There were quite a few last year – some of which many critics didn’t even end up watching. Nila Madhab Panda’s Kaun Kitney Paani Mein, Ian McDonald’s documentary Algorithms, Sandeep Mohan’s Hola Venky (web release), Nanak Shah Fakir, Anup Singh’s Qissa, Atul Sabharwal’s documentary In Their Shoes, Sanjay Talreja’s immigration drama Surkhaab and more. Examples of movies that came and went, and deserved more of an audience. You could even add Titli and Masaan to this list, because despite the gasps and moans of the Twitter universe, not many outside this bubble actually ended up watching these fine debut films.
Usually, within the first four months of a year, you see more of these little-known films come out than, say, the summer blockbuster or festive season. 2016 has already been quite interesting in this context. Here are 3 Hindi films that may have gone under the radar, but could be looked back on with greater interest down the years.
I didn’t approach this film with great expectations. Centered around a city-slicking music producer girl (Sugandha Garg) and her adventures with rural Punjabi folk singer Mastana (an excellent Siddhant Behl), Jugni could so easily have gone wrong with its language of music, with its deliberate tone and especially with the boy-entering-Bollywood phase later. It doesn’t stumble, thanks to director Shefali Bhushan’s prior talent-scouting experience pouring into her debut film, and perhaps only has a few off moments when Garg – who doesn’t entirely look the part – shares a few intimate scenes with Behl, who has big things ahead for him if he gets noticed here. I’m hoping he did, and I’m hoping this little musical gem becomes more than just another Mumbai-meets-Punjab middler in the years to come.
Bollywood Diaries (February)
This was quite frankly a bolt from the blue for me and a total of three other critics who ended up watching this. Probably the finest film about tinsel-town dreams since Luck By Chance, BD relies on the lead acts of three of its parallel stories – one of a retired government servant aching to pursue his Bollywood ambitions (Ashish Vidyarthi, invoking all his legendary theatre experience), one of a Bengali prostitute (Raima Sen) in Kolkata nurturing her Sunny-Leone-ish ambitions by pouring her soul out to a writer (Vineet Singh), and one of a call-center executive in Delhi making it big on a reality show despite being a terrible actor (debutant Salim Diwan; a revelation). Everything works, including the very lyrical songs and the near-deluded fates of the three tragically obsessed characters. Even the hamming judges on the reality show sort of demonstrate how this entire country becomes a stage in order to get higher TRP ratings. I was completely shaken by the end, and I strongly recommend this bittersweet cinematic cocktail of truth and fiction. You will perhaps never look at a struggler in the same way again.
Global Baba (March)
A fairly believable story of a criminal (Abhimanyu Singh) embracing the murky economics of Baba-hood to swindle a nation – Global Baba (ignore the B-movieness of the title) swings between drama and satire abruptly, and boasts of some of the better writing and regional smarts in recent times. The craft is very weak, almost tacky in most scenes, and there’s a lot going on with many characters looking for a resolution, but it’s far better than the many religious/war satires being churned out every year. Of course, where there’s Sanjay Mishra, there’s always Akhilendra Mishra and Pankaj Tripathi (in one of his better roles as Baba’s lisping sidekick) and Ravi Kishan as the truth-seeking cop. The film is loud and slightly overbearing, but if you look closer, there’s a decent understanding of flight and storytelling – which is a lot more than can be said about most aimless hinterland-ish tales.