Although the beginning of 2023 saw Shah Rukh Khan finally taking charge and ensuring a big comeback for Bollywood with Pathaan — the SRK-Deepika Padukone starrer theatrical release with collections of about ₹1,050.3 crore worldwide became the second-highest-grossing Hindi film of all time (after Dangal) — the rest of the year was pretty unimpressive as far as mass entertainers are concerned (except the Shahid Kapoor-helmed massy action thriller, Bloody Daddy that according to Ormax was the most-watched movie on OTT this year). Until Karan Johar brought back the magic of quintessential Bollywood romance and family drama with the Ranveer Singh-Alia Bhatt starrer Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, which got the audience flocking to the theatres. With a conspicuous absence of any pan-India movie hit unlike last year, it seems Bollywood is reclaiming lost ground and that the age of the Bollywood mass cinema and its stars is not over yet.
Also, curiously enough, the biggest mass entertainers of the year have come from YRF and Dharma, two of the most prominent production houses in Bollywood, which in recent years have faced severe backlash from the boycott brigade and been largely dismissed by a section of the critics as relics of the past. The success of Pathaan and Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani not only proves once again that these second generation producers indeed understand the pulse of the people and the business of cinema well, but they are also turning a new leaf and upgrading themselves to the sensibilities of modern times.
What’s more heartening to note is that along with these mass entertainers which have got the cash registers ringing, the year has also seen some rather hard-hitting and poignant movies marked by good storytelling, adept direction and nuanced acting, making one believe (and hope) that better days for Hindi cinema might just be round the corner.
Here are the six movies that have made us keep the faith in Bollywood.
(The list includes movies released till July end)
- The cumulative box office for Jan-Jun releases stands at Rs 4,868 Cr (15 per cent lower than the same period in 2022)
- Pathaan is the top film in the first half of 2023 having contributed over 13 per cent of the overall collections thus far.
- In 2023 so far, Hindi language’s share has gone up from 33 per cent to 37 per cent, while that of the South languages has dropped from 50 per cent to 44 per cent.
Source: Ormax’s The India Box Office Report: January to June 2023
Director: Siddharth Anand
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
‘In bachcho ke haath mein nahi chhod sakte yeh sab’ Shah Rukh Khan, making a comeback after four long years as the eponymous hero of Pathaan, muses in the post-credit scene. When Bollywood needs saving, King Khan rises to the occasion and shows how it is done. With its rather mediocre script and conventional plotline – that follows Pathaan (SRK), an exiled RAW agent who teams up with an ISI agent Rubina Mohsin (Deepika Padukone), as he embarks on a mission to thwart an attack on the homeland by another ex-RAW agent-turned-mercenary Jim (John Abraham) who is working for a terror outfit – the espionage thriller was not by any means a brilliant piece of cinema. But the time was just ripe and the stage was set for the dimpled hero to charm the audience back to the theatres. Pathaan was not a film but an emotion and its success once again proved that ‘Filmein sirf teen cheezon ki wajah se chalti hain – Entertainment, Entertainment, Entertainment’.
Watch it for the Tiger-Pathaan bromance scenes, John Abraham in short shorts, and the charm of Shah Rukh Khan!
Director: Rahul V. Chittella
Where to watch: Disney+ Hotstar
The Batras, having sold their house, have four days to pack up the furniture and the nostalgia scattered in the sprawling mansion. While sifting through those, they stumble upon a yellowed brittle piece of dark truth. Stuck between stacks of wholesome memories, it threatens the very foundation of the family — one little tug and the entire façade might collapse like a house of cards. Headlined by powerhouse actors like Sharmila Tagore and Manoj Bajpayee who bring in their A-game and backed by a well-written, soulful script, Gulmohar is poetic, poignant and profound.
Unlike Monsoon Wedding, a movie it is bound to remind you of, this is not a kitchen-sink drama of a dysfunctional family. Instead, the Batras are a close-knit unit that makes one believe in familial bonds — even everyday bickering is punctuated with light-hearted banter. Although it doesn’t quite reach the poignancy and brilliance of the Mira Nair masterpiece, Rahul V. Chittella’s debut feature is definitely one of the best Hindi movies we have seen in recent years.
Watch out for the scene where Arun (Manoj Bajpayee) looks at the framed picture of his father and asks his wife if he has finally started to look like his dad, who happens to be his adoptive parent.
Director: Sudhir Mishra
Where to watch: Netflix
This gritty socio-political thriller that holds a clear mirror to our skewed society, especially the weaponisation of social media where rumours and fake news can be used to instigate even mob violence, is a spiritual sequel to the director’s 2019 cult classic Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin. The premise of the movie, pregnant with poignant observations on our current socio-political realities, is simple — two strangers accidentally cross paths one night and their lives are turned upside down. The movie that raises several questions on the (mal) functioning of society aptly unfold in a fictional place called Sawalpur. Sudhir Mishra is almost in his Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro form in this social satire and Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Bhumi Pednekar’s effortless brilliance ensures that there is not a single misstep along the way.
Watch it for the climactic scene that might remind one of Ruben Östlund’s 2017 Palme d’Or winner, The Square. And the truck reveals where the director has the last laugh.
Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai
Director: Apoorva Singh Karki
Where to watch: Zee 5
This nuanced and stark courtroom drama follows the half-a-decade-long legal battle undertaken by Poonam Chand Solanki (Manoj Bajpayee), a small-time but tenacious high court lawyer of a Tier-II city, against a powerful baba of national repute accused of sexually abusing a minor girl. It is a faceoff between a common man and a godman, between David and Goliath, and between a religious man fighting for dharma and a bigot brainwashing people in the name of religion.
While sharp writing and intelligent storytelling never let poignant faceoff between a common man and a godman become preachy, Bajpayee becomes Solanki in a way only he can, delivering even robust dialogues with a calm restraint. But it is in the quieter moments that Bajpayee gives a masterclass in nuanced acting.
Watch out for PC Solanki’s skillfully written and brilliantly executed monologue during the closing argument.
Director: Ali Abbas Zafar
Where to watch: JioCinema
Bloody Daddy follows narcotics officer Sumair (Shahid Kapoor) who has turned rogue trying to rescue his kidnapped son from the nightclub owner and drug lord, Sikander Chowdhary (Ronit Roy). Helmed by a slew of rather good-looking ‘daddies’, including Shahid Kapoor, Ronit Roy, and Rajeev Khandelwal, who are all in top form, the sleek and massy action thriller is replete with stunning hand-to-hand combat scenes, stylish action set pieces and is punctuated with dry humour and witty repartee.
Directed by Ali Abbas Zafar, a filmmaker known for his tentpole projects, Bloody Daddy shattered the emerging notion that mass entertainers are more suitable for theatrical releases, while OTTs are appropriate for more personal and intimate independent cinema. Also, with Bloody Daddy and Farzi, this year OTT has found its newest star in Shahid Kapoor.
Watch out for the chase scene through a shuttered and desolate Connaught Place—a rare sight indeed! Shot during the Covid lockdown, it is not only a haunting reminder of the dark days but also captures the beauty of Georgian architecture. Also, for the banter between Ronit Roy and Sanjay Kapoor — the two deserve their own movie!
Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani
Director: Karan Johar
Where to watch: Yet to get OTT release
A quintessential Karan Johar family entertainer, yet Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani is unlike any other movie by the filmmaker, who made a comeback as a director after seven long years with this Alia Bhatt- Ranveer Singh starrer. RRKPK is essentially a a family melodrama that deals with the culture clash between the Chatterjees, the intellectual Bengali family, and the Randhawas, the wealthy Punjabis. But Johar deftly weaves in issues like patriarchy, cancel culture, toxic masculinity, body shaming, gender stereotyping into the story. It not only points out the casual misogyny but also put a mirror in front of the so-called liberals and questions their biases and academic snobbery as well.
The most woke, sensitive, and rebellious movie from Johar yet, it crushes the stereotypes his initial movies had peddled, and it is an absolute joy to see his evolution.
Watch out for Ranveer Singh as the rocking Rocky Randhawa, and his Dola re redux–the Ranveer and Tota Roy Chowdhury dance-off is exquisite. It is rather rare to see a leading man in doing a Kathak routine in Hindi cinema and quashing the Bollywood gender stereotypes in the process.
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