What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word Bollywood? Song and dance? Colours? Musicals? Please don’t say Slumdog Millionaire! Bollywood – the Hindi film industry – makes more films per year than Hollywood. However, you’ll be forgiven for not having heard of any because it’s more quantity than quality.
Like Hollywood, the passage of time has challenged directors to take on new scripts and audiences to be receptive to new ideas. You’ll see a very clear indication of that in the extensive list below, which features Academy Award and BAFTA nominated films, and even Grammy Award-winning artists.
Recent films are based on sentimental and patriotic real-life events, with some brilliant original scripts that would have fallen flat had they been released earlier. There’s also a strong focus on heroine-centric roles, which isn’t the case if you go back a decade.
There’s a reason why you’ll spend precious money to watch a film based on a real-life event despite knowing the ending. It’s because if the director has done a good job, you’ll still be at the edge-of-your-seat, get riled up or even shed a tear despite knowing fully well that the actual event is long past. It also serves as a reminder to remember fallen heroes. If you walked into a cinema hall in February and wondered why people looked like they were exiting a funeral procession, it’s likely they just watched Neerja.
India tends to glorify men more than women. One of the bravest women the country has seen was Neerja Bhanot – a 23-year-old air hostess who sacrificed herself to save passengers from Palestinian terrorists on a hijacked Pan Am flight in Karachi (Pakistan) in 1986. Few from our generation remember this event, so the film served as a good reminder to pay due respect to a worthy civilian. It’s the only tribute film in this list and it’s so good that it recently became the highest-grossing heroine-centric film in Bollywood.
Lead actress Sonam Kapoor may not be anywhere near Bollywood’s leading ladies but in Neerja, she does an outstanding job of single-handedly carrying the film on her able shoulders. Neerja Bhanot was posthumously awarded the Ashoka Chakra, Indian’s highest civilian award for bravery and valour. That said, the story was always going to be gripping but hats off to director Ram Madhvani, writer Saiwyn Quadras and Sonam Kapoor for not going over the top, tugging on the audience’s heartstrings in just the right measure, and coming up with an informative, engaging and stunning film in the process.
Like Neerja, Airlift resorts to retelling an inspirational story about a time long forgotten. It’s a brilliant, but simple retelling of the evacuation of over 100,000 Indians from Kuwait after the onset of the 1990 Iraq-Kuwait war.
A Kuwaiti businessman who has no interest in ever going back to India suddenly finds renewed fervour to help lead the largest-ever civilian evacuation amidst a war-torn country. There are twists at every turn, but veteran Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar does a splendid job of applying his powers of persuasion in time of duress by brokering deals with other governments and the elusive Indian government to bring his people home safely.
It bears a striking similarity with the Ben Affleck film Argo. Both films don’t offer high dramatic footage or the loss of life. Instead, both are simple stories where you’re constantly at the edge of seat wondering what’ll happen next. At the end of the film, I felt like I ran a marathon, even though I knew the outcome beforehand. Like with Neerja, there also were loads of people with wet eyelids toward the end. While the former was for the loss of life, for this film it was more than manner in which lives were saved.
Piku would have been a commercial failure had it released even five years back. I say this not because it’s a slow and testing film, but because the Bollywood audience sentiments have changed a lot in the last few years. People have learnt to be patient with movies, have accepted the fact that some films don’t have ‘item’ songs, hell, some don’t even have songs anymore. Bollywood audience sensibility has matured to a point where a simple story, told well can gently tug at the heartstrings of a million people. And sometimes honest is the best kind of cinema.
Piku is a simple Bengali girl living with her senile father Bhaskor, who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (or at least that’s what he fears). The duo are forced to take a long road-trip from to his childhood home in Kolkata to resolve some property matters. Their driver (Jurrasic World’s Irfan Khan) injects both humour and charm into the strained father-daughter dynamic.
The film’s helmed by two of Bollywood’s most dependable actors – evergreen veteran Amitabh Bachchan and reigning Bollywood Queen, Deepika Padukone. Padukone is one of two Indian actresses ready to take India global with her Hollywood debut in 2017’s xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage, alongside Vin Diesel, Nina Dobrev, Samuel L Jackson and Ruby Rose. The film is currently available on Netflix and I would highly recommend you watch it (with English subtitles, ofcourse).