There will be plenty of filmy year-ender lists to scroll through this month. The best, worst and everything in between will be scourged through. But, often, as a reviewer one tends to watch many little films in between all the big and critically acclaimed films. If we’re lucky, these little films offer something new to the table – and may not be ‘hidden gems’ or ‘diamonds in the rough,’ but are noteworthy enough to not let them die a silent death. There have been a few Hindi films like that in 2016 – which, either by chance or circumstance, have not been watched or written about as much as they should have. Could be the marketing, timing, lack of funds, or just plain bad luck and all of the above.
Here are five such films, in no particular order:
Releasing in the first month of the year is always tricky, with the December hangover still persisting, and with the few early big-budget releases (Wazir, Airlift) hogging all the limelight and box offices. In these circumstances came Shefali Bhushan’s immensely likeable Jugni – a film whose most famous face was the ever-improving Sugandha Garg (of Coffee Bloom and Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na), as a B-town music producer (designed somewhat on the lines of the real-life Sneha Khanwalkar, and the film’s own director Bhushan) in search of the next “earthy, rural” voice up North. She finds the talented Mastana (newcomer Siddhant Behl; one of the performances of the year), and is torn between mentoring him and respecting the sociocultural gap that separates their feelings for one another. Jugni is a well-acted, perceptive little film with a decent soundtrack that attempts (and doesn’t always succeed) to fuse the distinct sounds of Haryana and Mumbai.
I remember this releasing on the same Oscar-fever weekend as The Revenant, with its modest press show running to a near-empty audience. Going in with zero expectations is a good thing, given that this multi-narrative film about suppressed acting aspirations turned out to be a genuinely impassioned effort. Three separate threads – about an older government servant still nursing Bombay ambitions (Ashish Vidyarthi), a Delhi-based deluded call-center executive (Salim Diwan; fantastic) yearning for a chance and a Kolkata-based sex worker (Raima Sen) desperately craving for a useful Bollywood client – are scored to one of the year’s best soundtracks (by Vipin Patwa). It’s a pity this went off without a whisper. Many, especially within the industry and city, will relate to this one.
Randeep Hooda’s choice of films has always been a bit enigmatic. He even excelled in the utterly hallucinatory Main Aur Charles last year, and paints an equally compelling aura of a small-town ‘king of crooks’ in this year’s blood-theft drama, Laal Rang. The movie had its indulgent moments and bizarre narrative offshoots, but there was a lot of texture and tone about this Karnal-based effort, almost like a fictitious biopic coming to life about perhaps one of the lesser known black-market rackets in the country.
With a cast full of ‘serious’ actors like Manoj Bajpayee, Kay Kay Menon, Aditi Sharma, Anupam Kher and Vijay Raaz gleefully flexing their foul-mouthed Delhi-6 comedy muscles, this was one ensemble that made you forget about the flimsy heist plot they occupied. A lot of superb one-liners, poker-faced expressions, creative cusswords, throwaway phrases and situational madness made this one of the more innovative and free-spirited desi-to-the-bone comedies of recent years.
The Manoj Bajpayee-starrer, about a traffic cop heroically escorting an ambulance for a major heart transplant operation across cities, was made thrice in different South Indian languages before the Hindi one this year. Chennai became Mumbai-Pune, which still sort of retained the essence and urgency of a road-thriller, with a few contrivances thrown in for dramatic effect. Bajpayee has barely put a foot wrong this year (Aligarh, Saat Uchakkey, a few short films), and he carries this fairly well paced film across all its bumps and potholes.