From Sairat to Kapoor and Sons, Indian cinema saw diversity, nuance and courage in the last year.
Films capture a moment in time, not just literally – through scenes shot and recorded for posterity – but also figuratively, casting light on the kind of stories that found acceptance in a particular year. Cinema, in that sense, is a snapshot of a nation. And it makes sense, because people, society, even the moviemaking techniques, are constantly evolving. And so a list of best films of the year tells us more than it’s willing to let on. Here are the five Indian films of 2016 that I particularly enjoyed:
5. Visaranai (Tamil): Vetrimaaran’s crime drama, centred on four Tamilian men’s run-in with the cops, takes a close hard look at police brutality and, through it, tells a fascinating layered story about people holding on to, rejecting or trying to make sense of their humanity in the most trying of times.
4. Island City (Hindi): An impressive examination of urban alienation and apathy, and a pertinent commentary on humans becoming machine-like, Island City tells three different stories of three ‘Mumbais’ with much compassion and humour.
3. Kapoor & Sons (Hindi): In this affecting and heartfelt drama, family members keep secrets from each other, haven’t found a way to resolve their past differences and are always looking for one flimsy reason to break into an ugly disagreement. All may not be right with the Kapoors, but they don’t transfer their nervous energy and anxiety to this film, which is a skillful portrayal of an Indian family whose members are trying to find love and acceptance amid bitterness and misunderstanding.
2. Chauthi Koot (Punjabi): Set in the Punjab of the 1980s, when the Sikh separatist movement was in full swing, Chauthi Koot portrays constant public fear, paranoia and suspicion, exacerbated by the possibility that morality and benevolence may soon cease to exist. Immaculately structured, impressively performed, aided by masterful cinematography and sound design, Chauthi Koot sets its sight on a particularly grim episode in Indian history and doesn’t hesitate to show the despair of people caught in its clutch.
1. Sairat (Marathi): Boy meets girl. Fall in love. Elope. Get married. So far so good. Pleasant. Familiar. Slightly boring even. Sairat, however, comes into its own when it starts subverting the tropes of a conventional romantic drama, when it moves from the village to town, from the headiness of love to the practicality of life, from the blue skies of marital bliss to the pall of caste. It’s been more than seven and a half months since I saw Sairat, but its last scene – a searing indictment of the caste system, a resounding slap to a shameful Indian reality – is still fresh in my mind and, really, it was long due. Someone needed to slap it loud and hard. Someone needed to make Sairat.