2016 wasn’t a particularly rich year when it came to fine filmmaking in Bollywood, so picking the best five movies seemed a relatively easy task given that there was a smaller pool to select from. Quite literally, the best bit of filmmaking that demonstrated the best of what the industry can offer came early on in the year, and late on, with so much left to be desired in the mid-year stretch.
The order of the films below are in chronological release date order, and in no particular order of preference:
Director: Raja Krishna Menon
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Nimrat Kaur
Airlift was Bollywood’s first success story in 2016, down largely to Raja Krishna Menon’s confident debut as a director in a film that was inspired by the 1990 airlift of Indians in then war torn Kuwait.
The film follows a fictional Indian Kuwaiti businessman Ranjit Kaytal (Akshay Kumar), who provides shelter for fellow Indians after they are left in a lurch following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the events that led to the 1990 airlift of some 175,000 Indians from Kuwait.
The film’s realistic and gripping take on the haplessness of Indian nationals stuck in Kuwait during the invasion was brilliantly captured thanks to a captivating screenplay that culminated in a patriotic yet poignant climax that underscored the gravity of the evacuation efforts. Akshay Kumar, who has been acting in a string of films with nationalistic sentiments, delivers one of his strongest performance in recent times, carrying the intensity and burden of leadership in his eyes as Ranjit Katiyal. The film also benefitted from a strong supporting cast playing their small yet significant roles with aplomb.
KAPOOR AND SONS
Director: Shakun Bhatra
Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan, Alia Bhatt
Kapoor and Sons encapsulated the epitome of a feel-good modern day family drama in Bollywood, only that it was better made, more carefully thought out, and had better performances compared to the rest in the crowd.
The film follows two estranged brothers Rahul (Fawad Khan) and Arjun Kapoor (Sidharth Malhotra) who return to their hometown in the hillstation of Coonoor after their grandfather (Rishi Kapoor) suffers a heart attack. From then on, the film chronicles the misunderstandings that led to strained family dynamics running through three generations- from their grandfather to the two main protagonists- one who is seen as a success, and the other, a failure.
The film tells tales of jealousy, betrayal, and ultimately tragedy that finally unites everyone to understand each other’s value.
Kapoor and Sons was supported by great performances all round- especially from Rajat Kapoor and Ratna Pathak as the duo’s parents. Alia Bhatt injects her own dose of humour and life in the scenes that she is involved in despite her character not being in the family circle.
UDTA PUNJAB (High Punjab)
Director: Abhishek Chaubey
Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Alia Bhatt
Udta Punjab ran into plenty of trouble before its release, with the main kerfuffle being caused by the title and the theme of the movie. Set in a unspecified future in Punjab where the addiction to drugs has become a chronic problem in the state, the film centers around characters who are seemingly not really connected to each other until at least halfway through the movie.
Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor) is a drug addict and a rockstar, an unnamed Bihari migrant (Alia Bhatt) leads a depressed life until she comes across a stash of drugs that could provide her the freedom she craves for, Preet Sahni (Kareena Kapoor) is an activist doctor who helps drug addicts and rehabilitates them.
The film is a tour-de-force on a destructive trail that drugs leave behind, from the relentless self destruction of Tommy, and the tragic enslavement of the migrant who believed that selling drugs would obtain her freedom, and also the story of Preet, who naively believed she would be able to help people fight their drug demons.
The film constantly tethers of in the brink of the annihilation of its characters until two poignantly developed love stories develops a sense of purpose that hurtles towards a heartbreaking yet meaningful final act.
The acting all round, especially by Shahid and Alia, is top notch- with Alia taking special plaudits for her performance as the Bihari migrant, who, despite never consciously being a drug addict, has her life and innocence ravaged by drugs and the people who abuse it.
DEAR ZINDAGI (Dear Life)
Director: Gauri Shinde
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan
Dear Zindagi was everything that the title implied it would be- a charmingly well made coming-of-age film revolving around Kaira (Alia Bhatt) and her own personal journey in battling depression and mental health issues to come to terms with her the own demons.
The film’s main plot is a one-liner but the film is peppered by strong extended cameos, nonetheless from Shah Rukh Khan himself as Dr Jehangir Khan, Kaira’s psychologist.
But holding the fort at the centerstage in what possibly was the best performance in what already is very short and productive career is Alia, who charts the transformation of Kaira and every seemingly petty emotional process she goes through with aplomb.
Director: Nitesh Tiwari
Cast: Aamir Khan, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Zaira Wasim, Sanya Malhotra
Bollywood’s final major release for 2016 was the big screen return of Aamir Khan, who caused plenty of stir, both in terms of box office records and the sensitivity of men of religion with his last release PK (2014). Aamir, who had spent the last decade and a half making sparingly few movies with an almost complete focus on providing breakthrough content in Bollywood, live up to his reputation as a perfectionist with an impeccable performance as Mahavir Singh Phogat, the real life former wrestler who broke convention by training his daughters into becoming Commonwealth gold winning international wrestlers.
Dangal is aided by excellent casting of relatively new talents and bringing out the authenticity of life in Mahavir’s home village in Balali, Haryana, and a relentless screenplay that is dosed with the right amount of humour, drama, sports choreography, sentiments, and patriotism, without ever losing the main essence of the main characters, who are derived from real life individuals.
Dangal was truly a case of saving the best for last as far as 2016 was concerned.