By Saibal Chatterjee
101 Chodyangal (Malayalam, 2013)
Director: Sidhartha Siva
101 Chodyangal(101 Questions) provides a view of the world through the eyes of a young boy whose factory worker-father has lost his job. There is little around him to cheer him up, but the boy keeps using his imagination to make sense of the dismal environment.
High points: Profoundly moving story and remarkably restrained acting by the principal cast
Adaminte Makan Abu (Malayalam, 2011)
Director: Salim Ahamed
Adaminte Makan Abu (Abu, Son of Adam) is about a poor perfume seller who has only one aspiration left in life – he wants to visit Mecca. He sets about putting together the resources he needs to make the trip but his mission is not as simple as it seems.
High points: Effortless storytelling;evocative cinematography (Madhu Ambat), a flawless screenplay and a pitch-perfect central performance (Salim Kumar)
Anhey Ghorey Da Daan (Punjabi, 2011)
Director: Gurvinder Singh
First-time director Gurvinder Singh’s experimental film, based on an acclaimed novel of the same name, is an intense evocation of life, or of what is left of it, in a poverty-stricken, socially oppressed village whose inhabitants have little to look forward to.
High points: It is as stark as it is lyrical, and is marked by an evolved cinematic idiom
Asha Jaoar Majhe (Bengali, 2014)
Director: Aditya Vikram Sengupta
A remarkable debut film by Aditya VikramSengupta, Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love) is about a day in the life of a Calcutta couple struggling to make ends meet in the time of an economic recession. No words are exchanged between the two unnamed characters – they meet only once and fleetingly at that – but the film says a lot about the anomalies of urban
High points: A beautifully crafted film that comes as close to pure cinema as any Indian film has done in years
Asthamayam Vare (Malayalam, 2014)
Director: Sajin Babu
A debutant director pulls an unusual rabbit out of the hat – a Malayalam film without any background score and minimal dialogue. Two boys are arrested after the death of a choir singer in a seminary. What follows is a fragmented narrative that takes place in an unspecified time and location.
High points: Its abstract but evocative setting and the deep, resonant exploration of man’s relationship with nature
Chennai 600028 (Tamil, 2007)
Director: Venkat Prabhu
Woven around street cricket rivalry in a Chennai locality, director Venkat Prabhu’s first film deals with the themes of friendship and teamwork in aunwaveringly realistic manner. The film’s surprise success catapulted a whole bunch of young actors and the director to stardom.
High points: The endearing quality of the characters and the utter believability of the story
Court (Marathi/Gujarati/Hindi/English, 2014)
Director: Chaitanya Tamhane
First-time director Chaitanya Tamhane lays bare the ways of the Indian legal system, mirrored in the hapless plight of a folk poet charged with abetting the suicide of a municipal gutter cleaner. Court makes its point with great force and precision without resorting to conventional dramatic devices.
High points: Sure-handed direction, a fine script and convincing characters
Crossing Bridges (Sherdukpen, 2014)
Director: Sange Dorjee Thondok
The first-ever film in Arunachal Pradesh’s Sherdukpen dialect, Crossing Bridges is about a man who returns to his village after losing his job in Mumbai. As he awaits news of new openings, the serene rhythms of his own culture force him to rethink his priorities.
High points: The first-time director imbues the languid ‘coming home’ drama with both warmth and urgency
Ek Hazarachi Note (Marathi, 2014)
Director: Shrihari Sathe
An impoverished village widow, who has lost her husband and son in debt-related mishaps, is showered with big denomination currency notes by a vote-seeking politician. With the kind of liquidity that she has never seen, the woman sets out for the market. But life has other plans for her.
High points: Debutant director Shrihari Sathe’s subtle touches and lead actress Usha Naik’s empathy-inducing performance
Fandry (Marathi, 2013)
Director: Nagraj Manjule
Staring caste inequities in a part of rural Maharashtra in the face, Fandry is about a pig-catcher who falls in love with a girl he can never get. But in his youthful enthusiasm, he believes that he stands a chance. The film reflects aspects of the growing-up years of the writer-director Nagraj Manjule.
High points: Stark, hard-hitting and disturbing, the film presents an unflinching portrait of a benighted world that is rarely seen in Indian cinema.
Frozen (Hindi, 2007)
Director: Shivajee Chandrabhushan
Shivajee Chandrabhushan’s Frozen is an austerely shot black-and-white film set in Ladakh. A sprightly teenage girl lives with her father, an apricot jam-maker, and her kid brother in a remote Himalayan village. Their life is disrupted when the army moves in and sets up camp yards from their home, bringing conflict within sniffing distance.
High points: Low-key, naturalistic filmmaking is backed by aptly restrained acting.
Gabhricha Paus (Marathi, 2009)
Director: Satish Manwar
Gabhricha Paus (The Damned Rain) is set in the drought-hit Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, where an impoverished peasant fights the odds stacked against him but without success. His wife does her best to keep his spirits up, but the situation on the ground militates against his quest for a good crop.
High points: Satish Manwar’s controlled direction and the pivotal performance by Girish Kulkarni
Harishchandrachi Factory (Marathi, 2009)
Director: Paresh Mokashi
A highly engaging recreation of the circumstances in which Dadasaheb Phalke made Raja Harishchandra,whose release in 1913 officially marks the birth of Indian cinema. It is shot in a style that reflects the way films were made back in those days without any camera movements.
High points: Storytelling at its simplest and most effective. All credit to writer and director Paresh Mokashi
Harud (Urdu/Hindi, 2010)
Director: Aamir Bashir
Harud (Autumn), an impressive directorial debut by actor Aamir Bashir, is a disquieting tale about a Srinagar youngster grappling with the unexplained disappearance of his elder brother and the impact of the event on his aged parents. Contemplative and melancholic but hard-hitting.
High points: Its realistic, docu-drama feel puts the plight of common people in a conflict zone into sharp relief
Island City (Hindi, 2015)
Director: Ruchika Oberoi
Few Hindi films have captured urban alienation quite as brilliantly. Through an anthology of three separate but linked stories, the film delves into a fast evolving city where means of communication are multiplying but genuine emotions are difficult to articulate. The film is about Mumbai but could be valid for any modern megalopolis.
High points: Outstanding cinematography – each segment has a different texture; fine editing; and impressively calibrated performances
Kakkaa Muttai (Tamil, 2014)
Director: M Manikandan
In Kakkaa Muttai (Crow’s Egg), two young brothers lose their playground to a new pizza outlet. They now dream of having a bite of a pizza. But there’s a problem: a pizza costs more than what their family earns in a month. An outstanding directorial debut by cinematographer M Manikandan.
High points: Endearing central characters and trenchant social commentary couched in narrative simplicity
Kanyaka TaTalkies (Malayalam, 2013)
Director: K.R. Manoj
Made by award-winning documentary filmmaker K.R. Manoj, Kanyaka Talkies (Virgin Talkies) is the story of an old, dilapidated movie theatre that is turned into a church. The film probes the politics of cinema, human desire and religion in a historical as well as contemporary context.
High points: It offers a thought-provoking take on a rarely explored aspect on Kerala’s engagement with cinema.
Khosla Ka Ghosla (Hindi, 2006)
Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Director Dibakar Banerjee’s debut film is a family drama that lays bare the plight of a middle-class Delhi man whose plot of land is encroached upon by a powerful hustler. A small film with big impact, Khosla Ka Ghosla was a magnificent entertainment package.
High points: One of the finest, subtlest comedies made in Mumbai in a long, long time
Manorama Six Feet Under (Hindi, 2007)
Director: Navdeep Singh
Director Navdeep Singh’s debut is an engaging and startlingly effective probe into small-town Rajasthan where corruption and crime are rampant. An engineer and struggling novelist turns into an amateur investigator to wrap his head around a web of lies, deceit and murder.
High points: The film’s realistic texture is reinforced by strong, earthy dialogues and superb acting
Masaan (Hindi, 2015)
Director: Neeraj Ghaywan
Debutant director Neeraj Ghaywan, working with a screenplay by Varun Grover, captures the ancient city of Benaras torn between tradition and modernity. Realism and restraint mark the drama about four individuals who struggle to come to terms with pressures brought on by social and emotional upheavals.
High points: High quality acting;insightful study of small-town dynamics in a rapidly changing India
Ozhivudivasathe Kali (Malayalam, 2015)
Director: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan
A fluidly constructed cautionary tale with a shocking finale, Ozhivudivasthe Kali (An Off-Day Game) peels off the veneer of bonhomie that five friends on a day off in the country project. As the day progresses, they begin to reveal their true colours – they aren’t edifying at all.
High points: With minimum fuss, the director paints a dark, disturbing portrait of caste and class divides in Kerala
Natarang (Marathi, 2010)
Director: Ravi Jadhav
Ravi Jadhav’s directorial debut Natarang, set in the world of Maharashtra’s folk theatre, is the story of a working class man who sets up a theatre. Destiny forces him to defy his own masculinity and society’s expectations to don the role of an effeminate character on the stage.
High points: Flawless adaptation of a successful novel and outstanding performances by Atul Kulkarni and Kishor Kadam
Peepli Live! (Hindi, 2010)
Director: Anusha Rizvi
In a small village in Madhya Pradesh, a debt-ridden farmer is desperate to save his land and his family. Pushed into a corner, he decides to commit suicide. His announcement sparks off frenzied and wholly misplaced reactions from the media, the politicians and government officials.
High points: A scathing expose of India’s agrarian distress and the ham-handed official response to it
Phoring (Bengali, 2013)
Director: Indranil Roychowdhury
The protagonist of Phoring is a boy growing up in a remote, sleepy North Bengal town that has survived the closure of a factory. The film is a sharp and sensitive study of an unusual character. The protagonist hears voices in his head. An unconventional teacher begins to expose him to things unknown. One day, she vanishes…
High points: First-time director Indranil Roychowdhury’s self-assured storytelling and characterizations
Ship of Theseus (Hindi/English, 2013)
Director: Anand Gandhi
Among the most strikingly original films to come out of India in years, Ship of Theseus tells three interlinked stories about a visually impaired photographer, a terminally ill monk, and a pushy stockbroker. The film questions notions of identity, belief systems and ways of seeing.
High points: Seamless blend of disparate plot elements, outstanding direction and fine performances
The Lunchbox (English/Hindi, 2013)
Director: Ritesh Batra
Director Ritesh Batra’s maiden feature found takers virtually all around the world after it garnered unstinted encomiums at the Cannes Film Festival. This unusual love story of a lonely widower and a middle-class woman despairing for her husband’s attention is about Mumbai, food, urban alienation and starting over.
High points: Magnificent scripting, evocative portrayal of a city on the move, and a clutch of super performances
Thithi (Kannada, 2015)
Director: Raam Reddy
Thithi is a wryly comic, sharply observant portrait of a small south Indian village where a centenarian dies, sparking off a scramble for his plot of land. In the running are the old man’s octogenarian son and his avaricious, good-for-nothing grandson. Pensive and evocative.
High points: A cast of amateur actors who seem to be playing themselves and striking directorial skills by debutant Raam Reddy
Titli (Hindi, 2015)
Director: Kanu Behl
Set in a Delhi in the grip of a ‘development’ frenzy, Titli is the story of a dysfunctional lower middle-class family grappling with inter-personal issues that frequently assume the form of brutal violence. The youngest of three siblings has an urge to escape this hellhole. But can he?
High points: Intelligent use of thriller elements to paint a precise socio-economic portrait of people on the fringes of a rapidly expanding megalopolis