A little over six months into 2016, after having watched up to 10 Hindi “Bollywood” films a month, it’s time to look back on the first of the year in a report-cardish manner. To be fair, critics have had a decent year so far, with at least four outstanding films, and a bunch of very good movies hitting the cinemas. But, then again, there’s always a fair amount of films that “should” have been far better than they eventually turned out to be. I’m not talking box-office collections, just the expectations-vs-reality syndrome.
Here is my list of five mainstream Hindi films (and a few honorable mentions) that have disappointed this year:
Director: Bejoy Nambiar
The style-over-substance young director was, for beginners, equipped with a story/script that thought it was far smarter than it was. Centered around a grieving ATS Officer (Farhan Akhtar; oh-so-pensive) looking to track down the people responsible for his daughter’s death, the film moves very superficially into Kashmiri politics and grand villainous schemes. Eventually, the plot of this thriller looked fairly compromised – no surprises there, given the writer/producer is the mercurial Vidhu Vinod Chopra. From the trailers, one expected a taut and engaging narrative that would keep us guessing till the end. But even the mandatory eccentric role by Amitabh Bachchan in a wheelchair couldn’t really save this movie from its own predictability. By simply inserting images of a chess game being played between two protagonists, films don’t automatically inherit the game’s intelligence and line of thinking. This was the first Hindi film of the year, and perhaps the most disappointing, in every way possible.
Director: Abhishek Kapoor
This larger-than-life Kashmiri ‘Great Expectations’ adaptation’s problems begins and ends with its lead actress, Katrina Kaif. She makes the film as superficial and expressionless as herself, as Firdaus (Estella, if you may), the entitled, cold girl who has been taught to fear love by her cynical mother (Tabu). The object (literally) of her affections, Noor (Aditya Roy Kapoor), a poor painter, seems to be perpetually hassled by the film’s devotion to physical and aesthetic beauty. Abhishek seems to be a great fan of Charles Dickens’ story, as well as of Alfonso Cuaron’s 1998 film adaptation, but fails by making the timelessness (and time frames) of this tale very elaborate and abrupt. Amit Trivedi’s music is perhaps the only saving grace, but one can’t remember much of its sounds, given that the film was just one blur of red-and-white-snow-capped-peaks-autumn-leaves swish.
KI & KA
Director: R. Balki
We get it: alpha female, working wife weds ambitionless man and stay-at-home husband. So hip, so cool, so modern. The problem is Balki’s interpretation of reversing gender politics – a noble intention – is fraught with his glossy, attention-seeking ad-man sensibilities. Every frame and line and Arjun Kapoor dead-eyed grunt of this film screams out, “I’m so different! Look at me! See how progressive I am!” thereby making its treatment counter-productive and regressive, the way publications make it a point to mention the ethnicity of a person in their sensationalized headlines. Worse, its lead actors, who highlight their age difference repeatedly, look like they’re in on some world-shattering secret too. Couldn’t stand the smugness and lack of subtlety in this film, and neither should you.
Director: Maneesh Sharma
Shah Rukh Khan’s best performance in years is unfortunately part of a film that values its mainstream-ness over any notions of complex exploration of a complex superstar-fan duality. The film barely scratches the surface of fanboyism in this country, instead focusing solely on the 25-year-old digitally scanned Khan (as Gaurav) and his Darr-ish obsession with the real star. Some memorable scenes and good production design can’t cover up what a mess the second half was – one the film departs from the rustic lanes of old Delhi into the glossy YRF locales of Croatia and London. This wasn’t a film that should have taken flight, given the sheer heart-and-soul performance by the 50-year-old actor. Sometimes, smaller is better: a concept that big production houses refuse to understand, ruining an innovative film with its old tropes.
Director: Omung Kumar
The director ruins what is potentially one of the most heartbreaking stories of POW history: A farmer named Sarabjit Singh being jailed and tortured for years in Pakistani prisons after he mistakenly crossed over the border at night. Legend says he may have actually been a spy, an angle that Omung “Mary Kom” Kumar refuses to explore, instead focusing on poor Randeep Hooda’s stunning physical transformation into a virtual skeleton, and the fact that this was Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s comeback film. She hams her way into oblivion; red eyes and annoyingly husky voice as Sarbjit’s determined and spunky sister, and catapults the film into Kumar’s library of ruining-great-biopic-stories-by-filming collection. One wishes Kumar actually felt for the subjects he deals with, instead of simply aiming for loud box-office glory and spoon-feeding melodrama.
SPECIAL MENTIONS: TE3N, Dear Dad, Zubaan, Jai Gangaajal, Chauranga