The 25 Finest Indian Movies of 2019
2019 was an innovative year for Indian cinema. It leaves one underwhelmed when it comes to the deliverance of brilliant cinema that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the films that came from different countries. It is disappointing when you can count the number of great Indian films on your fingers of a hand. But that being said, this year was dedicated to experiments and some refreshing changes which are bound to change the future. Socially relevant narratives took precedence and filmmakers tried their best to leave a mark on the social fabric by motivating, inspiring and often, actively preaching material. Even with more failures than successes, 2019 establishes major hopes for the decade. Below is a list of 25 Finest Indian movies from 2019 that are worth consideration.
It must be noted that I have ranked the films not only on the basis of how a film impacted me but also on how socially, culturally and cinematically brilliant a film was. There are little things which are great and at times revolutionary, in all the films that find a place on the list. And there’s no film that is absolutely perfect, unfortunately.
The list remains subject to modifications and updates as I consume more cinema and as these films mature in my senses. Hence, no rank is completely static.
I would also like to mention that the list does not contain some popular and much-appreciated names like Hellaro, Sir, Nagarkirtan, Abyakto, and Chola, as I have not been able to watch them yet. I hope they will find their worthy place soon.
KHALID RAHMAN | MALAYALAM | POLICE DRAMA
Unda is, in all its elements, the sister film of Newton (2017). It shares such important similarities in terms of the tone it acquires and the struggle it chooses to explore that it almost feels as if both films exist in the same universe. You see a group of policemen posted on election duty in a sensitive zone due to Naxalites and realize how vulnerability and resourcelessness can be anyone’s enemy. It veers off its central plot to comment upon social issues, prejudices and political follies time and again and finds its humor through the language barrier our characters get subjected to. Mammotty takes the role of a calm senior police officer who tries his level best to be a potent leader. Unda could’ve been one of the top 10 Indian films of the year had it not succumbed to a commercially driven climax with a bizarre element that renders its central threat as an underwhelming McGuffin.
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AIJAZ KHAN | HINDI | DRAMA
Hamid makes it to the list purely from the subject matter it brings to attention and rises as one of the most important films of recent years. It adapts itself from a play and narrates itself much like an onscreen play with access to various locations. Its neutral tone prevents it from a political inclination and it stays completely focused on telling the story of the humans in Kashmir. Talha Arshad Reshi gives an impressive performance as Hamid, the protagonist of the film, and is brilliantly supported by Rasika Duggal as Ishrat who proves her craft, yet again. Vikas Kumar is someone you’d want to see more of after Hamid as he is largely unexplored as an actor. Hamid is probably the film which rewards him with a significant amount of screentime. A couple of elements feel heavily improbable but once they’re embraced for the sake of the story’s propulsion, Hamid becomes a good watch.
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BHASKAR HAZARIKA | ASSAMESE | HORROR DRAMA
Bhaskar Hazarika’s Aamis has been a name that garnered a lot of attention. Those who saw it, couldn’t stop talking about it. And it’s a matter of no surprise that they couldn’t. Aamis is a dish that is sweet and hot, both. It serves itself in a delicious disguise of a journey through the realms of platonic love, camouflages itself in a screenplay that explores culinary arts, and finally reveals itself to be a tale of obsession and addiction. The Scoville scale of the film keeps on rising until it explodes in your senses. Aamis’ weakness lies in its pre-climactic episode that suffers from an incomprehensible and unenjoyable tonal shift. Aamis may not be a film you take home but it surely is an experience that leaves a prolonged aftertaste.
23. BOMBAY ROSE
GITANJALI RAO | HINDI | DRAMA
Gitanjali Rao’s Bombay Rose was one of the most anticipated films at MAMI Film Festival this year. And it was exciting to see people waiting for an animated film, which is a heavily neglected medium in India, by both, makers and audience. Commercial aspects of such a film do not allow it to claim a heavy budget and rise to the ranks of Studio Ghilibi and Pixar in terms of finesse. But Rao animates the film with a uniqueness that compensates for its technical flaws. The screenplay of Bombay Rose is adorned with beautiful music and a diverse colour palette even though the story is inherently weak divided between various subplots that never exercise their potential. Bombay Rose is drenched with the city’s aroma and splendid animation which provides an enriching experience and makes this film a must-watch.
22. AHAA RE
RANJAN GHOSH | BENGALI | DRAMA
In culinary arts, a dish is not solely prepared with skill and knowledge of the method. It is not derived solely from love, as many advocate out of sentiment. It is not created from the accumulation of the right ingredients either. A great dish is an outcome of the right balance of each of the aforementioned factor inputs. The equipment and skill provide a texture to the dish, the process renders it with the correct aroma, the ingredients give it the taste and the devotion of the chef ensures a state of Pareto equilibrium between all components. Ranjan Ghosh is the chef of this “aahaar” that keeps you enchanted with its aroma, prickles you in some moments with its whole ingredients playing hide and seek on the platter, and eventually fills you with satisfaction. A gratifying satisfaction that comes without guilt. And while you do trace some minor flaws, which could have been bettered, your experience stays cumulatively complete.
CHURNI GANGULY | BENGALI | DRAMA
Churni Ganguly’s existential drama that investigates who a man was, post his death, is an exceptionally well-written film with profound conversations and ideas that are bound to provide its audience ample food for thought. Starring Saswata Chatterjee, Ritwik Chakroborty and Raima Sen in principal roles, Tarikh mediates upon the meaning of life and being human by pitching contrasting ideas and attitudes against each other. Saswata Chatterjee is dependable but Ritwik Chakroborty shines in his patient performance, proving why he’s a force to reckon with in Indian acting scene. Tarikh requires one to be receptive of its exposition as it unfolds non-linearly and rightfully earns its place as one of the finest Indian films of the year.
20. THE SKY IS PINK
SHONALI BOSE | HINDI | BIOPIC
The only motivation I had to watch this film as soon as possible was the name of its director, Shonali Bose, who directed Margarita with a Straw prior to this film. And she delivers. The Sky is Pink carries a beautiful story that celebrates life and the arrival of death, simultaneously, and maintains our focus on laughter and joys of living than the mourning which follows death. Aisha Chaudhary was the Anand who never died. And her powerful story gets treated in a nuanced and sensitive way escaping much of the genre-specific melodrama from the hands of its makers.
That being said, it is laden with an almost experience-spoiling narration that spoonfeeds every other detail to its audience at the cost of subtlety and hence, leaves an immense potential to the greatness this film could have achieved. The Sky is Pink deserved a greater amount of rawness and complexity than it is awarded but that doesn’t strip it from being worthy of our time and attention.
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19. SUPER DELUXE
THIAGARAJAN KUMARARAJA | TAMIL | THRILLER
Super Deluxe is an innovative film. An unconventional cinematic game that is a brief route to profound entertainment. Drenched with absurdity, black humor, pop culture references, idiosyncratic characters, and beautiful production design, Super Deluxe tries its level best to exploit the butterfly effect in its screenplay only to fall flat in its termination with its vocally narrated themes as if the film is trying to justify itself. And hence, in the end, Super Deluxe becomes super but not deluxe. Nevertheless, Super Deluxe remains one of the finest Indian movies of 2019 because it comprises of a highly sensitive mainstream treatment of a couple of stigmatized groups of our society, one on which we salivate and disgust at the same time and the other one which we fear and disgust, simultaneously. *SPOILER ALERT* The personal observation that won my respect for the film was the brief episode in which Shilpa (Vijay Sethupathi) is requesting the watchman of Rasukutty’s (Ashwanth Ashokkumar) school to listen to them but he constantly chants “go, go…” without providing a window for Shilpa to speak, effectively commenting upon how the society renders people like Shilpa voiceless as it refuses to listen to them.
18. GULLY BOY
ZOYA AKHTAR | HINDI | MUSICAL DRAMA
Some criticize Gully Boy for being contrived, some for being too formulaic, and then, some say it is another poverty porn. However, Gully Boy comes out to me as a film that doesn’t sensationalize poverty to earn brownie scores, that doesn’t throw someone’s struggle into a template to create superficial inspirations and one that doesn’t fail to honor everything it is built around even when it succumbs to formulaic treatment at places. Gully Boy deserves the recognition it is getting because it is extremely entertaining and because it is extremely entertaining from the fruit of the efforts contributed by the very people it is trying to tell the story about. It has all the pleasuring cinematic elements. brilliant performances from its cast, raw dialogues, unique music, and awareness to not sketch another set of black and white characters. Gully Boy is the commercial cinema we can aspire to consume with all its flaws because it does more rights than it does wrongs.
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17. ANDROID KUNJAPPAN VER. 5.25
RATHEESH BALAKRISHNA PODUVAL | MALAYALAM | COMEDY DRAMA
Android Kunjappan Ver 5.25 fails to fall strictly in the definition of a single genre. It appears to be a sci-fi, which it is, but it doesn’t explicitly rover around science or creates an environment as such. In its soul lies a family drama that tries to capture a unique father-son relationship while the attire is of a satirical comedy. Seldom do so many flavors come together and provide such a mesmerizing experience. Suraj Venjaramoodu’s act as Bhaskara Pothuval, a short-tempered Luddite, is something that keeps the audience held to the film while Android Kunjappan’s act brings life to it. However, the film’s shortcomings lie in its hurried climax that terminates into a weak conclusion along with inadequately explored subplots. At the same time, Android Kunjappan breaks many stereotypes and rises above certain rigorous elements as it processes multiple themes. Android Kunjappan Ver 5.25 exists as one of the most entertaining offerings from the Indian cinema of this year and is worthy of a window.
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16. ARTICLE 15
ANUBHAV SINHA | HINDI | SOCIAL DRAMA
Article 15 gradually scratches off the layers of reality one by one to reveal the thought processes that continue to govern the minds and actions of the people and does so in a manner that is more grounded and less theatrical. The film is home to concentrated dialogues and multiple references to real-world events, utilizing each to propel its narrative in the correct direction while maintaining subtlety for most of the time. The film, however, loses its grip in the middle act and fails to sketch a near-accurate account of the events it draws its inspirations from. Article 15 reinstates the idea that Anubhav Sinha has been reincarnated. Sinha creates a cold atmosphere for a serious investigative thriller that exists in the horrors of socio-political reality which is best watched in isolation.
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LIJO JOSE PELLISSERY | MALAYALAM | ACTION COMEDY
Jallikattu, as a film, is primarily driven by its technical finesse but is also home to a strong black satire. The mayhem in the film exposes the clumsiness of its inhabitants that is but an allegory commenting on human follies. It brilliantly voyeurs at the mob to establish how masculinity is often rendered fragile with its own volatility. Occupied by a relentlessly vigorous sound design by Renganaath Ravee aided by Kannan Ganpat and an alarming score to the screenplay by Prashant Pillai, the film emits an acute sense of discomfort. Gireesh Gangadharan’s cinematography boasts of extreme expertise and precision while retaining the essence of Lijo’s vision. Jallikattu doesn’t expose itself in front of the audience but snatches them from the real world along with their senses. Much like a cosmic microwave background that epitomizes chaos, Jallikattu radiates insurmountable energy from each of its frames and yet, manages to establish an ordered allegory as it concludes.
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GEETU MOHANDAS | MALAYALAM-HINDI | THRILLER
Geetu Mohandas and Rajeev Ravi work in tandem and emerge as one powerful force collectively in the former’s latest film ‘The Elder One’ (Moothon). Moothon, as a film, is as weighed down by its negatives as it is buoyant by its lustrous elements. It escapes the challenges of a coherent and plausible screenplay but does everything with panache to redeem itself. It treads through the dark underbelly of Mumbai in a screenplay propelled by multiple plot devices but also contains an original and beautiful story in its heart that is capable of charming all your senses. If you ask why it deserves to be seen, Nivin Pauly would be my answer for he gives a performance that is bound to linger in your mind.
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RAJ RACHAKONDA | TELUGU | BIOPIC
Mallesham is a rare honest biopic in the current wave of spurious biographical cinema. It reminded me of Poorna (2017) for its simplistic approach to bringing the life of Padma Shri Chintakindi Mallesham on the reel. And it is everything Padman (2018) failed to become. Raj Rachakonda refuses to move out of the socio-cultural atmosphere the characters of his film live in to make this film bankable. He steers clear of all the genre tropes and unnecessarily created thrills that have almost become a formula. He escapes contrivance and keeps his film organic. You may find the episodes of the film to get repetitive but then, such was the life of the man it is capturing and I welcome honestly over fabrication, any day. Mallesham also brings to light the plight of an entire community through the story of Padma Shri Chintakindi Mallesham and establishes the value of perseverance. This heartwarming film around the story of success after multiple failures is not new but is unique because it dedicates itself to the cause, storytelling.
12. BULBUL CAN SING
RIMA DAS | ASSAMESE | COMING-OF-AGE DRAMA
Bulbul Can Sing, a coming-of-age docufiction, is an exposition of the rural Indian adolescent by a rising voice in the Indian independent film arena, Rima Das in her latest directorial venture that opens into the heartlands of Das’ native village Chhaygaon, Assam and simultaneously allows a peek into the psyche of the common folk. Rima doesn’t give in to limitations and extracts such fine performances from the young talents at her disposal that it makes her film as much as an actors’ medium as the director’s. Bulbul Can Sing deserves our attention for the brilliant act in Suman played by Manoranjoan Das. Suman comes out to be a near-accurate portrayal of those who do not conform to binary definitions and leaves us with an act we can forever cherish.
Bulbul’s voice is central to the theme and her hesitation comes out as a metaphor for all the voices that remain unheard or bleak with their owners’ hesitation. Rima is empathetic and sensitive in her approach, she doesn’t create a mockery nor does she build a tower of cinematic friendship on the foundations of superficiality which arise out of cliched plot devices. She makes us recollect our relationships as we venture into the relationships of our characters.
Bulbul Can Sing comes out as one of the most important films of the year, if not the finest.
RAM | TAMIL | DRAMA
If I look at the entirety of Indian cinema of 2019, I see it as a year that witnessed heavy cultural changes in which makers exploited cinema as a tool of social transformation. Some explicitly different and bold choices were made in almost all the films in some way or another to push the envelope and allow greater inclusion. Peranbu outshines a lot of films in this regard. Cinema isn’t only about the story it chooses to tell but also about the process it adopts to tell that story. A great film is something that changes the person in you and stays relevant for as long as we exist, and a greater film is probably something that consciously changes the process in which great films are made. I do not consider Black Panther as a great film because it is the best superhero film of all time or it is something we had never seen before but because the number of people and the class of people it brings to the mainstream is huge that ultimately causes significant normalization of the same. Normalization is, therefore, as important as sharing the stories of discrimination and pain.
Peranbu, in the same way, normalizes or at least, attempts to normalize a number of things in the same way. It casts a transexual actor (Anjali Ameer) for the role of a trans person when it is not required to do the same for many people believe that an actor’s biology and orientation doesn’t need to for his/her character. Definitely it is because an actor’s job is to act. But then, how else will upliftment and representation occur?
Peranbu sheds light on some important issues which are considered taboo in our society but are quite normal, through the journey of a man’s relationship with his daughter suffering from a muscular health condition that renders her dependent on others for her functions. Ultimately, it becomes the story of a man’s discovery of himself and his transformation as well.
AASHIQ ABU | MALAYALAM | MEDICAL THRILLER
Virus is a surprising film that makes you feel proud as it emerges as an exemplary model of a screenplay. Initially reminiscent of Contagion, Virus goes on to prove its uniqueness as it progresses. Ashiq Abu deftly handles various subplots to interweave them under a semifictionalized account of the crises of the Nipah virus outbreak that hit Kerala in 2018 and claimed 17 lives. It does not try to cash on the thrills of the disaster but patiently shows us the efforts of various people who worked tirelessly and courageously to prevent what could have been apocalyptic, under which declaring quarantine would have been the only measure to prevent the spread. One can have differences over the authenticity of all the narratives but the film is a representative of real people. It works as an investigative thriller when it is dense and converts itself to a human drama when it is emotional. In the end, you take home an experience that leaves you emotionally overwhelmed with the attachments you grow with its characters and at the same time, leaves you more aware and informed than you were before with some crucial facts.
VINOD KAMBLE | HINDI | SOCIAL DRAMA
My English professor had told us how the account of the oppressed about their oppression is strikingly different from the account of the privileged about the oppression of the oppressed. With all my capacity, I can empathize with those who are subjected to the lowest of the order of the social hierarchy but having born to a privileged class myself, I can never fully understand the gravity of the situation for I have never been subjected to even an iota of what so many people go through in our society. My voice will be different from theirs even when I hide and dissolve all our externally imposed superficial differences. And there’s nothing more painful than living in an unequal society.
Vinod Kamble’s semiautobiographical account of a young boy from the Bhangi community (as quoted by the director himself) engaged in manual scavenging and post mortem to be able to afford his education exposes the wound from which the aforementioned pain arises. The wound is of prejudice and people’s lust to keep things as hierarchical as they have been to maintain their power. Vinod has made this film in an unabashed way so that the smell of the dead bodies and the rot in the society reach its audience. But all is not a cause of discomfort for the film portrays a beautiful friendship of its principal characters that is metaphoric of the innocence that never ceases to exist.
RITESH BATRA | HINDI | ROMANTIC DRAMA
Photograph derives much of its credibility from the name of its director, Ritesh Batra, who proved his mettle with his first feature film, The Lunchbox. And it manages to come out as an original product of Batra’s fine craft and ideas. Photograph appears to be a calm exploration of love at its surface but manages to hide a symphony of the relationship between two characters that reflect each other with their attitudes but are very different from each other, at the same time, due to the social classes they belong to. The film is given its effervescence from its unconventionality. It doesn’t pitch two behaviourally polar opposite characters against each other. It doesn’t let one character fill the gap that the other has by default like two puzzles fit into each other. What you see is a couple of introverts sharing a silent relationship that has no name to it, and no burdens, but only companionship and the will to make whatever effort possible for each other without any incentive or motive. The narrative of Photograph is bizarre like a work of poetry we fail to comprehend entirely but manage to feel get its essence.
VETRIMAARAN | TAMIL | ACTION DRAMA
Vetrimaaran adapts Vekkai, written by Poomani, in his latest directorial venture ‘Asuran‘ to sketch the eternal conflict of the dominants and the dominated, mirroring the conflict of devas and asuras, in an extremely thrilling yet convincing way. Capturing the journey of a man through his struggles, oppression, and losses, Vetrimaaran skillfully unfolds a large canvas that attempts to redefine the idea of revenge as he takes the risk of showcasing both, its essentiality & futility and substantiating the value of redemption. This is where Asuran becomes extraordinary as a film. ‘Asuran‘ incorporates heavily stylized action pieces, superlative camerawork, a haunting score, and one of the finest performances of Dhanush’s career that make this film an absolute treat to watch.
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6. GAMAK GHAR
ACHAL MISHRA | MAITHILI | DRAMA
Gamak Ghar (2019) is a story that reflects the transformation of the events of the present to the bittersweet memories of the future. Simultaneously, the present is heavily drenched with the recollection of the past, the visuals of which have turned translucent but the aroma is alive with the same intensity. An aroma that fills the protagonist of this film, a house in the countryside, a house that is cognizant of this aroma and is striving to preserve it.
Gamak Ghar doesn’t offer anything larger than life. It doesn’t make efforts to create statements out of its screenplay. Neither does it reach absolute conclusions. It is a minimal effort at sketching complex portraits in which we can find our lives. It is the story of a retrospective house. It is a collective effort of people telling their own stories.
Also, read our interview with Achal Mishra
5. TO LET
CHEZHIYAN | TAMIL | DRAMA
Watching To-Let was akin to watching my entire life unfold before me. To-Let talks about a class that isn’t much explored in Indian cinema and when it is, it suffers from acute stereotypical imagery and an outward perspective that fails to capture its struggles with authenticity. But this film felt close to what it means to belong to the neo-middle class category and to steer through life, shelterless, and often jobless. It doesn’t fall victim to unnecessary theatrics and tropes. Nor does it succumb to a template of characters falling prey to crimes due to their struggles. It speaks of millions of voices living in their ordinary lives trying to make ends meet. To-Let paints the infant battle of the capitalist world of growing classicism and financial disparity in which demand is driven by the influx of consumers causing the prices to increase that crushes those at the bottom. A small room is also provided for the eyes that dream, even in adversity, to retain human optimism. The minimalism, sensitivity, and accuracy of To-Let make it a great piece of cinema.
ABHISHEK CHAUBEY | HINDI | DACOIT DRAMA
Sonchiriya is exactly what it means. The golden bird of Indian cinema of 2019. It is undisputedly bravest and one of the finest Indian movies of 2019 that layered within itself a number of themes, each very organic to the story and very relevant to the socio-cultural environment of our heartlands. Many choose to call it a film from the western genre for the definition of a westerner has well extended from its origin but to me, Sonchiriya’s complexity allows it to stand alone as a film in a genre purely indigenous to our country, a dacoit drama. It is a sharp comment on the toxic masculinity and casteism that runs deep in our culture. It lays bare the complications of one’s adherence to his/her faith and establishes the idea of repentance when one sins against his/her morality. Sonchiriya keeps all its characters extremely vulnerable and scared of what happens after death more than death itself and interweaves the good, the bad and the ugly (no reference to the 1966 classic) to allow the audience an introspection. The subplots are well handled and actors shine in their performances. Sonchiriya brings the best out of Ranveer Shorey, hinting at the potential we have not yet unlocked.
3. Eeb Allay Ooo!
PRATEEK VATS | HINDI | COMEDY DRAMA
A monkey is an unconventional human. It is undiplomatic, unsophisticated, and it mocks almost everyone. A langur is someone a monkey is prejudiced against. And a societal human is an imperialist to both. Prateek Vats’ debut feature Eeb Allay Ooo! is a tale of little monkeys that attempts to juxtapose a number of issues that go hand in hand when subjected to the complexity of societal structure and the by-default human interaction. Some monkeys are mastered by the system, some by fate, and some by their dysfunctionality. The film is concentrated around the struggles of Anjani, an immigrant, who belongs to the third category, while also extending to the struggles of those who have secured a job and have adapted to the city. The film establishes how the battle of securing a financial standing and a carefree living isn’t cyclic or phasic but a long-term one, and often life-consuming. Eeb Allay Ooo! deserves to reach as many people as it can for its sheer brilliance in capturing multiple crises and dilemmas of the working class. It is one of those rare films that gets everything right for it is a product of intelligent choices that works as a potent material for aspiring filmmakers.
Also, Read – Eeb Allay Ooo! : ‘MAMI’ Review: An authentic study of the working class through intelligent filmmaking
IVAN AYR | HINDI | POLICE DRAMA
The first film on the list earns the zenith position only because I am personally attached to the film for how it reaches me. But if I was to put aside what I personally feel and look at the entirety through an objective lens, Soni is the best film to come this year from India. Not only that it is as courageous as its protagonist but it is an unadulterated piece of cinema that doesn’t succumb to the requirement of pleasing or spoonfeeding its audience. Nor does it take them to be of a lower intelligence quotient when it serves them with discomfort. It is as cold as the current reality, the dismissal of which is only an act of sheer ignorance and escapism from which is impossible. Soni examines the state of our system and our society to render its inherent gender discrimination naked. It exposes the bias, the disparity, and the vulnerability the other half of the society is subjected to and dissolves the idea that power makes people equal for Soni and the likes of her are given power but aren’t allowed to fully explore its realms. It is a report card of the progress we have made. It isn’t loud in its exposition but surely is brave in the way it sketches its characters and the culminating anger in them. It reminds us that beyond the fancy ideas of how cinema can represent our police lies the reality in which policewomen and policemen exist as humans who are mocked, threatened, and tortured by the same system in the same ways and to be a woman among them is only worse.
1. KUMBALANGI NIGHTS
MADHU C. NARAYANAN | MALAYALAM | FAMILY DRAMA
I don’t remember coming across a more self-aware film this year than Kumbalangi Nights. My unparalleled and almost biased love for Kumbalangi Nights stems from the force this film inherently carries which is capable of affecting the subconsciousness of its viewers in a way that a part of theirs is changed forever, as it happened to me. It is heavily flawed, far from perfect and definitely driven by a couple of plot devices. But flawlessness isn’t an absolute parameter to confirm the greatness of a film. Beneath the sweetness of Kumbalangi Nights lies a drama that explores the journey of different aspects of masculinity from dysfunctionality to the unified establishment and one that dissolves toxicity in its course. It rises above creating traditional hero sketches and gently serves meta-references to its audience to make them aware. Be it actively portraying a man asking for mental help or a woman asking her partner to pick the plastic bottle before they leave, avoiding her mood and present circumstance. There are many little things that add on to the lively experience this film serves. And hence, Kumbalangi Nights is but worthy of the zenith rank.