2019 has been a strange year for Indian films, especially Bollywood movies. Zoya Akhtar and Ranveer Singh’s ‘Gully Boy‘, much raved about, was a missed opportunity. It left me cold by the time end credits rolled. The subtle and understated narrative in the first act feels compromised by the last two, as if to please the crowd. The sudden tonal shift of the film is jarring. The singularly focused narrative is muddled with clunky subplots. These, while often intended as a catalyst, feel at times manipulative and disjointed.
Aditya Dhar’s URI: “The Surgical Strike” manufactures the melodrama using every character to generate the emotional connection during the attack on terrorists in its third act. The character arc of Vickey is sketched unevenly and it could be misunderstood as if he helmed the surgical strike to avenge the personal loss, rather than the tragic terrorist event in the URI base camp. Even the cameo of Kirti Kulhari comes with sentimental baggage, and it leaves her character feeling more like dead weight, instead of the ace it could have been.
Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s “Super Delux”, hailed as a revolutionary film of the Tamil new wave is crowded with half baked subplots that do not come together in the end. The hyper-stylized visual narration feels often punctured by the hollow philosophy it wants to preach. Hopefully, upcoming Bollywood movies and regional films are as good as the films listed below. Let us have a look at The Best Indian movies of 2019.
Recommended Read – The 10 Best Hindi Films of 2019
Manu Ashokan | Social Drama | Malayalam
The strength of “Uyare” lies in the honest and diligent performance of Parvathy, which pulls you emotionally even in the shaky, melodramatic patches of the film. Also, the applause should be given for the meticulous portrayal of a toxic relationship and women’s place in a patriarchal society, both seldom captured with such truthful eyes.
The dreams of the ambitious Pallavi Raveendran (Parvathy Thiruvothu) come crashing down when her insecure, incompetent boyfriend Govind throws acid in her face. The film deals with the narrative of hope and courage, displayed by Pallavi, but it is done plausibly. Even though Bobby & Sanjay’s writing stumbles, largely in favour of incorporating the commercial element, they do not mess in portraying a parasitic and emotionally manipulative Govind, who wants to have everything his way.
Khalid Rahman | Police Drama | Malayalam
Mammooty reclaims his stature as a versatile actor who could slip into the character with ease, “Unda” is a great testament to it. After doing melodramatic, commercial movies for almost two decades, Mammooty has picked up character roles in 2019, and this film is no different. Essaying a character of Kerala police, Sub-Inspector Manikandan C.P, he is sent to Basthar, a Maoist area, for election duty. Given the political awareness among the masses, politics has become an integral part of everything.
Under the garb of action-comedy police drama, “Unda” investigates the sensitive but searing conundrum of the threat to democracy, without giving an explicit answer to the viewers. It is a perfect companion piece to “Newton”. In fact, the aesthetics and milieu were so strikingly similar that if you expected Newton to walk into the school patrolled by Kerala police, you’d be justified.
Anuraj Manohar | Thriller | Malayalam
A young couple in pursuit of stealing a kiss, find themselves in trouble when two people catch them making out in the backseat of a car. What follows after that will make you shudder in horror. “Ishq” is a tricky film and might prove divisive as well.
It puts two men from different strata and educational background in a circumstance that dismantles their bruised male ego and strips down their illusional gentlemanliness to expose the toxic behaviour they harbour underneath their masculinity. It also sheds light on the “madonna-who*e” complex behaviour of young men to brutally expose their hypocrisy.
Bhaskar Hazarika | Horror Drama | Assamese
Bhaskar Hazarika sophomore film is an experimental horror drama. It weaves the suppressed desire of women and the unconventional facets of love. A young doctorate student, Sumon (played by Arghadeep Barua), is researching on the regional meat-eating traditions across India. He falls head over heels with a paediatrician Niri (played by Lima Das) during their kinky outings to explore various animals’ eating meat.
Their mutual love is never explicitly confessed, but the spark that set off their platonic relationship soon turns into an obsessive and transgressive meat-eating exploration that tests their limit of love. Read our review of Aamis from Tribeca Film Festival 2019.
Aijaz Khan | Drama | Hindi
Irrespective of how the movies rank on any list, “Hamid” is the most important Indian movie of 2019 for this list. Perhaps, it is the most significant film of the year even if all the subplots don’t come together well. One crack in the film, for example, is the dependency on ‘deus ex machina’ to take the plot forward. Despite that, “Hamid” works like a wonder. It pulls the strings of your heart and leaves you pondering after the credits roll.
An innocent and naive kid calls ‘786’ believing it is Allah’s number. The call redirects to an Army officer battling his demons. Their conversation is heartwarming and heartbreaking. Keeping the innocent kid at the vantage point, Aziz Khan’s “Hamid” never picks a side. Rather, he presents a poignant and anti-war film surrounding hope, faith and death. Stream Hamid on Netflix
15. Ahaa Re
Ranjan Ghosh | Romantic Drama | Bengali
“Food and romance” is the flavour of this season. After Aamis, “Ahaa re” is another film that roots the drama in the exploration of two terribly lonely individuals caught up in circumstantial solitude but the food is one thing that ties them together. Ranjan Ghosh’s bittersweet narrative subverts from genre cliches and melodrama adapts more lean, laid back and organic narrative to assimilate in the pleasant but rich cultural aesthetics.
Aashiq Abu | Medical Thriller | Malayalam
Aashiq Abu’s “Virus” is an exemplary cinema that is rarely tasked with such sensitivity and urgency in the narrative. Based on the outbreak of Nipah, that hit Kerala in 2018, “Virus” functions as a medical thriller. It tries to understand the origin of it to help contain it from further spread.
Several characters are introduced. They give different emotional and psychological weights and perspectives to this outbreak, in order to understand the behaviour of human under such deadly event. It’s “Contagion”, though it has more heart and drama, rather than the elements of a terrifying thriller.
Kaushik Ganguly | Social Drama | Bengali
We are in 2019, and Indian movies have rarely explored the existence of a gender identity crisis with as much compassion and dignity as Kaushik Ganguly’s “Nagarkirtan” does. The myopic view of commercial Indian film-makers has confined transexuals to neglected spaces in the narratives. Films often mock and make crass & insensitive jokes about them.
Kaushik Ganguly takes the very neglected, invisible community and weaves a heartbreaking and moving tale. It not only questions the social prejudices and lack of empathy for transexuals but also the acceptance of intrinsic sexuality by an individual and the society.
Ganguly doesn’t indulge in a scathing commentary on the society for their dejection of transgenders. He merely paints the aching life of transgenders in the society through their eyes. He renders the narrative a humanistic stance. It’s also a tender love story. The performances of Ritwick Chakraborty and Riddhi Sen are tangible, perfectly illustrating their plight and intense love.
13. Kumbalangi Nights
Madhu C. Narayanan | Family Drama | Malayalam
After the end credits roll, how you feel about Madhu C.Narrayanan’s directorial debut Kumbalangi Nights is a subject of debate, but we all have to unanimously agree that Fahadh Faasil gave the most phenomenal performance of the year, and that would be difficult to beat in the remaining time. In this tale of dysfunctional brothers, he has measly screen time, but Faasil’s character is omnipresent. Kumbalangi Night has its issues but Fahadh and Soubin Shahir more than compensate for them.
Rohena Gera | Drama | Hindi
In her debut feature film, the documentary film-maker Rohena Gera patiently observes a hopeful maid and a despondent rich employer within the confinement of a house. Widowed Ratna (Tillotama Shome) finds freedom and liberation after she moves to the city leaving behind her conservative family in the village. At the other end of the spectrum, a heartbroken writer, Ratna’s employer Ashwin (Vivek Gomber) from New York, drowns in loneliness and desolation after finds out his partner cheated on him. ‘Sir’ is a heartfelt drama about finding love and solidarity in the most unusual place. Tillotama Shome owns the role and breaths the heart and soul to it.
Raj Rachakonda | Biopic| Telugu
“Mallesham“ is a moving and heartwarming biographical drama that neither fall into any of the usual genre tropes nor engages in any theatrics. Co-writer and director Raj Rachakonda do not indulge in making a glossy biopic with the unnecessary frills that we are dished out in this genre. The honesty, sincerity and love in making this biopic reflect in the intention of telling a story than selling it.
He roots the narrative in realism, paints it with socio-cultural richness, and tells the extraordinary story of Padma Shri Chintakindi Mallesham most plainly.
The simplicity in the screenplay mirrors the unadulterated character of Mallesham, and it adds to the charm of the film. Even the romantic drama, involving Mallesham and Padma, is thoughtfully constructed in the film without compromising on the very fabric of the plot. Continue reading the complete review of Mallesham.
10. Article 15
Anubhav Sinha | Social Drama| Hindi
Anubhav Sinha’s “Article 15” constantly reminded of “Mississippi Burning.” Both the films dismantle the disordered social structure to expose the prejudices and bigotry seen through the outsider (Gene Hackman as Agent Rupert Anderson and Willem Dafoe as Agent Alan Ward). “Article 15” is an important film and one that is relevant in the sprawling social structure of India. It lays bare the deeply seated casteism issue in the society and mirrors how the discrimination, like termites, chews up the fundamental rights of the poor.
With cold visuals and a grounded narrative that doesn’t reek of attention-seeking and diverting subplots (except for the redundant romantic subplot), Anubhav Sinha manages to put the critical issues on display without any inhibition, in its as-is state.
9. Eeb Allay Ooo!
Prateek Vats | Drama | Hindi
Prateek Vats’ meticulously written drama about a young migrant from Bihar, looking for a working opportunity in the capital of India, works both, as a class-division commentary and personal battle of an individual trying to fit in the society within the set rules. The sound designing and direction of photography of the film are exceptionally good but what stands out is Shardul Bhardwaj’s uninitiated but powerful performance as a young man reluctant to give-up a head full of dreams. Eeb Aallay Ooo! is an underrated gem of Indian movies from 2019 that rarely gets a mention.
Arjun Dutta | Drama | Bengali
Arjun Dutta’s “Abyakto” is a restrained drama about the estranged relationship between a mother and a son, and the unresolved conflict that pushes them apart with every passing day. There is a strange kind of desolation in the big house they live in. The disagreements and the absence of motherly love have built a wall of silence around Indra (played by Anubhav Kanjilal) when he is around Saathi (played by Arpita Chatterjee). Abyakto’s power lies in the subtlety of its storytelling.
Director Arjun Dutta deserves all the praise for making sure that the film never oversteps the overdramatic tropes to spice up. This absolute absence of melodrama is what makes it believable and hits the right chord. In this story of a mother’s inability to reconcile her relationship with her son, and his angst which he just can’t let go off, there would be a lot of room to dramatize the events, but the film holds its ground well and doesn’t get carried away.
7. To Let
Chezhiyan | Drama | Tamil
After winning accolades in various film festivals and winning the 65th National Awards for the Best Feature Film in Tamil, “To Let” finds the digital space on Amazon Prime. It’s a minimalist drama. It captures the ever-growing disparity and incapacity of a lower-middle-class family caught up between a sharp appreciation in real estate price and a dream of making a film in the unfavourable industry.
Similar to Indian Movies 2019: The 20 Best Indian Movies of 2020
Chezhiyan ditches the genre tropes and doesn’t succumb to the melodrama to put across the plight of a family who finds it harder to rent a flat. The consequences of booming IT sector, discrimination based on caste, religion and diet, and persistent exploitation at work, all are incisively observed in the slow-burning narrative that catches the spirit of Indian real estate.
Vetrimaaran | Tamil | Drama
“Asuran” starts as a nerve-wracking and tense survival drama of a poor, lower-caste family, and gradually flips into an intense, blood-soaked revenge drama around the class and caste violence. Vetrimaaran and Manimaran nuance screenwriting drops you in the middle of a nightmare and never let you catch your breath. Even when the flashback feels inorganic to the narrative, the subplot on its own makes for a gritty drama about class division.
It has plenty of well-earned, grounded, gruesome violent scenes that would make your skin crawl. Dhanush turns into Sivasamy, a hotblooded youngster growing into a calm, patient father and husband, and gives one of the best performances of the year. He is a character actor who can shapeshift with the ease of knife cutting into cheese, and his impeccable, unblemished performance as a hothead young boy and that of a composed man trying to protect his family is nothing less than a beauty to behold.
Abhishek Chaubey | Hindi | Drama
Having worked with Vishal Bhardwaj on “Omkara”, “The Blue Umbrella” and “Kaminey”, Abhishek Chaubey has meticulously created a niche for himself. He doesn’t merely create characters and narrative around the indigenous environment, he rather surrenders himself to the root of it. And at times, Chaubey’s films feel more observational of the milieu and characters inhabiting them. He manages to impart the emotional undercurrent in his films that is universal.
On the surface, “Sonchirya” is about dacoits on the run from the police of Chambal who won’t budge until they have cleaned the town. If you probe deeper into the subject matter, the underlying subtext is cruel and universal; the deliverance for the sin we commit, the toxic masculinity and patriarchy plaguing the families and the shifting moral dilemma in the face of crisis. Poetic and often dreary, Sonchiriya is an existential dacoit drama that succeeds at much more than what it sets to achieve.
4. Gamak Ghar
Achal Mishra | Maithili | Drama
Achal Mishra’s “Gamak Ghar” reassures you why the existence of cinema is not only important but also indispensable for living. Drenched in life-affirming nostalgia, “Gamak Ghar” is an intimate and bittersweet Ozu-inspired drama that unfolds the fate of a house during three different periods, covering nearly two decades. Impeccably shot and restrainedly directed, the bittersweet narrative of Gamak Ghar let us relive the past that would soon turn into history for city dwellers.
Ritesh Batra | Hindi | Drama
Ritesh Batra returns to film-making with another lyrical and meditative piece that warmly embraces two lonely souls living in Mumbai. One is a photographer, Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui in his most understated performance) working at the Gateway of India, trying to clear the debts of his father. And another is a young introverted girl, Miloni (Sanya Malhotra, last seen in Pataakha) who thinks she owes life to her parents. The helpless circumstances and the shallowness of society govern their lives. They still manage to make something out of it that keeps them going. Ritesh Batra weaves a heartfelt tale of two people sharing the grief in the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps.
Deveshish Makhija | Hindi/Marathi | Drama
Commonly referred to as the “outsiders-insiders” issue, the north Indians have been subjected to prejudices in various states. Mumbaikars treats them as a second-class citizen who aligns to anti-Bihari sentiment. Devashish Makhija, popularly known for bone-chilling revenge-drama ‘Ajji’, roots his new plot around the anti-Bihari sentiment. Languorously paced and painstakingly slow, “Bhonsle” is a nuanced and sweeping character study that demands the utmost patience.
As much as “Bhonsle” belongs to Devashish Makhija’s excellence in writing and direction and the towering performance of Manoj Bajpayee, the supporting cast, production design and every technical department bring their game to reimagine the reclusive and detached world of Bhonsle living like a beaten hermit in a chawl.
Check out reviews of all the movies from 2019 including Indian films here.
Ivan Ayr | Hindi | Drama
Ivan Ayar’s unadulterated film Soni is an underrated gem of 2019 and one of the best Indian movies of the decade. Unlike the hyper-exaggerated fantasy about the police drama, Rohit Shetty put on display in his films, Ivan Ayr roots the police drama “Soni” in realism, and keenly observes the patriarchal society’s omnipresence without dramatising the events. “Soni” pushes the boundaries of cinema until it spills out enriching cinematic pleasure on its path to explore the fragments of Indian society that have hardly been captured on film before. He avoids the genre tropes, which he could easily have fallen victim to, subverts the theatrics and sensationalism, and patiently deconstructs the power of hierarchy that widens the gender gap.
This is a micro-budget film about two women police officers. They are torn between the ethical and moral dilemma of their duty as an officer and their wish to uproot crimes centred around women, like gender prejudice and sexual harassment. The movie is further solidified by the two moving and nuanced performances which have already gone unnoticed this year.
Soni is the only Indian film featured in our list of The Best Netflix Original Movies of 2019