MASTERSTROKES: Best Indian Films of the New Millennium


By Saibal Chatterjee

Ajeyo (Assamese, 2014)
Director: JahnuBarua

Assam’s leading director JahnuBarua’s Ajeyo (Invincible) is an adaptionof Arun Sharma’s award-winning novel to narrate a tale set in the years before India’s Partition. An idealistic young man in a small village fights social ills against all odds. In present times, his granddaughter, a senior police officer, continues the crusade.

High points: A powerful story told with unwavering control and a sense of how history is never a thing of the past

Aligarh (Hindi, 2015)
Director: Hansal Mehta

A gay professor is hounded by a hidebound town and university and eventually driven to suicide. The true story is narrated with unimpeachable integrity and empathy for the ‘outsider’ fighting a losing battle against an insensitive society.

High points: A knockout performance by ManojBajpayee as the wronged professor, with solid support from Rajkummar Rao

Dweepa (Kannada, 2002)
Director: Girish Kasaravalli

In the backwaters of a big dam, a village is going under water due to heavy rains. A family struggles to save its dwelling because the government compensation isn’t enough for them to begin life afresh in a different place. Dweepa (The Island) is one of Kasaravalli’s best films.

High points: Visually stunning backdrop and a profoundly moving story addresses environmental degradation and displacement

Gulabi Talkies (Kannada, 2008)
Director: Girish Kasaravalli

This multi-layered masterpiece, set in a fishing village in the late 1990s, probes the phenomenon of rising communal tensions linked to the Kargil conflict and its impact on Gulabi, a cinema-loving midwife whose TV set draws women of the community to her home.

High points: A superb central performance by Umashree and masterful adaptation for the screen of a Vaidehi short story

Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi(Hindi, 2003)
Director: Sudhir Mishra

Set in the 1970s, in the years before and after the Emergency, Sudhir Mishra’s evocation of a turbulent period in Indian political history revolves around three college students who go their own ways only to find their paths crossing again in the cauldron of a people’s movement that severely tests their idealism.

High points: A rare Hindi film dealing with the eventful Emergency years during which many young people jumped into the bruising battle for a more just society

Janala (Bengali, 2009)
Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta

Buddhadeb Dasgupta addresses his pet theme – the lure of childhood memories. A man returns to his school and finds the building in a severely rundown condition, He decides to help out but does not have the means. As a result, tensions brew between him and his wife.

High points: Moments of lyricism masterfully tempered with the harsh realities of life

Kaalbela (Bengali, 2009)
Director: Goutam Ghosh

Made largely in the style of the radical political Bengali films of the 1970s, Goutam Ghosh’s Kaalbela documents the unrest that led to the birth of the violent Naxalite movement. The film, based on a 1980s novel written as part of an epic trilogy by Samaresh Majumdar, vividly evokes a turbulent era.

High points: Seamless juxtaposing of past and present and rich visual and aural texturing

Kaalpurush (Bengali, 2005)
Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta

A middle-class big city man with a failing marriage and a drab professional life seeks refuge in the memories of his childhood and tries to reconnect with his father. The film abounds in the surreal touches that define poet-filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s cinema.

High points: Stellar performances from the principal cast led by Mithun Chakraborty and the director’s unique ability to find poetry even in the drudgery of life

Kanchivaram (Tamil, 2007)
Director: Priyadarshan

Mainstream movie director Priyadarshan made an artistic detour to craft this intense drama about a silk weaver’s struggle to rise above his impecunious state in the years following India’s Independence from British rule. The film traces the birth of the cooperative labour movement.

High points: Marvellous interpretation of the protagonist by Prakash Raj and a director at the top of his game

Kathavasheshan (Malayalam, 2004)
Director: T.V. Chandran

A man kills himself. His fiancée inches ever closer to understanding the deceased’s mental state as she investigates the reasons behind his ultimate act of despair. Directed by T.V. Chandran, Kathavasheshan, which is indirectly set against the Gujarat communal riots of 2002, is a story told almost entirely, and very effectively, through flashbacks.

High points: Chandran’s politically inflected sense of humanity infuses a deeply empathetic portrayal of a man ashamed to be alive

Koormavatara (Kannada, 2012)
Director: Girish Kasaravalli

In Koormavatara (Tortoise, A Reincarnation), an ageing government employee on the verge of retirement is offered a role in a television show in which he has to impersonate Mahatma Gandhi. The spirit of the Father of the Nation percolates into him and poses challenges that are anything but easy to confront.

High points: The film is marked by the quiet, meditative narrative style of Kannada cinema’s most celebrated auteur Girish Kasaravalli

KuttySrank (Malayalam, 2010)
Director: Shaji N Karun

A body of a nomadic mariner is washed ashore. A Buddhist nun, a Christian woman and a mute lady come forward to claim his body. The film weaves a complex, intriguing portrait of a character while highlighting different locations and cultural and seasonal variations.

High points: Visually stunning and multi-layered narrative; Mammootty’s stellar performance

Mondo Meyer Upakhyan (Bengali, 2002)
Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta

Working with multiple narrative strands, Dasgupta draws a parallel between several ordinary struggles in rural Bengal and man’s momentous landing on the moon. The principal story focuses on a prostitute’s daughter who is desperate to return to school and escape her mother’s fate.

High points: Dasgupta’s signature surreal touches lend the story a uniquely poetic quality

Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (English/Hindi, 2002)
Director: Aparna Sen

In the skillfully calibrated Mr and MrsIyer, Aparna Sen probes India’s many fault lines. A married Tamil Brahmin woman befriends a Bengali Muslim photographer and two keep up the pretence of being married during a bus journey interrupted by an outbreak of sectarian violence.

High points: A moving performance by Konkona Sen Sharma that anchors a powerful human drama

Naalu Pennungal (Malayalam, 2007)
Director: AdoorGopalakrishnan

NaaluPennungal (Four Women) is an adaptation of four stories by ThakazhiSivasankara Pillai. Set in Kuttanad in Kerala’s Alappuzha district, the film narrates ostensibly unrelated stories in four chapters – The Prostitute, The Virgin, The Housewife and The Spinster.

High points: A master filmmaker at his most accessible; Ajith Kumar’s brilliant editing

Nizhalkkuthu (Malayalam, 2002)
Director: AdoorGopalakrishnan

Set in the 1940s, the superbly crafted Nizhalkuthu(Shadow Kill) is the story of the last hangman in Travancore. Haunted by guilt at the realization that a man that he executed might have been innocent, he seeks refuge in alcohol and religion.

High points: The film’s exploration of the limits of justice and redemption is marked by rare depth and a profound sense of humanity



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