The Best Indian Movies of 2023: Perhaps the best thing about the film year of 2023 is the fact that it has divided its consumer base, the audience, on its merit and quality. There is a section of people who believe that Indian cinema and all of its multi-lingual film industries took a major dip this year after three consecutive ‘alright’ years. Of course, the big-budget commercial cinema is to blame. There is the other section of people like me who think this year was one of the more impressive ones, delivering big and small buckets of surprise right till the end. Of course, the schools of thought oppose each other, and extremely at times.

But these divided thoughts provide a much-needed snapshot of a world without the cloud of the pandemic, in which people used to freely walk out to watch films without caring about their mortality, and at times sidestepped obvious artistic concerns when the artists and storytellers whom they looked up to, did the one noble job to engage, entertain and move. Of course, there are scars still waiting to be nursed, and perhaps there are some fresh ones to come, this being a temporary respite. But such makeshift timespans of normal are exactly what the world needs to move over the fragility and smallness of limitations, and as the cliché goes, what the writers and directors need to think out of the box.

The year saw the mainstream and commercial cinema speak to the audience in an unmistakably familiar language. The tropes of making an underdog action film, a traditional meet-cute romantic comedy, or even a hyperlink disaster movie were devised yet again. But unlike the last few years, this was not done to alter the experience of home viewing or ‘revolutionize’ the OTT viewership for good. Instead, it was done the old-school way to get people back to the movie theatres and enjoy the spectacle, with or without their loved ones. The year of ‘Barbenheimer’ sparked a relevant conversation in this part of the globe as well, and the ‘large’ directors were tempted to test new ideas by dropping them in old wine bottles.

For that, there can’t be a better example than the three-film comeback we got from the most beloved Bollywood superstar, Shah Rukh Khan. It was not uniformly ‘grand’ in terms of quality, so to speak. Nevertheless, it was a run glorious enough to pull people back to the collective cheer of watching films for their long-believed sole purpose of entertainment. We saw cities transforming into characters in their own right and people finding out how important their own identities are to growing their own individual microcosms.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

This is why I choose to remember 2023 as a year for Indian cinema, which, for a change, chose to look inward in the process of outgrowing itself in terms of scale and scope. There were films abused, stars trolled, and even audience counter-trolled by the people helming that setup from behind the camera. But all these things remind us of what a healthy state of cinema is- very much alive. Here are 20 of the best Indian films from 2023.

Special Mention:

Animal | Language – Hindi

Indian Movies of 2023 - Animal

I know, I know. Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s only recently released atom bomb of an action thriller is the most abusive and the most abused film of the year. On paper, there is little that goes in its favor for being even mentioned in a list of the best films of the year. To be fair, Vanga’s film is very much a product of his bruised male ego, and so there are a lot of problematic aspects to the narrative going against it. However, there is something extremely fascinating about the fact that he has, in fact, no shame in admitting it.

The film’s protagonist is the nearly satanic Vijay, the son of the country’s wealthiest man, who is spiraling down a route of revenge to the point of self-destruction. However, Vanga chooses not to judge the man’s actions. Not because he has deliberately chosen not to but because his fierce and triggered film has no time for that. The film is a weirdly entertaining and supremely effective mishmash of genre influences and cues of brutal, well-shot, and synchronized battlefield-style action. What is further impressive is the fact that he takes cues from folklore and mythology for his storytelling, clearing the clutter for biased, homegrown storytelling that surprisingly works.

20. Jigarthanda DoubleX | Language – Tamil

Indian Movies 2023 - Jigarthanda DoubleX

Even as a stand-alone film that marries the personal with political and all of that with a tribute to show business, “Jigarthanda DoubleX” owes a lot to its predecessor from a decade ago, the Sion Sono-esque “Jigarthanda” (2014). Not because it reveals itself as a prequel to it towards the end, but because it, too, has a solid half-movie pattern. It is a film ridden with the first half problem, in which the character motivations are clearly laid out and almost arranged neatly on a table to the point of convenience. There is a lot of humor that is memorable, but the filmmaking is driven by the story instead of being the other way around.

However, in the classic Karthik Subbaraj style, the idiosyncrasies are revealed, and there is a 360-degree turnaround when the film hits the second half. The film is funnier, more focused, and passionate. This time, the narrative goes where the filmmaking (and the filmmaker) wants it to go. After nine years, and in the troubled 1970s rugged Madurai western setting, we are reminded that cinema is not the way out but a weapon that one must hold on to in order to put up a fight against the systemic mechanism that wrongs those who have been pulled down. This is one series of entertaining action comedies which is writing a sort of micro-history of its own.


Read More: 15 Great Tamil Movies You Can Stream on Netflix Right Now


19. Tortoise Under the Earth | Language – Santhali

Indian Movies 2023 - Tortoise Under the Earth

During Chhath Puja, a festival of sun worship widely celebrated in eastern parts of India and elsewhere, I, along with my family, often visit the riverbanks alongside the uranium mines of the foothills of Narwa, at a distance from the iron and steel city of Jamshedpur. It’s a beautiful place, and although the road to it is not metalled too well, you get to see these beautiful Santhali hutments, which these resident tribals decorate beautifully alongside their verandas during the festival season. Watching “Dharti Latar Re Horo” (“Tortoise Under the Earth”) instantly reminded me of how, each year, the number of huts keeps decreasing from outside of the car’s window seat.

Shishir Jha’s film tells a story of grief and the state of not being seen clearly with a slow and measured pace, as if building it up from the ashes of a more dramatic and fast-paced one. The conscious decision to convey the sentiments of the ‘narrative’ through folk festivals, folk music, and traditional community practices rather than the limited acting range of Jagarnath Baskey and Mugli Baskey is wise and gentle.

18. Aachar & Co. | Language – Kannada

Indian Movies 2023 - Aachar & Co

The thing with movies narrating sentimental tales that are more like remembered family history that have been amplified by recollections is that they evoke a familiar sense of nostalgia. It hits the sweet spot more often than not, but the risk of dilution is almost immediate. “Aachar & Co” comes with the same burden, in which the crystal-clear neatness of familial love and humor comes with an additional saturation of having seen it all, if not on-screen, then in real life. Despite that feeling, Murthy’s directorial debut heralds a brave new voice in Indian cinema that is unputdownable. In classic “Fleabag” fashion, she directs, co-writes, and stars as the independent and growing-up heroine of her own film.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

In the process, she writes the story of a conservative, orthodox Hindu family living in Bangalore in the 1960s in a language that is most certainly of love and adoration but is also radical in its renewed charm and even low-key feminist. Murthy goes about expressing the feelings of the family through the stories being shared about them in the form of neighborhood gossip and with her camera panning through shots of deliciously arranged food. But for every bit of carefree humor, there is a scene like the one she references from Satyajit Ray’s “The Big City,” in which an aspiring salesgirl is reminded by her married friend of “those days of mirth, in which we talked about getting married in London and Singapore.” You walk down memory lane, not without an analysis of it, though.

17. Viduthalai: Part I | Language – Tamil

 

Indian Movies of 2023 - Vidhuthalai Part 1

For a film to be universal, the director needs to focus on the specifics. Vetrimaaran takes that very seriously because all his major and minor works fit this bill. “Viduthalai: Part I” is not as masterful as “Visaaranai” or “Vada Chennai” but remains essential because of its universality. Based on a short story, the film is so densely plotted. It has such an incredible sense of reality contained within itself that you will probably refuse to believe this not being a dramatisation of actual events, majorly because it plucks important chapters from our social reality to plot a gripping crime thriller of its own.

Even more importantly, the drama is character-driven, and the protagonist is the kind of hero who makes his space in the margins. The mainstream’  mass’ movie beats have a distinctive sense of personality here, and even though the shoddily edited excerpt from the sequel does a great disservice to its structure, the film is an essential-to-watch entity that completely justifies itself.

16. Bheed | Language – Hindi

Problems and everything, there is still a distinctive impact (or at the very least a sense of it) in the viewing experience of an Anubhav Sinha film. It can’t be denied that there is some conscious cultural awakening in his Twitter-thread style approach towards the stories he wants to tell, but also a vital power to the fact that he tells them how he wants to. “Bheed” is a perfect example. The setting of Tejpur (a fictional setting probably taken from the Tejpura unit of Bihar) becomes a battlefield of the system’s mechanisms, the social currency of the nation, and the varied voices of the community and people.

Of course, the drama is too amplified and progressive, and the characters are taken straight out of their bulletin-point dramatis personae. Moreover, the filmmaking is powerful. While elevating and challenging the established archetypes, Sinha’s informed political stance takes the shape of a moving and intermittently thrilling drama that is all charged up, but majorly because it needs to be. Also, Rajkummar Rao pulls off a resourceful performance in the word’s best sense.

15. Vaalvi | Language – Marathi

Indian Movies 2023 - Vaalvi

Even a black-comedic crime thriller with characters that have their fate set in stone follows a pattern in which its comedy runs that extra mile so that the surprise factor of its twist lands. Unfortunately, that makes the humor of it quite generic and saturates the genre tropes. However, “Vaalvi” finds its director Paresh Mokashi exceptionally living up to the difficult task of breaking the set pattern. “Vaalvi” is not a film that examines the morality and consequences of a murder and the several fucked-up incidents that follow. Instead, it takes the texture and flavor of an easy-breezy Mumbai comedy, as if these fresh-faced characters are set on a journey of self-discovery rather than hiding the corpses that are bothering their otherwise easier lives.

A sick and deliciously plotted drama, it takes the authority from the murderous men and turns them into clowns, giving all of that to the women instead, smart and practical as they are. Although there are characters that could have used more menace on a script level, this is still a sharp and well-written thriller that keeps us waiting for more towards the end, even when it is finished business. Not that all the agency and wisdom would come of use; the doom is inevitable!

14. A Match | Language – Marathi

Indian Movies of 2023 - Sthal (A Match)

While watching Jayant Somalkar’s “A Match,” and when thinking about it for hours after watching it, I was reminded of Jeo Baby’s “The Great Indian Kitchen” (2021). Certainly, the two films come from two different places, two different cultures and aim to address two different aspects of India’s patriarchy. However, there is a shared sensibility that brings the men of the two films together, in which they at least try to put on a spectacle of the women in their lives the way they want to enjoy it: to marry them so that they could cook their food and serve it. Like the aforementioned film, and perhaps even more powerfully, “A Match” draws the thick line between sociological education and how much it is actually implemented.

Benefitting enormously from the measured and reserved leading performance delivered by Nikita Chikte, “A Match” is subtle and radical in its commentary on arranged marriages and how the conservatism of society renders the basic aspirations of women unreal or out of reach. There is an off-kilter anger to the way the film devises situational comedy. From a filmmaking standpoint, too, the film marks the debut of an impressive talent, as Somalkar gives away charming Wong Kar-Wai nods.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

13. Against the Tide | Language – Koli, Marathi

Indian Movies of 2023 - Against the Tide

In the last two years, Indian cinema has seen a particularly impressive chain of young Indian documentarians taking it to the international pedestal to tell important stories on the state of the nation, and rather impressively. For a change, Sarvnik Kaur takes the torch from a linguistic standpoint and tells an intimate story of extensive climate change. As the climate actually does change on the coasts of Mumbai, it also changes internally in the individual households of Rakesh and Ganesh, two friends from the Koli community who have a class disparity between them that is causing conflict. At the same time, the foreign competition in the fishing industry, increasing debt, and the hardships of self-sufficient work also affect their families.

The subjects that Kaur has chosen to focus on have so much going against them that she could have immediately chosen heightened drama and excesses of storytelling, even a rehearsed format to tell their story in the open. But her gaze is more humanistic and observational, quietly focusing on how the families of the two men go about their business and how culture plays a big role in everything they have done and are going to do in order to fix it. It feels too careful at times, but the incredible cinematography and sound work put the entire thing together as an empathetic film that succeeds because of a shared thematic understanding.

12. Chithha | Language – Tamil

Indian Movies of 2023 - Chittha

“Chithha” is one of the most important films that I have seen all year. Although the issue of the safety of little children and the sensitive topic of child abuse has been raised many times by mainstream cinema, it has hardly been focused on singularly. The mainstream temper of Arun Kumar’s film is quite obvious, with a dialed-up volume, the sentiments being acted upon by the BGM, and the last two acts giving the anchor entirely to the “hero.” However, in these times when technology has enabled criminal activity to depressing levels, there can’t be a more solid and effective approach to it than the one that the film adopts.

The writing is never wired to underscore its non-judgemental portrayal of male rage, which is scrutinized heavily but never justified. In fact, it is looked down upon. The film also has two excellent performances. Siddharth, as the wronged uncle seeking revenge, gives his all to an honest and committed leading performance. However, it is Nimisha Sajayan who steals the show from him as Sakthi, a strong and mature woman who commits to what she does without constantly shouting about it in the form of dialogue.


Also, Read: The Ten Best Tamil Movies of 2023


11. Purusha Pretham (The Male Ghost) | Language – Malayalam

Indian Movies of 2023 - Purusha Pretham

With last year’s “Aavasavyuham” and now this, I consider Krishand as one of the brilliant satirists working in the industry of Indian pop-culture at large. Further, his modus operandi is that of a dank member, and this third feature of his feels like a cruel inside joke cracked by the system, which makes you laugh while creeping you out. “Purusha Pretham” is nearly as atrocious as it is a funny look at the reckless red-tapism in the police body of Kerala. It tells a biting story of how identities get lost in life as much as after death. It sharply uses the device of fabricated storytelling to work out its own knittings on gender politics.

Mostly, the film works as a satire on traditional norms of masculinity, beginning and concluding with the note that the male ego, as celebrated and heroic as it might be, is bound to transform into incompetence. The glorification of it, in art and otherwise, is only there to mask the clownery. Prasanth Alexander, playing the role of a senior inspector Sebastian, is awesome in his leading turn.

10. Pokhar Ke Dunu Paar | Language – Hindi

Even if you don’t entirely buy the captivating atmosphere of Parth Saurabh’s Mithila-set indie “Pokhar Ke Dunu Paar,” you would have to admit how interesting an entity it is. On paper, it is the urban romance of Sumit and Priya, who are dating each other, have eloped from Darbhanga to the city of Delhi and have come back because of the COVID lockdown. It is hard to say if they were precisely thriving before that, but they need to survive and earn their bread.

Constructing a simple, moving yet slightly unnerving snapshot of their lives through instrumental visual poetry as well as the fantastic performances by Tanaya Khan Jha and especially Abhinav Jha, this is the kind of film that bleakly gives you an unfiltered look at the rose-tinted and often romanticized ideas of forbidden love and youth. There is nothing light and feathery about it. Even the humor has a hint of pain, which essentially make up the struggles of life, like engaging and unique conflicts make a potent story. In fact, the whole film can be read as a gentle yet brutal reminder of how much our lives and the stories we hear and see are alike in their form and function. All we need is to look at the relics of our reality in fantasy motifs.

9. Joram | Language – Hindi

Indian Movies of 2023 - Joram

Devashish Makhija is not a filmmaker in need of saving. But the way he exercises his blunt and unapologetic approach makes him one of the most important voices of the Hindi film industry, which is in dire need of preservation. His character-specific approach is something that he has weaponized so well that it helps him navigate through several dark aspects of our society that are concealed by the glossy surfaces projected in the form of the system’s promises and compensations. This approach works for “Joram,” his latest, nearly as much as it did for his previous works, “Ajji” and “Bhonsle.”

Makhija does not hold the banner for the marginalized. Instead, he throws the spotlight on the way the outsiders are treated ‘inside’ the urban jungle. The consequences of steady development are indeed haunting for the hands that are physically involved in it. Manoj Bajpayee delivers one of the most electric and watchable performances of his career as the protagonist Bala, pitch-perfect and alarming in intensity. However, the other supporting characters are essayed excellently too. Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub as the cop trying in vain to stand up for what’s right, and Smita Tambe as the scheming Adivasi leader who has climbed the ladder, are fantastic.

8. Aatmapamphlet | Language – Marathi

Aatmapamphlet

The directorial debut of Ashish Avinash Bende, “Aatmapamphlet” is one of the smartest and most absorbing comedies of the year. The way the film historically charts the romantic progression and social coming-of-age of its protagonist, a young boy called Ashish, is so tender and selective that your heart would instantly warm up to the sunny late-nineties world and the memorable characters. At the same time, the film is so actively political and all the more compelling about the utopian borderlines that it is difficult not to admire.

All of the delightful tension and storytelling coalesces into a strange, original climax, which enforces the primary nature of the film as a satire on growing up in an India ridden with history and looking forward to the future, only through the lens of people who are actually growing up and not the adults nurturing them with their own ideologies and agendas.

7. Kho Gaye Hum Kahan | Language – Hindi

In the pursuit of obsessing on social media platforms about who and what other people really are, we fail to see who and what they really are. This is no hypothesis. The estrangement of our social media handles from what we are in real life is not news and has been widely addressed by various art forms and online literature. But “Kho Gaye Hum Kahan” touches upon it with the kind of simplistic case-study texture that is so deft, nuanced, and effective that it’s hard not to see a reflection of yourself while watching it.

Of course, the familiarity of tropes and the lack of subtlety is quite on the face, but it is all crammed into a three-act structure that is masterful. Superbly performed by its leading trio and spearheaded by a terrific Ananya Pandey, the film offers a clear-eyed, even judgemental look at the Instagram generation but never looks down upon it. In fact, it celebrates the misconstructions of a young age and how people don’t really stop being impressionable even after a certain point.

6. Rocky aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani | Language – Hindi

Not only is Karan Johar’s latest directorial outing “Rocky aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani,” a truly well-made Bollywood entertainer that knows the value of grand palatial settings, high-octane melodrama, and good music spread out in fitting intervals, it is a luminous and mostly exciting romantic comedy with a love story that is wise and features protagonists and their families who can speak for themselves and have identities beyond their physical traits. There is a lot of preaching via monologues, but its takedown of cancel culture and outdated family values is singular and powerful.

I also appreciated the conscious decision to make the first two acts a medley of classic Hindi film music. The chemistry between Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, two of the most compelling actors in mainstream Bollywood, is magnetic, to say the least. The film also ends with a Manyavar-ad-esque song at the end. Even that works in its favor because it feels less like a wedding celebration and more like a moment of triumph for people who have understood that sometimes it is important to stand up for yourself over the wrongs of your family.

5. 12th Fail | Language – Hindi

Indian Movies of 2023 - 12th Fail

Of late, the films that have managed to shift something inside me on an emotional level have dipped that feeling in memory and self-reflection, which, although important, is also not entirely pleasant. That changes with the “12th fail,” a resounding and compelling ‘commercial’ film that manages to tug at your heartstrings with an after-taste of victory.

Vidhu Vinod Chopra, bringing home the kind of populist entertainment flavor that was missing from Hindi filmmaking for ages (and in what is his best work in years), puts us in the shoes of the struggling UPSC aspirant Manoj so that the final pay-off makes the loudest noise without the celebratory shrillness. Vikrant Massey, in the best performance of his career thus far, brings home the honesty and courage of IPS Sharma. The supporting cast is similarly excellent, treating the smallness and humanity of these people with empathy.

4. Family | Language- Malayalam

Indian Movies of 2023 - Family

Don Palathara’s technically most well-realized work to date, “Family,” is also one of the most powerful Indian movies of 2023. The narrative of the film never puts any character or institution under the spectrum of judgment from the word go. The cards undeck themselves, and you are able to see the delusion produced by our social constructs of faith and kin and how sins are concealed under the guise of belief. It is a sharp and sinister character study that patiently moves until the very end, when your skin finally crawls.

Until then, the striking forested imagery of Kerala provides you with several interesting motifs to ponder upon. The presence of predators and prey throughout the film provides it with the edge that its aesthetics deserve. Also, Vinay Forrt delivers a brilliant leading performance, the kind that is difficult to let go of.

3. Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam | Language- Malayalam

The maverick auteur Lijo Jose Pellissery seemed to have spoken with ‘Ee. Ma. Yau.’ that there is no one way of looking at death and that the tragedy can have darkly funny implications. Years later, in “Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam,” he offers a narrative that cannot be looked at in one way or language. Bearing an excellent title that cleverly conveys the aesthetic swerve of the settings and the humor of the twisted situation, the film can be described as a fantasy-filled and empathetic look at a middle-aged man’s mental disorder – how his heated exhaustion leads him to believe that he is someone else.

But it works even better as a reminder that our beloved stars have a primary function as performers. Mammootty pulls off the character of two generic men so memorably that it is hard to take your eyes off the frame when he is in it, a feat in a film that takes the bird’s eye view of two communities.

2. Shoebox | Language- Hindi

Faraz Ali knows the art of soft and subtle world-building, which he expertly does in his debut feature “Shoebox.” The film is a deft and painful lamentation of the erasure of the identity of a hometown and its residents. The specificity of focus on a woman’s life becomes an allegory for the specificity of the city’s dilemma and how the system influences things.

These are heavily practical ideas knit into an intimate script, and the muted cinematography creates a beautiful atmosphere that is a treat to watch. Also, the core human tragedy rings believable and authentic, primarily because of the impressive leading performance at its center that never loses gravity. It also benefits from the deeply moving performance by Amrita Bagchi. She makes the city of Allahabad in the backdrop take the helm, almost submitting to the bigger narrative by making herself more and more emotionally invested in the character of Mampu within each frame.

1. Three of Us | Language- Hindi

Indian Movies of 2023 - Three of Us

There are directors who find the poetry in between the verses by excavating the pauses that define the lives of the characters. Then there are directors who try to find their poetry in the heightened drama around characters with the aid of beautiful visuals. And then there is the rare breed of directors like Avinash Arun, who find the poetry in the roots of their characters. It all started with his personal coming-of-age debut, “Killa” (2014), took a fearsome form in Paatal Lok (2020), and took an unusual, human shape in “Three of Us,” a character study that takes a literal stroll through the lanes of fading memory.

The languid poetry of its relationship drama draws you with such an assured force that it is hard to let go of it for hours after the credits roll, even when no trauma is immediately put to display and no triggers are pulled. After ages has come a Hindi film that dares to move away from the sameness of a huge city and goes to the idyllic small town not to find peace or serenity but truth and identity. Not to mention the fact that it is one of those rare Hindi films that ‘thinks’ the language it speaks. In the closure of Shailja, the Hindi words move in the manner of spoken literature, as if the director too is going with her to where it all started so that what is to come starts making eventual sense.

Read More: These 10 Hindi Web Series of 2023 Are So Good, You’ll Watch Them All in One Weekend

Similar Posts