It’s Deepavali eve, and I have completed my compilation of ten best movies of the past decade in Bollywood. However, in order to remain true to the spirit of Indian cinema, I’m calling this Hindi cinema and not by its cheap moniker called Bollywood. There are notable absentees in this list, the most telling one being Ashutosh Gowariker’s ‘Lagaan’ and Deepa Mehta’s ‘Water’, both which were highly acclaimed and got close to Oscar glory.
I have also left out Kamal Hassan’s masterpiece ‘Hey Ram’ because I have already featured it in my Tamil-language compilation. Otherwise, ‘Hey Ram’ clearly has a special place somewhere beyond this following list.
10. Black (2005)
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Rani Mukherji.
Plenty of critics would argue that this film deserves to be higher up the ranking, or maybe even in a no.1 position. But I have always maintained that you can’t simply call a film ‘the best’ because it attempts to be different or features very unique performances alone. The main reason why Black only got as far as no.10 in my list is because the film can get a little slow in narration at times and it takes a patient viewer to enjoy it, and even more patient to be able to enjoy repetitive viewing.
Black tells the story of a blind and deaf Anglo-Indian girl, whose family contemplate sending her to the school for special kids until they hire an erratic old teacher from a special kids’ school to personally tutor their out-of-control daughter. What follows is a series of events that tightens the special bond between tutor and protégé, and when the old man starts suffering from Alzheimer’s, his protégé takes it upon herself to help him recuperate.
The film’s features some of the best performances of the decade, especially from Rani Mukherji who played the role of a blind and deaf woman. Amitabh matches her with his brilliant performance as an erratic teacher who later has Alzheimer’s. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the king of melodrama, allows the film to flow on its own, and his choice of location and backdrop of an Anglo-Indian family also suits the film perfectly.
Black is an aesthetically rich film that will delight any cinemagoer, and deserved all the awards that came its way. And it is by far SLB’s career best work.
9. Delhi-6 (2009)
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor, Waheeda Rahman.
This movie had a mixed reception when it came out, but in my opinion, a clearly re-hashed ending does not mean that Delhi-6 becomes any less awesome than it is. Many people might have gone to the theatres expecting to see another ‘Rang de Basanti’, but just because the movie does not feature action and aggressive patriotism does not mean that it lacks soul. In fact, if you could appreciate the subtlety, it has more soul than most movies put together.
The movie is about an American NRI who accompanies his ailing grandmother back to her old hometown in downtown Delhi. He becomes a passive observer as the different facets of the society unfolds in front of his eyes, from a pair of bickering neighbor brothers, an wannabe actress, and also the nuisance of the ‘Kaala Bandar’, a mysterious monkey-like creature which commits theft and injures people.
The film is best social commentary of the past decade, and probably Indian viewers felt the sting because no other movie attempted to be so honest in stripping naked the hypocrisy of the Indian culture. There is one classic scene when a man glorifies how Lord Rama is equal to all beings but shuns away someone who is from a lower caste in his own society.
Abhishek’s role is that of a passive observer, something that did not go down well with many Indian audiences, but that is the core element of the film, and he plays the role brilliantly. Sonam’s character is slightly annoying but she plays it well. AR Rahman’s musical score is one of the best, even though the movie did not do justice to all those great tracks.
The movie is about loving something despite its imperfections and trying to make a change. Atul Kulkarni’s climax monologue is worth remembering, while the whole allegory to ‘Kaala Bandar’ and how it relates back to the society is also brilliantly written.
8. Dev D (2009)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Abhay Deol, Mahi Gill, Kalki Koechlin
At some point of your life, you might have come across a spoilt rich brat, who is an absolute ass, and chose not to be too close to him or her. If you wanted a peek on how their personal life would be like then Dev D is one great watch.
With raw honesty, the film tells the story of a lustful son of a millionaire, who gets heartbroken when his childhood love marries an older rich guy. He turns to alcohol, drugs, and prostitutes- one of them being Saro, a girl who decides to enter the prostitution business after a MMS scandal featuring her making out with her boyfriend spreads like a wildfire, causing shame to her middle class parents, who subsequently disown her.
The film is a modern day adaptation of a classic 1917 novel Devdas, but its modern twist written by Abhay Deol himself along with Anurag Kashyap makes it very much relevant.
With some serious badass acting from all involved, a very straightforward direction, and a cult musical score, this film walked away with plenty of acclaim and also a good box office performance.
7. Taare Zameen Par (Stars On Earth) (2007)
Director: Aamir Khan
Cast: Darsheel Safary, Aamir Khan.
You’ve got to give to Aamir Khan for knowing the exact pulse of his audiences. In hardly unexplored theme, the movie tells the story of a dyslexic kid, whose parents almost lose faith in (not realizing that he is dyslexic), and how his teacher helps him attain that awareness and subsequently play to his strengths.
A simple film that would delight audiences from all walks of life, Taare Zameen Par was like the perfect Disney film, with the right amount of tartness and sweeteness and makes it feel like a small fairytale. There are plenty of emotional scenes, all powered by an excellent performance from child actor Darsheel Safary.
Aamir Khan steers the vessel with immaculate ability in his maiden directorial venture, and also through his dialogues tackles a very essential factor of the Indians’ result-oriented mentality when it comes to education.
6. Omkara (2006)
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Cast: Ajay Devgan, Saif Ali Khan, Vivek Oberoi, Kareena Kapoor.
Here, Hindi cinema proved that they make Shakespeare’s work look great even in the celluloid of the much-maligned Bollywood-ish routine. Set in a dry land in Uttar Pradesh, this adaptation of ‘Othello’ is about a local gang leader who chooses one deputy over another to succeed him.
The left out deputy hatches a devious plot to incite hatred and jealousy among his leader, his first deputy and also his leader’s ladylove, resulting in a tragic ending for all involved.
The setting and backdrop helps the film a great deal, bringing out the dark mood that is maintained throughout, while the star-studded cast does not disappoint one bit. Vishal Bhardwaj’s script is the work of a genius and pays genuine tribute to Shakespeare’s work.
5. Guru (2007)
Director: Mani Ratnam
Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai.
Guru, by a distance is not Mani Ratnam’s finest but it certainly is Abhishek Bachchan’s best performance to date. In a decade where Bollywood had moved to multi-starrers, dual roles and stretching performances had gone out of trend. That was until Abhishek made his critics eat their own words by displaying so many different shades in a narration, which documented a man’s rise from the age of 30 till he was 60.
The film told the story of an industrialist wannabe who starts his life in Mumbai as virtually a nobody but works his way up, by sometimes being ruthless and cunning, but ultimately creating an industry that helped created thousands of job opportunities, at the expense of some very personal losses.
Abhishek was meteoric in the lead performance, and so was Aishwarya, who played the role of his older but fiercely loyal wife. The film had an ensemble startcast, and everyone else, including Madhavan and Vidya Balan did justice to their well written but rather short parts.
The master filmmaker that is Mani Ratnam has written many scenes that are worth applauding, and that is reason enough to make this an excellent film.
4. Chak de India (Buck up India) (2007)
Director: Shimit Amin
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Vidya Malvade
Definitely not your typical Shahrukh movie, as it did not come with incredible hype like most SRK films do, but it definitely made a wave at both of the box office and among critics. One of the most likeable films of the decade, Chak de was a sports film with a difference.
The film told the story of a disgraced former Indian national hockey team captain, who attempts to make a comeback by coaching the national women’s team to World Cup glory.
The film is extremely well shot, as all the actors genuinely practiced hockey and the hockey game scenes were shot with great authenticity. Sharukh delivers an incredible performance, somewhat restrained as the bearded, disgraced coach trying to redeem his pride. The film does not have the typical song-and-dance routine but is instead a simply well made sports film. Easily Hindi cinema’s best sports film of the decade.
3. 3 Idiots (2009)
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Cast: Aamir Khan, R Madhavan, Sharman Joshi
A loose adaptation of Chetan Bhagat’s novel, 3 Idiots upon release went on to make an absolute splash for an entire generation. This is a movie that was a massive cult hit, with the dialogues still reverberating among the younger Indian generation until now.
The film told the story of an off-the-beat student at a highly respected engineering college in India, whose dean is a strict disciplinarian. This student comes in and changes the whole complexion of the education system there- he does things creatively with plenty of hands-on approaches yet still becomes a class topper. He befriends two of the lowest ranked students in the class, both of whom do not feel like they belong at the institute at the first place. And this results in a comical merry go round.
This film is a tale of friendship, love, and above all celebrates a different form of education, one that is less rigid and more expressive. The film has everything- from rich visuals, plenty of genuinely funny moments, some great acting, and plenty of evergreen dialogues.
Watching this would definitely make your day and make you want to come back to the film. A masterpiece, and a movie of a generation.
2. Rang de Basanti (Paint it Saffron) (2005)
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Cast: Aamir Khan, R Madhavan, Soha Ali Khan, Kunal Kapoor, Siddharth.
Another massive cult hit. RDB told the story of five carefree youths who get extremely frustrated and takes up arms after an army pilot friend of theirs dies in a plane crash but is later labeled by a corrupt minister as a bad pilot in order to hide his own corrupt practices.
Exquisitely written and directed with panache, the film moved an entire generation when it came out. There are scenes that will make you weep, and no film in the past decade highlighted the pain of losing a loved one better than this film. The frustrations that drives these youths over the edge is also highly relatable. The ensemble cast is perfect, everyone do an excellent job, including Madhavan, who made a simple cameo but left the greatest impact.
Siddharth does his role so well that he overshadows the veteran Aamir Khan himself. Rakesh Mehra’s direction, embedded with AR Rahman’s fresh musical score, all worked in favor of the film. Hardly a single flaw existed in the whole movie. A class above.
1. Swades (Motherland) (2004)
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Gayatri Joshi.
The film gives a feel of nostalgia. Ashutosh, the director, has not made a good film for nearly four years now and has completely dropped off the radar, while Gayatri Joshi became a one-film wonder. This was the one and only film in which she acted, leaving the audiences wanting for more. The bertrayal of the decade is the fact that this movie flopped at the box office. But it subsequently became a cult flick, attracting an almost universal critical acclaim.
Patriotism never had a better advert than the story of a NASA scientist who falls in love with the deepest, most rundown areas of India. The film had some gut wrenching scenes that depicted poverty in India, but at the same time celebrated the sense of culture that exists in the country and the sense of purpose that the scientist finds back in his motherland. Shah Rukh Khan, sans his typical machoness, proves that he can act according to the script alone with a very controlled performance that bought tears and memories for plenty other NRIs all over the world.
‘Yun Hi Chala’ was the best music video in the industry over the past decade, while AR Rahman’s subtle musical score makes it, in my opinion, the best album in Hindi cinema history.
A story about humanity will always remain strong in the memories of people. The true masterpiece of the decade.