The Best Movies Of The Decade: A Personal Journey
Man's World|January 2020
A decade is a long time in cinema, and indie cinema has cunningly infiltrated mainstream. Here's a list of Hindi and regional films in the last 10 years that have managed to push the envelope
Maithili Rao

A decade is a long time in cinema. Tastes and levels of acceptability have disproved assumptions of what audiences want and are willing to consume. Of course, there are hysterical fringe elements calling for bans, the latest target being the yawnathon Panipat and empowered Hindutva extremists taking umbrage at any slur on cow/desh bhakti/love jihad, or any new target it is expert at finding. But despite these recurring stumbling blocks, a few Hindi and regional films have managed to push the envelope an inch or so.

Has the headlong sprint of the new millennium slowed down to catch its breath, to allow trends to settle into deeper exploration of newer territories? The last time such energy and enthusiasm swept us over was by our own version of the New Wave cinema, or parallel cinema, as it came to be termed by consensus.

The last two decades were definitely not another version of the New Wave. Indie cinema has cunningly infiltrated the established mores of the mainstream and boasts of auteurs and wannabe auteurs that have incorporated familiar tropes and props of storytelling…but with an exciting twist and panache. Many personal voices may not have harmonised into a chorus, but they do sing like a choir. And, they are not entirely preaching to the choir.

Films of the decade that have a lasting recall value and not merge into an indistinct mass of slightly hatke films are my picks. Instead of chronology, I tried to group films (Indian) connected by an underlying theme. That made clear, Udaan really took flight as the millennial second decade beckoned. Vikramadiyta Motwane’s affecting debut about angsty teenager Rohan’s (Rajat Barmecha) turbulent homecoming delved into the world of adolescence with empathy. It is a tricky territory hitherto avoided by filmmakers because the terrain is so uncertain and the emotions — often inarticulate — are so volatile that they threaten the hallowed Indian family where the patriarch is in his place and all’s well with the world.

Shlok Sharma’s disturbing and little seen Haraamkhor explores the taboo world of an adolescent girl’s sexuality. 15-year-old Sandhya (Shweta Tripathi, in a demanding role) lets curiosity lead her into a relationship with Shyam, a married school teacher who also runs tuition classes at home. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Shyam oozes sleazy knowingness of an opportunist who encourages a clandestine affair with the willing student and turns into a cowardly murderer when the secret affair is being whispered around. Sandhya’s police inspector father, who is frequently absent, makes her privileged and also gives her more freedom. The father’s liaison with another woman stirs up the simmering sexual pot wafting many carnal flavours: a young boy’s innocent crush that leads to tragedy, Sandhya’s initiation into sex followed by a possessive streak and then fear of a false positive pregnancy. An interesting common factor between Udaan and Haraamkhor is the absence of the mother figure.

Teenage angst in the coils of crushing caste and class hierarchy is the forte of Nagraj Manjule, who exploded on the Marathi screen that was/is already teeming with film-makers who rejuvenated their cinema with authentic stories told with verve and originality. Fandry revived the hard-hitting realism of parallel cinema but infused the story of Jabya (Somnath Awghade), a Dalit boy’s infatuation with an upper caste girl Shalu with yearning tenderness and brutal satire to give the sucker punch. Fandry, Marathi for pigs, alternates lyricism with the robust bustle of village life; stolen glances and encouraging smiles between the flirtatious Shalu and smitten Jabya juxtaposed with the satirical asides of the village humourist-cum-commentator ensconced in the village square. The film ends with the humiliating spectacle of Jabya and his family running desperately to round up pigs, a gladiator sport for the whole village that wants to teach the Dalit his place. This film practically won every award going, at home and abroad.

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