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Bollywood top 10, 2021

Updated on: 03 January,2022 07:33 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Mayank Shekhar |

A Bombay film needn’t be in Hindi, nor directed by an Indian. Here’s looking at last year’s greats then

Bollywood top 10, 2021

The White Tiger; Bell Bottom; Sherni and Shershaah

Now how does one define Bollywood anyway? You can’t. Technically, since the B in Bollywood stands for Bombay, I guess we simply mean films from Bombay/Mumbai. They could therefore be in any language and genre. 

Including, in Marathi —winning India its first global gong at a top-level film festival (Venice) in 20 years! The film is set in Mumbai, all the same. Likewise, a movie starring Priyanka Chopra and Rajkummar Rao, along with a debutant in the lead, but directed by an American, yet produced by a Bombay filmmaker for Netflix, is Bollywood too.

Minor technicalities apart, the true test of a great feature-length movie, in my head, is one you can watch at least twice. As I did with both the movies mentioned above —The Disciple, and The White Tiger. Also, to be fair, it’s not like we only love great movies. 

We also love wilfully crap pictures, opening our minds to limits of human lunacy on the screen. The not-flicks, Bhuj: The Pride of India, and Satyamev Jayate 2, topped my list, from the bottom, in that regard. But those are better watched than spoken about. The ones below, in my personal order of favourites from the top of 2021, should be equally watched and spoken about, of course.

1 Chaitanya Tamhane’s The Disciple (Netflix)

Chaitanya Tamhane’s The Disciple (Netflix)

An inside view of a sub-culture, i.e., guru-shishya parampara, and Hindustani classical music. A treatise on talent versus mediocrity, purist perfection versus commercial art, persistence versus excellence... A deeply meditative experiment on music that doesn’t stop playing long after the film has.

2 Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger (Netflix)

Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger (Netflix)

Arvind Adiga’s devastatingly angry novel The White Tiger was dedicated to Iranian origin American friend and director Bahrani, who finally filmed this story of extreme class divides, and India, in every way. Young Adarsh Gourav killed it in the part, if you may pardon the pun. The film argues that the lowest classes can rise in India only through crime and politics. There is, I guess, the third option too — talent. And that everyone behind this film display in abundance.

3 Rohena Gera’s Sir (Netflix)

A soft, sensitive story centred on care and love, beyond class, that stands as a wall between a rich, young man (Vivek Gomber) and his humble house help (Tillottama Shome) in downtown Bombay. This film could go either way with the plot. The beauty is, until the last shot, you don’t know which way it would. 

4 Vishnuvardhan’s Shershaah (Amazon Prime Video) / Kabir Khan’s 83 

Vishnuvardhan’s Shershaah (Amazon Prime Video) / Kabir Khan’s 83 

In both these films, you know what happens in the end. No spoiler alerts necessary. Captain Vikram Batra, that Shershaah is a biopic on, died in boots, fighting for Indian Army at the 1999 Kargil War. The 11 unlikely men in 83 won the cricket World Cup, almost miraculously, under Kaptaan Kapil Dev. Both movies are patriotic by their theme/nature. And yet exhibit the most positive, secure elements of love for the nation — which is to celebrate one’s own bravery and valour, rather than put others down. Given the outcome, both brought collective tears to audience’s eyes — for totally opposite reasons, of course.

5 Shoojit Sircar’s Sardar Udham  (Amazon Prime Video)

Such little was known about the man who assassinated the British, former Punjab Governor Micheal O’Dwyer. There was of course way more to him than the act of violence alone. And which director Sircar and lead actor Vicky Kaushal patiently bring to life, through a multi-national film that will stand the test of time. As will, most definitely, the dark, lingering scenes from the gruesomely haunting, 1919 Jallianwala Bagh episode/massacre.

6 Ranjit M Tewari’s Bell Bottom (Amazon Prime Video)

Ranjit M Tewari’s Bell Bottom (Amazon Prime Video)

Let this be placed here for personal memory: I watched the Bollywood film Bell Bottom in the neighbouring town of Surat, since theatres were still shut in Bombay, owing to the pandemic. So, literally, home-airport-multiplex-airport-home was that day—for a movie screening. No movie can live up to such determined expectations. Or they can, if you’ve been starved of a theatrical viewing for months/year? Bell Bottom was a ball—no OTT can match the popcorn plus picture as a collective/tribal exercise. Yeah, movies are stories, but they’re big-event experiences first. Same for why I ended up loving Rohit Shetty’s Sooryavanshi too.

7 Diya Annapurna Ghosh’s Bob Biswas (Zee5) / Kookie Gulati’s Big Bull (Hotstar)  

Slightly underrated, have to admit, 2021 saw actor Abhishek Bachchan, in the 20th year of his career in mainstream films, leaping furthest away from his comfort zone, yes, but also risking more. Firstly with Big Bull, which was unluckily timed, if you may, since only a few months before the film, audiences had loved and lapped up Scam 1992, a full-length series on Bombay Stock Exchange’s tainted kingpin Harshad Mehta. Likewise, Bachchan helmed Bob Biswas, a character already immortalised by Saswata Chatterjee in the film Kahaani. Be that as it may, Bachchan, like the two Bollywood movies on OTT platforms, stood out for trying hard enough, and eventually living up to a thoroughly watchable playlist for the year.  

8 Abhishek Kapoor’s Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui 

If the much-abused Bollywood term hat-ke ever applied appropriately to a recent film, it would fit first this Chandigarh movie about aashiqui between a man, who loves a woman, who was a man once. That the woman is the Yash Raj heroine Vaani Kapoor speaks volumes. That the man is Ayushmann Khurrana is almost a given, for tackling popular societal taboos as a filmic theme. Ayushmann draws you in with his physical transformation, Vaani holds you with her brave casting move. Between both is a film that immeasurably mainstreams an invisible community. What’s there not to love?

9 Umesh Bist’s Pagglait (Netflix)

Umesh Bist’s Pagglait (Netflix)

Black comedy dealing with aftermath of death — the toughest thing to make light of — much like Seema Pahwa’s wonderful Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi, which was a theatrical release in 2019, but dropped online after Pagglait. The latter stands out wholly for Sanya Malhotra, the girl from Dangal, who’s scripted a decidedly mature career since her 2016 blockbuster debut. 

10 Amit V Masurkar’s Sherni (Amazon Prime Video)

mit V Masurkar’s Sherni (Amazon Prime Video)

Vidya Balan is quite chameleon like as Vidya Vincent in Sherni — soft yet sincere/firm. The title refers to another tigress, an actual one, who’s turned man-eater. Whatever that means for forests that are encroached upon by men in the first place. That’s the wildlife theme here, that isn’t a creature picture, but a political film that combines concerns on ecology in ways that is equally essential and entertaining. 

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