This year was about friends and enemies. Stories about individuals revolved around relationships and films with social issues used terrorism as the backdrop.
Overall, 2008 brought with it a lot of fresh blood. Debutants rocked Hindi cinema. Homosexuality came out of the closet. Small films with a big heart won us over as star power fizzled out at the box office.
Usual disclaimers apply. For the record, this is a purely personal list that in no way reflects box office performance. Nor is it based on compilation of reviews, ratings or popular opinion.
Though Vinay Pathak delivers one of the finest performances this year, this inspired piece of filmmaking hopes to exploit the dreams of the lowest common denominator with its eyes on the mass market and ends up using every single trick from the Bollywood book of drama – the Maa melodrama, the dost-dost-na raha syndrome, the Deewar polarization, unrequited love among others. Almost a classic.
Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
This twisted tale with a dark, psychotic subtext should have been rightly called “How To Mess With Your Wife’s Head.” But you can’t deny that Adi Chopra creates some fine moments in this Spiderman-like-tale of the Indian Superhero as the tribute to Indian cinema – Raj, the Mohabbat-Man who can make any girl fall in love with him. Add to that the magic of Shah Rukh Khan to it and you have a Timepass film that simultaneously celebrates the actor and the star.
Bachna Ae Haseeno
If only this didn’t take itself so seriously, this well-written film with some warm moments and a refreshing cast is fun for most parts till the sentimentality and the songs take over to ruin it for us. This ‘Broken Flowers’ meets ‘My Name is Earl’ romantic comedy undid the damage Saawariya did to Ranbir Kapoor and the music kept us thoroughly entertained. Also, the leading ladies weren’t bad at all.
Purely for the vision of the filmmaker to go all out and make a film that celebrated the masala potboilers of the eighties – that era when cinema was devoid of all logic and villains always had a den full of men with guns who couldn’t aim for nuts. What Tarantino-Rodriguez did with their Grindhouse double feature, Vijay Krishna Acharya did with Tashan and reworked the Saif-Akshay magic. Kareena’s size zero did zero for the film but good old Anil Kapoor rocked as Bhaiyyaji.
Tied: Mumbai Meri Jaan/ Aamir/ A Wednesday
If it wasn’t so repetitive and redundant in parts, Nishikant Kamat’s film would’ve been higher up the list (lower down this column). Mumbai Meri Jaan does not try to present any convenient solutions but shows us the impact of terrorism on modern day society in a country as complex as India from different perspectives, almost breaking our hearts before uplifting our mood with the subtlety that we are not used to in Indian cinema.
While Aamir’s brilliance was in the layering of its political content around a simple plot shot credibly in the backdrop of Mumbai, A Wednesday’s background detailing worked in a tight thriller that pitted two of our finest actors against each other. Not to forget the cleverly concealed twist. Three of our most relevant films, as good as the other.
Oye Lucky Lucky Oye
Just for Dibakar Banerjee’s conviction to make a film that respects the intelligence of the audience with his figure-it-out-yourself storytelling that gives the Answers first, Questions later. It’s a difficult genre to even attempt and Dibakar does great with Abhay Deol and Paresh Rawal. The Delhi-loving filmmaker roots it in the heartland of India and signs it off with his simple, authentic and realistic style of filmmaking that continues to reflect the dreams and aspirations of the Great Indian Middle Class.
This grossly under-rated film is almost flawless but also too niche in its appeal. Ranvir Shorey shines in one of the best performances this year and Rajat Kapoor mixes up the sweet and the sour and pulls the right strings between comedy and dramedy with a simple matter-of-fact sensibility you can relate to in this fascinating twist to the ‘Don’ plot. The best art-house film of the year.
This is a subversive masterstroke, only that the country is in complete denial about the possibility that its too leading men, who are the epitome of all things macho – one, a Ladies Man with chest hair and the other, a homophobic metrosexual – could be gay. That last scene when Priyanka asks the boys if they ever felt anything while they were pretending to be gay, both these guys think about that kiss they were forced into and suddenly, they cannot look at each other. Cut to a song that begins with the introduction: “I am the voice from the sky… Your son is gay” over the end credits with visuals of its two men singing and dancing with gay abandon only to end with a “They lived happily ever after.” It made the family audience including kids share a few jokes about homosexuality.
Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
No doubt it liberally borrows from Hollywood’s classic romantic comedies, it also incorporates all desi ingredients needed in a coming-of-age film for boy to become man. With some fantastic characters, Abbas Tyrewala makes a delightful debut as a director and introduces the new Khan on the block, making a film that will be remembered fondly by a generation pretty much like how some of us relate to Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Maine Pyaar Kiya or Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa or Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander.
For overall brilliance and all-round achievement in cinema. Never has a film on aborted dreams been so uplifting. A perfectly cast ensemble, power-house well nuanced performances, music that rocked the charts, cinematography so alive, fresh and energetic, great writing that captures modern day relationships as we know them, an editing style so tight and seamlessly taking the narrative back and forth in time and a solidly credible authentic film on the state of Indian rock. It may sound like Dil Chahta Hai meets Jhankaar Beats on paper but as far as execution goes, Rock On is the film of the year.
The Others Who Almost Made It:
No. 11: Roadside Romeo/Bhoothnath – Great stuff for kids
No. 12: U, Me Aur Hum – A promising debut by Devgan
No. 13: Jodha Akbar – Despite Hrithik and Aishwarya and the never-ending length
No. 14: Halla Bol – This one almost worked
No. 15: Bombay to Bangkok – A fantastic, gutsy experiment and a cult film of sorts if you’ve just been to Bangkok.
The Some That I Missed Watching:
My apologies to the makers of Welcome to Sajjanpur, The Last Lear, Sorry Bhai, Tahaan, Before The Rains and Halla.