Top Ten Movies: 2018

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Director Meghna Gulzar takes the real-life story of an Indian spy, basing it on Harinder Sikka’s Calling Sehmat, and makes it into a taut, pulse-pounding thriller. But more than that, it’s her humane touch of painting the cinematic landscape grey that resonates long and hard. For, even if this is a story about an Indian and Pakistani family, it’s more the devastating impact the political hues have on them that make Raazi a winner. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s beautiful score is the goose-bumpy topping to her offering.

Debutant director Ari Aster scores high in this familial drama that slowly and horrifyingly unmasks into full-blown horror. But the scares aren’t couched in gory masks; they lurk around a cosy home’s relations and a terrible secret. In Aster’s hands, regular family life unravels amidst high drama and heartbreaking grief that’s also wrapped in unbearable tension.

Directors Rahi Anil BarveAdesh Prasad, and Anand Gandhi use incessant rain to coat the screen—and your senses—and narrate a chilling story about generational avarice that’s as genetic as any other chromosome mutation and mutilation. Viscerally scary yet hard to look away from, Tumbbad has one of the finest works of cinematography (by Pankaj Kumar) in recent years in Hindi cinema. Isn’t there any light at the end of the tunnel? There is, but it’s horrifyingly snuffed out, leaving you haunted long after you exit the cinema hall.

Writers Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. and director Amar Kaushik create a screwball horror that very smartly uses an urban legend to throw unflattering light on society’s hypocrisies that propagates subversive behavior and ironically perpetuates the killer spirits that roam around in the town of Chanderi. Making you titter in schadenfreude nervousness, Stree is deliciously dark, satirically funny and has a superlative cast that makes you want to visit this mad town—if only to make friends with its goofballs. Fortunately, there’s a hint of a sequel to tie up mysterious ends.

Badhaai Ho
Writers Akshat Ghildial (who also wrote the bull’s eye, no bull dialogues), Jyoti Kapoor, and Shantanu Srivastava, along with director Amit Ravindernath take a look at a middle-class family in Delhi’s Lodhi Colony, and their everyday lives that’s upended by a middle-age pregnancy. With a superior ensemble cast, the movie’s a riotous and yet touching look at the taboo of sex and sexuality, of how both ought to be thrown out the window after a ‘certain’ age. Of how sex is a procreational task, not one that middle-aged couples ought to seek pleasure in. And inevitably it’s the woman who’s left facing the taunts, trying to keep the family together, while the man struts around, savoring the power of his potency.

Director Sriram Raghavan’s 2018 Hitchcockian offering is much like the sudden stab and twist of a well-trained knife that hits you when you least expect it. Nothing—and no one—seems to be what they are, and you aren’t sure whom to trust. Not certainly the director who comes up with a wildly original opening and a swift kick to a beer can—and your senses—for his closing. This is truly original, twisted, and very, very clever writing.

The Tale
A hauntingly true story of abuse and of how it takes superhuman effort to peel off the layers to uncover a horror perpetuated years ago, The Tale is director Jennifer Fox’s cathartic retelling of her childhood—one she couches in suspense and layered secrets. It’s how the two critical institutions in a child’s life—the school and the parent—fail to notice the faintest signs when a child begins to transmit for help: for how can they, at that tender age, verbalize what they cannot even process? And then, the human mind will go to any length to protect us from trauma; here, you—and Fox—discover that the mind sometimes has a mind of its own.

Director Nandita Das interweaves her subject’s story with his stories, and you float in and out of the reality and realism, as if in an alcoholic daze. Manto is an important piece of work this year—it starkly brings into horrifying relief just how horribly relevant the writers’ neurotic worries are in today’s polarized world. If, in that point in history, Saadat Hasan Manto is forced to flee to Pakistan after a revealing argument with his best friend, Shyam Chaddha in Bombay’s local train—even as other Muslims choose to stay back in the Hindi film industry—you wonder what he would have done today. Manto is also important because it’s a visceral reminder of the horrors that men unleash when religion rises bile-like, from their hearts into their heads. Of how, as a healthy, functioning, and productive society, it’s important to be able to speak one’s mind and not be lynched for it. The movie’s relevance is as hard-hitting as its acerbically witty dialogues that form an uneven and yet stirring portrait of Manto’s tragically prescient story and forebodings.

Director Alfonso Cuarón’s loving look at his childhood is also 2018’s best. He makes poetry onscreen, using rhymes, meters, verses, and scenery from life; he paints a canvas most colorful in black and white tones, his camera a watchful observer from the POV of Cleo, your experience aligned with hers, the soundscape lending a life-like haptic and aural viewing experience that’s texturally stunning. The director breaks your heart in pulse-pounding sequences and then tends to it with utmost care. Roma is a must watch. Just as life is a must live.

Ani…Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar
An acting tour de force, Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar took the Marathi stage by storm, a tempest that knocked directors and the audience out of their thus far comfortably staid zones. His dialogue delivery got his audience to their feet, creating frenzy hitherto unthought of. Director Abhijeet Deshpande unveils the churning, forever-on-the-boil force that drove the actor in this superb biopic—a force that sling-shot the actor into the galaxy of immortals, and then careened him back to earth with equally unforgiving results. Ani…shows us that no matter how supremely talented these forces of nature, the price they—and their loved ones—pay is irreversibly tragic and irredeemable.   

The honorables

Ostensibly a love triangle, but really much much deeper than that, director Anurag Kashyap scores high on emotional manipulation and violence that pulses and pounds throughout this movie’s run time. Headlined by a fantastic trio that keeps morphing and reshaping the classic love triangle, Manmarziyaan shows us that simply falling in love isn’t enough—knowing what you want out of life and love can very quickly metamorphosize your idea of the latter, and make you fall in—or out of—love as quickly. And, waiting for the one you love is a double-edged game—one’s wait just might turn into another’s check mate.

Writer-director Anubhav Sinha jolts you out of your complacent couch and asks some really tough questions that are as pertinent as they are uncomfortable. This could well be the cinematic—and chronological— corollary to Manto. About the worst things that we could to ourselves is paint communities and situations in black and white, affix labels and carry on armchair propagandas. That the definition of terrorism has now come to be exploited, morphed, and modified to suit ideologies and flame prejudices is a scary thought. And yet, it’s real and right inside our homes. Mulk may not be the answer, but its discomfiting questions could well be the start towards sanity.

One comment

  1. Thanks so much Hiren Dave for the gentle prod that made me revisit the list (not that it wasn’t very obvious to begin with, that ‘Tumbbad’ ought to have been there)! Many thanks for your inputs and for reading!!!!!

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