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2011's Special Moments in Hindi Cinema

Last updated on: December 20, 2011 19:51 IST

2011's Special Moments in Hindi Cinema

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Aseem Chhabra in New York
Another year ends and we get nostalgic about our experiences lived.  
 
Sadly, 2011 was not a great year for Hindi cinema. It is hard to find an exceptional film that would match the caliber of 2010's Udaan, Peepli Live or the terrific Bollywood surprise Band Baaja Baaraat.  

Still, there were many remarkable moments, songs and performances in 2011 that should keep our faith in Mumbai's Hindi film industry, especially from the growing number of indies!

Here's a list of 2011's top 10 Hindi films and what I liked in them. Since this is not the best of 2011 list, the films are not ranked.

Delhi Belly 

Highlights: Poorna Jaganathan, DK Bose and the F-word

Aamir Khan's third production in two years, Delhi Belly, had many things working for it, including a quirky script, crazy, toilet humour and all round irreverence.  
 
But the real revelation of the film was the irresistible screen presence and most un-Bollywood introduction of the until-recently New York-based actress Poorna Jaganathan.
 
This is what the Village Voice said about the actress who now makes her home in Mumbai: 'Rangy, corkscrew-haired, with a wry demeanor that can't long be upset by anything, she's a happy departure from the usual run of Xeroxed, pedestaled beauties.'

The subversive DK Bose song, its not-so-secret hidden message, and the number of times the film's characters say the F-word is a sign for how much India and its youth have changed. It was only a matter of time that young Indian filmmakers would reflect that change. And bravo for the Censor Board that for once acted mature enough to accept this reality.

Image: Imran Khan and Poorna Jaganathan in Delhi Belly


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Dhobi Ghat

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Highlights: Heartbreaking performances from Kriti Malhotra and Prateik

Kriti Malhotra was cast in Dhobi Ghat quite by accident. Director Kiran Rao must have seen a hidden gem in Kriti, thereby giving her the choice role of Yasmin -- the unhappy housewife and a new arrival in Mumbai, whose video diaries become the soul of the film.  
 
Her innocent smile, full of hope and later laced with a strong dose of sadness, stays with the audience long after the film is finished.

This has been a big year for Prateik with four films -- a remarkable feat for the young actor. By all counts, his best performance is in Dhobi Ghat, where he plays a working class man with aspirations to become a Bollywood star.  
 
Prateik has a real presence in the film. One of the most memorable moments is when his character Munna sits besides his upper class friend and the older woman Shai (Monica Dogra) in a movie theatre. He has fallen in love with Shai and has a desire to put his arm around her shoulder but it is heartbreaking to watch him suppress his feelings.  
 
Later, Munna watches Shai curled up and sleeping on a chair. With rain falling behind him, he walks up to her, brings his face close to hers, breathes the air around her, slowly pulls himself back and finally walks away.  
 
Dhobi Ghat is full of such elements of unrequited love.

Image: Kriti Malhotra and Prateik in Dhobi Ghat


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I Am

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Highlight: The gay kiss

Independent filmmaker Onir and his producer/ actor friend Sanjay Suri made history with their 2005 film My Brother Nikhil. 
 
Their 2011 film I Am -- with four interconnected stories dealing identity issues -- was crowd funded via the Internet and that itself makes it a unique story. 
 
Of the four stories, the strongest is the last one -- I Am Omar, in which two gay men, played by Rahul Bose and Arjun Mathur meet in a coffee shop. Since they do not have privacy -- a commentary about the lack of space in India for gays and lesbians where they can express themselves and explore their sexuality -- they start to make-out in a car, with disastrous results. 

A couple of years ago, Tarun Mansukhani directed the box office hit Dostana. But Dostana is a faux gay film, where the two leads only pretend to kiss. It is replete with jokes at the expense of gay people and thereby reinforces the stereotypes.
 
I Am Omar, with the first gay kiss in a Hindi film, is remarkable, honest and the right direction for Indian cinema.

Image: A scene from I Am


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Rockstar

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Highlights: A R Rahman's music and Ranbir Kapoor's performance

There was a lot of anticipation for Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar. The filmmaker has his fans, plus he worked with AR Rahman.  
 
This is the first time since Delhi 6 that the composer spent a lot of energy developing a unique Bollywood soundtrack -- from a boisterous qawalli, to a protest song and then a several memorable love ballads. On screen, the songs come alive, complemented with the camera, the editing, the actors' presence and Ali's imaginative direction. It is Bollywood at its best.

Rockstar will also remembered for Ranbir Kapoor heartfelt performance -- perhaps the best by Bollywood actor in a long time.  Kapoor faced a major limitation in the film, since he did not get much of an emotional support from his co-star Nargis Fakhri, a beautiful looking woman, whose acting skills needed a lot of assistance.
 
But Kapoor carried the film like no other actor could -- taking the weight of his pain on his shoulders, along with his contempt for the society that would not allow him to be with the love of his life.

Image: A scene from Rockstar


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Shaitan

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Highlights: The accident, the Khoya Khoya Chand sequence, Mikey McCleary's remix and Suman Shridha's voice

Bejoy Nambiar's debut film, somewhat inspired by producer Anurag Kashyap unreleased Panch, is a window into the lives of a group of wealthy nihilistic youth whose sense of carefree life leads to devastating results.
 
Half an hour into the film, there's an accident, and innocent lives are lost.
 
The camera and the sound design capture the vehicle going over a dead body. It is a brief but a very uncomfortable moment -- a rarity for the usually sanitized Hindi language cinema.

Then, halfway into the film, the cop assigned to a kidnapping case, walks into a drug den with a dead body, two Africans and a lot of bullets flying. It is a gloriously choreographed sequence, set against the pulsating sound of Mikey McCleary's remixed version of Khoya Khoya Chand in Suman Shridha's voice. 
 
Violence never looked more thrilling in a Hindi film.

Image: A scene from Shaitan


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Shor in the City

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Highlights: Great performances by Pitubash and Tusshar Kapoor

Krishan DK's and Raj Nidimoru's third film Shor in the City is a delight -- where small time crooks, an NRI and a middle class man face crisis of character and morality.
 
In the ensemble, two actors stand out. First, a name I did not know before: Pitubash. With his wide eyes, silly grin and major confidence, this young actor gives a tremendous winning performance in the film. 

The other surprise is Tusshar Kapoor, who until now has not received much love from the audience and critics.
 
Watch him in the one scene in the second half of the film when he discovers his wife cannot only read but has a college degree as well. It is a sweet moment and Kapoor plays it with much wonderment, joy and finesse.

Image: Tusshar Kapoor, Nikhil Dwivedi and Pitubash in Shor in the City


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Stanley Ka Dabba

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Highlight: The Aja Aja Dil Nichode moment

The kids in Amol Gupte's heart-tugging film are cute though not the way Bollywood usually portrays children.  
 
There is one special moment when the survivor and charismatic Stanley (Partho) leads his classmates into a spontaneous performance of the hit song Aja Aja Dil Nichode from Kaminey. They are natural performers unaware of the camera or the rest of the crew watching them. It is a lovely segment in the film that is sure to make one smile and worth revisiting on a DVD.

Image: A scene from Stanley Ka Dabba


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8) That Girl in Yellow Boots

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Highlights: Gulshan Devaiya as Chittiappa Gowda, Pooja Swaroop as Maya and the closing sequence.

Director Anurag Kashyap has a few terrific supporting characters in his dark film, That Girl in Yellow Boots
 
Gulshan Deviaya's Chittianppa Gowda is a menacing small-time gangster, who is also fun to watch. He mixes Kannada with English and the result is a sharp, complex character and a wonderful supporting performance.  
 
Then there is the hilarious Pooja Swaroop, the owner of a massage parlour, who also handles the front desk, but mostly talks on the phone to the annoyance of the clients. Swaroop is a natural on the phone, probably improvising her dialogues and adding a lot of humour to the otherwise bleak film.

The final scene from the film has Kalki Koechlin's Ruth jump into taxi, with street lights -- especially in yellow and blue colours -- streaking across her face and the background score building up several decibel levels higher. There has been a shocking revelation for Ruth and she has made her final decision. Kashyap then uses all of his technical support to highlight the emotional weight of the moment.

Image: Gulshan Devaiya and Kalki in That Girl in Yellow Boots


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The Dirty Picture

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Highlight: A solid delightful by Vidya Balan

We have known for a while that Vidya Balan is a charming and talented actress, free from the flat, uninspired form of acting that Bollywood expects from its stars.
 
In last year's Ishqiya, she played a seductive woman who holds her cards close to her and then makes her choice between the two men, who are in love with her.  

This year, Vidya went far beyond in the otherwise flawed The Dirty Picture, throwing herself into the role of southern siran Silk Smitha with much oomph and joy. To add to that, Balan put on substantial weight for the role, letting her belly hang and then wear tight low cut blouses to reveal her cleavage.  
 
She broke all the rules of Bollywood, a remarkable task especially given how limiting the film's script was in letting her character grow.

Image: Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture


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Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

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Highlights: Javed Akhtar's poetry in son Farhan's voice and Carlos Catalan's cinematography

Zoya Akhtar had an interesting plot -- three 30-something desi men on a self discovery trip in Spain.
 
Despite all the gloss, the final execution of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara did not work well but Akhtar did a few smart things in the film -- one of which was to ask her father for four short poems that she placed at strategic points, summing up the mood or the end of each chapter in the otherwise long film.  

She had brother Farhan -- who essentially sounds like a younger version of his father recite the poems -- and then asked her cinematographer Carlos Catalan to shoot the scenes capturing the quietness of the mood and thereby enhancing the spoke words. The result is cinematic magic rarely expereinced in Hindi cinema. 

Image: A scene from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara


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