You know your year has truly ended when the fifth edition of our world-famous-in-Mumbai year-ender – the 2019 IIF Awards – takes centerstage. We’ve had a relatively dull year at the (Hindi) movies, so let’s try not to be completely cynical assholes. A bit, maybe, but not completely. After all, when more than 100 films regularly hit the screens – big and small – in a year, there are bound to be a bunch of custom-made categories so that NOBODY escapes our gaze.
Here we go then. No regional films, because Hindi cinema can really be a full-time job, believe it or not. Don’t panic if you haven’t heard of some of these titles. That is the point.
Best Film Nobody Saw: MUSIC TEACHER
Manav Kaul, as Beni Madhav Singh, excels as a disillusioned and self-pitying small-town music teacher who is struggling to digest the fame of his estranged ex-pupil (Amrita Bagchi), who is now a successful Bollywood playback singer. His turn carries a film that relies on silences and muted backstories. Director Sarthak Dasgupta’s portrait of fragile masculinity is perceptive and littered with good side-performances – by Kaul, Divya Dutta (as his neighbour) and Neena Gupta (as his mother). The film also has one of the most tragic closing confrontations of the year, when Beni confesses and unravels in front of the star he once helped create.
Special Mentions: Hamid, No Fathers in Kashmir
Best Film That Will Never Win An Award: YOURS TRULY
Sanjoy Nag’s quiet little gem sees Soni Razdan play an lonely Kolkata-based government employee who falls in love with the voice of the railway announcer. Aahana Kumra is electrifying as her younger sister, but it’s Razdan who steals the show as a vulnerable but dignified picture of urban isolation and middle-aged regret. The film has her real-life husband Mahesh Bhatt appear in a cameo that might have defined the story if not for the odd wink-wink casting choice.
Special Mentions: Noblemen
Best Hair Film: GONE KESH
In a year that saw three different Hindi films deal with the social stigmas of premature balding – BALA and UJDA CHAMAN being the male-driven stories – it’s the lone female-driven film, Gone Kesh, starring the ever-sincere Shweta Tripathi as a balding small-town girl, that did the best job. The ensemble cast, including TVF favourite Jeetendra Kumar, is fantastic, and the movie comes across as something more than the usual social-message-obsessed drama. It’s personal and rousing, with a fantastic last scene to boot.
Best Worst Film: PAGALPANTI
To be fair, Pagalpanti ends with some cute lions. Who are far more charming than the stars (except Anil Kapoor) who try to make us laugh until then in this old-school Anees Bazmee turkey. It’s a stupid film, a dumb attempt at Houseful-level comedy much after the maker of Houseful has been outed as an all-round pervert.
Special Mentions: De De Pyaar De, Good Newwz, Total Dhamaal
Worst Worst Film: MARJAAVAN
Milap Zaveri is such a bad filmmaker that not even the pro-CAA protestors could say good things about Marjaavan. It isn’t a film, it’s a cussword. And for some reason, it seems to have caught the fancy of desh-ki-dharti NRIs based in Britain. And here we thought Jersey was the bane of overseas collections.
Special Mentions: Every other Dharma film of 2019 (Kesari, SOTY2, Kalank)
Worst Performer of 2019: ANUPAM KHER
The old stalwart of Hindi cinema has finally lost his marbles. Kher is still capable of brilliance every now and then, but his right-wing political stance has taken him to a dark artistic space too. He plays Manmohan Singh in The Accidental PM with such petty animosity and such obvious inclination to mock the former prime minister that you can imagine the crew bursting out into peals of laughter after every spoofy shot. More than anything, it depicts the intellectual death of one of India’s finest actors.
Special Mention: Rani Mukerji (Mardaani 2), Salman Khan (Dabangg 3), Sidharth Malhotra (Marjaavan, Jabariya Jodi)
Best Comedy of 2019: MOTICHOOR CHAKNACHOOR
Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s comic timing is there for all to see; he is surprisingly stellar as the older Dubai-returned bachelor who gets entangled with his vain young next-door neighbour (Athiya Shetty) in this not-bad social comedy. The bar is really low as far as Hindi film comedy goes, so there’s no real contender in this category except this one film that doesn’t go out of its way to judge its viewers and sermonise about various Indian issues.
Worst Comedy of 2019: DREAM GIRL
There is a thing such as too much Ayushmann Khurrana. This overbearing film is proof of that.
Best Film That Could Have Been: LAAL KAPTAAN
The Saif Ali Khan starrer had a lot going for it – including a talented crew that has no business making a mediocre hinterland survival-revenge period thriller like this. Yet, the existentialism of the film was stilted, and it seemed to be in love with its own boring frames. There was a lot of potential, yet the writing felt dumbed-down to bare, with the opportunity to combine history with cultural storytelling absolutely wasted in the end.
Special Mentions: The Zoya Factor, Khandaani Shafakhana, Saand Ki Aankh
Cinematic Moment of 2019: SONCHIRIYA
A gang of dacoits, on Diwali night, accidentally kill a roomful of kids in a village after they mistake the noise of crackers to be gunshots. And they spend the rest of this excellent film – before and after – paying penance and seeking salvation for this horrifying crime. The scene is haunting and beautifully cut, the acting by Manoj Bajpayee and Sushant Singh Rajput defining the post-murderous silence, making for the most memorable moment of 2019.
Best Mainstream Film of 2019: GULLY BOY
Zoya Akhtar crafted a film for both the classes and masses with this electric tale of a Dharavi-based boy who takes up rapping to rise out of the frog’s pond. Even though Gully Boy is about Ranveer Singh’s Murad, it’s the “lesser” characters – his girlfriend, his friend, his mentor, his parents – that truly elevate this daring Bollywood film of excesses and spirit.
Special Mentions: ARTICLE 15, CHHICHHORE
Worst Best Film of 2019: WAR
This category normally means “most overrated film”. But this time the meaning is guilty pleasure. WAR had all the ingredients of a nutty masala actioner, with ridiculous twists, imaginative set pieces and homoerotic tension between its two muscular male leads. Even Tiger Shroff wasn’t his usual offensively unexpressive self. It also marked the unlikely and full comeback of a 40-something Hrithik Roshan – ageing like fine wine – in a year that has seen him deliver two of the biggest hits.
Best Film of 2019: SONCHIRIYA
Abhishek Chaubey’s fatally marketed dacoit Westerner remains the best and most tragically overlooked film of 2019. There are no two ways about it. With time, the film might find a following and cult of its own – especially for its understanding of visual melancholia and atmospheric texture (1970s Chambal isn’t exactly fertile cinematic territory). Manoj Bajpayee leads a band of incredibly understated performances (Ranbir Shorey, too, stands out as the rebel; Bhumi Pednekar delivers a career-best turn as one of the only women in the film), helping Sonchiriya achieve an almost zen-like status at the top of the Hindi movie pile. Not to mention a stunning opening shot (rivalling that of Udta Punjab) and a scarring last one.
Special Mentions: SONI, GULLY BOY
Best Film Based On Social Relevance: ARTICLE 15, SONI
Ayushmann Khurrana delivers a stoic performance as an idealistic urban cop transferred to the murky UP hinterlands in Anubhav Sinha’s terrific follow-up to Mulk. The film is an effective riff on the caste discrimination in an India most of us have only read about in newspapers and grim headlines. That the “hero” is introduced with a Bob Dylan classic only adds to very well-made social drama, in which an in-form Manoj Pahwa capitalizes on his career’s second wind to become the film’s most memorable and frightening character.
Ivan Ayr’s SONI is one of the best Hindi films of the year. The craft is impeccable, the writing is invisible and the gaze very relevant. It only helps that the two phenomenal actresses (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Saloni Batra) who play female cops in Delhi double up as relevant social commentary at a time when women’s safety is at its most perilous in the country.
Worst Film Based On Social Relevance: MISSION MANGAL, SUPER 30
Both of these films masquerade as “masala” entertainers in order to compensate for the offensive dumbing-down of their fertile real-life subjects. Bollywood almost never gets biographical pictures right, and these two disasters only furthered the illness with over-excitable acting and condescending writing leading the charge to make Bollywood more accessible.
Special Mention: Commando 3
Worst Historical Film of 2019: MANIKARNIKA
One doesn’t know where to begin, but the late Rani of Jhansi will not be very pleased at the prospect of a right-wing crew appropriating her legend in order to deliver their own blood-curling messages of Hindu superiority. Not to mention the awful lead performance by a hot-and-cold actress who also managed to deliver one of the better performances of the year in a more personal movie (Judgementall Hai Kya).
Special Mention: Panipat
Most Harmful Film of 2019: KABIR SINGH, URI
Kabir Singh does for toxic masculinity what Uri does for chest-beating jingoism. Both films have sound craft, which makes them more dangerous and convincing as authentic portraits of a culture that doesn’t need to be reminded of its soft spots.
Best Underrated Performance of 2019: MANAV KAUL (Music Teacher)
Manav Kaul has been criminally overlooked for most end-of-season lists, mostly because Music Teacher streamed on Netflix in peak Bollywood season. But his turn as Beni will stand the test of time, and it stands at the top of a career studded with solid grey turns for an actor who needs to stop getting stereotyped and be offered gentler roles.
Special Mentions: Vijay Raaz (Gully Boy), Ranvir Shorey (Sonchiriya), Ali Haji (Noblemen), Rasika Dugal (Hamid)
Best Villain of 2019: VIBHA CHHIBBER (Motichoor Chaknachoor), MANOJ PAHWA (Article 15)
The nagging Indian mother stereotype has been done to death, but Vibha Chhibber is intimidating and borderline-hateful as Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s dominating mother in this unassuming comedy. She owns the screen and provides the hero and heroine a motive to fight against in their pursuit of a married life. The last few scenes in which she breaks down and apologizes to her son make for the film’s most moving moments – a villain coming of age, a parent learning from her child.
As for Manoj Pahwa, there should be a special law created to ensure that he acts at least once a year in Anubhav Sinha movies. He is scintillating and sneaky as the bad cop in Article 15, even warming up to dogs more than lower-caste humans throughout the murky tale.
Special Mentions: Mohommad Ali Mir (Noblemen), Vishal Jethwa (Mardaani 2), Manav Vij (Laal Kaptaan)
Worst Villain of 2019: SHAHID KAPOOR (Kabir Singh)
The most villainous aspect of Kabir Singh is that everyone – including some tone-deaf critics – hailed him as a “reckless hero”.
Special Mention: Prateik Babbar (Chhichhore), Terminal Illness (The Sky Is Pink)
Best Action Film of 2019: WAR
Whoever expected that YRF would churn out a slick and self-consciously silly actioner that didn’t need to be as ridiculous as Dhoom 2 or Dhoom 3 to be entertaining? War is all that and more, using everything from “Face Off” tactics to Tiger Shroff’s pure-white reputation to manufacture a globe-trotting saga for all ages.
Special Mention: Batla House, RAW
Worst Action Film of 2019: KESARI
Kesari is such a loud and tasteless ode to Sikh history that it had no business unleashing itself onto nation-wide screens.
Worst Mainstream Film of 2019: KALANK
Another horrid Dharma turkey, and worse, perhaps Alia Bhatt’s worst “performance” since her debut in SOTY.
Most Disappointing Film: MARDAANI 2
Much was expected from the second instalment of the kickass female cop, but Rani Mukerji was almost as bad as a script that showed signs of ADHD – the convoluted film uses rape as a smokescreen to fashion a tired cat-and-mouse thriller across Kota.
Special Mention: URI, The Zoya Factor, Mission Mangal, Bala, Saand Ki Aankh
Best Actor: RANVEER SINGH (Gully Boy)
Singh is electrifying on stage as an amateur-to-pro rapper in Zoya Akhtar’s hit, but he is even more engaging as a quiet boy trying to break the shackles of patriarchy in his own home. His character is written too cleanly, but there are some quiet introspective moments in Gully Boy – especially those that have Murad as a driver – that elevate both the film and the universality of its hero’s journey.
Special Mention: Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Photograph), Manav Kaul (Music Teacher)
Best Actress: SANYA MALHOTRA (Photograph)
Ritesh Batra’s love letter to Mumbai unfurls like a photo album, and Malhotra’s performance as the sheltered, meek Gujarati girl Miloni is what drives its profound (and at times forced) silences. She gets the gait and gaze spot on, and her personality – acting as a stranger’s girlfriend for the sake of his grandmother is the most exciting thing she’s done – is the key to selling this leap of faith as a leap of fate.
Special Mentions: Kangana Ranaut (Judgementall Hai Kya), Alia Bhatt (Gully Boy), Geetika Vidya Ohlyan (Soni), Saloni Batra (Soni)
Best Supporting Actor: VIJAY VERMA (Gully Boy)
The film begins with Verma striding in a cool jacket, flanked by his two sidekicks. One of them is Murad. Gully Boy is – and about – Murad, but one can only imagine a separate film made about Verma’s hustler character, Moeen. Varma delivers an edgy but empathetic performance, going from “bad company” to sacrificed-mentor in a redemption arc that is possibly the most satisfying aspect of a film full of satisfying arcs.
Special Mentions: Manoj Bajpayee (Sonchiriya), Siddhant Chaturvedi (Gully Boy), Ranvir Shorey (Sonchiriya), Jitendra Kumar (Gone Kesh), Kunal Kapoor (Noblemen)
Best Supporting Actress: DIVYA DUTTA (Music Teacher)
As the mournful widow next door to a pining music teacher, Divya Dutta plays Geeta like more of a lyrical literary character than a movie character. A woman in love with an unattainable man, she is the only one who listens to his notes when everyone else has stopped.
Special Mentions: Amruta Subhash (Gully Boy), Aahana Kumra (Yours Truly), Amrita Puri (Judgementall Hai Kya), Ragini Khanna (Posham Pa)
Special Rajpal-Yadav-Hamfest Award: Riteish Deshmukh (Marjaavan), Deepak Dobriyal (Laal Kaptaan)
Best Actor in an Average Film: NAVEEN POLISHETTY (Chhichhore)
College drama Chhichhore polarized audiences, played it by the books, became a hit on the back of an ensemble cast that seemed to have a good time. Naveen Polishetty stands out as Acid, the foul-mouthed acidic brat who comes up with ingenious chants to distract the enemies in competition. He turns the film into a hoot, to offset the damage done by the “older” versions of the gang.
Special Mention: Akshaye Khanna (Section 375)
Best Screenplay: SONCHIRIYA (Abhishek Chaubey, Sudip Sharma)
After being plagued with accusations of plagiarism for his last two screenplays (NH10, Udta Punjab), writer Sudip Sharma redeems himself with an existential and exquisitely detailed dacoit drama that is quite simply the best Hindi film of the year.
Special Mention: Article 15 (Gaurav Solanki, Anubhav Sinha)
Worst Screenplay: DABANGG 3 (Salman Khan and co.)
It’s bad enough that he acts, but he writes too??????
Best Production Design: RAVI SRIVASTAVA (Judgementall Hai Kya)
It’s always difficult to design a “visual” film about the psychological state of a paranoid protagonist. But everything about Judgementall Hai Kya – from the flashbacks to the editing pattern to the production design – merges to create an audacious movie that goes beyond Kangana Ranaut’s inherent performative angst. There are so many colours even in the littler parts of the eccentric Ranaut’s room that one can’t merely pinpoint the cinematography as the sole language.
Special Mention: Nikhil Kovale (Article 15)
Worst Production Design: KESARI
Akshay Kumar’s beard does all the talking.
Special Mention: Panipat
Best Sound Design: AYUSH AHUJA (Gully Boy)
The aural landscape of Gully Boy is just as important as the performances. It’s not just the rapping and the showdowns, but also the audience and the admirers around the men – as well as the contrast in energy in the romantic scenes – that define the elaborate soundscape of a fantastic movie.
Special Mention: Kaamod Kharade (Article 15)
Worst Sound Design: KESARI
We had our ears checked after this deafening monstrosity of a historical squabble.
Best Cinematography: EWAN MULLIGAN (Article 15)
The haunting shots of a hanging body in the mist of a field, the cover of night used as camouflage to hide the murky villains of the remote village, the angular characters, the fading winter – every other shot in Article 15 is deliberately designed to reflect the invisible dread rather than the visible horrors.
Special Mention: Anuj Dhawan (Sonchiriya)
Best Editing: SHWETA VENKAT, SHEEBA SEHGAL, PRASHANTH RAMACHANDRAN (Judgementall Hai Kya)
The film is cut daringly, reflecting the lead’s mental illness as well as her paranoia in a way that is reminiscent of the vivid memory-scape of Tamasha’s opening credits. It crackles with unhinged energy – and you won’t find the pattern in any rulebook. It’s a brave narrative.
Special Mention: Meghna Manchanda (Sonchiriya)
Best Background Score: NAREN CHANDAVARKAR & BENEDICT TAYLOR (Sonchiriya)
I can remember how Sonchiriya sounds as much as how it looks, and that’s largely down to the tragic anti-spaghetti-western tone of its haunting background score – one that appears to signify eternal regret, religion and salvation more than mood and emotion.
Best Ensemble Cast: SONCHIRIYA
It’s not easy to make empathetic characters out of a murderous gang of Robin-Hood-ish ’70s dacoits, but everyone in Abhishek Chaubey’s ballad of violent salvation has a role to play. To set the tone, the texture, the look of a film that might have otherwise been difficult to translate from paper to screen.
Special Mention: Gully Boy, Soni, Article 15
Best Director: ABHISHEK CHAUBEY (Sonchiriya)
The master of the (sunken) ship deserves utmost recognition for putting together a portrait of good badness that will stand the test of time.
Special Mention: Zoya Akhtar (Gully Boy), Ivan Ayr (Soni)
Best Cameo: ANNU KAPOOR (Dream Girl)
The only watchable part of an otherwise damp social squid is Annu Kapoor’s hysterical role as a lovelorn widower who takes to Islam in order to win over his (imaginary) Muslim lover. His Urdu and vocabulary hits home to offset Ayushmann Khurrana’s role as a call-girl who exposes the hypocrisies of North Indian society.
Worst Cameo: BADSHAH (Khandaani Shafakhana)
The casting of Badshah as a Jatt celebrity with a sex problem is clever, but it’s always difficult to expect the hip-hop superstar to excel in a role that requires him to go past monosyllables of “baby” and “baat kar lo”.
Best Debut: GEETIKA VIDYA OHLYAN, SALONI BATRA (Soni)
Sometimes all it takes is the idealism and fearlessness of ‘newcomers’ to make a film look like an unperformed documentary on women cops in the Delhi Police Force. They deliver two of the three best performances of 2019 in a film that is both timely and raw.
Worst Debut: ANANYA PANDEY (Student Of The Year 2)
She’s just nepotism for the sake of nepotism. One isn’t sure how the Dharma team behind this film – and her “introduction” – sleeps at night.
Best Trying-Too-Hard Performer: DILJIT DOSANJH (Arjun Patiala, Good Newwz)
The Punjabi superstar deserves better, given his unfettered enthusiasm to play the fool.
Best Web Series: DELHI CRIME
In a year that will go down as a game-changer for Indian web content – the contenders were Made In Heaven, Laakhon Mein Ek S02, The Family Man, Kota Factory and Hostel Daze – it was Richie Mehta’s stunning Delhi Crime, with possibly the year’s best performance (Shefali Shah) across mediums, that put into context the procedural angst of the most infamous rape case in Indian history.
Best Hindi Short Film: BINNU KA SAPNA (Kanu Behl)
This short – best described as a slow-burning Indian version of JOKER – directed by the formidable Kanu Behl (Titli) is currently streaming on MUBI for another two weeks. Drop everything and watch it.
Special Mentions: SIBLINGS, GUNTA, SUNO, SHEHER YA TUM
Best Horror Film: GAME OVER
Ashwin Saravanan’s slasher-horror flick starring Taapsee Pannu subverts the genre to play with time, fate and video-game formats to present a physical, gory tale of redemption and meta feminism.