The year is half over but Bollywood is showing no signs of slowing down.
In the ensuing mixed bag of splendid and second-rate cinema, one thing emerged a clear winner — a willingness to attempt something out of the box.
To what degree of success, let’s find out.
Sukanya Verma looks at 2019’s winners and washouts so far.
India rocked to the beats of hip-hop as Zoya Akhtar’s assured filmmaking asserted its versatility in Gully Boy‘s rags-to-rapper triumph tale.
Vasan Bala’s Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota wove pop culture references and quirky ingenuity to create a vibrant action-comedy-romance-feel-good-fun fest.
Ritesh Batra transcended class barriers to explore the possibility of serene connections between a street photographer and an A-student in Photograph.
Streaming its way to Netflix, Ivan Ayr’s Soni probes into routine sexism and patriarchy around the lives of two lady cops. Its findings play on the mind long after the end credits.
Abhishek Chaubey’s stark reflection on bandit life goes beyond the realm of guns and grit to unfold the richly-layered Sonchiriya.
After last year’s powerhouse Mulk, Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15 draws focus on the stark reality of India’s rotten caste system in such a manner that you will take notice.
Every year there’s that one wildly hyped biggie that turns out to be a notorious debacle.
In 2019, it’s Abhishek Varman’s star-studded, all style no substance Kalank. As our review says, ‘With not much else going on in its scheme of predictable twists and manufactured melodrama, the beauty acquires the air of a stiff spectator.’
Here are some other significant releases that didn’t get any love from our critics.
‘Student of the Year 2 has no spunk, no plot and zero charisma.’
‘A jumbo mess of warped notions and random ambition, Why Cheat India trivialises education and shows sympathy for deceit.’
‘From treating women like toys, trampling all over their feelings and then acting like a wounded martyr and misunderstood genius wronged by the world, Kabir Singh rounds up every foolish male’s ultimate fantasy.
‘Eager to seem like this progressive film encouraging the prospect of a 50-year-old guy in a relationship with a 26-year-old and then taking her to meet the parents, ex-wife and kids, it neither has the confidence to own the premise nor the nuance to not judge them for it. Propelled by hypocrisy and deceit at every turn, De De Pyaar De resorts to the age-old pretext of cold feet and lies to slump into a modern family mockery.’
‘RAW: Romeo Akbar Walter tries very hard to invoke love for our motherland, but fails to make that connection.’
‘God help if your idea of (Total Dhamaal‘s) humour isn’t elephant vomit.’
‘A demure lesbian romance that tests waters rather than root for same sex love, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is a missed opportunity, let down by writing so meek in its assertion that it defeats its purpose of awakening.
‘Bharat features instance upon instance of poorly timed acting choices, cheap laughs and godawful characterisations.’
Of course, at the absolute bottom of this pile is Govinda embarrassing himself to no end in Rangeela Raja.
The year saw some inspired acting from stars, scene-stealers and seasoned performers.
While Alia Bhatt breathes fire, Ranveer Singh’s over-the-top energy is nowhere to be found in his incredible transformation into a subdued Dharavi poet. Siddhant Chaturvedi’s scene-stealing confidence and Vijay Varma’s swagger add to Gully Boy’s dazzle.
Sushant Singh Rajput, Bhumi Pednekar, Ranvir Shorey and Ashutosh Rana capture and convey the tone and turmoil of their complex characters in Sonchiriya.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s gift to evolve in everyman roles and Sanya Malhotra’s marvelous grasp of an uncommunicative character is a treat to watch in Photograph.
Gulshan Devaiah’s comic skills are a hoot as he juggles between Good and Evil in the wacky Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota.
Ayushmann Khurrana’s straightforward sensibility in Article 15 reveals his potential outside comic capers. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub’s performance deserves accolades too.
If Saloni Batra and Geetika Vidya Ohlyan are persuasive as law enforcers battling day-to-day prejudice in Soni and Shweta Tripathi’s sympathetic understanding of dealing with alopecia in Gone Kesh tugs at the heartstrings, Rasika Dugal reiterates her command on silent sufferers (Hamid).
Soni Razdan comes into her own in fleshed-out parts in Yours Truly and No Fathers in Kashmir.
Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu intense exchange and Amrita Singh’s simmering retribution add punch to Badla.
‘Tu nanga hi to aaya hai. Kya ghanta lekar jayega?’ Truer words were never spoken.
Kashmir stories are soon becoming Bollywood’s go-to genre — case in point Hamid, Notebook and No Fathers in Kashmir.
The josh is high for jingoistic fare like Uri, Kesari, Bharat and Manikarnika.
The election bug bit quite a few filmmakers this year after one distasteful biopic/politically-themed propaganda followed another in Thackeray, The Accidental Prime Minister, PM Narendra Modi and The Tashkent Files.
Toxic masculinity flexes its power at the box office as Arjun Reddy’s Bollywood remake Kabir Singh opens to big numbers despite scathing reviews.
Bharat shows Bhai power is on the decline but not quite dead.
Kartik Aaryan is no fluke. Luka Chuppi’s box office proves so.
Nepotism has its good days (Abhimanyu Dassani) and bad (Karan Kapadia, Pranutan Bahl). And some middling (Ananya Pandey) too.
Message matters. Article 15 takes on caste discrimination while Gone Kesh talks about body shaming.
Anil-Madhuri (Total Dhamaal) > Sanju-Madhuri (Kalank)
Bollywood has a long way to go when it comes to computer graphics: Kalank’s bull, Total Dhamaal’s zoo, Kesari’s landscape, we’re looking at you.