By Arpit Acharya
What a year it’s been. In March we didn’t know if and when we’d see another Hindi film. By April it was clear that the movies wouldn’t stop, and streaming platforms became the new normal. We started to watch movies the same way we watched web shows, our lens changed and we became pickier.
There were three kinds of Hindi films. Good, bad and blew-it. The “blew-it” category contains turkeys that go wrong despite all factors pointing to the contrary. Most years have many of these movies. 2020 was no different. Let’s start with them:
BLEW-IT TOP 5
Meghna Gulzar. Deepika Padukone. Vikrant Massey. Acid attack survivors. It’s hard to go wrong with all these factors attached to a project. But sometimes not getting it right is worse than getting it wrong. And the makers of Chhapaak somehow managed to make a touching, inspirational premise a hasty, choppy and unmemorable film. Padukone herself was alright in a brave role, but again it’s hard to remember the protagonist’s journey because of the angsty and imperceptive storytelling.
The Kiara Advani starrer is the best example of woke young filmmakers enforcing their worldview onto the audience through superficial, forced storytelling. Nothing about the ‘Dharmatic’ film was organic, and it felt like an incoherent #MeToo tweet force-fitted into a narrative. Everything was a hashtag.
Anurag Kashyap’s latest was probably his weakest – a melange of angry anti-establishment vision, reactionary storytelling and inconsistent filmmaking. It has something to do with demonitisation, money in a drainage pipe and a middle-class marriage. But somewhere in the chaos, a short-film idea is lost in the noise of Aaram-nagar head-nodding.
Sooni Taraporevala’s slumdog-ballet tale misses a golden opportunity to mean something and spotlight an unusual Mumbai facet in its haste to conform to underdog formula. Even though it concentrates on plausible conflicts like earning a US visa, the storytelling lacks texture and wastes two agile performances from its youngsters.
They really blew it, didn’t they? Not just the makers, but even Vidya Balan and Sanya Malhotra, who go along with the Chacha-Chaudhury-esque tone to turn the biopic of a complicated genius into that of an entertainer.
MRS. SERIAL KILLER
I never subscribed to the notion that Shirish Kunder is a terrible director (just a nutty one), but he now holds the unique honour of being responsible for two worst films of the year (Joker in 2012 and this thing). Maybe the film starring Jacqueline Fernandez (as a woman) is a cruel meta joke on cinema, or maybe Manoj Bajpayee (as said woman’s bong husband) wanted to hold the unique honour of giving the best performance (Bhonsle) and worst in the same year. Hopefully the pay cheque was worth this monstrosity.
Two of the three Student(s) of the Year have almost ruined their careers in 2020 after joining the family business – Varun Dhawan with dad David in the Coolie No. 1 remake and Alia Bhatt with dad Mahesh Bhatt in the Sadak sequel, arguably one of the most senseless movies of the decade. The best performer in this made-on-acid story is by an owl, a close second is the cab that holds the burden of carrying Alia and Aditya Roy Kapur (as a couple no less) and a stoned Sanjay Dutt on a road trip for no real reason.
COOLIE NO. 1 (2020)
It makes no sense. Remaking a 90s comedy that depended entirely on Govinda turning the cheap into guilty pleasure – in 2020 – defies logic. At least change the lines. I understand that fathers think the world of their kids, but not even Varun Dhawan and his love for playing the fool could have rescued a disgraceful attempt at cashing in on past glory.
Akshay Kumar has lost his marbles if he thinks he can get away with “glorifying” transwomen by turning them into haunted ghosts, giving them a Muslim identity and pitting them against his own awful awful awful acting skills. He really needs to rethink his strategy now that OTT platforms have exposed just how pointless (and toxic) his brand of social cinema is.
LOVE AAJ KAL (2020)
Sara Ali Khan is likely the worst of the starkids in recent memory – and that’s saying a lot given her lineage and the hopes pinned on her and her competition (Ananya Pandey in Khaali Peeli came close here) – and her complete lack of experience/feel/talent was exposed by Imtiaz Ali in his needless spiritual sequel to the Saif-Deepika predecessor. It takes some doing with Kartik Aaryan is NOT the worst thing about a movie.
Rohena Gera’s tender film about love blossoming between a live-in housemaid and her upper-class South Mumbai employer is all sorts of wonderful. It’s just a pity the film released in post-pandemic cinema halls instead of streaming platforms. So many haven’t seen Tillotama Shome’s performance – the best of the year.
The meta coming-of-age film starring Sanjay Mishra as a washed-out character actor looking for his 500th role in Hindi cinema radiates love for the medium and a keen passion for the Bollywood that attracts dreamers to the city. It’s tragic, funny, sarcastic and perceptive all at once – a feat for debut director and Paatal Lok/Trapped co-writer Hardik Mehta.
AK vs AK
One of the last Hindi films of the year was also the most wickedly entertaining, meta and cinematic rides in recent times, made by perhaps the most diverse director working in Indian film today. Vikramaditya Motwane’s wounds from the failure of Bhavesh Joshi may not have fully healed, but that didn’t stop him from turning a gimmicky concept into a strangely acerbic take on today’s India by pitting an old-school superstar against a new-age indie filmmaker. The reception has been divisive, but that’s the beauty of Motwane’s experiments.
Anvita Dutt’s weird gothic horror period romance subverts the Laila Majnu couple’s chemistry into something undeniably haunting and beautiful. Just for its audacity and painting frames and Amit Trivedi’s background score and Tripti Dimri’s striking presence, Bulbbul deserves its place at the top.
Rajat Kapoor’s chamber thriller about a house party and a dead body, starring Ranvir Shorey and the merry gang of theatre veterans, is acerbic, tense, well constructed and superbly performed. It has the best filming of indoor space in recent memory.