Indian cinema in the last decade (2010s) would be remembered for the best non-Hindi and independent movies getting the reach and much-deserved attention within the millennial audience. The mainstream Bollywood movies didn’t reinvent themselves in any particular way, but those film industries that updated themselves for their audiences weren’t written about more frequently. It all started with the large and imaginative commercial films by the hyped directors, and only in 2019 smaller films such as Aamis and Sairat were talked about for their audacious imagination and powerful story-telling. The following list recounts the 20 Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade (the 2010s). While I might have missed some films, this list comes from a personal choice. Do take it to the comments to let me know about the ones that I have missed.

Special Mentions

Zakariya Mohammad’s Sudani From Nigeria (Malayalam, 2018), Jeethu Joseph’s Drishyam (Malayalam, 2013), Gurvinder Singh’s Chauthi Koot (Punjabi, 2015), Rima Das’s Bulbul Can Sing (Assamese, 2018), Aparna Sen’s Goynar Baksho (Bengali, 2013), Suman Ghosh’s Kadambari (Bengali, 2015).

20. Premam (Malayalam, 2015)

20 Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade (2010s) - Premam

Alphonse Puthren’s charmingly low-key romance Premam is simplistic and relaxed as a narrative on paper. The basic premise isn’t something we haven’t heard of before. A man frequently experiencing heartbreaks and finally having a happy ending to his love story is something we have seen numerous times. But this most conventional narrative translates to the screen with beautiful butterfly motifs, enchanting songs, a flavorsome screenplay, and terrific performances – especially the wonderful Sai Pallavi as Malar Miss. At its core, it is a film that, in its own little way, represents its leading star’s child-like charisma. Nivin Pauly’s spectacular turn as the candid, innocent, and colorful George remains both real and relatable. It has the twentieth place on the list of the 20 Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade (the 2010s).

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19. Court (Marathi, 2015)

20 Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade (2010s) - Court

Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court is a film that’s as honest as it is significant. Through the tale of a Dalit activist who was falsely accused, the film asks a pertinent question with directorial efficiency. Despite its languorous pace, the indie delivered a hard-hitting truth that was palatable. The film is stark and violently real. However, it is also a funny, attractive, and strongly subdued satire. The screenplay wonderfully shifts observations and allows for subtleties to fill the voids of the vacancies in the visuals. The courtroom scenes are the most solid, but in a quietly restrained manner, they also seem to comment on the blankness of a false allegation against those who choose to stand up fronting a tyrannical system.

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18. Vada Chennai (Tamil, 2018)

20 Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade (2010s) - Vada Chennai

Vetrimaraan is a master. His films are marked by the merging of realist observations and heroic mainstream-isms. His Vada Chennai delivers an excellent beginning to a supposed trilogy. At a running length of 166 minutes, this “mass” film manages to deliver its blockbuster value with restraint and some unmistakably moving sequences. While the protagonist Anbu (played by a solid Dhanush) inhabits most of the film, it isn’t a very protagonist-oriented film and has a rooted, affirmed sense of history. The alternating timelines don’t curb its storytelling prowesses, and it is shot extraordinarily. While not the director’s best, it is only refreshing that a film about police brutality, warring gangs, and revenge does not tread into the masala mayhem.

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17. Angamaly Diaries (Malayalam, 2017)

20 Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade (2010s) - Anagamaly Diaries

Visceral and unflinching, Angamaly Diaries demands your absolute attention. The two aforementioned adjectives are just perfect while describing the firm and impassioned film Lijo Jose Pelliserry has presented here. A stylish sense of urgency, a truly authentic idea of rustic masculinity, and meat-eating as a crackling metaphor incur this effortlessly ambitious piece of filmmaking. The film has moments of oomph and inspired conviction, particularly the brilliant fifteen-minute one-shot scene towards the end. It stays extremely honest with its tonality from the beginning to the end, even as the screenplay troubles the narrative in the middle. The film is so energetic that it made me absorb its world to an extent that I forgot there’s a busier world around me.

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16. Nainsukh (Dogri, 2010)

Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade (2010s) - Nainsukh

Amit Dutta’s mostly wordless film is an excellent art-drama about a master painter from the 18th century. But don’t mistake this film as a biographical feature because it isn’t. Instead, it’s a masterful deep dive into the pretentiousness and artfulness of royalty in the medieval era. The film’s artistically relevant choices and the groundbreaking use of portraits are perfectly in sync with the naturalistic drama around. Through the canvas of an artist, the film observes a sense of heritage. It also glances upon the mediocrity of the exploits of these rulers and the casual misogyny and sexual violation the women were directed to.

15. Mahanati (Telugu, 2018)

Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade - Mahanati (2018)

Nag Ashwin’s Mahanati is an effortlessly compassionate film about the rise and fall of South India’s first female superstar, Savitri Ganesan. Close to three hours in runtime, the film packs in a lot of busy drama but doesn’t follow the rule book of an oversimplified and cliched mainstream biopic. While the film has immersive production values and stylish set-pieces, it also depicts with great feeling the fall and failures of the actress. With a great variety and a strong sensibility of cinema, what makes this film special is the outstanding performance by Keerthy Suresh. It’s hard not to fall in love with her portrayal of Savitri. She inserts in the film its charms, nuances, and moments of distinct humor. It’s her performance that sells the film and makes it effective. Mahanati grabs a spot in the list of the top regional films of the 2010s.

14. Nagarkirtan (Bengali, 2017)

 Nagarkirtan (2019)

Kaushik Ganguly’s brutally unflinching love story Nagarkirtan has one of the smartest casting choices in a while: Puti and Madhu, played by Riddhi Sen and Ritwick Chakraborty, don’t only share the same alphabet of their first names, but also the united, magical consistency in their romance. It does away from the dreamlike tonality of the mainstream films about queer love and makes a sharp, eclectic amalgamation of insights. Nagarkirtan achieves a blend of sights and sounds so exquisite that the painful ending will make you hollow from the inside. It gets its deserved place on the best regional Indian movies of the Decade (the 2010s).

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13. Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (Malayalam, 2017)

Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (2017)

Fahadh Faasil doesn’t need dialogues to act. Tell him the story, and he can move you with his eyes. At this point in his career, he is a remarkable presence in any film he’s a part of. Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, directed by Dileesh Pothan, is the actor’s finest hour in film. Cinematically, the film is an achievement. It employs humor and urgency in an unpredictable thriller with surprising cleverness. However, it doesn’t compromise on the gritty elements either. It plays out as a crucially thoughtful drama about survival, pity, police cruelty, and humor. And expectedly, Fahadh takes the story of an espoused couple and makes it his own.

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12. Kaaka Muttai (Tamil, 2014)

Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade (the 2010s) - Kaaka Muttai

Kaaka Muttai, directed by M. Manikandan, is a worthy directorial debut. Starring two talented child artists, Vignesh and Ramesh, this film rises above the children’s drama and turns into an excellently human film about the privileges of the underprivileged. The film might look too uncomplicated and sugary at first glance, but the filmmaker crafts a balanced and lovely tale of two brothers who desire to eat pizza. The film’s memorable and pensive humor and its portrayal of poverty are refreshing for a mainstream film. The film’s comments on socio-political exploitation do let it down to an extent, but the writing is clever enough to dodge these issues tastefully towards the end.

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11. 96 (Tamil, 2018)

Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade (the 2010s) - 96

C. Prem Kumar’s 96 is propelled by melancholic direction and the extraordinarily pure warmth between the two leads. As Ram and Jaanu, two childhood sweethearts parted by their own destinies, Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha Krishnan spell magic together on the screen. Their basic niceness and gravity transcend into the small baggage of blues they have been carrying all these years, which are absolutely involved on-screen. The film’s unwillingness to depict the messiness of the relationships with distinctive perspicacity and its truthfulness to a wafer-thin narrative might be unimaginative on paper, but in the hands of such a responsible filmmaker, it soars. The film’s nuanced depiction of the quietness that stays in high-school romances and the unlikeliness of get-togethers, its portrayal of a middle-of-the-road hero in the age of superstars, is refreshing.

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10. Sairat (Marathi, 2016)

Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade 2010s - Sairat

Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat is powerful, seditious, and mainstream in the best sense of the word. It has benefitted immensely from the brutal energy and infectious charm of Rinku Rajguru and Akash Thosar, but the film’s writing smartly and quite impressively structures the casteism of a star-crossed romance. It isn’t a perfect film because some portions do feel stretched, but it is an efficiently innovative reworking of the Romeo-and-Juliet template. With mostly local actors and a perfect concord of Ajay-Atul’s soundtrack, the champion storyteller of India’s perpetual poverty and casteism crafts an imaginative poem with a frighteningly realistic core.

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9. Killa (Marathi, 2015)

Killa (2015)

Killa is one of the most heartfelt Indian films of all time. Starring Archit Devdhar, Parth Bhalerao, and Amrita Subhash, this film’s incredible exploration of childhood, coming-of-age, shifting of naiveté as a phase, and the lingering loneliness of intimate loss come together wonderfully to make for a remarkably pleasant experience. The film is often sweet and sometimes manipulative to a fault, but these are trivial shortcomings in a deliciously delightful semi-autobiographical tale handled deftly by Avinash Arun. This is a truly personal experience that the audience inherits from the maker. A warm film that you wish you could touch. Killa grabs the ninth place in the best regional Indian movies of the decade 2010s list.

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8. Kothanodi (Assamese, 2015)

Kothanodi

Wild, wicked, and grueling, Kothanodi puts an immoral spin on Assam’s children’s folklore. Its protagonists are all mothers: infidel, cunning, cruel, and absolutely demanding. But in all the evil tendencies, what the film veils in plain sight is that through this parlance, the film also manages to tell an evocative and well-realized, horror-drenched, and feminist story with precise attention to detail. Though the film’s budget is startlingly mediocre (and it shows on multiple moments), the eerie BGM and spectacular performances help in assembling a delicious, devilish experience. The oddity of the stories and the wickedly traditional melodrama adorning it adds to the doing away from the fetishization of the source material(s).

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7. Thithi (Kannada, 2016)Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade (the 2010s) - Thithi (2016)

The Kannada film Thithi, directed by Ram Reddy, starred local people along with only two professional actors, but you never feel this lack of performative professionalism. A witty meditation on death, funeral, and greed, this epic film combines crackling humor with sharp observations, and the results are as seamless as they come. The screenwriting never loses sight of observance and quite smartly blends different elements. The film has a busy plot- but it also invites naturalistic pauses and touching silences to the fore. Through the story of the organizing of a grand funeral, Thithi tells a moving story of an old man’s coming-of-age and the blooming of raw love, combining both of them with skilled authenticity and rustic visual grammar.

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6. Ee. Ma. Yau (Malayalam, 2018)

Lijo Jose Pelliserry’s finest film, Ee. Ma. Yau is a predominantly restorative satire on death and the extensive chaos around it. Through delicate observations and some sharply funny laughs, the film proficiently uses death as a tool to explore the formalism, impertinence, blandness, poverty, and religious authoritativeness of India. Its attractive visual set-pieces and hauntingly understated gloom combine almost in a healing manner. It also combines a rich and mythical atmosphere with the dreamlike realistic wrap by the end. You might argue that by the film’s end, you feel almost nothing, but I think that’s the sole point of the film: it invests you in its entirety and requires you to feel emptiness.

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5. Visaranai (Tamil, 2016)

Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade (the 2010s) - Visaranai

Vetrimaran’s finest film of all time, Visaranai, is a film that showcases the ruthlessness against immigrants and police violence in its most unrefined and chilling form. The film’s visceral plot has been compactly terminated with an important and compelling experience. The film effectively documents the torturous exercising of power in many parts of our country, even now. The film is dreadfully real in the way in which it implants the visuals of relentless violence and abuses the minorities are subject to. It is an uncomfortable watch that weaves an intense, consistent yarn.

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4. Fandry (Marathi, 2014)

Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade (the 2010s) - Fandry (2014)

Nagraj Manjule’s directorial debut, Fandry, set in rural Maharashtra, is a stunning first feature that’s a scathing and angry comment on India’s widespread caste system. It is an urgent piece of filmmaking that doesn’t turn into a textbook. Through uncomplicated scenes and troubling conversations, the film brutally exhibits the state of a nation. The climatic rootedness of rural Maharashtra has been showcased without any shimmer or gloss, but the film’s true achievement is that in its little moments and subtleties, it doubles up as a stimulating screengrab of India as we should know it. It gets its deserved place in the best regional Indian movies of the 2010s decade.

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3. Jonaki (Bengali, 2018)

Jonaki

Few filmmakers chronicle loneliness like Aditya Vikram Sengupta does. His sophomore film, Jonaki, has displays of utter distress and morbidity, but it comes from a sense of affection and a place of fondness. It’s an interpersonal film that comes from an unhinged, naturalistic, and personal space of the director’s life: the life of his grandma, his closeness to her, and the nightmares he experienced when she died. In fact, the protagonist shares her name with his wife. But it is because of this profoundly irresistible and stirring sense of inhabitance that it becomes universal. The film’s extra ounce of tragedy has been tailored with masterful flexibility through hauntingly visual camerawork and the splendid application of metaphorical storytelling.

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2. C/O Kancharapalem (Telugu, 2018)

Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade (the 2010s) - Co Kancharapalem

Venkatesh Maha’s Care Of Kancharapalem, through an anthology of romances from various spheres, different timelines, and the same town, is not just an efficient and impactful story of love but also a deeply moving investigation of affection through the bars of religion, region, age, and status. The endearing filmmaking, the layered characters, and the wonderful cinematography combine with flair and conviction to produce a flawless film. The way the film handles the combination of these stories and the definitive method with which they come together towards the end is not just excellent but also enthralling. Its music and earthy production design, with the sparingly constructive humor, work nicely to set up the flavor. While the men have been drawn with care, the women steal the show with their fleshed-out spirit and artful dialogue. The film’s layered poignance is one of its driving forces. Hence, the second place in the best regional Indian movies of the 2010s decade.

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1. Asha Jaoar Majhe (Bengali, 2015)

Best Regional Indian Movies of the Decade (the 2010s) - Asha Jaoar Majhe

I would like to call Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s freshman feature, Labour of Love, the treasure trove of the decade. Starring Basabadatta Chatterjee and Ritwick Chakraborty, this beautifully made film is a lovingly fulfilling experience. Exquisitely shot and terrifically written, this semi-adaptation of the Iranian short film Zan Va Shohar Karegar is a wondrous Bollywood-style rendition of an evocative tale of love in times of recession. Set in Calcutta, the film chronicles a wedded couple that rarely meets each other due to their respective occupations. She works all day; he works all night. In that process, the pulsating rhythms of the visuals transport you into its world with so much intensity that you won’t care that the film is bleached of any dialogue. This masterpiece takes the first spot in the list of top regional Indian movies of the 2010s decade.

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