It’s been a year of some good films, and far too many not-so-good ones. Several Hindi films worked at the box-office, earning crores of rupees. But only a few were genuinely engaging, quality pictures. In a year of South Indian remakes, dozens of crass comedies, lazy sequels, and star-driven vanity projects, here are my personal best and worst Hindi films of 2011 — what we like to call THE HITS & PITS of 2011.
We’ll start by taking a look at my five best films of the year – the Hits of 2011. These are personal choices each, not determined by the box-office performance of these films. So right away, my five best films of the year, the HITS of 2011.
# 5 Yeh Saali Zindagi
Violence and love are irresistible ingredients in this film. Under its rough exterior of criminals and gunshots, Yeh Saali Zindagi pleasantly surprised us with a tale of slow-burning passion and complicated relationships. Weaving an engaging yarn with unpredictable one-liners, director Sudhir Mishra gave us a raw film that neatly tied in with its unconventional title.
# 4 Delhi Belly
A stool sample is mistaken for a smuggled package of diamonds…this filthy comic thriller directed by Abhinay Deo was packed with rude humor and shock value. Delhi Belly is the year’s best example of a smart script defined by its quick pace, and enhanced by sharp performances. With its unique cocktail of oddball characters and interesting twists, Delhi Belly may not have been great cinema, but it guaranteed big laughs.
Tying with Delhi Belly at #4 is Rockstar
It was a far from perfect film, but director Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar made up for its flaws with inherent honesty and depth – qualities sorely missing from most movies today. A tale of great passion pieced together with lovely moments, Rockstar had one big shot in the arm – a riveting performance by Ranbir Kapoor.
# 3 Shor in the City
A small film that makes a big noise about different lives coming together in a teeming metropolis, Shor in the City was a sparkling comic thriller that sucked you in from the word go. With three desperate men struggling to make a better life for themselves in a corrupt city, this film — directed by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK — followed different tracks that gradually intertwined. A touch of magic realism, surprising sensitivity, and quirky humor turned Shor in the City into one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.
# 2 Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
It may have been a road-trip for bachelors, but director Zoya Akhtar proved once again that she has a unique gift for storytelling and a distinct filmmaking voice. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara took a light-hearted all-boys journey through Spain to deliver a heartfelt message about seizing the day and following one’s dreams. What stands out are the compelling performances by its leads, and the realization that ultimately boys will be boys.
# 1 Stanley Ka Dabba
Every once in a while comes a film that makes you dip into your memories…taking you back to those wonder years when you shared tiffin boxes in the back benches, and ganged up against a cruel taeacher. Through the simple, bitter-sweet story of Stanley Ka Dabba and its deeper message against child labor, director Amole Gupte skilfully pitted the innocence of children against the egos of adults. Yet, it is the seductive role of food in this film that reminds you of the love in everyday relationships.
Honourable mentions: Dhobi Ghat, I Am, Shaitan, and That Girl in Yellow Boots
Let’s take a look now at my worst films of 2011, a more difficult list to compile given that there were so many options to choose from. What I settled on, eventually, are five films that were disappointing for different reasons. These are the five films I hated the most this year, the films that were most difficult to sit through in 2011. Again, irrespective of their box-office performance, these are my PITS of 2011.
# 5 Aarakshan
Intended as a scathing comment on the issue of reservation in the education system, director Prakash Jha’s Aarakshan turned out to be a dreadfully boring lecture that was a challenge to survive. Every character was a cardboard caricature, and the plot meandered pointlessly in all directions. In the end, the film didn’t say much that you didn’t already know…and this despite rambling on for close to three hours!
# 4 Game
Just months before he gave us Delhi Belly, director Abhinay Deo made an inauspicious debut with the staggeringly silly crime-thriller Game, that had fancy foreign locations, an attractive cast, and a premise with potential. What it didn’t have was a script! Convoluted, and never true to its own logic, the film’s twists felt underwhelming. A whodunit with neither pace nor thrills, this Game played by all the wrong rules.
# 3 Mausam
You needed nerves to steel to make it through this misguided romantic saga that defied logic and basic common sense. Actor-turned-director Pankaj Kapur’s preposterous love story offered passive characters and the worst climax scene of any film this year. Save for a few charming moments, Mausam was the longest, most painful three hours you spent at the cinema this year.
# 2 Ready
Blockbuster or not, Ready was the laziest film this year – so lazy in fact, that it didn’t even bother with a plot. Director Anees Bazmee cashed in on his charismatic star’s unfailing popularity by stringing together a bunch of songs and slapstick scenes in the name of a film. Even Salman Khan fans deserved better than this lazy, arrogant film.
# 1 Rascals
Vulgar, insensitive, and bordering on the offensive, David Dhawan returned to his crass filmmaking roots with this debauched comedy that made you want to reach into the screen and beat up the actors. What’s worse is that none of it was funny.
Hall of shame: Faltu, Thank You, Teen Thay Bhai, Zokkomon, Luv Ka The End, Bheja Fry 2, Double Dhamaal, Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap, Chatur Singh Two Star, Hum Tum Shabana, Tere Mere Phere, Soundtrack, Tell Me O Khuda, Loot, and Miley Naa Miley Hum.
These are little gems that didn’t have big stars or big budgets. They were honest, well-made films that didn’t make a lot of money at the box-office. You may have missed them in the cinema, but check them out on DVD:
I Am, directed by Onir
An honest film that wove together four stories based on betrayal and starting afresh, I Am addressed relevant themes, but with a silent grace that spoke for its causes.
Bubble Gum, directed by Sanjivan Lal
A coming-of-age film about two teenaged brothers discovering love, Bubble Gum had a fresh tone, unpretentious language, and an innocent appeal that captured life in a small town.
I Am Kalam, directed by Nila Madhab Panda
A heartwarming story of a poor boy who aspires to learn, and to rise above his humble roots, I Am Kalam showed what was possible if one decided to carve one’s own identity.
Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge, directed by Nupur Asthana
Look beyond that terrible title and you’ll find a campus rom-com that was funny, but thankfully stopped short of becoming sentimental. What worked in Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge was its young, carefree tone, giving melodrama a miss.
Bol, directed by Shoaib Mansoor
Based on the terrifyingly regressive attitude towards women in Pakistani society, Bol was a small film with a bold heart. Its inherent sincerity compelled you to look beyong its shortcomings.
Each year the movies teach us different lessons. Last year we learnt that greed is good, and that Akshay Kumar isn’t funny anymore. This year we have new lessons. Pay close attention and you’ll be wiser going forward. Here’s presenting the 5 Lessons We Learnt at the Movies in 2011.
Akshay Kumar needs to reinvent himself…quick!
On the same show last year, we came to the conclusion that Akshay Kumar just isn’t funny anymore. This year, we want the star to get some help – in thinking out of the box, and choosing quality over quantity. All his films in 2011 were duds – Patiala House, Thank You and Desi Boyz, while his brief appearances in the flop Speedy Singhs and the average Chalo Dilli did nothing for himself or the films. Akshay Kumar needs a new plan. Fast.
Look South for big bucks
It’s the turn of the strong, larger-than-life hero, taking cues from movies down South. Ready, Bodyguard and Singham were 100-crore-plus hits, and all remakes of Telugu, Malayalam and Tamil cinema. Even John Abraham broke his unlucky jinx with Force, which did respectable business. In an industry that loves formula, the South Indian remake seems here to stay.
Women have box-office muscle too!
2011 began on a high note with No One Killed Jessica, that had powerhouse performances from Rani Mukherji and Vidya Balan. And the year ended with The Dirty Picture, a monster hit riding on Vidya Balan’s…ummm…shoulders. In the same year, Kangana Ranaut pretty much carried Tanu Weds Manu to box-office success. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for – the girls are back in town!
The big guys have lost their mojo
It’s the directors we’d placed our hopes on, but 2011 was not their year. Several big-ticket filmmakers let us down…from Vishal Bharadwaj with 7 Khoon Maaf, Prakash Jha with Aarakshan, and Ramgopal Varma with Not A Love Story, to Pankaj Kapoor with Mausam, and David Dhawan with Rascals. Even Nagesh Kukunoor, once hailed the messiah of small-budget alternative cinema, delivered a dull-as-dishwater dud in Mod. Here’s wishing that 2012 ends up as the year for their comebacks.
Cinema finds a new language
If you were listening, all these films had something different to say. Sharp everyday dialogues laced such films as Pyaar Ka Punchnama, Dhobhi Ghat and Delhi Belly, while movies like Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster and Yeh Saali Zindagi reveled in quirky banter and raw, earthy desire. Meanwhile, Shaitan summoned the recklessness of our youth and indulged in a sparkling visual language – setting up the tone of the film with stylish storytelling. We approve.
(This feature first aired on CNN-IBN)