Five Bollywood films you should have watched in 2016

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It’s that time of the year again, when listicles queue up as if they’ve just lost all their legal tender – the year-end is here!

As far as Bollywood is concerned, 2016 can be considered an above-average year, because we could finally see attempts across the board to step away from the norm and give the audience films that we deserve more than just the annual ‘I luv Bhai, WTF is Kanoon’ Eid release of the year.

We had successful tripe (Sultan); unsuccessful tripe (Mastizaade); failed good attempts (Waiting); and most importantly, we got films like Kapoor & Sons, Dangal, Udta Punjab, Pink and others. We witnessed some truly important films, ones that signal a change in the way filmmakers are approaching what they put out there and how much they respect us, the audience.

But amid the glory of the year’s most popular Bollywood films, there were a few that didn’t quite get the appreciation they deserved. These are the films that you should have watched this year, but probably missed for reasons unknown (perhaps the cast of these films didn’t turn up on The Unendingly Mediocre and Sexist Kapil Sharma Show or whatever they’re calling it these days).

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(L to R) Phobia, Ghayal Once Again, Rock on 2 and Kahaani 2. Images courtesy: Twitter

The films are listed in chronological order of their release.

Ghayal Once Again

Among all big-budget actioners in recent years – films like Dilwale, Shivaay, Ek Tha Tiger and the likes – Ghayal Once Again came closest to giving us something we could have an emotional stake in. It had well-executed VFX and action (by Indian film standards), and it focused on the youth, despite the film being commercially shouldered by an aging, fading star.

With a villain suspiciously modeled on a real life Indian tycoon, the film somehow managed to make you see that heroes and villains just can’t be painted in black and white.

And even though the plot was essentially the same as the original Ghayal, it was packaged for the audience of today. The film’s failure is no surprise, because Sunny Deol isn’t quite ‘trendy’ enough; but despite the hiccups in writing, the new Ghayal deserved at least passing mention, for some truly spectacular aerial drone shots of Mumbai city, if nothing else.

Aligarh

As time passes and humankind hurtles quicker towards doom (all-out global war or climate disaster, take your pick), one thing we could all possibly be thankful for is that the world at large is becoming more understanding of the nuances and complexities of gender and sexuality. Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh was a brave film, because it took an intriguing real life story about the social injustices against homosexuality and tinged it with cinematic melancholy. The film is enriched by the cast, because it trusted its actors to portray layered emotions. Yes, it also tended to drift into indulgence once in a while, besides succumbing to a pace that wouldn’t appeal to the entertainment-seekers. But Aligarh was a story that deserved to be heard and seen.

Phobia

Radhika Apte’s uncontainable talent found a terrific outlet in what is the thriller of the year, for me. Pop culture and the media are increasingly devoting time and space to gender issues these days, because right now it ‘sells’. So you’ll have patriarchal magnum opuses paying lip service to what they can, in reality, never stop seeing as ‘the other gender’.

Phobia, on the other hand, is a smart film that is primarily meant to spook you. If you’re smart enough, you’ll enjoy the thrills but also see the layered portrayal of gender-based crime, consent, mental health, post-traumatic stress and suchlike. Most intriguingly, at the end of the film you’re left wondering how to interpret exactly what you just witnessed, but the lack of answers doesn’t leave you unsatisfied.

Rock On 2

The original Rock On was an easy watch, one that didn’t really have much heft or depth from an emotional standpoint, depending instead on yaari-dosti and Bollywood-pop-rock to carry it through. The film stood out because it had Farhan Akhtar and Arjun Rampal’s beefy National Award-winning moustache make their respective acting debuts.

Rock On 2, however, has a story to tell. It holds on to the same characters that made the original film, but takes on a new phase of their lives, one where they have bigger, tougher decisions to make. What makes the film an interesting watch is the fact that the characters seem to have matured from the initial film, and that’s a good sign, because logically speaking, they would have. It is also set in two worlds – the urban chaos of Mumbai, and the tranquil environs of Shillong –  an interesting (but also logical) place to set a film about a rock band in. It is a film that coasts along nicely, and manages to give out a message as well. Simply put, it deserved far more attention that it eventually received.

Kahaani 2

Kahaani 2 is a far more important, layered and rounded film than Kahaani ever was. (There, I said it.) There’s only one reason why Kahaani originally became the big rage that it did – Hindi cinema has the lowest imaginable standard for thrillers, that’s why. Our thrillers are so bad that when a not-so-bad one comes along, it becomes the best thing we’ve seen. For me, Kahaani was a giant MacGuffin that never delivered (pun fully intended).

Kahaani 2, on the other hand, seems more real, more intimate, and for the most, more believable. At its core was an important message about child sexual abuse, and you needed a real, believable actor like Vidya Balan to make the point that it does. Arjun Rampal (who somehow has two films on this list) turns out a surprisingly good performance, but the biggest win for Sujoy Ghosh with this film is how he manages to thrill without resorting to too much narrative gimmickry. Could it have been a tauter, edgier thriller? Yes, it could. But even as it stands, Kahaani 2 is the kind of thriller Bollywood should be making more of.

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