2023 has been a mixed bag of a year for Indian cinema. There were some great highs, followed by unexpected lows. There have been some interesting blockbusters that surprised the audience, while many went below the radar. This is, however, a list of films we thoroughly loved and enjoyed. There are films in several languages that we believe could benefit those who love watching Indian mainstream and regional films.
Directed by Siddharth Anand, Pathaan marked the return of the blockbuster machine Shah Rukh Khan, with people flocking to the theater to watch his larger-than-life persona on screen. Shah Rukh Khan delivered one of the biggest hits of the year, and 2023 could not have received a better start. Despite its questionable storytelling and direction, the movie primarily worked for its star-powered cast and presented a villain that was not a caricature like the stereotypical negative characters we watch in other commercial films.
Rahul V. Chittella’s debut film is Disney+ Hotstar Special, a film based on dysfunctional dynamics but presented more quietly. There are no shouting matches in the film between parents and their kids, but only pure conversations and letting the other person know of the pain through simple words. Characters grapple with generational gaps, love, inheritance, finances, sexuality, family traditions, and being independent. All these aspects are handled rather sensitively by the writer and director. All stories bloom beautifully to become a heartfelt tale of a family that essentially loves each other. This film also marked the debut of the legendary actress Sharmila Tagore on an OTT platform.
This Malayalam language film, directed by Rohit M. G. Krishnan and produced by Joju George and Martin Prakkat, describes the tale of a corrupt and vile police officer who seems to have suddenly died of a gunshot wound. The investigation into his death brings the deceased’s twin brother, who was also a police officer, to light and uncovers some secrets that could affect the dynamics of his relationships with those around him. There is a redemption arc followed by reformation, coupled with Joju George’s arresting performance as the twins. The gut-wrenching climax and the shock that follows are everything that cinema is all about.
Directed by Aasmaan Bharadwaj, the tale of many corrupt policemen involved in the robbery of a large consignment of money along with politics of the Naxals as well. The police officials are nothing but a bunch of greedy men who are just striving to survive, thanks to the politicians who keep them on their payroll. Set in the year 2016, there is a lot to uncover about all the bad men and women, and these people only become worse as the story progresses. Despite a shaky screenplay, it was the performances of the actors that stood out. Arjun Kapoor made a mark as a stellar performer, while Tabu, Radhika Madan, Konkona Sen Sharma, and Kumud Mishra hit it out of the park.
Purusha Pretham (Malayalam)
Krishand’s second outing as director gave the audience the stellar Purusha Pretham, which means male ghost, a term that refers to male dead bodies. The film not only talks about the status of the unidentified bodies found by the police, but the satirical undertone focuses on the state of law enforcement and bureaucracy. The film also paints a picture of a police officer who loves to brag about his line of work and is constantly supported by his subordinates. A dark comedy that shines despite the eerie mood created by the film. A film that needs to be applauded for its trippy cinematography and out-of-the-box direction.
Viduthalai Part 1 (Tamil)
Vetrimaaran is the king of hard-hitting cinema that is laced with the politics of the caste and the state. Viduthalai Part 1, which means liberation, is the story of a police officer who is struggling to fit in and finds it hard to understand the kind of work he has to conduct as a police officer. He also has to sense the air of distrust against his force, which is emanated by the villagers. The lines between right and wrong are blurred as the story of a brewing revolution is uncovered and the leader of the group is on the run. There is a lot to uncover about everything in this movie, and Viduthalai is hard-hitting, disturbing, and raw, as all political movies should be. Vetrimaan is probably saving the best for Part 2 because Viduthalai Part 1 leaves no stone unturned and is strong and powerful.
It has been a while since Malayalam cinema nailed the horror-comedy genre. Romancham is a breath of fresh air amidst all the clutter around the genre of comedy. The title of the film means goosebumps, which is exactly what the makers of the show were aiming for the audience to feel when they agreed to join this fun ride. Romancham is helmed by a new director, Jithu Madhavan, and mostly new actors too. Only two actors in Romancham were known faces. The real hero of the film is the director and the screenplay, who took the road less taken and delivered a compelling tale while understanding the stories of otherworldly entities. There is a lot to take away from this film, along with some great debuts by the actors.
Ponniyin Selvan 2 (Tamil)
Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus got a fitting end, and thanks to him, all the historical characters mentioned in the film now have a face. Ponniyin Selvan 1 opened with great reviews, with the director and writer being appreciated for their compelling storytelling and beautifully crafted characters. The ensemble cast did a great job, and the anticipation for Ponniyin Selvan 2 was high. Mani Ratnam did not disappoint and gave us a heartbreaking tale of two jolted lovers, along with stories of families and betrayal that engulfed the palace of the Chola King. The ensemble cast, which includes some of the best actors in the country, delivered great performances. All hail to the ethereal Aishwarya Rai as Nandani, whose eyes could cut through you or make you fall in love with her. Thanks, Mani Ratnam, for toying with the audience’s heart by not uniting Aishwarya Rai and Vikram once again in his film. This film had a shaky yet conclusive ending.
Jude Anthany Joseph, the director of 2018, had only forayed into comedy dramas while dealing with subjects of love and families. 2018 is the first time Malayalam cinema has given the audience a survival drama based on the flood of 2018 that wrecked the entire state and brought it into dismay and sorrow. Amidst the disaster, there are stories of rescue, bravery, good Samaritans coming forward, and help being provided from every corner of the state. This was the story of how nature is unforgiving, and how it could make or break the egos of people. 2018 shines only because of its compelling direction, slick editing and CGI, and performances that could leave the audience teary-eyed. Sadly, 2018 did not make it to the Oscar contention for the ‘Best Foreign Film’ category. We hope to see the director winning plenty of accolades back home for his stellar work.
Yashowardhan Mishra’s debut film is a Netflix original that is a satire on the political system of an unnamed state in India. As two exotic jackfruits are stolen from a politician’s home, the police have been assigned to locate the fruit instead of tackling real crimes in the state. The satire and the humor around the politics and the state of the police force shine as the writing triumphs. The humorous take on the caste system and breaking barriers about it is the highlight of the film.
Ayal Vaashi (Malayalam)
Irshad Parari’s directorial debut is heavily influenced by Leo Tolstoy’s Spark Neglected Burns the House. The book ends on a tragic note, while Ayal Vaashi does not. The title is a word play on ‘Ayal Vaasi’, a Malayalam word for a neighbor, while ‘Vaashi’ means stubborn. The tale is one of neighbors who go from being close friends to enemies, only for them to come back to their friendship. A series of incidents that cause misunderstandings snowball into a tiff, which is eventually sorted. It is the humor mixed with the screenplay that makes this film worth the audience’s time.
Kaathal: The Core (Malayalam)
Jeo Baby’s second directorial venture is better than his first outing with The Great Indian Kitchen. At its crux, Kaathal: The Core is a story of the struggle faced by a middle-aged man as he comes to terms with his sexuality when his wife files for divorce, citing that very sexuality as the grounds. As his marriage crumbles, there is a lot that comes into the limelight, which jeopardizes his career as a politician. This is a mature coming-of-age story about a man who is in denial because of years of conditioning. Coming to terms with one’s sexuality is difficult, but finally finding the courage to speak up and risk it all takes courage. The movie also throws light on the plight of women who are a part of the façade and forced to remain tight-lipped about their husband’s sexuality just for the sake of family. Simple direction and a screenplay are the highlights, with the bare minimum of theatrics and preachy scenes.
Sandeep Reddy Vanga has a Midas touch. Every movie he has made so far is not only marred with controversies regarding the content of the film, but a lot of fuel is added to the rousing fire through his interviews. All three of his films are blockbuster hits. Animal is a Hindi-language film, and thank God for the first time the director of a Hindi film was the talk of the town more than the stars of the film. That itself is a rare sight and feat. Animal’s testosterone-ridden narrative from start to finish is as raw as it gets. There is no sugarcoating or hypocrisy around the masculinity that was prevalent and rampant in the Hindi films of the 1980s and 1990s. The story of a love-deprived child who is obsessed with receiving his father’s attention. Vijay spirals into a ruthless and full-blown psychopath, which constitutes what commercial cinema is. Good first half, a fantastic villain, and a terrific climax. The central portion of the film could be questionable, but all can be forgotten once you watch Ranbir’s performance in the end credits. The screenplay is very messy, but the performances of all the actors cover the obvious glitches in this not-so-perfect film, which deserves a watch.