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The BEST Moments in Hindi Films in 2016

Last updated on: December 26, 2016 16:52 IST

Aseem Chhabra lists the elements that he loved and was pleasantly surprised by in the movies.

As the year closes, critics and film writers come up with their favourite lists -- the top 10 best and worst films.

But there are some elements that stand out in the movies.

Here is my take at the highlights of Hindi cinema in 2016 -- exploring the good performances and ideas, charming moments and other creative segments of the films.

This list is in alphabetical order, and not a countdown of the top ranking films. In fact, these are what surprised me in these films.

 

Ranbir Kapoor's heartbreak in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

IMAGE: Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma in the Channa Mereya song sequence from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.

If we overlook the gloss, style and beautiful looking actors, Karan Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is a very mature film that explores unrequited love in all its shades.

Some may say that Ranbir Kapoor has been on this film journey before, in Rockstar and Tamasha. But the depth of his emotions and the pain his character Ayan experiences when his love is rejected by Anushka Sharma's Alizeh is definitely fresh territory for Kapoor and his director Johar.

I had watched the title song from the film a number of times, but was very moved when the song appeared towards the middle of the film.

Kapoor and Sharma are equally wonderful during the Channa Mereya song sequence.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil,, despite a somewhat flawed ending, is a winner.

 

The Aap Ki Nazron Ne Samjha scene in Aligarh

IMAGE: Manoj Bajpayee in the Aap Ki Nazron Ne Samjha scene in Aligarh.

Manoj Bajpayee is such a fine actor who has played a range of characters through his career.

But in Hansal Mehta's Aligarh, Bajpayee gives a beautiful performance of a lonely university professor who also happens to be gay.

Towards the middle of the film Bajpayee's Professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras is seated in his living room, a glass of whiskey in his hand.

His music system is on and Lata Mangeshkar starts to sing Aap Ki Nazron Ne Samjha -- the lyrical classic song from Anpadh.

Siras is a quiet, reserved man, but the music moves him. It is as if Mangeshkar and her voice have become one with this gentle being's soul.

For the next three-and-a-half minutes as the song plays out loud, Siras goes into a trance. His hands, feet and toes, the way he tilts his head with the rhythm, all indicate that he has reached his personal nirvana.

It is a truly remarkable scene -- cinematically beautiful and joyful, especially given that Aligarh is a very sad film.

 

Radhika Apte and her co-stars in Anurag Kashyap's Clean Shaven

IMAGE: Radhika Apte in Anurag Kashyap's Clean Shaven.

A year after the disaster of Bombay Velvet, Anurag Kashyap made a short film called Clean Shaven, a part of an anthology by international filmmakers called Madly.

A tightly made 20-minute long film, Clean Shaven may just be Kashyap's best work.

It is a strong story, but the film works best because of its talented cast -- Radhika Apte (winner of the Best Actress award at this year's Tribeca Film Festival for Clean Shaven and also seen in Phobia, Parched and Kabali in 2016), Satyadeep Misra and a wonderful young actor, Adarsh Gourav.

Apte and Misra play a married couple, whose relationship falls into a deep trauma.

Gourav is their neighbour whose sexual conversations with Apte's character lead to the challenges in her marriage.

Of the three, Gourav is a real find -- young, playful and a very perceptive actor.

Next year he will be seen in the lead in Rukh where he even outshines a seasoned actor like Manoj Bajpayee.

I will not give away the disturbing plot, but suffice is to say that Clean Shaven proves once again that Kashyap is a very talented filmmaker, and works really well with actors.

Madly was shown at the Mumbai Film Festival this fall, and I do hope fans of Apte and Kashyap can watch Clean Shaven without any cuts and interference from India's Censor Board.

 

The girls of Dangal

IMAGE: Aamir Khan with his daughters from Dangal: Zaira Wasim, Sanaya Malhotra and Fatima Sana Shaikh.

Aamir Khan is known to sometimes step back and give attention to other actors.

In his wife Kiran Rao's Dhobi Ghat, Aamir played one of the four actors in parallel stories about Mumbai. In his directorial venture Taare Zameen Par, Aamir did not appear in the film until the intermission.

In Nitesh Tiwari's Dangal, Aamir plays Mahavir Singh Phogat, who pushes his two daughters to become national and international medal-winning wrestlers.

While Aamir appears throughout the film, it is the four young actresses -- Zaira Wasim (young Geeta Phogat), Suhani Bhatnagar (young Babita Phogat), Fatima Sana Shaikh (older Geeta) and Sanya Malhotra (older Babita) -- who really charm the audience.

They have such a winning presence on the screen! They are extremely likable, warm, funny and very believable as young wrestlers.

Casting of these four women was perhaps the most important element to make the film work. All credit goes to Mukesh Chhabra, who has become the leading casting agent for Hindi cinema.

Dangal follows a predictable track, but the film is definitely worth watching for the fine performances.

 

Shah Rukh Khan sheds his stardom in Dear Zindagi

IMAGE: Shah Rukh Khan in Dear Zindagi.

This year Shah Rrukh Khan did something few other Bollywood actors will do in their entire career.

At the age 51, with 25 years of film work behind him, he took a supporting role opposite Alia Bhatt, who is three decades younger than him.

In Dear Zindagi, Shah Rukh played Dr Jahangir Khan, a therapist who takes on rather unusual (and many would say unethical) measures to treat his patient -- Kaira (Bhatt).

But Shah Rukh went a step further. In playing the therapist, he shed his Bollywood filmi persona, something he did not really have to do.

Dressed in linen shirts, casual pants and even torn jeans, Dr Khan is a new, different and fairly realistic character for a star of SRK's stature to play.

I had issues with the film -- the way the therapist interacts with his patient and breaks down the wall that must always be maintained -- but the fact that the star of the film is willing to take a risk is remarkable.

It is an indication that Shah Rukh takes his career quite seriously, and is always focused to keep himself current and relevant as an actor.

 

Amruta Subhash's performances in Island City and Raman Raghav 2.0

IMAGE: Uttara Baokar and Amruta Subhash in Island City.

Amruta Subhash is alovely actress who worked in a number of Marathi films, including my favourite Killa and Balak Palak.

This year, she was seen in two rather impressive supporting roles in Hindi films.

In Ruchika Oberoi's award winning ensemble three-act drama Island City, Subhash plays Sarita Joshi, an abused housewife whose life takes an expected turn after her husband is hospitalised following a violent act in his office.

Sarita, her children and mother-in-law actually experience brief joyful moments of independence including getting obsessed with a soap opera on television.

In Anurag Kashyap's Raman Raghav 2.0, Subhash is Lakshmi, sister of the creepy killer Raman, played with an unnerving edge by Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

It is a short role, but Lakshmi's disturbing encounter with Raman after years of separation, unravels a lot of the backstory about the killer.

I had issues with Raman Raghav 2.0. It felt as if Kashyap was revisiting the dark space that he has often explored in his films.

But the Lakshmi-Raman sequence with Subhash's strong performance is exceptionally good -- well written, sharply acted and devastating to watch.

 

The plumber scene is Kapoor & Sons

IMAGE: Rajat Kapoor and Ratna Pathak Shah in Kapoor & Sons.

After his rom-com Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, writer-director Shakun Batra worked on a more complex and layered script.

The result: Kapoor & Sonsis a sharply made drama (and at times, a lovely comedy) that works with solid nuanced characters and also explores many narrative tracks.

No scene reflects the film's terrific writing and good acting better than the one towards the beginning with the plumber (a wonderful short performance by Amarjeet Singh).

The Kapoor family is in the living room. Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra) takes the family dog out for a walk, the plumber is in the bathroom fixing the leak, when Rahul (Fawad Khan) raises the issue of taking their grandfather (Rishi Kapoor) to Bangalore for further treatment.

/That will be too expensive,' says Harsh (the father of Arjun and Rahul played by Rajat Kapoor). And then suddenly the family's financial details blow up with Sunita (Ratna Pathak Shah, playing Harsh's wife) realising her fixed deposit savings have all been spent.

In the midst of the family argument, the plumber wants help as the leaking pipe needs to be held up. It is a hilarious scene, thoroughly enjoyable to watch.

When the plumber finishes his job, he is asked how much he will charge. The man has been listening to the family argument.

'Well, I guess, in these difficult times you can give me whatever you think is appropriate,' he says in a deadpan tone.

There are many such well-executed moments in Kapoor & Sons making it one of the more intelligent Hindi language films of 2016.

 

Shabana Azmi's loss and tragedy in Neerja

IMAGE: Shabana Azmi as Neerja's mother in the film.

Shabana Azmi has been acting in films since the early 1970s and has won numerous awards, including a record number of five National Awards. Her acting talent today is often taken for granted.

But the 66-year-old actress continues to surprise the audience.

Her performance in Ram Madhvani's Neerja was really good, even by her own standards.

As Rama Bhanot, the mother of Neerja (played with a lot of confidence by Sonam Kapoor), Shabana is a warm, charming middle-aged Punjabi woman, an over-protective and loving mother.

Shabana, who is often seen as a sophisticated Mumbai artist, activist and also a socialite, completely transforms herself into that role.

The fact that she has lately started looking more and more like her own mother Shaukat Azmi gives Shabana's Rama an extra edge.

Rama's breakdown when she sees her daughter's body in a coffin is devastating to watch. Shabana brings so much empathy to her tragedy.

It is definitely one of the strongest performances in a Hindi film in 2016.

 

The politics and the conversations around Pink

IMAGE: Amitabh Bachchan, Kirti Kulhari and Tapsee Pannu in Pink.

At times, Pink is an infuriating film.

The reactions of some people to the free spirited lives of its three female characters is annoying. And the performances of the two lawyers in the second half of the film, played by Piyush Mishra and Amitabh Bachchan, are too theatrical and over-the-top.

Bachchan's Deepak Sehgal, the out-of-luck lawyer, is a plotline that has often been tackled, especially in Hollywood films.

But director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury's Pink does stir you up, about the rights of single women -- to live on their own in Delhi and in other cities, to explore their independence which includes going out at night, wearing whatever clothes they chose, drink and party with men.

But most importantly, a young woman has the right to say no, especially to sex, if she is not comfortable.

Pink makes that point rather clear. Perhaps when a message of this kind has to be passed on to the Hindi film audience, there is no room for nuances and artistic subtleties.

I have heard from many people who often skip indie art-house films that Pink spoke to them. And that makes Chowdhury's -- at times an obvious film -- a winner.

 

Udta Punjab's ensemble cast

IMAGE: Diljit Dosanjh and Satish Kaushik in Udta Punjab.

The challenge for the makers of Udta Punjab was to give the sense and smells of the North Indian state, especially around it rural areas and farmlands.

The best way a film can get that feel of authenticity is if it is cast perfectly.

And so Honey Trehan, a long-time casting director for Vishal Bhardwaj, found real Punjabi actors (including even those from Bollywood: Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor and Satish Kaushik) for Abhishek Chaubey's Udta Punjab.

As a film, Udta Punjab is at times flawed and its plot feels stretched.

But the actors are so real and believable that the drug problem of Punjab, as presented in the film, seems urgent.

We feel and we know that people of Punjab are presenting us this problem, and not a group of Bollywood folk, who decided to go for a couple of months on a field trip to the state.

I was blown away by the first time actor Prabhjyot Singh (the young drug addict Balli) and the handsome Diljit Dosanjh (who plays Balli's brother Sartaj).

But I was equally impressed with the other actors, many whose names I do not know -- the old sardar with a gun, who gets shot in the courtyard of the house where Alia Bhatt's character is imprisoned, the old Sikh woman who holds a gun to Balli's head, Sartaj's senior colleague who also rapes Bhatt's character, and many others.

Bollywood has a tendency to focus on stars and ignore the supporting actors. In Udta Punjab, many of the supporting actors perform even better than the stars and deserve to be recognised.

Aseem Chhabra