Indian Cinema (read Bollywood), they say, has come of age. I am not exactly sure what the esteemed self-appointed/ professional expert(s) means by that. But I believe one of the parameters that definitely forms a part of ‘coming of age’ could be a film’s relevance particularly on sociopolitical basis.
Cinema ‘ought to be’ a reflection of society, the changing political, economical and social aspects of the times in which they are being made or the times which they have witnessed.
During the last decade Bollywood has indeed seen some memorable efforts. Here’s my personal list of which ones made a difference. I have made a conscious effort to stick to the preferences of the supposedly ‘average’ (but presumably educated) film-goer. The ‘snob’ viewer’s choices and sensibilities can be dissected during a more grave and gloomy day!
So here go my picks.
Dor: I like Nagesh Kukunoor films. Dor, I will have to say is my favourite. In times when the very existence of the Indian woman has become a ‘liability’, this film instills hope and faith even in the most ardent cynic. Both Gul Panag and Ayesha Takia put heart and soul into their characters to come up with one of the most endearing tales of friendship and emancipation. Another Kukunoor film that is socially relevant is Iqbal. Via cricket it subtly brought out the rampant corruption and the common man’s fight against it. (Since it is the past decade I have chosen, Hyderabad Blues does not make the list)
Khosla Ka Ghosla: Another director I quite admire is Dibakar Banerjee. Again Khosla Ka Ghosla is my personal favourite ahead of his more celebrated Shanghai and LSD. The premise is very relatable. A middle class man loaded with values and an n number of limitations being swindled out of what rightfully belongs to him. With two of Bollywood’s most prized assets – Anupam Kher and Boman Irani – the film was ably supported by the likes of Vinay Pathak, Ranvir Shorey among others.
Banerjee’s more recent Shanghai is a strong comment on the present government’s obsession with the ‘industrial-development- model’ and how it marginalizes the greater populace. LSD is perhaps considered to be one his weaker films but not only did it earn brownie points with the international audience for it’s ‘cinematic value’ but also dealt with sensitive but hard-hitting realities of modern-urban India viz. honour killings, voyeuristic tendencies of the youth and questionable ethics of the media.
Stanley ka Dabba and I am Kalam: Despite Right to Education being made compulsory, India continues to struggle with one of the most deep-rooted social evils that perhaps plagues the entire World: Child Labour. Both Stanley Ka Dabba and I am Kalam brings out the poignant yet eventually triumphant stories of two immensely determined children to become educated and lead respectable lives. In addition I am Kalam also brings out the age-old dynamics of the caste-system in the country and gives a clear message to overcome it.
Peepli Live: An apt example of a film reflecting on the times that we have seen and continue to see. A dark satire on the farmer suicides in Maharashtra and the media circus around it, Peepli Live is perhaps one the most socially aware films of our times. Another film which captures the difficulties faced by farmers and their eternal struggle against the men in power is Well Done Abba. Boman Irani’s gives yet another terrific performance as the farmer whose bore-well has been stolen! The film also touches upon the plight of young Indian women being cheated and abused abroad although they are married off with the idea to have ‘better lives’.
MunnaBhai series: Rajkumar Hirani knows his money and the lure of stars and yet he makes relevant and educational films. The first in the series brought out the irony in the profession of life-savers viz. doctors. The second hilariously presented the ‘power of non-violence’ in a society rife with violence and ferocity. Yes 3 Idiots ably portrayed the flawed Indian educational system – which indeed is a sad reality – but to me it was a victim of too many gags, cheap tricks and also way too preachy.
A Wednesday and Aamir: Two different takes on how the common man is sandwiched in times of terror. Two of the most seasoned veterans are amply supported by youngsters that gave us a cracker of a film called A Wednesday that spoke of the common man’s helplessness and yet what he is capable of doing if he did not have a family, responsibility and the likes. Aamir on the other hand saw a restrained performance from then popular TV Star Rajeev Khandelwal as a London returned doctor who martyrs himself and yet earns the moniker of ‘a terrorist’.
Quite a number of films have been made revolving around the blasts the nation has witnessed: the system’s response, the conspiracy involved, the intelligence failure and the lives that were affected but none were as emphatic as A Wednesday or Aamir.
Vicky Donor: Sperm donation is still hush-hush business. There’s stigma and shame attached to the concept. Soojit Sircar deftly brought the topic to the mainstream and made a rather entertaining yet an important film.
Tahaan: J&K has been a burning issue for over 3 decades now. Civilians are the worst victims and Tahaan is a gentle reminder of how the insurgency is snatching away the innocence of the valley and its residents. Sikandar is yet another film which revolves around the issue although the depiction is less subtle. Likewise Shaurya brings forth the brutality of the Indian Army in the name of security against the locals in a courtroom drama.
My Brother Nikhil: Being a first-time director in Bollywood is quite a gamble. You never know what will click. Onir showed remarkable courage with his first film which took up the cause of Homosexuality and AIDS in times of radical change and unprecedented ‘moral policing‘. Revathy’s Phir Milenge also must be mentioned for the issue it dealt with. And yes for once the known faces in Bollywood thought more about content than their image. Onir’s I Am, an anthology film dealt with many of the topics already discussed.
This is in no way an exhaustive account. There are a host of films I have seen but cannot recall as of now and also those I have on my ’want to watch’ list such as Parzania, Firaaq, Mathroobhoomi: A nation without women (although this I fear is not the ‘average’ film-goer’s pick), Yahaan, Gulaal (could or could not be the ‘average’ pick), Barah Aana and many more. Besides, this being my personalized list, a lot of films which most definitely are contextual to the topic have not found their place given my individual preferences. Also, I have deliberately not taken into consideration films by ‘big’ directors barring Hirani. They can certainly be written about on a different day.