Monica, O My Darling:
A taut pulp thriller that also makes more than a few astute observations on the quirkiness of life and human nature along the way, this Vasan Bala film is a delightful addition to the thin list of Indian noir. Its music is a hoot and the dialogues and performances of the ensemble cast will make it a cult caper in the years to come.
This is easily Sanjay Leela Bhansali at his best as he has been able to marry craft with content. For a long time, he has been trying to create a modern-day Mughal-e-Azam; here, he attempts a Pakeezah for the millennials and almost succeeds. In Alia, he has a muse who can depict multiple emotions in one frame through words, silences, and expressions. Be it the body language or dialogue, she minimises the element of acting in her performance. Watch her perform in Meri Jaan as she crystallises the complex that sex workers don’t fall in the love that Ganga holds inside her in one song; she makes you cry, laugh and feel guilty simultaneously.
A disturbing moral drama that hits the conscience but refuses to run away, the Suresh Triveni film will be remembered for its gripping portrayal of guilt and inner conflict by two powerhouse performers, Shefali Shah and Vidya Balan.
Matto Ki Saikil:
Set in Bhartiya, a sleepy village on the outskirts of Mathura, the centre of Braj culture in Uttar Pradesh, Matto Ki Saikil (Matto’s Bicycle) is a gutsy take on the lopsided development matrix that gently opens a window to the state of the welfare state, seven decades after we pledged to give ourselves an equal shot at destiny.
Rajat Kapoor’s crowd-funded meta-narrative delineates the ego of a storyteller, and, in the process, tells us our position in the universe. The seemingly absurdist tale carries more meaning and mirth than most big-budget tentpoles churned by Bollywood.
Anvita Dutta’s ethereal depiction of the mother-daughter conflict in the backdrop of a competitive music industry is a heart-wrenching portrayal of the Cuckoo’s curse that comes alive through a memorable soundtrack and credible performances.
Fusing disparate elements of football and magic to conjure up a convincing coming-of-age story, Sameer Saxena’s directorial makes us fall in love with the characters of Neemuch, a town on the Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan border that is mad over football. The limpid writing provides a steady stream of hasya rasa, a rich blend of folk and literary humour, that is diminishing by the week in Hindi cinema.
Usually, horror emanates from evil, but what if goodness sparks off a scary tale? Anurag Kashyap returns to deftly execute a more perceptive draft of the Spanish mystery drama about a mother’s desperate search for her daughter and a boy’s urge to make the world believe in his story, giving it the feel of an edgy thriller that doesn’t take a breath to show off its emotional depth or philosophical takeaways.
Fuelled by scatological humour, Bhediya leaves us with an important lesson on saving the social and natural environment and preventing a pandemic. Told in a popular idiom that extracts wilful suspension of disbelief, the Amar Kaushik film has enough bite for those who believe in the power of parables.
An Action Hero:
A satire that makes sharp observations on the fickleness of fame and futility of bloated egos along the way, the Anirudh Iyer entertainer is set in the post-truth era, when media and intelligence agencies can make or break a celebrity. There are segments where it goes a little too over the top and tests our suspension of disbelief, but eventually, the hero finishes with a flourish.
Almost there, but not quite
Holding a mirror to the manicured generation, the Shakun Batra film needs to be relished for its deeper meanings and heartfelt performances as he painstakingly dissects the lives of a set of upwardly mobile young people who love to surf in more ways than one.
Led by Taapsee Pannu, the horror tale is a stirring comment on a society that chooses not to see the old and the infirm around it. Ajay Bahl’s narrative progressively fuzzes the conscience as it looks at the dangers of not being seen and not being able to see.
Amitabh Bachchan attempts a flawed character in Sooraj Barjatya’s take on climbing our inner Everests that crosses paths with the superstar’s real-life image of a winner at all costs. The fact that his character is called Amit Shrivastav and that his good friend Bhupen (Danny Denzongpa) tells Amit early in the film that he has reduced himself to a salesman of emotions makes it all the more fascinating.
A gritty take on the growing hatred against inter-faith marriages in society, director Shanker Raman holds our attention with colour and character arcs in a lawless, dystopian universe that is only a few kilometres away from the national capital.