The fact that I have always managed to make a top 10 list for even the most senseless years in Hindi cinema goes to show just how awful 2021 was. Bollywood cinema, in particular, had gotten rotten long back. But it was the little films that almost always managed to seep through the cracks and came out victorious that I looked forward to. Sadly, in 2021, only the quantity of Hindi movies increased. The quality deteriorated to such new lows, that I had to cut down my top 10 into a top 6, exclusively for this year.
To sum it up, the art of movies has now become what the internet proclaims it to be. Due to the advent of OTT platforms in the country, movies have now become ‘content.’ They look and feel like they are made for television and the lack of effort put by a team shows up with every passing second.
To add to that misery, 2021 saw some of the most regressive and propaganda-inducing films wrapped in the guise of cinema. These jingoistic, chest-thumping pieces of bullshit were adored, only to prove that people are always looking for escape and entertainment in their movies.
Anyhow, these 6 Hindi movies of 2021 somehow managed to leave a mark:
6. Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi
In light of the small-town comedies that have populated the Hindi film industry as of late, Seema Pahwa’s directorial debut is one of the two movies that plays out around a funeral. After the death of the family patriarch Ramprasad, his family, and the extended family gather in his wife’s old rustic home that is now full of memories and emptiness.
With a dysfunctional family narrative that sometimes doesn’t know how to get used to its dysfunctionality, the film looks at familiar spaces to bring home themes like growing up, finding wings, and learning to live with things that once mattered to us the most. While it doesn’t always hit the mark, watching this magnificent ensemble give their own respective characters a unique twitch is still a treat to witness.
Watch Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi on Netflix
The other funeral film on this list is Umesh Bisht’s Pagglait. While it also works at similar themes of grief and emptiness, it takes a more personal hook towards it. Here, Sanya Malhotra stars as Sandhya Giri; a recently widowed woman who is unable to grieve the loss of her husband.
Looking at the filmmakers’ restrictive filmography, the only other film he has made being the incredibly juvenile “O Teri,” Pagglait feels like a more subtle and frankly more stable narrative. Thanks to Malhotra’s dedicated performance, the quirky beats eventually turn into a movie about how a woman, even in her most unhinged state, is never free to make her own decisions in the society we live in. There are of course blatant flaws and the character motivations needed to be tighter than they are, but that would be asking too much from it.
Watch Pagglait on Netflix
Pretty much like his debut film Newton, Amit Masurkar’s Sherni is about a government divisional officer trying to do her job with honesty, while the system rots from the inside. This time moving his investigative lens to the jungles of Madhya Pradesh, and dumbing down his black comedy for a more astute and realistic approach, Masurkar’s film satirizes Indian bureaucracy to an extent where it no more sounds laughable.
Addressing environmental degradation with a backdrop of a woman trapped in a man’s world, this Man vs Animal tale subtly blurs the line. With a dedicated performance from Balan as Vidya Vincent, Sherni only scratches the surface of what it wishes to, but, at least it leaves a mark of its presence.
Watch Sherni on Prime Video
Related to Best Hindi Movies of 2021 – Sherni (2021) Review: A Muted Vidya Balan Roar
3. Sandeep aur Pinky Faraar
Dibakar Banerjee’s Sandeep of Pinky Faraar is so obstinately familiar to the man-and-woman on the run narrative that it’s possible that you might not register how potent and brilliantly crafted it actually is.
Playing a suspended police officer trying to get his job back, the muted acting abilities of Arjun Kapoor work for his character. Similarly Chopra, who plays Sandeep (in a sharp gender-role critique), isn’t the most likable of women characters we usually see. And yet, Banerjee takes their mediocrity as actors, to weave a layered look at machoism and masculinity. All the while also cleverly looking at the various class divisions in the country, and how corruption has ambushed into the very soul of each of them.
Watch Sandeep aur Pinky Faraar on Prime Video
Similar to Best Hindi Movies of 2021 – Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar  Review – A Clever Thriller of Dual Motive
2. Meel Patthar
Meel Patthar (also known as Milestone) is a story about a driver. Let that sink in, and look back at any other stories that are about the life of a simple driver. The results will baffle you. Anyhow, the drier in question here is named Ghalib (played effortlessly by Suvinder Pal Vicky), poetically named to replicate the harshness of the environment he lives in and the fate his grief has brought upon him.
Director Ivan Ayr’s film feels like it is only an extension of his fantastic debut film ‘Soni,’ which also looked at people trapped in a life that they simply can’t find a hold on. The existential dilemmas that his characters face are aggravated in Meel Pathar, so much so that it manifests into Ghalib’s body and starts affecting the wounds that he can’t see. Taking a stark look at the working class, Ayr has made a film whose politics feels urgent and extremely personal.
Watch Meel Patthar on Netflix
Related to Best Hindi Movies of 2021 – Milestone  Netflix Review – Harsh and humane, Ivan Ayr’s film richly mines inner desolation
1. Sardar Udham
Shot with the precision of a glorious Cold War epic, Shoojit Sircar’s Sardar Udham is an essential freedom-fighter film that denies being just that. Instead, it uses a non-linear narrative and a mammoth runtime of 162 minutes to intercut a character and his approach to his own humanity with that of collective agony and tragedy faced by a nation.
Vicky Kaushal plays Udham Singh with a morose precision. Sircar, on the other hand, paints a vivid picture of oppression and imperialism. Setting his tale in a way that the revenge at its center is used as a basic plot point, Sircar gives us a palpable political context that feels like an extension of contemporary issues. One can easily draw parallels to everything wrong with the current government or any powerful body that chooses control over basic human rights. Thereby making this story a blueprint to understand how tactical measures of dividing people are used to constantly exploit a nation and its citizens.