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7 Underrated Films Of 2023

December 20, 2023 15:54 IST
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With so many releases in 2023, not all got their due.

Subhash K Jha picks his underrated films of the year.

Dhak Dhak
Where to watch? Netflix

Why was this gem released with so little fanfare?

Dhak Dhak takes you by surprise. It is one of those rarest of rare chick flicks, where the men are not shown to be idiots just to make the women look good.

Where do I begin to raise a toast to this work of multitudinous achievements? It is on the surface, a story of four unhappy women finding a shared joy in a biker's expedition all the way to the highest point of Leh.

Except that this is an exceedingly sorted work about self-discovery, not a silly bikers' fantasy, but a genuine exploration of what is important in life: The journey, destination, or perhaps the people whom you meet during that journey?

Dhak Dhak is brimming with good samaritans, as our quartet of ladies Mahi (Ratna Pathak Shah), Uzma (Dia Mirza), Sky (Fatima Sana Shaikh) and Manjari (Sanjana Sanghi), each played with restraint and sensitivity, take off on that forbidden flight to their secret dream. It is as though we are riding pillion on their roaring bikes.


Where to watch? Disney + Hotstar

At 90 minutes of playing time, Apurva is an edge-of-the-seat experience.

At times, the violence gets unbearable. But then it is not a pretty world out there.

Nikhil Nagesh Bhat, who is currently being lauded globally for his no-holds-barred killer thriller Kill, seems to be fascinated by sociopathic violence.

He pulls a racy punch in Apurva.

A cleverly designed slasher thriller underscored -- or shall I say thunderscored -- by a message on the need for women to protect themselves from sexual violence without depending on police or partner, Apurva had me gripped to the bloodied end.

The fascinating Chambalesque outdoor location(shot with menacing verve by Anshuman Mahaley) serves as a gritty landscape for lawlessness.


Three Of Us
Where to watch? Rent on Amazon Prime Video

This is cinema that celebrates stunning silences. The background music is muted to the point of invisibility.

What we hear are the three main actors in conversation with one another and with themselves.

There are heart-stopping moments in Shailja's meditative search for her childhood in a village where time is frozen but not squandered.

The threads that bind working class relationships are woven in this gem of a film with a calm dexterity.

The gentle, tranquil mood stays with the viewer long after the film is over.

The only point at which the narration lost me was when a sea nymph appeared before Shailja. Their conversation had no relevance to me.

Three Of Us is a precious piece of life on celluloid.

The characters are so remarkable in their ordinariness, it is like meeting people whom we would otherwise pass on the road without a second glance.

It always helps when a film's director is also its cinematographer. The images that go on screen are the ones visualised by Avinash Arun Dhaware, and there is no contamination in the vision.


Where to watch? Netflix

This one came too close to the trauma of the lockdown for comfort.

Assuredly, this real and immediate chunk of history makes us uncomfortable, as cinema was always supposed to.

Anubhav Sinha decided with Mulk to move away from the bheed, no pun intended. Look where he has reached now!

Sinha and his incredibly articulate camera person (Soumik Mukherjee) use the B&W palate to tremendous efficacy to let us know how desperately bleak the scenario was at that time when all gates were shut on thousands of migrants as they tried to reach home.

The director does not drill into the despair of these foot soldiers, as they trudged home for days without water and food (and yes, sanitary napkins).

There is no room for sentimentality in this saga of survival by instinct.


Where to watch? Netflix

In the smooth political language of an auteur on a night out for dark adventures, Sudhir Mishra writes out a celluloid exposition on religious intolerance and political opportunism.

While the politics of green and saffron runs through the film with a frenetic force, this is also a kind of a road movie, a twisted one no doubt, where two strangers are thrown together when one of them is attacked.

It is not a rumour that Afwaah is a ballsy, gripping thriller.

But rumour is true: Sudhir Mishra is back in form with a film that has unexplored anger and resentment swimming underneath.


Where to watch? Disney + Hotstar

Although a remake, this film has a life energy flow and rhythm of its own.

Whether playing the humble superstar with folded hands in front of his fans, a concerned team leader or a doting husband to his wife (Diana Penty, very charming in the little that she has to do), Akshay Kumar makes us forget his listless performance in his last six-seven films.

It was self-defeating -- or should I say, selfie-defeating? -- to ignore this film on the basis of his recent duds.

This is how a remake should be done.

Instead of being a blind scene-by-scene copy of the eminently watchable Malayalam film Driving Licence, Selfiee extracts its own energy from the source material and gives us a rollicking film.


Yaariyan 2

The tone of Yaariyaan 2 is infectiously nurturing.

The characters are not intellectually elevated, but they know the worth of every heartbeat that flows from one to the other.

This is a worthy remake of a smart city-slick Malayalam film Bangalore Days about three cousins and how they overcome personal hurdles.

Yaariyan 2 is not just a big improvement on the first Yaariyan, it is also a lot better than some of the big-budget fiascos that have been thrust into our faces.

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