Lagaan: It fell short of being a masterpiece, but Lagaan skillfully combined good acting, direction, writing, music and cinematography. The result was an entertaining, if slightly clichéd, film of gigantic proportions which ushered in the use of synch sound in Indian cinema. Not having to dub the extensive outdoor scenes, erected on a set in rural Gujarat, gave the film a crisp quality that was so crucial to its intricate details. It also helped change the way films were made – with Dil Chahta Hai just around the corner as well – in terms of technology and professionalism in the Indian industry.
Aamir Khan was, as most always, superb and gave the film its soul. Ashutosh Gowarikar, after duds like Baazi and Pehla Nasha, had pitched the idea to Aamir earlier but was snubbed. He made some changes and went back to Aamir. Success! It was just the pair required to get such a film off its feet. The film was marketed very well – until the date of its release the public was uncertain as to what this magnum opus was about – and it got the global audience’s attention. It was never good enough to win an Oscar, but Lagaan made the viewers clamber to the theatres to watch a clean, excellently made film that ultimately trumped because it had the soul necessary for a hit – a tight script. Simple though it was - the poor rebel against the suppressors and come up trumps - it was Aamir's role and his hand in the production that set Lagaan apart. Bhuvan was believable, even when he hit that last-ball six.
Dil Chahta Hai: In my mind, the summer of 2001 was Aamir's finest. The season opened with Lagaan and not two months later, Aamir was the gregarious, flirtatious, non-believer Akash in Farhan Akhtar's debut film Dil Chahta Hai. An incomprehensible about-turn from Lagaan's Bhuvan. Two films from different worlds, with different budgets, casts, but what they had in common were high production values, superb direction, great music, and Aamir. The film marked the debut of a skilled and thorough technician in Akhtar, and he carried on his work in each of his films this decade, though none was as good as this. He showed his masterful touch in many scenes; some that stand out are when the three friends are talking about their economics teacher, when they sit in the club and Aamir starts to impress Preity Zinta, when Akshaye Khanna realizes he likes the older woman, when Saif Ali Khan first meets his first ‘true love’, when Aamir realizes he loves Preity in the Sydney opera house and the following when he drops her home just after, and is caught between the old Akash and the new. It was a film India’s new and urban youth could identify with and was truly a trendsetter.
Maqbool: The Bard has been translated, morphed, copied and butchered in Hind cinema for years, but in January 2004 his work was given it best, purest and surprisingly easiest transformation into Indian theaters. If you hadn’t heard of Vishal Bhardwaj, he of the lilting OST of Maachis and the well crafted Makdee, you were sure made to sit up. Bhardwaj lined up a terrific star cast - Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Irrfan Khan, Tabu and Pankaj Kapur – and threw Macbeth into the underworld of Bombay. On the outside it perhaps seemed like a repetitive scenario, after a slew of gangster movies out of the Ram Gopal Verma factory, but Maqbool was very different. It had superb acting and good music, but its strongest point was the narrative. The film boasted a number of dazzling sequences that stuck with you – the scene in which Irfan, in his piece de resistance, looks down a dark corridor and sees the ghosts of people close and far is one of the most haunting ever – and Bharwaj handled his plot with utmost precision without ever compromising on his belief.
Yuva: Six years after he gave us the misunderstood, ahead-of-its times Dil Se, Chennai’s own Martin Scorsese made Yuva. The film, borrowing from Amores Perros, interwove the stories of three men in Calcutta and connected them via a road accident. The background of the film, shot superbly by the ever reliable Ravi K Chandran in the City of Joy, was set against politics in college. The cast was superb, with Abhishek Bachchan delivering a breakout performance and Ajay Devgan backing him up with another determined effort. Vivek Oberoi continued to impress, Kareena Kapoor shone in a brief but also career-boosting performance, and Rani Mukherjee confirmed that she was a real talent. Technically very sound, Yuva was a pulsing, story-bound film that resonated with the age-old angst that people develop when torn between the mind and the heart. With shades of existentialism and escapism in almost equal measure, the film was a cinematic masterpiece that somehow got misinterpreted and underestimated. In a year during which candy floss fair like Veer Zaara and Mujhse Shaadi Karoge drew audiences into the cinemas, Yuva fell by the wayside commercially. But its content, acting and gritty edge left a strong resonance
Swades: This film was unfair compared to Lagaan. Lagaan was made to entertain, Swades was Gowarikar’s attempt to explore interior, rural India and the problems besetting the country. It was told through the eyes of an NRI, Mohan Bhargava, which was played with utmost dedication by Shah Rukh Khan. Watching Mohan take a break from his plush NASA job and journey back to India, first in Delhi and then to the fictional town of Charanpur where he meets his childhood nanny and an assortment of characters, was endearing. It was Shah Rukh’s best role, and you didn’t feel he was SRK in the movie.
On a wider canvas, Swades tackled the issue facing Indian citizens at the grassroots level. When Mohan returns home, he isn’t aware of the hardships villagers face, the lack of basic amenities and such. What he intended to be a simple task, prompted by nostalgia and fondness, turns into a literal and metaphorical journey of exploration. How Mohan’s views change forms the crux of the story. Simply put, the film was about reality and reaction. Audiences found it preachy, but I think they misinterpreted Gowarikar’s vision of the central protagonist. He wasn’t preaching about the need for NRIs so come home and change India. He was just telling one man’s story.
Bunty aur Babli: “Yeh jo world hai na …iss mein do tarah ke log hain … It was a throwback to the masala films of the 70s and 80s. A simple premise with good treatment and great acting. A couple on the run and a hounding police officer. Nothing serious or realistic here. Just solid screen presence and direction, great lyrics and foot-tapping music. Don’t go looking for logic, just enjoy the ride. Colourful characters casually going about conning all before them. It worked well.
Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee proved yet again that their screen chemistry was the best of the decade. From the sleepy by lanes of Fursatganj and Pankhinagar, to Kanpur to Lucknow to Delhi and Bombay, the tale of two starry-eyed individuals was pure fun. Some of the cons were predictable, but most were refreshingly original and really well depicted. Lyricist Gulzar and director Shaad Ali Sahgal again proved a great combo. Watch for the subtle homage to potboilers from Ramesh Shippy and Manmohan Desai. Yes, there was a bit of Bonnie & Clyde and Catch Me If You Can, but whose being picky with this film? Notice the scenes where Babli grooves with Q .. Q .. Qureshi to the tunes of Ramba Ho, or when the pair sells off the Taj Mahal for five years. Sheer genius. And then there was Kajra Re.
Rang De Basanti: Aamir more than made up for that indiscretion that was The Rising of Mangal Pandey with Rang De Basanti, a film that pricked the conscience and challenged the viewer to think outside of the box. Best of all, he didn't entirely hog the film, and the ending, critically, was not all about him. He had a deft director, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who was thankfully allowed to be the boss and weave his craft as he had invisioned it.
Far from your run-of-the-mill Indian movie, RDB successfully weaved historical facts with contemporary themes. While I do not agree entirely with the film, I think it was a landmark film in Indian cinema's history. It was a sincere attempt at making a pivotal, social point, and it does what few Indian films in recent times have done - make you pick a side.
Omkara: The best film of 2006. From the opening scene - which captures the rugged Indian landscape in a way not seen since Sholay, or to a lesser level Bandit Queen - between Saif Ali Khan and Deepak Dobriyal to the final in which only Viveik Oberoi remains standing, the film is first-rate. In a year of Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and a long list of Juhu-born, London-fed yuppie directors churning out candyfloss to no end, Omkara was poignant, no-nonsense cinema. In cricketing parlance, Vishal Bhardwaj’s masterpiece Maqbool was a one-dayer, and Omkara a fullblown Test match. Here, Vishal proved without a shred of doubt that he is a fine storyteller and great director. He handled an amazing starcast with ease and got the best out of each. Ajay Devgan excels in the title role, one that he was born to play, Karishma Kapoor delivers a break-out performance, Konkana Sen Sharma rises above her role, Vivek Oberoi and Bipasha Basu were, thankfully, taught to hold themselves back, Deepak Dobriyal was given a sensational debut, and Saif...well, Saif given the role of a lifetime.
Jab We Met: The year 2007 ended with a gem of a movie. On the outset it was an age-old tale of love, but what made it special was the treatment of director Imtiaz Ali and the lead couple. Jab We Met was a refreshing take on the genre. It wasn’t heavy, there wasn’t a major spanner thrown in the works courtesy a conniving ex or rage-fueled father, and there weren’t any jarring scenes. Where the reel-life chemistry of Shahid Kapur and Kareena Kapoor crackled and gave the movie its pizzazz, their real-life relationship went kapur. But thank god the movie was shot when they were an item, because the pair were superb. Kareena, in the role she was born to play, wooed hearts and made you giggle sloppily in the aisles. Shahid, until now reduced to playing mostly immature parts in larger ensembles, was handed a meaty role and he sunk his teeth into it. With Pritam’s music topping the charts, this one was a winner all the way. And, of course, the unforgettable dialogues. Come on, seriously, if you’ve seen the film you know what I’m talking about. Sample 1: “Kya boss, chakkar kya hai? Drugs-shugs leeya hai?”. Sample 2: “Ab toh mera haat chodh do, itni bhi sundar nahin hoon main!” Sample 3: “Tumhe museum mein hona chahiye, ticket lagne chahiye tumhe dekhne ke liye!” Sample 4: “Kyun dekhoon mai ganne ke khet?” Classic dialogues, memorable characters.
Taare Zameen Par: Aamir the director trumped Aamir the actor by some distance. He' had been handed a fine script - credit goes to Amol Gupte here - and he handled it so magically. It wasn’t without stereotype - the staff at the boarding school are dripping in clichés and the father broke into hives at the drop of a hat - but Aamir's shepherding of young Darsheel Safary and the camera was superb. He showed he can narrate a story very, very well and does so without any glam, thankfully. It was a touching movie; expertly handled it did plenty to make people aware of children with dyslexia.
Darsheel Safary was wonderful. TZP was about him, not Aamir, thankfully, and he did full justice to the role. Hindi movies have never had good child actors - the girl in Black was exceptional - but Safary has set the benchmark brilliantly.
Some other films of the decade that can watch repeatedly: Ab Tak Chappan , Yahaan, Khosla Ka Ghosla, The Blue Umbrella, Rock On, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Company, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! Ek Chalis Ki Last Local, Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi..