Another year comes to an end and for me, this has been the break-out year for small films. As I was compiling my list of best Hindi Films of 2018, I realised that there are no big films featuring in it. No Khans, no big budgets, no multi-starrers. Instead, what I have are 10 films which have great story-telling. Some use the intrinsic qualities of the actor to create memorable moments, others push the actors into alien territory, hence, creating magic. So here are my best Hindi films of 2018 in no particular order.
This is possibly the biggest film on the list and I would still argue that this is a small film. That's because the film is a spy thriller, with a female playing the lead, without any big male lead actors. Add to that the tangible metric of the actual budget, a meagre 35 crores. However, what Raazi lacked in budget, it made up for with incredible authenticity. What it lacked in the male lead department, was more than covered a stellar support cast and always-in-form Vicky Kaushal. Then we had Alia Bhat, who more than managed the solo lead part, not flawlessly but it was her most difficult role. Raazi was an excellent film with tight storytelling and classy direction by Meghna Gulzar. Read the detailed film review here.
Bhavesh Joshi Superhero
Surprised? I am sure many would be, but mostly the ones who have not seen it. I was pleasantly surprised by this film when I saw it on Netflix. Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is not really a superhero film, not in the usual way. However, I think this is by far the best superhero film to come out of India. Miles ahead of Kkrish and the likes. The film embraces today's reality and uses that to fuel its story-telling. The characters are very real and so is the treatment of the entire film. Harshvardhan Kapoor is good as Sikander but it is Priyanshu Painyuli who steals the show with his honest and endearing portrayal of Bhavesh Joshi. Priyanshu fuels Bhavesh's character with vulnerability and naivety along with purpose and determination. I hope people take notice of this talent and we get to see more of him going forward. Bhavesh Joshi Superhero was an extremely difficult film to pull-off and hence it is by no means a perfect film. In spite of that, it is one of the best films of 2018 because it is unique, genuine and not afraid to stand on its own two feet.
This one was expected to be hilarious and it did not disappoint at all. Badhaai Ho is emoji heaven, filled with genuine LOL and ROFL moments. Every actor is in top form especially the older generation. It was such a pleasure to watch Neena Gupta and Surekha Sikri back on the big screen in such well-written roles. The stand-out performance, however, came from Gajraj Rao. The actor was excellent, juggling various facets of his character, from loving husband to devoted son, from respected to embarrassed father, and from an upstanding member of the society to a male icon in the neighbourhood. The writing once again steals the show which such cleverly written scenes that they are hold-your-stomach hilarious and yet seem natural. Aayushman Khurana has made it a habit of doing unconventional characters and scripts so this one fits like a glove. He is brilliant as the embarrassed son, hiding away from everyone. The scene where his father breaks the news of his mother's pregnancy is golden. So is the scene where the two brothers are sitting silently on the roof, the silence is broken suddenly, by the sound of a tight slap on the face. The laughter does dry out a bit in the second half and the film turns a tad bit emotional but it honestly felt natural. I can forsee Badhaai Ho running on TV channels repeatedly and people watch it again and again. It is that kind of a film where it does not matter that everyone in the room knows what the next dialogue or scene is, everyone will still laugh their guts out when it happens.
Mulk directed by Anubhav Sinha is a great example of top class writing. The strength of this film lies in the natural, powerful, and emotional exchanges between the characters. The scenes take place against a backdrop of authentic settings, courtesy of some fine art direction. The lead characters have also been written with a lot of finesse and not once do they go down the cliched path. The actors do complete justice to the writing, especially Tapsee Pannu who has made it a habit of portraying difficult characters exceptionally. And this is not even her best performance of the year (that would be Manmarziyaan). The stand-out performance for me, however, was Manoj Pahwa, who takes up a surprisingly challengingly role, and proves his acting prowess. Mulk is indeed a ‘Mic Drop’ moment for Manoj Pahwa for all those who thought his acting abilities were limited to poor caricatures.
Stree, a horror-comedy, comes straight out of the quirky stables of Raj & DK. Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K., better known as Raj & DK, have successfully created their own brand of films. I have been a fan since their directorial debut 99, which, in my book, is a hidden gem. Their essence lies in the writing (yes, they write as well) which is funny, quirky and true to the setting. They had some great scripts from Shor in the City to Go Goa Gone. They did falter the last couple of times (Happy Ending, The Gentleman), but I am glad they did not change what they do best. That's because Stree is a fabulous entertainer, with genre-defining elements, quirky characters (Vicky, Rudra, Bittu, Janna), foot-tapping music and in-form Rajkumar Rao & Pankaj Tripathi. Honestly, most films tend towards 'awesome-ness', just by the mere presence of Rao & Tripathi. In Stree, apart from Rao and Tripathi, you get Aparshakti Khurana, as well as Abhishek Banerjee, who further elevate the film by their spontaneity. Need I say more?
This is the fourth major collaboration for director Shoojit Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi. Each time, the duo has delivered more than a mere film, it is an experience. Vicky Donor, Madras Cafe, Piku and now October. Each film has been at a severe contrast from the others, so there is no formula being followed. Some people may say that both Vicky and Piku were crowd pleasers (which neither was), everyone will agree that October is anything but a crowd pleaser. If anything, it is the complete opposite. Shoojit strips the frames down for every ounce of glamour and make-believe, giving us a very real, hard-hitting, slice of life experience. Varun Dhawan plays Dan with a lot of heart, trying his best to prove that he is a serious actor. This is becoming somewhat of a pattern this year, but the highlight of the film is Gitanjali Rao. Her understated performance as the Mother is both warm and chilling. You can't help but empathize with the mother whose world has come crashing down. October is not something you can watch over and over, but the beauty is, even if you watch it once, it will stay with you for a lifetime.
Irrfan Khan close to his very best, snappy dialogues, scenic locations oozing serenity, all this at a nonchalant pace. This is the recipe for a damn good film and writer-director Akarsh Khurana cracked this. Karwaan is an easy going, slice of life film about a forced road trip involving Shaukat (Irrfan), Avinash (Dulquer) and Tanya (Mithila) along with 2 dead bodies. Needless to say, no one wanted this road trip, especially not the dead bodies. Hence, the situation makes for a fun adventure that has a deep message about life. Through the various incidents during the trip, the characters open up, grow and evolve. Akarsh brings this to life in an extremely subtle and endearing manner. It is one of those films where you have to just let go and get involved for it to strike a chord. It definitely struck a chord with me and I loved it so much that I went for a repeat viewing.
The first half of Mukkabaaz is Anurag Kashyap's finest work, better than anything he has done. Not only that, it is possibly better than a large portion of what the Industry dishes out. Unfortunately, half is just what the name suggests, incomplete. Hence, as a whole, Mukkabaaz falls short of what could have been an iconic film. Don't get me wrong, it is still a fabulous piece of cinema. That is because, even though Anurag falls to his usual nemesis (over-indulgence with his work), Vineet Kumar Singh is relentless as Shravan from start to finish. He gets into the skin of the character so well that no matter how hard you try, you will never see Danish from Wasseypur or Vijay from Bombay Talkies. Every great hero needs a great villain, and for Shravan, Anurag created Bhagwaandas Mishra, played like a boss by Jimmy Shergill. He is evil personified. Every expression, every dialogue, every movement radiates fear. Anurag has this habit of creating scenes that leave a lasting impression. Gangs of Wasseypur and Ugly both had breathtaking final scenes. In Mukkabaaz, that credit goes to one of the very first scenes. While getting beaten for talking back to Bhagwaandas, Sharavan is wearing an infectious smile, his eyes are full of love and staring at Sunaina. She smiles back with equal parts love and naughtiness, without any care that Shravan is getting a serious beat-down. These are scenes that make me fall in love with cinema.
Sriram Raghavan has slowly but steadily, created a cult fan following. He has proven himself time n again that he is indeed a master at directing thrillers. I guess that's why he was not happy with just one genre, he mixed a few to try something new and different. Andhadhun is a thriller, but it is also a comedy, with shades of black comedy. The direction (Sriram Raghavan) is magical and so is Amit Trivedi's music. Aayushman as Akash is a gem and puts in his finest performance to date. Radhika Apte is nice and breezy, Zakir Hussain is hilarious as Dr. Swami. However, the best actor in Andhadhun is Tabu. She is totally in the zone, playing Simi, a bored young housewife to old and forgotten yesteryear star. It is a treat to watch her at work and she is indeed the best of the lot among the actors, but, Andhadhun has something even better. Sriram Raghavan's writing is divine. It is tight and funny, bold and quirky. I loved every meta-reference of Tabu from Maqbool to Haider and so many tongue-in-cheek moments like the Singham reference made for the inspector. Andhadhun is truly one of the finest this year. Read the detailed review here.
After 2018, If one has to give reference to what is the next level of cinema, or what is Hollywood like in India, Tumbbad will be that reference. It is a benchmark in Hindi Cinema and leaps and bounds ahead of whatever we have seen, especially in the horror genre. Tumbbad, directed by Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad tells the story of an ancient Indian goddess who had created the entire universe and her evil son, Hastar. It is set in 1920 and hence a lot of work was needed to make it look authentic. You will realise that not a stone seems out of place. In fact, every set piece and outdoor location belongs to the film and to the storyline. The storyline is where a lot of heavy lifting has been done. Genre-based films usually follow a formula. Tumbbad, however, uses its story as its hero and its biggest strength. There is no formula, just pure creation. The central theme of the film is written exceedingly well and encapsulates everything happening around it brilliantly. This film is stunning from a technical standpoint, which is where most films made in India lag far behind. The cinematography is gorgeous, heightened by the creative lighting, which is god-like. The background score is haunting and effective. The finest thing about the film is the art direction. It is the backbone of the film and you will surely take notice in the final sequence if you have already not been bowled over. The final sequence is unexpected and divine. This is the smallest film in the list and possibly the finest.