutki that she misses by a mile.
MMDBCH is one of the sporadic mainstream Hindi films which render the movie industry without glamorizing or assessing it. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Guddi (1971) before it and Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance (2009) subsequently, are the only titles that come to mind in this context. Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon is the most feel-good film on this list.
Watch Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon on YouTube
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4. Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara (2005)
It takes a Dunkirk spirit to break the norms set by makers of formula-ridden Hindi cinema. And it takes a 12-time National Award winner, regional director Jahnu Barua to do it. Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara (I Did Not Kill Gandhi) is about the tribulations we need to fight, which are manifested from the medical crisis. The primary thesis of the film is the question of reality. What is reality? Is it subjective? And can we actually control our reality? The film is an attempt to decode the inexplicable.
Barua fabricates the film with artistic interventions but not without commercial fiber. MGKNM, chronicles the life of a retired professor, Uttam Chaudhary, who is suffering from dementia. His downward spiral is triggered off by a cup of tea is placed on a newspaper with a picture of Mahatma Gandhi on it. He starts to blame himself for accidentally killing Gandhi in 1948. It is also a tale of a daughter, Trisha, who has been inevitably thrown into a vortex to fight a lost battle.
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But what gives MGKNM a multilayered texture is the hidden vein which comments on the erosion of Gandhian ideologies in contemporary India. Remember, this was a year prior to Lage Raho Munna Bhai, and Barua has been living with the idea 10 years before actually realizing it.
Anupam Kher is Professor Chaudhary. The syntax of his restrained and fragile performance reverberates with the exceptional Manoj Bajpai in the haunting Aligarh (2015). The skilled and dexterous Kher gives composite tangents to Chaudhry. Self-admittedly, he outshines his performance in Saaransh (1984) with this one. Urmila Matondkar plays the daughter, Trisha. She brings forth the upheaval of a helpless daughter, trying to save her trembling world. Urmila embodies the rhapsodies and pains of Trisha with shooting maturity.
The affection and melancholy of MGKNM might remind you of Richard Eyre’s Iris (2001), which deals with a similar crisis but dives into the dynamics of a husband & wife, instead of a father & daughter. Raaj Chakravarthy’s impeccable cinematography and Bappi Lahiri’s tender background score deserves to be seen and heard respectively. The sincerity with which Barua deals the disease is endearing.
Do yourself a favor and please watch one of the most underrated movies of Hindi cinema in the 2000s decade.
Plunging emotional cuts of Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara will take time to heal.
Watch Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara on Google Play
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3. Zubeidaa (2001)
Shyam Benegal’s decision to cast Karisma Kapoor in the titular role in this 2001 release, highly underrated Hindi film, was truly a leap of faith. After all, Karisma is largely remembered for matching steps with Govinda. She ruled the commercial terrain of the Hindi cinema for quite a few years. But you don’t question God’s judgment. You know it’ll be rewarding. There’s Karisma, in a Shyam Benegal film, not Shabana or Smita. That doesn’t change anything. His cinema is still trailblazing.
Zubeidaa is about shadows. Shadows of rejection, shadows of jealousy, shadows of heartbreak, and shadows of doomed relationships. Zubeidaa closes the book that commenced its first chapter with Mammo (1994) and turned pages with Sardari Begum in 1996. The film is based on the life of the forlorn actress Zubeida Begum, mother of Khalid Mohamed, who is also the film’s writer & a famous critic.
She is a woman who confronts life and is brave enough to wrestle it too. She is intense and driven by a passion that will exhaust you. There’s an invisible stream that runs beneath the surface throughout the film. That stream mutely tells the audience of the barrenness of Zubeidaa’s passion. You don’t know what life holds for her, and this uncertainty is heartbreaking. But intuitively you’re certain that her zeal is eventually going to burn out, and in this story, it literally does.
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Zubeidaa seeks love and the moment she gets a foretaste from Maharaja Vijayendra Singh (Manoj Bajpai), she clasps tight on to it till it bleeds. She’s ready to commit, undeterred by his happy marriage which involves two kids too. Zubeidaa is not unacquainted with her surroundings either, she’s rather lucidly aware. She’s just a baffled woman who is in pursuit of happiness and acceptance. Mr. Benegal never allows us to judge her.
All the worldly possessions and material comforts colligate with Zubeidaa’s turmoil. Whenever there’re rich and influential people, struggling with their affluent lives on screen, there’s an immediate emotional divorce with the audience. Whether it is Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) or Veere Di Wedding (2018) or even Masaba Masaba (2020) more recently, the emotional investment is always depleting. But Zubeidaa, with all its opulence and wealth, stabs your heart with its sharp poignancy. This is Shyam Benegal’s magic.
I’ll not even try to comment on the performances by the cast, led by Karisma Kapoor, Rekha, and Manoj Bajpai. Words might judge them. Not only is the film, but, Zubeidaa’s music is also extremely underrated. One of AR Rahman’s best albums, tunes like “Mehendi Hai Rachnewali”, “DheemeDheeme”, “Hai Na” and “So Gaye Hain” are going to haunt you forever.
Zubeidaa is a fairy tale that was not.
Watch Zubeidaa on YouTube
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2. Parzania (2007)
Rahul Dholakia’s Parzania (Heaven & Hell On Earth) is some sort of a prequel to Firaaq (also included in this list) so to say. While Firaaq was a corollary of the horrific Gujarat violence, Parzania is a concomitant of it. Right from the anticipation of the actual event, the audience is exposed to every brutal, grisly detail of the butchery.
Parzania, is inexorably horrendous. The film is about a Parsi couple in Ahmedabad, who lose their 10-year-old son, post-Godhra communal riots of 2002. And being based on a true story, just adds to the devastation. The director’s friend’s son, Azhar Mody, went missing after the Gulbarg Society massacre which left 69 people dead. This personal loss had laden Rahul with remorse, more so because it happened in his home state. He was compelled to speak up, and he gave us Parzania. Simply put, Parzania, is a film that should be seen. Some stories are just too powerful and essential to tell and this is it.
Acting was in the safe hands of veterans like Naseeruddin Shah & Sarika, among others. And if I could dare to say, Sarika categorically outshines Naseeruddin Shah here. Her solemn climactic address is actually the attestation of the entire film and she doesn’t miss a single beat. Sarika’s unfeigned performance stirred up overwhelming praise from audiences and critics alike. She even won the National Award for the film.
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Using a neutral perspective of an American character to haul the director’s personal and critical commentary is a coup de maître! Because any Indian character doing the same; would have faced the allegations of momentous bias.
It’s a shame that Parzania never got released in Gujarat. Theatre owners refused to touch the film, fearing the backlash. Though you cannot really blame them, considering the ghastly violence of 2002 was allegedly sponsored by the State. And Dholakia is very direct in condemning that fact. The film’s message is with limpid clarity, which perforates deep. Parzania is a very difficult film to quit.
Watch Parzania Online on Disney+ Hotstar
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1. Matrubhoomi (2003)
Matrubhoomi (Motherland) is an admonition, a powerful epiphany to the world so close to us. It’s a cursor to the barbarity skulking beneath the facade of calm. It’s a world where men rule kingdoms and women are mere help. Director Manish Jha got the idea of the film from an article which focuses on an existing village in Gujarat which was (or still is?) so deficient of females that men started to buy girls from distant villages to marry.
The film explores gender disparity, which results in fraternal polyandry, bride buying, and rape. We’re transported to the future in an Indian village in Bihar. The village is exclusively colonized by males due to female infanticide over the years. A father, though caring, sells off his only daughter to a family of 6 men from a nearby village for marriage. 5 brothers marry the girl while their father looks on. Hereon, the film is an unabated extract on sexual terror. Manish escorts this mayhem with creepy objectivity. He seems very calm and in control of the horror. Performances hold.
Many international critics mirrored the ferocity and authenticity of Matrubhoomi with Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen (1994), calling them both, equally edgy and provocative. Jha’s menacing vision scans the disturbing and psychological brunt of a society with no women. His relentless, brutally honest depiction of sexual violence might alienate a certain section of viewers completely. You might want to look away and walk off.
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Apart from the apparent symbolism of Draupadi and her five Pandavas, the film also refers to Kalki, Vishnu’s tenth incarnation who would end the Kalyug. Tulip Joshi plays Kalki, the film’s only female character, who has been subjected to monstrous atrocities of men. Would she be the end of them? Let’s keep hopes floating.
Jha has also written the script of his debut feature film, which subsequently transgresses into this redundant account of misogynistic perversion. You’ll eventually start questioning the motive. But the film’s message is angry and sincere and deserves to be heard. If it arrests you enough to not bore you, Matrubhoomi is categorically going to filch your smile for a long time. The film was in TIME Magazine’s Top 10 Best Films of the World list in 2003.
Matrubhoomi is not entertainment. Matrubhoomi is a nation without women. Matrubhoomi is devastatingly underrated and underseen.