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It wasn’t star-driven vehicles that held any steam in Bollywood in 2019, but good stories told gloriously that gained momentum. It’s also the year that saw actor Ayushmann Khurrana dominate and Priyanka Chopra’s blazing Bollywood comeback with her incredibly stirring family drama ‘The Sky Is Pink’. In terms of women, it wasn’t a particularly empowering one, but actors like Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar continue to push their limits. As 2019 comes to a close, here’s a look back at the top ten films that shone bright ...
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Article 15 - tabloid! rating 4 out of 5: Ayushmann Khurrana’s procedural crime thriller ‘Article 15’ is bold, bleak and bludgeons you with the indignity behind caste divides in India. Director Anubhav Sinha brings alive a tense tale of a scrupulous senior police officer Ayan Ranjan (Khurrana) investigating the murder of two teenagers in rural Uttar Pradesh. It’s a hate crime where rape is used as a weapon to control the lower-caste villagers and suppress them. Khurrana, who gives a wonderfully restrained performance as the anglophile cop Ayan, is achingly brilliant. At no point does ‘Article 15’ tell you what to think, it shows you instead. ‘Article 15’ sobers you up instantly. It isn’t an easy film to watch, but it would be a disservice if you don’t give this thriller a chance.
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Uri: The Surgical Strike - tabloid! rating 3.5 out of 5: Bollywood actor Vicky Kaushal, as a valiant Indian army officer, is infallible in the war drama ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’. Displaying a blend of restraint and rage, Kaushal -- who won the National Award for this role — is in top form in a movie that dramatises a covert operation undertaken by the Indian army in September 2016. It’s an espionage thriller that could have easily been reduced to pulpy sloganeering and chest-thumping patriotism. Fortunately, it never goes down that exhausting route, presenting a refreshingly clinical approach in the way the men in uniform face their common enemy.
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Gully Boy - tabloid! rating 3.5 out of 5: There’s so much to love about director Zoya Akhtar’s ‘Gully Boy’, a rousing rap-to-riches underdog tale, led by Ranveer Singh. The outlandish actor known for his look-at-me persona seems to have found his groove as the angst-ridden rapper Murad who tries not to be weighed down by the grim reality around him. Every character leaves an indelible impression. Alia Bhatt as Murad’s whacky girlfriend is a knock out. Actor Siddant Chaturvedi as Murad’s mentor was this year’s discovery.
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Kabir Singh - tabloid! rating 3.5 out of 5: This was one of Bollywood’s most divisive and polarising films of 2019. The debate about whether the film celebrated a misogynistic hero continues till date, but there’s no denying its warped appeal. Shahid Kapoor breathed life into the bitter human pill Kabir Singh, an emotionally damaged and cocky man-child. But Kapoor makes the toxic title character devastatingly humane with his knockout performance as a high-functioning alcoholic and surgeon. This film is truly the survival of the despicable. Put a ring on ‘Kabir Sigh’ if you are in the mood for watching a love story that’s wonderfully wicked and warped.
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Chhichore - tabloid! rating 3.5 out of 5: This coming-of-age college drama graduates with flying colours. Usually, Bollywood films set in college campuses lean towards creating a shined-up and sanitised world populated with insanely rich kids (high-five director Karan Johar, high-priest of fashionable and flashy flicks). But Chhichhore isn’t one of them. The college buddy drama subverts those established tropes and gives us an authentic and heartwarming story. Director Nitesh Tiwari of Dangal fame goes down and dirty as he brings to life a bunch of goofball engineering students who graduate in life with honours. Actor Sushant Singh Rajput shines in his role as the gawky, unsure college student who grows up to be a doting father to a troubled teenage son. Varun Sharma, who plays Sexa (a nickname indicating his adoration for adult magazines), is a hoot, while Raj Thahir Bhasin as Derek, the brooding sporting champion, is spot on. The camaraderie between the young men as they discover love, life and all thing in-between is enjoyable.
Image Credit: Supplied
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The Sky Is Pink - tabloid! rating 3.5 out of 5: ‘The Sky Is Pink’ starring Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar is a stirring and sincere tale of a loved-up couple grappling with their daughter (Zaira Wasim) born with a serious illness. It’s a touching drama that presses all those buttons — that of joy, sadness and finality — without any of those grand manipulative gestures that are usually employed in tear-jerkers dealing with a terminally ill teen. ‘The Sky is Pink’ is sobering yet upbeat. Its material is grim, but its treatment isn’t.
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Saand Ki Aankh - tabloid! rating 3 out of 5: Everyone loves a good underdog tale and that adoration shoots up if it’s a story with women taking centre stage, Bollywood’s most marginalised. ‘Saand Ki Aankh’ (Bullseye) — the dramatised story of real-life champion sharpshooters Chandro Tomar and Prakashi Tomar who blossom in their 60s, played earnestly by Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu — isn’t always bang on target, but it still manages to tear your defences down. The casting of younger women in older roles may jar, but if you can keep that reservation aside, this movie will pierce your heart.
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Bala - tabloid! rating 3.5 out of 5: ‘Bala’ is a sweet-natured film that celebrates self-acceptance and loving oneself with warts and moles. One of my personal favourites moments in the film is a scene where Pari explains why she rates good looks as her top priority in a relationship. She isn’t vilified for wanting a dashing partner and that’s one of the nicest parts about ‘Bala’. There’s very little judgement, but plenty of commentary on the standards of beauty and India’s obsession with fair-skinned girls. While they don’t delve too deep, the makers do scratch the surface successfully. Khurrana is wonderfully flawed, yet you root for him as he learns to accept himself — baldness and all. And that’s the bald truth.
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Dream Girl - tabloid! rating 3 out of 5: 2019 saw small-town stories from India blossom in Bollywood. Ayushmann Khurrana endeared as a young man who’s hired at an adult call Centre for his unique ability to mimic a woman’s voice. The jokes land and the feel-good entertainer is elevated due to good collective acting on display. Here’s to Khurrana for mixing things up in 2019.
Image Credit: Supplied
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Mardaani 2 - tabloid! rating: 3 out of 5 Actress Rani Mukerji is splendid as a super cop in this procedural thriller about a savage juvenile rapist on the loose. While Mukerji’s tough police woman act is a treat, it’s the cold-blooded villain that held more intrigue. TV actor Vishal Jethwa is lethal as the serial rapist with a violent, troubled past. Watching him spar and challenge the cops at every turn makes it an engaging watch. It’s clinical and procedural for most parts and there are no songs to fracture the disturbing narrative. The treatment is grave and you know that Shivani Roy will obliterate this underage sexual offender in no time, but it’s wicked to see her indulge in a cat-and-mouse game.