Top ten Indian films of 2013- by Ram Anand

Recognising the most spellbinding tales of the year.

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)

Director: Bharatbala

Writer: Bharatbala

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

Music: Pritam

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.

Raanjhanaa- Movie Review by Ram Anand

Just like love- you just can’t describe. It’s ambiguous, beautiful, heart breaking and at times incomprehensible. Raanjhanaa is exactly one such film.

Did this same filmmaker direct Tanu Weds Manu two years ago?

There’s something unsettling about Raanjhanaa’s climax. After two odd hours of watching a Banarasi delivery boy travelling all over the country just so that he could impress, and later find retribution for his guilt feeling, you sit there, in the theatre, and you can understand when the hero simply concludes by saying that he could wake up again if he wants to, but he just doesn’t have the mood- not to fall in love madly again, slit his wrists, and be betrayed.

Once in a while, you watch a cinema that is such a tour de force that it stays true to its conviction, and delivers a story that only needs reflection and pondering- and not so much judgement. Raanjhanaa is one such film.

The title of the film means the beloved, or more accurately a mad lover- and normally refers to a male. Dhanush’s Kundan is the perfect epitome of this word.

He falls in love with Zoya, a Muslim girl as she was offering namaz, when he was only 10 years old. She becomes his life, she defines his life. He never looks back. He gets close enough to her to offer her a kiss after consistently wooing her, but eight years after she is sent out of town by her parents who had discovered their innocent romance, Zoya returns, in love with someone else.

But Kundan is still adamant about wanting her, and after numerous attempts and approaches, he had to simply play the sidekick as he arranges for her to be with her lover, only to later ruin her wedding and has to live with the guilt.

What follows is a captivating, sometimes bizarre, journey that this man takes to find retribution and love from the woman he had spent a lifetime obsessing over.

Dhanush as Kundan delivers one of the best debuts in recent Bollywood history. Bollywood did not have a good track record as far as fresh debuts are concerned, but Dhanush breaks that mould, probably owing to his repertoire of being a National Award winning actor from South India.

He might be having unconventional looks but the fact remains that, he is exactly the fresh face Bollywood needs amidst a plethora good looking hunks who have been debuting in the industry over the past few years. His slightly tinged Hindi accent suits with his characterisation, while there is simply no other actor who can pull off the role of a dedicated lover as good as this man. This man is going places, and on the evidence on Raanjhanaa, there’s no stopping him.

Sonam Kapoor as Zoya excels in the first half, but falls slightly below par when it comes to pulling off the more emotionally taxing scenes in the second half of the movie. She didn’t seem to comprehend the fact that this film is about Zoya as much as it is about Kundan, but unfortunately at times she portrays Zoya as indecisive, volatile young lady who’s blinded by her own love and ambitions.

Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub however is a real show stealer in his role as Kundan’s friend Murari, while Swara Bhaskar is captivating as Bindiya.

Abhay Deol makes a fleeting appearance, but leaves a telling impact despite his eventually short-live appearance.

Raanjhanaa is not best films you will see in terms of execution, it was near-perfect in the first half as a budding, innocent love story- but once the innocence was stripped off, some of the scenes does get on your nerves, while some scenes leave you lost, losing focus on the story.

But as far as story and screenplay are concerned, this is one of the best written films of all time. Raanjhanaa is like a bravura Shakespearean tragedy- it starts like a beautiful melody but ends like melancholic poem, with plenty to reflect upon.

AR Rahman’s music blends in seamlessly into the movie and some great compositions carry the story and the emotions through the second half (notice the lyrics of some second half songs, they are timeless). If you want to see songs shot with beauty, that the picturisation of the most popular tracks from the album, Tum Tak and Raanjhanaa, should appease your tastes.

Raanjhanaa is not just a love story- it is tour de force that explores the white, grey and dark shades of love added with a shocking twist- pivoting around a character that is purely driven by love, and who doesn’t find purpose in love.

As you sit and watch the protagonist lamenting in a voiceover about his life in the final scene, you will be tempted to laugh as much as you are tempted to cry.

Just like love- you just can’t describe. It’s ambiguous, beautiful, heart breaking and at times incomprehensible.

Raanjhanaa is exactly one such film. Class, redefined. Where were you hiding Aanand L Rai? Now I would look forward to his next movie.

Raanjhanaa- Music Review by Ram Anand

All in all, Raanjhanaa is a brilliant, fantabulous album that once again must be savoured from ARR. My picks would be Tu Mun Shudi, Tum Tak, Raanjhanaa, Ay Sakhi and Piya Milenge. Well, that’s a lot of picks, isn’t there? That’s how good this album is.

Anand L Rai’s directorial debut Tanu Weds Manu was widely enjoyed by audience even if it didn’t find much takers among critics. Anand seems to have developed a soft spot for South Indian actors- after casting Madhavan in his debut, he is handing Dhanush his Bollywood debut, that too alongside well known Bollywood names such as Sonam Kapoor and Abhay Deol.

But the main appeal of Raanjhanaa is definitely it’s music, which is composed by AR Rahman, a boon for any filmmaker who is making a romantic movie. ARR himself has not been particularly handed films with such romantic potentials in such a long time, thus it was easy to see why ARR has delivered such a soothing, top shelf album that will be savoured by music lovers for a long time.

Raanjhanaa (Shiraz Uppal and Jaswinder Singh)

The album starts with a rendition of the title track itself- and you can’t ask for a better start for a colourful album. Raanjhanaa is full of energy, beautifully balanced with beauty and melody. It gives the impression of an epic love saga transcending time, something the film’s trailer also attempts to portray. Shiraz Uppal and Jaswinder Singh do a great job behind the mic, and this is one song of its kind you won’t get to hear very often in Bollywood.

Of course, it also seems to be tailor made to cater to Dhanush’s dancing abilities, and this number is one that will remain in the memories for some time.

Tum Tak (Javed Ali and Keerthi Sagathia)

Delicious! The first listen might not sound too appealing to you, but a repeat listen can you make you melt with the sufi touches in the middle, especially in the second stanza of the song when ARR uses Javed Ali’s brilliant voice to the tee to create a very loveable ambience about the whole song.

In the myriad of party and westernised songs we have in Bollywood today, this song is sort of a throwback, full of classical interludes, and the whole song is about a man’s devotion towards the woman that he loves. Songs like these are very rare to come by.

Savour them while you can.

Banasriya (Shreya Ghosal)

There are songs that you can listen for the music, but there also songs that you can listen for the beauty of the voice alone. Banasriya is a fairly simple composition (at least by ARR’s standards), but then the moment you listen to Shreya’s sweet voice, it is very hard to skip this number.

Not to forget there is a very catchy middle stanza that enhances the uniqueness of this song, which again is owned completely by the voice of Shreya Ghosal.

It has been a fair bit of time since we had Shreya singing for ARR, and thus this can be savoured for that very reason, while the classical undertones of the entire song are very soothing, uncomplicated, and ultimately appealing.

Piya Milenge (Sukhwinder Singh)

Starts off slightly haunting then traverses into the sufi territory with utmost gusto and comes out with flying colours once you give it one full listen.

This is ARR’s composing genius at its best. Sukhwinder’s voice is an added bonus to the entire song, but this composition is more about ARR’s balance of sufi and modern music to create a beautiful song which is very much in touch with Banarasi roots of this song.

This is gorgeous. Here’s hoping the song would be given justice on the screen.

Ay Sakhi (Chinmayi and Madushree)

All about beautiful voices and classical touches. It reminds me of Yaaro Yaarodi from Alaipayuthey for a start, only that this an improvised version that has released some 13 years later.

Chinmayi and Madushree are an excellent combination, their voices elevate the song greatly, and this one song that is catchy from the off. ARR also surprises with his quirky infusions of techno beats in the middle of classical stanzas- similar to the legendary Gehnda Phool from Delhi 6.

Solid!

Nazar Laaye (Rashid Ali and Neeti Mohan)

I can’t really say any song in this album is bad. There are either excellent songs or really good songs. Naazar Laaye falls in the latter category, that’s all.

Again, it starts with a slightly techno beat but Rashid and Neeti’s voice make for an excellent, sweet, ballad of a duet that will surely linger in the memories of those who have the mood for a slow, lullaby romantic song.

Tu Mun Shudi (AR Rahman and Rabbi Shergill)

Smile.

AR Rahman goes behind the mic himself, and as usual, delivers the number that has the most zip in the whole of the album. Probably the only one that doesn’t have any classical touches to it, this is pure passion and the fire of youth.

Rabbi is an unconventional choice for a song like this, but he pulls it off brilliantly as he complements ARR’s brilliant rendition. It has a tone of success in it, and as usual, the brilliant ARR beings out the exact mood of the situation with his song.

Aise Naa Dekho (AR Rahman)

Remember Tu Boloon Mein Boloon from Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na? If you do, then you would know exactly what I am talking about. Sung by ARR himself, this is a super slow ballad about a man naughtily asking a woman to stop looking at him in a seductive way.

This song is all about the lyrics and casual way with which ARR delivers it, with heavy jazz undertones, in which ARR uses minimal instrumental interferences.

This song for a select mood and a select time, but you appreciate it’s niche, then this is as good as it can get.

All in all, Raanjhanaa is a brilliant, fantabulous album that once again must be savoured from ARR. My picks would be Tu Mun Shudi, Tum Tak, Raanjhanaa, Ay Sakhi and Piya Milenge. Well, that’s a lot of picks, isn’t there? That’s how good this album is.