By Saibal Chatterjee
Aaranya Kaandam (Tamil, 2011)
Director: Thiagarajan Kumararaja
An ultra-violent, slow-burning and stylized neo-noir thriller, Aaranya Kaandam marked the debut of director Thiagarajan Kumararaja. Focusing on one day in the North Chennai underworld, it hinges on the desperate bid by an ageing mafia don to regain his lost libido.
High points: Technically brilliant and marked by a keen sense of time and place
Anbe Sivam (Tamil, 2003)
Director: Sundar C
A film that showcases Kamal Haasan’s versatility like few films have done, Anbe Sivam (Love is God) is inspired by the Hollywood hit Planes Trains & Automobiles. But it manages to carve out its own philosophical space, effectively addressing a wide range of themes from workers’ rights to religious faith.
High points: Sharply etched characters, a finely chiseled screenplay and outstanding performances.
Anniyan (Tamil, 2005)
Director: S Shankar
A magnificently mounted vigilante thriller, Anniyan extends director S Shankar’s pet theme: a one-man crusade against the ills inherent in Indian society and the system’s inability to eliminate them. The protagonist of the film is a consumer rights lawyer who turns into a serial killer to exterminate wrongdoers.
High points: Technical brilliance, a racy narrative and a powerful central performance by actor Vikram.
Baahubali (Telugu/Tamil, 2015)
Director: S S Rajamouli
A VFX-driven fantasy epic set in an ancient fictional kingdom usurped by an evil ruler. The rightful heir wages war against the tyrant to regain control of the throne. A standard tale of valour, betrayal and vendetta enlivened by eye-popping visual flair.
High points: The simplicity and timelessness of its story and its magnificent packaging made possible by the wizardry of the graphic artists.
Bajirao Mastani (Hindi, 2015)
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
A historical epic mounted with impressive pizzazz by Bollywood’s high priest of cinematic opulence, Bajirao Mastani takes the audience back to an eventful point in Indian medieval history and narrates the tragic love story of an invincible Maratha warrior and a half-Persian princess.
High points: Outstanding production design, costumes and cinematography make Bajirao Mastani a visual treat.
Bhooter Bhobishyat (Bengali, 2012)
Director: Anik Dutta
Bhooter Bhobishay (The Future of the Past), a refreshingly original comedy, is about a group of ghosts who inhabit an abandoned mansion in Kolkata and fight to ward off the designs of a builder who wants to raze the classical structure and build a multi-storied shopping mall in its place.
High points: A lively satire about a metropolis struggling to save its past – a story that could be valid in many other urban pockets of contemporary India.
Chak De India (Hindi, 2007)
Director: Shimit Amin
Shimit Amin’s gripping sports film, starring Shah Rukh Khan as a women’s hockey coach, takes in its sweep a range of themes related to nationhood, sectarian prejudice, parochialism and sexism. It remains one of the more socially relevant dramas to come out of the Yash Raj Films stable.
High points: Superstar Shah Rukh Khan is in fine fettle as are the girls who make up the team that works its way out of a trough.
Dabangg (Hindi, 2010)
Director: Abhinav Kashyap
The action-packed tale of a police officer in small-town Uttar Pradesh who resorts to means fair and foul in order to send criminals packing was a runaway box-office hit. It spawned several imitations, including a far less successful sequel.
High points: Bollywood superstar Salman Khan’s thunderous dialogue delivery and a storyline that promises non-stop thrills.
Dangal (Hindi, 2016)
Director: Nitesh Tiwari
Dangal, an Aamir Khan starrer inspired by true events, hinges on the exploits of a former wrestler who, as recompense for his own failure to make it to the big league of the sport, coaches his daughters to take on the world. The Haryana-set sports drama raked in big bucks at the domestic box office, it also struck a massive chord in China. Dangal made stars out of three young actresses – Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra and Zaira Wasim.
Dil Chahta Hai (Hindi, 2001)
Director: Farhan Akhtar
The first film written and directed by Farhan Akhtar, the slickly mounted Dil Chahta Hai enjoys cult status among Bollywood fans. The plot revolves around three upper-crust Mumbai friends negotiating a string of emotional crises that severely test their friendship.
High points: Marked by smart writing and littered with witty non sequiturs, the youthful drama is made convincing by a lively cast led by Aamir Khan.
Lagaan (Hindi/English, 2001)
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
This cricket-themed saga set in a drought-hit colonial-era village is about a bunch of ragtag cricketers who take on a strong British team to ward off the tax backlog on their farm produce. Lagaan won an Oscar nomination, losing out narrowly to Danis Tanovic’s No Man’s Land.
High points: Its ambitious canvas is bolstered by deft execution and vivid characters that spring out of the screen.
Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil, 2002)
Director: Mani Ratnam
Director Mani Ratnam packs great emotional energy and dramatic flourish into Kannathil Muthamittal (A Peck on the Cheek), a film about a nine-year-old girl adopted by a writer and his wife. The child sets out to search for her biological mother, a Tamil militant fighting in the Sri Lankan civil war.
High points: Outstanding cinematography by Ravi K Chandran and a clutch of fine performances by R. Madhavan, Nandita Das and Prakash Raj.
Lage Raho Munnabhai (Hindi, 2006)
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
A follow-up to Munnabhai MBBS, this one made an even bigger splash. The friendly underworld don imbibes the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, who reveals himself only to him and gives him tips on life. As a result, the goon goes about using peaceful means to help people solve their problems.
High points: A sequel as good as the original – that is a rarity in cinema history. The Sanjay Dutt-Arshad Warsi duet is
Paruthiveeran (Tamil, 2007)
Director: Ameer Sultan
Set in a Tamil Nadu village, Paruthiveeran tells the story of a petty criminal’s fraught relationship with an upper-caste girl that ends in tragedy. The material is thin but the treatment more than makes up for what the film lacks in depth and range. Riveting all the way.
High points: Strong lead roles backed by solid storytelling.
PK (Hindi, 2014)
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
As gutsy a mainstream film as any in the history of Hindi cinema, Rajkumar Hirani’s PK is a satirical comedy that questions religious dogmas and blind faith. A humanoid alien lands in India and discovers a society steeped in superstition. The film ruffled many feathers but smashed box office records.
High points: A buoyant star turn by Aamir Khan and an entertaining script co-written by Hirani and Abhijat Joshi.
Queen (Hindi, 2014)
Director: Vikas Bahl
A girl is dumped by her would-be husband a day before the wedding and she decides to go ahead with the planned honeymoon all by herself. Her ride through Paris and Amsterdam exposes her to the world and new sensations. When she returns home, she is a woman transformed.
High points: Breezy script, steady direction by Vikas Bahl and infectious pivotal performance by Kangana Ranaut.
Sairat (Marathi, 2016)
Director: Nagraj Manjule
Fandry director Nagraj Manjule’s second film, Sairat, smashed Marathi cinema box office records. But that isn’t its only claim to fame. The film uses popular love story conventions to narrate the tale of an ill-fated affair that blossoms – and dies – across the caste and class divide in rural Maharashtra. Sairat touched raw nerves because of its searing, unflinching quality.
Virumaandi (Tamil, 2004)
Director: Kamal Haasan
Written, produced, directed by and starring Kamal Haasan, Virumaandi enjoys cult status and has spawned many imitations. The Rashomon-like plot revolves around two prisoners – one serving a life sentence, the other on death row – and unravels the circumstances that have brought them here.
High points: A gripping storyline and strong acting