Hansal Mehta’s film which follows the last few weeks in the life of professor Ramchandra Siras, who was ousted from the Aligarh Muslim University after he was forcefully outed by a few men who barged into his house late at night, was that rare Hindi film which treated its homosexual character with sensitivity and respect. With a pitch-perfect performance by Manoj Bajpayee that digs deep into the loneliness, the anguish, the betrayal, the injustice and the helplessness and hopelessness that Siras must have felt, Aligarh is a film that teaches us to be more humane to people.
It sets a higher bar for depiction of queer in Indian cinema, which for too long has pigeonholed the community as either sexual predators or laughing stocks.
On paper, Nagraj Manjule’s sophomore film follows a familiar pattern: love blossoms between a girl from an economically privileged background and a guy who belongs to the marginalised group. If the first 75 minutes are a delight backed by Ajay-Atul’s fantastic songs, including "Yad Lagla" and "Zingaat", what follows is Manjule depicting the harsh realities (and brutality) of love in times of caste conflict.
With 2017 becoming a landmark year for Dalit rights after the suicide of PhD student Rohith Vemula and the lynching of Dalit men in Una, two incidents which sparked protests across India, Sairat becomes more significant to current times. The film also stands out for it truly scales new heights in the second half, a rarity in Indian cinema, as it becomes a mature relationship drama in which both the leads – rookies Rinku Rajguru and Akash Thosar – do a wonderful job of portraying what it takes to make a relationship work.
Yes, falling in love can be like a fairytale, says Manjule, but the conclusion is not necessarily a happily ever after. The film’s disturbing ending is one that necessitates discussions on the perils of India’s socio-religious fabric. That Manjule’s film is the highest-grossing Marathi film, one whose appeal went beyond Maharashtra, and will see remakes in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi is proof of how this story of star-crossed lovers has resonated among Indians.
|Sairat became the highest-grossing Marathi film ever.|
Abhishek Chaubey’s film first made headlines for bringing the worst out of the Central Board of Film Certification, which demanded that the makers carry out some 13 cuts including deleting all references to Punjab and elections, and other bizarre demands such as deleting the name of the dog Jacky Chan.
Bollywood was united – the stage included both rightwing motormouth Ashok Malik and filmmaker Anurag Kashyap during a press conference – to battle the wrath of the great sanskaari dictator Pahlaj Nihalani. It was only after the intervention of the High Court that Udta Punjab was guaranteed a release. The nightmare didn’t end there for the already-aggrieved filmmakers after it was discovered that the film was leaked on the internet a couple of days before its scheduled release, jeopardising the financial prospects of the A-rated film further.
Alia Bhatt and Diljit Dosanjh earned unanimous praise in Chaubey’s ensemble drug drama set in Punjab which follows the lives of three characters – a cop, a musician-drug addict and a migrant labourer forced on to drugs. And then a month or so later came the allegations that writer Sudip Sharma-created milieu bore uncanny similarities to the 2002 novel High Society. Suddenly, the film that everybody vigorously defended was perhaps guilty of plagiarism. Simply put, no film in 2016 got as much publicity – warranted and unwarranted – as Udta Punjab did.
Raam Reddy’s debut feature gave us a vivid portrait of the rural life through the diverse journeys of three men representing three generations of a family. Gaddappa is eager to go into sanskara stage only if he can somehow manage to kick the bottle; his son, Thammanna, is in grihastha mode and is desperate to end his financial woes by selling the ancestral land even if means telling a big fat lie; and lastly there’s Thammanna’s son Abhi, who is rocking the life in brahmacharya stage by trying to woo a girl from a constantly migrating family.
The characters are all flawed yet they are endearing because Reddy doesn’t want to judge any of them and is happy to let them be. Fine performances by a cast full of non-professional actors bring authenticity to the proceedings. Thithi was a film which both tickled the funny bone and struck the right chord with its drama.
|A still from Thithi.|
That two of 2016’s biggest films focused on the world of wrestling, a sport that hardly gets any eyeballs on television, was wonderful to see. But there was only one film that truly did justice to the sport by delving into the nitty-gritty of the sport and engrossing viewers into each and every contest. That was Aamir Khan-produced Dangal.
The two films couldn’t be more different. The Salman Khan-driven Sultan is a larger-than-life story about how true love and a few months of training are all that’s needed to become a world champion; Dangal, which is less of a biopic and more of a family-sporting drama, was keen to document how it’s not just talent but hard work, true grit, discipline, passion, pain, sacrifice and support of one’s family and coach that are needed to become a top notch athlete.
Despite a measured, compelling performance by Aamir Khan as the demanding coach and father Mahavir Phogat, this wasn’t all about him for equal emphasis was given to Phogat’s girls – Zarina Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar as young Babita and Geeta and Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra as the older ones. Yes, it could have toned down the jingoism and the mawkishness towards the end and been more subtle delivering the diktat of "Daddy Knows Best" but ultimately it never wavered from its overall intent – gender parity is a must and it pays dividends.
That the film came in the year when all of India’s medals at Rio 2016 were won by women athletes only made its message stronger.