By Saibal Chatterjee
I Am Kalam (Hindi, 2011)
Director: Nila Madhab Panda
A young boy works in a highway food joint but dreams of going school, fired by his love for books. He befriends a lonely prince who lives in a sprawling mansion. The growing bond between the two boys across the social and class divide that separates them opens doors for both.
High points: The relevance of its social message and the simplicity of its storytelling style
Kaaaaler Rakhal (Bengali, 2009)
Director: Sekhar Das
A rare contemporary Bengali film that directly addresses the political skull duggery that is rampant in rural parts of the eastern Indian state, Kaaler Rakhal is about an itinerant performer who, owing to his poverty is sucked into a twister of ruthless exploitation by those in positions of power.
High points: Highlights a unique cultural aspect of Bengalwhile exposing the depredations of the political class
Little Zizou (Hindi/Gujarati/English, 2008)
Director: Sooni Taraporevala,
The scripter of acclaimed Mira Nair films such as Salaam Bombay and The Namesake made her directorial debut with this delightful drama about two feuding Parsi families in Mumbai and an 11-year-old soccer-crazy boy who dreams of meeting his idol Zinedine Zidane in person.
High points: Little Zizou is vibrant,touching, warm-hearted and uplifting, a rare believable cinematic portrait of the Parsi community
Paaaan Singh Tomar (Hindi, 2012)
Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia
By far one of the best biographical films ever made by a Mumbai director, Paan Singh Tomar eschews established storytelling conventions and delivers a punchy, deeply affecting real-life story of a champion athlete forced by rural inequities to become an outlaw.
High points: A top-draw performance by Irrfan Khan as the eponymous character and sure-handed scripting and direction
Qissa (Punjabi, 2013)
Director: Anup Singh
A victim of the Partition of India, desperate for a son to carry on the family name, drags his wife and youngest daughter into a destructive vortex. Director Anup Singh blends solid naturalism with surreal strokes to craft a haunting tale about the pitfalls of patriarchy.
High points: Superb acting by Irrfan Khan and the rest of the cast and afable-like tale that leaves a deep imprint on the mind
Shabdo (Bengali, 2013)
Director: Kaushik Ganguly
Shabdo (which, in Bengali, can mean either ‘word’ or ‘sound’) is the story of a Foley artist who is trapped in a world of ambient sound and becomes incapable of registering human voices around him, including that of his exasperated wife. An unconventional story told with skill, subtlety and sensitivity.
High points: Director Kaushik Ganguly’s handling of an unusual theme and lead actor Ritwik Chakraborty’s flawless performance
Stanley Ka Dabba (Hindi, 2011)
Director: Amole Gupte
A children’s tale written and directed by Amole Gupte, who also plays one of the key onscreen roles. Set in a Mumbai school, the film is about a creative schoolboy who is loved by his teachers with the exception of one, who resents the fact that the protagonist’s friends share their lunch with him.
High points: The purity of the storytelling is bolstered by great performances by the young actors as well as the adult members of the cast
Swades (Hindi, 2004)
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Written, produced and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, Swades was a worthy follow-up to his Lagaan. It is justifiably regarded as one of the most ‘complete’ Bollywood films ever made. A NASA scientist of Indian origin returns to his roots and inspires his remote north Indian village to produce its own electricity.
High points: Shah Rukh Khan’s un-starry star turn; skilled blend of social philosophy and mainstream entertainment