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2020 was a bizarre year for Bollywood. For starters, the bankable Khan trio — Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir — did not have a single release and therefore did not dominate our minds. With them out of the picture, most movies that made it to this list were watched privately due to the coronavirus outbreak and made the cut due to their novel narratives and superb acting. The pickings in terms of blockbuster movies were slim, but this year saw some interesting women-led films. Here are our top 10 picks of 2020 films in Bollywood...
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‘Thappad’: What’s in a slap? ‘Thappad’, a searing relationship drama, explores the murky topic with a deft hand. The intimate film explores the dynamics between a doting wife and her husband when they hit a rough patch and their awkward attempts to reconcile. Director Anubhav Sinha brings the best out of actress Taapsee Pannu, who shoulders this film with studied ease and grace. It is a deeply personal film, so if you decide to watch at least one Bollywood film that released in 2020, make sure it is this one. This film is all heart and human frailty. The best part? There are no winners or villains in this film, but a couple who understand that their relationship has gone south and that inevitable decay has already set in. It’s a slap in the face of patriarchy.
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‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’: Starring Janhvi Kapoor in the titular role, this is a stirring biopic about the triumphs and trials of Gunjan Saxena — India’s first female combat pilot who emerged a trooper in the Kargil War after battling stereotypes and gender biases at her workplace. Kapoor as a spirited young girl yearning to be a pilot right from her childhood secures a smooth landing. But our favourite part was her dad, played by Pankaj Tripathi, her biggest cheerleader in life. Their warm bond and organic camaraderie will make you smile. It’s one of those feel-good films that take you into a world where a fierce woman is fighting for her place on earth and in the skies.
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‘Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare’: If you are in the mood for a fun film with a pair of fierce ladies, then hit up director Alankrita Srivastava’s comedy. Just like the title, the women and their antics are a handful. Konkona Sen Sharma and Bhumi Pednekar play cousins who are refreshingly unsentimental and unapologetic about their desires and revel in making bewildering life choices. This slice-of-life film had one of this year’s most remarkable opening scenes: Radha/Dolly (Konkona Sen Sharma) and Kajal/Kitty (Bhumi Pednekar) are in an amusement park near Noida and go into the house of horrors where bloodthirsty zombies spring out of walls. A fidgety Kajal reveals that her smarmy brother-in-law was hitting on her. Radha, who is older to Kajal, reacts like our usual supercilious sibling — with a smidgen of sarcasm and censure. “You are just confused and your hormones are playing a number on you. It happens, don’t stress,” said the devoted wife, played brilliantly by Sharma. The template of a highly enjoyable drama had just been set.
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‘Jawaani Jaaneman’: Be sure to put a ring on this relationship comedy about a whacky dysfunctional family. Actor Saif Ali Khan excels in his role as a reluctant dad in ‘Jawaani Jaaneman’, but the real find in this film was the spunky star Alaya F, the daughter of Pooja Bedi who makes her acting debut with this fun, family adventure. Their warmth and camaraderie shone through as they discovered each other as parent and an almost-adult child. The affable leads had an easy chemistry between them. Plus, ‘Jawaani Jaaneman’, which treats youth as this elusive elixir, is an engaging relationship drama about dysfunctional families. Khan and Tabu, in an extended cameo, as the warring parents bring on the laughs. The confrontation scenes between the two former lovers puts a smile on your face and Alaya F is splendid too.
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‘Chhapaak’: Director Meghna Gulzar’s ‘Chhapaak’ — a haunting tale of acid attack survivor Malti played brilliantly by Bollywood A-lister Deepika Padukone — operates at a visceral and an intellectual level. The drama dwells into the hate crime that’s bestial and senseless on many levels. Even though the subject is grim, Padukone and Vikrant Massey (as a social activist) keep the tone hopeful. It explores how a man and his sister use a corrosive acid as a weapon of control and subjugation.
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‘Ludo’: This witty star-studded film is a strong contender for this year’s most audacious work. With its multiple storylines, mad-hatter characters and eccentric personalities, ‘Ludo’ has enough twists and turns to keep us all entertained. The movie featuring Aditya Roy Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan, Sanya Malhotra, Fatima Sana Sheikh and the wonderfully versatile Pankaj Tripathi is a zany caper that hits the right notes. Director Anurag Basu — known for his maverick films — is on a roll here. While it’s a tad lengthy, the jokes land and the crazy situations weirdly make sense.
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‘Kamyaab’: This touching film is a nod to all those ‘extras’ in a movie set that are forgotten and remain on the sidelines for most of their careers. They are always in the shadows of a superstar, but these actors who do miniscule and insignificant roles in films are battling for their place in the sun. Hardik Mehta’s bittersweet drama ‘Kaamyaab’ shines the spotlight on one such fading star Sudheer. It’s a searing portrait of the indignities that these character actors face on a daily basis. Their line of work patronises and worships its top-bill superstars and success, but they still stick for the love for their craft. It’s impossible not to turn a cheerleader for Sudheer, an adorable has-been actor.
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‘Angrezi Medium’: This isn’t a flawless daughter-dad drama, but it’s late actor Irrfan Khan’s final film before he succumbed to cancer and it’s only fair that it features on this list. Khan plays a doting dad from a small Indian town who goes to bizarre lengths to enrol his daughter into a university in London. His incredible acting and his faulty English makes you forget the bloated narrative of the film, directed by Homi Adjania. Like us, the director too seemed to be smitten by his lead actor and turns indulgent mid-way. But it’s a pleasure to watch Khan in his element as a sprightly sweetshop owner Champak Gasiteram from Udaipur. His self-absorbed daughter Tarika, played achingly well by Radhika Madan, is also a spot-on. Watch this as an ode to an amazing actor who can light up the screen at any point.
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‘Bulbbul’: This supernatural thriller set in 19th century Bengal is a fine example of an enchanting union between Indian folklore, mythology and fantasy. ‘Bulbbul’ draws you into the world of a child bride who’s married to a much older man (Rahul Bose) and how her life is upended within the walls of a palatial manor. The film — fuelled by good performances and sumptuous cinematography — is the cinematic equivalent of your grandmother telling you scary folk tales in your childhood steeped in myth and legend. This film is superbly crafted and has a fierce, feisty leading lady. We were hooked from the word go.
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‘Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari’: This comedy, starring the talented trio Manoj Bajpayee, Fatima Sana Sheikh and Diljith Dosanjh, takes a swipe at the tradition of arranged marriages in India and a family’s obsession with hunting for a ‘cultured’ and ‘refined’ bride for their eligible sons. My all-time favourite joke: “Do you know how tough it’s to find an uneducated daughter-in-law and wife these days?” remarks the movie’s matriarch played efficiently by Seema Pahwa. It’s comedy that makes you laugh at some of the archaic customs that some traditional Indians have embraced. But what makes this comedy tick is the engaging and endearing performances of the cast. Bajpayee as the wicked wedding detective/wrecker — who is a master of disguises and is on call to find out dirt about potential suitors in an arranged marriage set-up is a hoot, while Dosanjh is adorable as a good-hearted Punjabi. Their good-natured sparring and battle of wills and wits is fun to watch. Shaikh is also endearing in her role of young woman who moonlights as a DJ. It’s one of those comedies that’s easy on the eye and makes you smile.
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