2020 was the year nobody wanted but couldn’t escape: the deadly virus was and is around us.
Everything has changed. We were forced to do so many things that we took for granted, especially those activities that caused us to gather in large numbers. The film hall was one of the first places outside the borders to be excluded. Now that the theaters are slowly opening, we still hesitate to return to a place that entertained and transported us.
I will mainly look back on this year as the year The Movies came home. As a longtime film critic, my life was divided into the time I spent in darkened theaters and outside. Starting at the end of March, I spent weeks trying not to let the endless variety of things overwhelm me: ‘new’ Bollywood films (and films from Hollywood (and any other language) were reluctant to move towards streaming platforms, and OTT became my own home theater, no inside-outside silos, just a long, endless blur of movies and shows.
And that was the other thing I had to take on – series and shows – that until then had always been an option and not an integral part of my viewing life. Setting aside my ridicule for “binge watching” has been a tremendous learning curve. Can’t say I’m still a happy binge-r, but let’s go.
And here I am, when I think of the 2020 movie memories, those numbers are a perfect symmetry but with nothing else that added up to the gifted people we lost (Irrfan Khan, Rishi Kapoor, Sushant Singh Rajput, Saroj Khan , Jagdeep, Nishikant) Kamath, Soumitra Chatterjee). Those passages would have been tragic any other year, but this year the loss was harder and harder to deal with.
Ordinarily, Angrezi Medium would not have made it on this list. But I will not only remember the last film I saw in a theater this year (third week of March), but also the last time we saw Irrfan on the screen. As a fond father who will do everything possible to make his demanding “Beti” happy, Irrfan kept the strictly usable script as best he could. He was gone within a month.
The same applies Dil Bechara, not the best of Sushant Singh Rajput, but one in which he reminded us how difficult it is to act out of time, which is shocking the deaths. The film was pretty aptly about two young people in love and how they deal with difficult lives and impending deaths, and with that we said goodbye to Rajput.
Here are, in no particular order, some of the films that caught my eye. At the top is Eeb Allay Ooo from Prateek Vat, who has completed the festival rounds and hit the cinemas just as the year is coming to an end. As a biting satire of striking originality, it focuses on the plight of migrants and people who live on the edge through the very specific Rajdhani-Sarkari-Naukri of a man (Shardul Bhardwaj) who drives away monkeys. Who is more of a threat, the humans or the monkeys?
Meel Pathar, Ivan Ayr’s great story of a man who counts his time based on the milestones he passes, is another of my favorites of the year. Suvinder Vicky plays the trucker with countless miles on his watch and a creaky back. Lakshvir Saran is the apprentice hungry for takeover. The former is called Ghalib, the latter is called Pash, and the film is pure poetry.
Arun Karthicks Nasir is a razor-sharp film about a man who is nothing but gentle. All Nasir wants is to be able to live a life of fulfillment and dignity with his family. His needs are modest. His ambition too. Trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time, his fate mirrors so many others who have fallen victim to these polarized, communalized times in real life.
Who is a serious man A man we take seriously? Or a man who wants “Ernst” as a label in order to be able to enter worlds that are not automatically his? Nawazudin Siddiqui in Sudhir Mishras Serious men (based on Manu Jospeh’s novel of the same name) channels deep-seated anger and malice to raise his son’s position on the socioeconomic ladder, but he has a lesson of his own in realizing that your place is yours, and there lies sanity.
Anubhav Sinha Thappad It also focuses on a few related lessons. You may be a “modern” man, but you may be as bound in patriarchy as the older generation. And women are not supposed to bear the brunt of your frustrations. Despite some cheesy, heavily underlined passages, the film waves a strong flag for women, especially those who have resigned themselves to holding them down for their men.
I missed Sooni Taraporevala’s Yeh Ballet when it came out in February and have only managed to catch up now. What a joy this is as it follows a group of disadvantaged teenagers from Mumbai through the tough steps of ballet, a dance form that we consider to be a “belonging” to the rich and privileged. Achintya Bose and Manish Chauhan are light-footed and grounded, and the film says something we like to forget, especially in bad times – anyone can dream. And that dreams can come true.
Female desire is such a hot potato that most filmmakers stay away from it. Alankrita Srivastava dives right in, with Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamaktey Sitaare, which serves as a companion piece to her former Under My Burkha lipstick, which women really want. Konkona Sen Sharma and Bhumi Pednekar play cousins from small towns who differ greatly in situation and “swabhaav”, but find a common cause in their search for self-assertion.
The desire doesn’t always have to be sexual. It can also manifest as liberation from whatever is holding us back. Geetha Js Run Kalyani, whom I saw at the virtual New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF), trains a gentle but confident look at a young woman who works as a part-time cook. She has a sick aunt to care for and intimidating rental collectors to fight back. The everyday actions of an ordinary woman create patterns that result from love, support, and above all freedom.
Sir plays out like a realistic fantasy designed to prove that two lonely people can find a bond to overcome often insurmountable differences in class and position. Rohena Gera plays her thought-provoking film in a location in Mumbai where a well-appointed, high-rise apartment houses Vivek Gomber’s wealthy US returnees and his housekeeper who plays Tillotama Shome with relentless dignity. Both are heartbroken, his from his fiancée, hers from a sister who rejects her efforts to raise her above her ward. We know how difficult this will be for both the sahib and the maid: will it take?
A two-timed husband, played by Ranvir Shorey, has a dead body and a problem. In a few hours, her best friends will be arriving for a festive dinner, and he will have to hide his crimes both physically and mentally. Rajat Kapoor’s Kadakh is another exploration of some of the director’s favorite subjects – truth and falsehood, crime and punishment – and makes us ask tough questions. Can something with a crack ever be repaired?
Raat Akeli Hai is a crackling unit. But it’s also more than just a thriller. In Honey Trehan’s insured debut film, which surpasses Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte, we get a crisp, small-town ecosystem that enables powerful men to chase after helpless women. How do you break away from terrible bondage? And is it such a great crime to eliminate a despicable person? The meek should not always be kicked.
And Anurag Basus brings up the rear, for no other reason than towards the end of the year Ludoand Vikramaditya Motwane AK versus AK. Both felt like a stretch in places, both could have cope with tighter writing, but both had something special that leaves a residue. P. ‘and manages to stay on the news because he gives everyone’ gaalis’: kismet ki hawa kabhi garam, kabhi naram.