1. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (Run Milkha Run)
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Writer: Prasoon Joshi
Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor, Meesha Shafi, Dev Gill
Music: Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsan Noorani, and Loy Mendosa
There can be very little arguments about what is the best movie of 2013 when there is work that encompasses creativity, dedication, hardwork, and also finesse- all packaged together to near perfection. Once in a while, you watch a movie that you feel is not worth reviewing, not because it’s bad, but because it would be an injustice to pick on the flaws of the film due to the magnitude of the presentation.
Inspired by the real life story of Indian runner Milkha Singh, BMB moves beyond and above being a story about runner who made it big- instead, this movie’s telltale rather is that no matter how much you achieve and come through in your life, the biggest challenge you could ever face was probably to exorcise your own demons- now matter how small or trivial they are.
BMB does not glorify the olympics or the commonwealth games in which Milkha participated, rather the insignificant friendly race in Pakistan which meant little to the rest of the world, but meant everything in the world for Milkha, as he was busy killing the demons that have haunted him his whole life.
Farhan Akhtar’s inspiring performance is not limited to his immaculately toned body or his real time sprinting alone, it is rather encapsulated with the way he amalgamates the fear that consumes the Milkha Singh, his heartbreak, and his yearning for his family.
Rakeysh Mehra returns after a four year hiatus with another movie on par with his 2005 masterpiece Rang de Basanti, and when I say a film is as good as RDB, there are no arguments as to where this film will stand in terms on annual rankings. This is one for popular culture, and also to remain a fond memory for years to come, like how RDB remains dear to Indians till today.
2. Vishwaroopam (Image of the world)
Director: Kamal Haasan
Writer: Kamal Haasan
Cast: Kamal Haasan, Rahul Bose, Andrea Jeremiah, Pooja Kumar, Shekhar Kapur
Music: Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsan Noorani, and Loy Mendosa
South Indian numero uno talent Kamal Haasan’s worldview and philosophy, especially in issues such as terrorism, has always been a little different from the mainstream. Kamal, who has humanised almost every other mainstream perception in a career spanning over five decades, including the last two decades of continuously pushing the envelope with films such as Hey Ram, Anbe Sivam, and Kurudhi Punal to name a few, this time serves a dish tinged with slight masala and with the heavy presence of the fine details any Kamal admirer would notice.
Vishwaroopam earns its brownie points with Kamal’s succinct portrayal of the Afghani life and also the portrayal of terrorists and being humans who retaliate to acts committed under the name of “war on terror”. While the mainstream narration presents this as a stylish thriller, the nuances and dialogues are peppered with so many ideological and philosophical questions that will make you sit up and take notice. Kamal’s own performance, at the age of 58, is unmatched whether as the half hearted Afghani terrorist, the soft spoken Kathak dancer who bats his eyelids in the most effeminate way possible, or as the man who transforms to a professional killer within 16 drops of water. (arguably the best action scene of the year).
Vishwa may not be as good as Hey Ram, a previous Kamal offering which was a masterpiece, but Kamal shows he has learnt his lesson of great films tanking at the box office, so he chisels here a very good film that made both money and also satisfied knowledge hungry minds like mine.
A blend that offers plenty of joy to the back row clappers and the intense viewers, here is hoping the sequel would dare to go up a notch and tell a more profound, though provoking story while retaining a mainstream format.
Not to forget, Rahul Bose was pretty good as the villain.
3. Raanjhanaa (Beloved One)
Director: Anand L Rai
Writer: Himanshu Sharma
Cast: Dhanush, Sonam Kapoor, Abhay Deol
Music: A.R. Rahman
Anand Rai’s previous offering Tanu Weds Manu was a bundle of joy, but it hardly stayed with you after a first viewing. But with Raanjhanaa, aided by a spellbinding musical score by one of the greets musical legends in India, AR Rahman, Anand Rai takes romance drama to a new realm with his heartbreaking story of one sided love.
One sided love stories often made for very boring, repetitive, cheesy movie outings, but Raanjhanaa packed so much emotions and subtlety thanks to a brilliant script, melodious music, and a sweet portrayal of life at the city of Banaras (Varanasi).
Watching the movie will make you understand why Anand Rai insisted on waiting eight months to give southern star Dhanush, who doesn’t conform to the mainstream Bollywood definition of a romantic hero, a Bollwyood debut with this movie.
Like how Shah Rukh Khan owned Baazigar, Dhanush owned Raanjhanaa with his array of emotions, from love, betrayal, and guilt.
Abhay Deol and Sonam Kapoor only need to the their minimal best, as the trio of Anand, Dhanush, and Rahman have made sure this tale will stay with you for sometime after watching. The final montage is a melancholic tragedy worth being on par with all other great romances that we have seen on screen.
4. Special 26
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Writer: Neeraj Pandey
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Manoj Bajpai, Anupam Kher, Jimmy Shergill
Five years ago, Neeraj made one of the best intense dramas Bollywood has ever produced in the form of “A Wednesday”. He returned this year with an equally taut script for Special 26, which starts slow but never lets you off the hook till the final moments.
A story about a bunch of conmen who dressed as CBI officers to conduct fake raids (inspired from a true event), Neeraj slowly lets you grow into the characters and their personal lives while bringing his own dimension to the portrayal of Manoj Bajpai as the police officer hot on their heels.
This a-la “Catch Me if You Can” narration is spellbinding barring a couple romance moments between Akshay and Kajal Agarwal which delayed the pace of the film. Otherwise, when you have actors like Akshay refraining from any heroism, along with known performers such as Anupam and Manoj, you won’t get this wrong.
The best thriller of the year.
5. Lootera (Robber)
Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Writer: Bhavani Iyer and Vikramaditya Motwane
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Sonakshi Sinha
Music: Amit Trivedi
After making the critically acclaimed Udaan, Vikramaditya returns with Lootera, a slow, painstakingly built tale of love set in the 1950s between Varun Srivastav (Ranveer Singh) and Pakhi Ray Choudhary (Sonakshi Sinha).
Posessing arguably the best on screen chemistry this year, Ranveer and Sonakshi give so much life to their characters that you are immersed in their romance and tragedy despite the monotonous pace of narration.
Lootera’s production design is flawless. The first half’s innocent, flirtatious nature is reflected with the colours of Manekpur and the Bengali culture. The second half, in reflection of a tragedy, is set in the hill station of Dalhousie, where its winter, and its snowing profusely, leading to the depression of the characters involved.
Vikramaditya does most his story telling through visuals, a glance, a smile, an acknowledgement. But all that pent up emotions were delivered in a bulk with such effervescent restraint in the film’s poetic, heart wrenching climax.
A love story given a treatment of Shakespearean proportions, running like a poem on screen.
6. Madras Cafe
Director: Shoojit Sircar
Writer: Somnath Dey and Shubendu Bhattacharya
Cast: John Abraham, Nargis Fakhri
Music: Shantanu Moitra
After his successful Vicky Donor, Shoojit ventured into rather unknown territory in making an edge of the seat thiller about politics and war. Unlike many other Indian movies, Madras Cafe does not make the grave error of nationalising the issue of war in neighbouring countries, and instead looks at it at a macroscopic level, probing the consequences of war to all those involved. Set in the early 1990s at the height of the Sri Lankan civil war, the film takes on the Indian government’s role in the war, the betrayal that caused the death of India’s prime ministerial candidate, and also the external hands that played a part in the war.
Madras Cafe is blessed with an arresting plot, more so if you have a basic knowledge about the events surrounding the Lankan civil war, especially during the early 1990s when tensions were high. It paints most of its characters, bar a few, as being gray, and this is something that removes it from a national realm and places it in an international realm. The discrepancies between reality and fiction are pretty obvious, but those can be ignored on the basis that the director has utilised his creative license without wanting to get too close to some controversial real life characters, especially LTTE leader Prabhakaran.
John Abraham is brilliant as a covert Indian intelligence officer, while the relatively fresh supporting cast provide ample support to the narrative. Nargis Fakhri looks much more comfortable playing a British journalist, instead of her attempt at looking desi in Rockstar previously.
While it is debatable as to how much Madras Cafe buys into the conspiracy theory surrounding the war, the movies does make you think and largely works due to plain good filmmaking.
7. Soodhu Kavvum (Evil Engulfs)
Director: Nalan Kumarasamy
Writer: Nalan Kumarasamy
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Sanchita Shetty
Music: Santosh Narayanan
In possibly the most convincing directorial debut this year, Nalan Kumarasamy stole the show with his Soodhu Kavvum, a dark comedy thriller about a group of wannabe kidnappers and their quirky leader, and also about a too honest to be good state minister who becomes a victim of their rather amateurish plans. Executed with style and panache, coupled with an apt background score from debutante Santosh Narayanan, Soodhu Kavvum works as a solid thriller, with every character playing their part despite not being household names at the time of the film’s release.
Soodhu Kavvum also finishes with a great, bold climax that is a true ode to a neo noir crime movie, and is peperred with a generous amount of dark comedy that will leave you hooked to your seat.
8. Maryan (Immortal)
Cast: Dhanush, Parvathi Menon
Music: AR Rahman
Intense performances from lead actors Dhanush and Parvathi Menon, alongside picturesque camerawork, detailed direction from Bharatbala, and also a timeless musical score by AR Rahman makes Maryan a melancholic, visually arresting film to watch. It has its downfalls in terms of its snail paced narration and its lack of surprises, but that was not what the director and writer of this story intended for anyway.
Maryan is about capturing the spirit of a man’s will to live against the odds, and an attempt to capture the passion and drive of love. From the waters of Neerodi, to the setting sun, and the harsh desert in Sudan, Bharatbala uses everything at his disposal- from the actor to the music to near perfection to bring about the spirit of a man who refused to die when he could and should have.
9. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (Youth is Crazy)
Director: Ayan Mukerji
Writer: Ayan Mukerji
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Kalki Koechlin
In the slew of serious movies in this list, JHD is a full on fun and frolic film that is typical of modern Bollywood, but at the same time does not quite confine to the typical formulas. Foot tapping music by Pritam is aided by great dance sequences full of colour and live, while the chemistry between Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone scorches the screen. Supporting cast play to their own strengths perfectly, and in so many ways, the film captures the restlessness of modern youths.
Ayan Mukerji made nice, coming to age movie in Wake Up Sid in his first outing, and while his heroine is not as grounded and humanised like Konkona Sen Sharma was in that movie, and his narration not so subtle, the little extra dose of masala did work for the film while intervowing emotional coming of age sequences in the second half.
This was quite an entertainer.
10. Neram (Time)
Director: Alphonse Putharen
Writer: Alphonse Putharen
Cast: Nivin Pauly, Nazriya Nazim
Music: Rajesh Murugesan
The final film in this top ten list is the small budget, yet pleasant to watch Neram, a comedy thriller about events that unfold in a single day in a man’s life. Newcomers Nivin Pauly and Nazriya are both charming, while the slew of supporting characters were no less towering with their performances. The script keeps you going until the final minute, with plenty of natural comedy in between, making it another promising debut for a directorial talent in the south.