In the context of Indian cinema, thrillers have always been a very core part, especially of the mainstream and collective viewing experience. The 2010s have seen many different and unique voices in the context of Indian cinema, and this list tries to encapsulate those based on a very personal point of view. Although an interesting observation that has been made while making this list is that the majority of the well-executed and finely made thrillers have come from majorly the Hindi, Malayalam, and Tamil Film Industries, and others have not been not so proficient in the case of this particular genre. So, here is the list of the Top 10 Indian thrillers of the 2010s (ranked):
10. Virus (2019)
A very unique and one of a kind film that can be categorized as a medical thriller revolving around the 2018 outbreak of the Nipah Virus in the state of Kerala. “Virus” (2019) portrays a very emotional story that is quite engaging, making it difficult to look away due to the portrayal of the harrowing events that, in actuality, took place. The film also manages to efficiently change its tonal aspects and focus on the triumph of humanity, acting as a perfect eulogy to the medical staff and people whose efforts helped to contain this epidemic. Filmmaker Aashiq Abu, along with veteran cinematographer Rajeev Ravi, perfectly recreates, documents, and encapsulates these moments, making the viewer an active participant in the events. One of the scenes that stands out is the one that showcases an auto-driver refusing to carry a sick passenger due to the sense of paranoia that had plagued the city due to the received knowledge of an active life-threatening virus. Furthermore, after coming out of such a large-scale worldwide Corona pandemic, this film becomes all the more relevant.
9. Kahaani (2012)
The year 2012 was definitely one of the best years for Hindi cinema, and “Kahaani” is the perfect testimony to that claim. It is a very well-written and very precisely directed thriller that does not waste too much time delving into unimportant things within the film, and every shot is somehow connected to the bigger picture it tries to paint. The city of Kolkata and its essence are captured beautifully and also hauntingly through the lens of the main protagonist, Vidya Bagchi, played impeccably by renowned actress Vidya Balan. The film has all the elements of a classic thriller, with adequate twists and turns, some of which are quite difficult to predict, and also gives one of the most memorable and menacing characters in Bob Biswas, who, even though he has very little screen time, due to the perfect writing and portrayal by Saswata Chatterjee, manages to stay with the viewers for a long time. This film also has the major drawback that it can be classified as a one-time watch – once the viewer is aware of the spoilers; it is not that exciting for a rewatch.
8. Drishyam (2013)
The major positive of the film primarily lies in its brilliant story, which is also the reason why it has been remade in various other languages and further translated into a very tight-knit script and then brought to the screen with utter simplicity by filmmaker Jeethu Joseph. The narrative revolves around Georgekutty, played in an exceptionally very subtle way by veteran actor Mohanlal, and his family, who deal with an accidental murder they have committed. Joseph carries out the film with the very basics of filmmaking and avoids being too complex or even flashy with the form. This simplicity of storytelling is where “Drishyam” (2013) succeeds, as the script demands this particular treatment, which keeps the eyes of the viewers glued to the screen and perfectly makes them empathize with and connect with the characters as it also revolves around the very relatable concept of family.
7. Shaitan (2011)
The title “Shaitan,” which literally translates to “Devil,” perfectly reflects the type and tone of the film. The visual aesthetics, although very enticing, consist of a sense of disturbance and horrific coldness, yet they have moments that shift this particular tonality with the contradictory use of warm colors reflecting a more intimate mood. There is also a trance-like and very trippy effect through the unique use of retro popular music that adds to the excellence of the soundscape it manages to create. Director Bejoy Nambiar should be given a major nod for creating such a unique experience through the narrative of a bunch of influential youths dealing with the lifestyle of sex, drugs, and alcohol. At the same time the film reflects the reality of the extremely privileged in society and that too in a very unique and unabashed manner.
6. Jallikattu (2019)
This Lijo Jose Pellissery action-thriller film revolves around a very simple narrative where a buffalo being taken for slaughter escapes and starts causing havoc in the village, and the villagers become desperate to catch hold of that animal. Through this man versus beast narrative, the filmmaker perfectly eschews very deep themes about humanity and human nature. “Jallikattu” (2019) boasts of extremely well-choreographed sequences that are taken through long uninterrupted takes, keeping the viewers hooked throughout every minute detail, presenting a perfect example of cinematic blocking. Pellissery’s films, as usual, brilliantly create a chaotic atmosphere through their use of visuals and sounds, which is a perfect reflection of the film’s central idea. The film could have been placed a little higher on the list, but the only very minute negative it suffers from is the absolute final scene, which, if avoided, could have made the film more impressive.
5. Shanghai (2012)
This political thriller holds the mirror to Indian society and is a perfect adaptation of the ever-relevant 1969 film “Z” (based on the book of the same name by Vassilis Vassilikos). The plot revolves around the mystery of the death of a social activist. Filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee meticulously crafts this film that acts more like a slow-burn thriller rather than a run-of-the-mill fast-paced one. Through this detailed and layered narrative, “Shanghai” (2012) shows a stark reality of the country, acts as a brilliant critique of the socio-political atmosphere through its exploration of the rampant bureaucratic and governmental corruption, and also has one of the most effective satirical songs named “Bharat Mata Ki Jai.” Dibakar Banerjee also brings out the acting prowess possessed by Emraan Hashmi as he delivers a performance that further elevates the film to a different level altogether. The relevance of this film even holds today more than ever.
4. Ugly (2013)
This is definitely among the most underrated films of Anurag Kashyap, and some even consider it to be his most perfect and the best. The film follows the journey of a struggling actor who is a father in search of his missing daughter. Even though the basic plot sounds simple, it’s like no other film one has seen in Hindi cinema, as deep down, it’s a lot more than what it may seem on the surface. It is a brilliant study of the complexity of human beings themselves, with Kashyap exploring various themes such as jealousy, masculinity, and alienation; it is also a film that is somewhat autobiographical based on his personal relationship with his daughter. The film also showcases the city of Mumbai in a very different light, in a very grim and soulless way, unlike what one may have been accustomed to seeing in other films. Furthermore, though the film is extremely grim and dark, it manages to be humorous even in the most remorseful situations, especially the long police station scene.
3. Andhadhun (2018)
There is no question regarding the fact that Sriram Raghavan is the “Master of Thrillers” currently working in Indian cinema. Therefore, it is quite impossible to make a list of Indian thrillers and not include any of his works. Andhadhun (2018) is definitely Raghavan’s most popular and accessible creation, which works perfectly with the tropes of the neo-noirish thriller. It successfully manages to play with all areas, such as the presence of a femme fatale, along with characters who all have some kind of negative shade. Along with it, the film comprises one of the most brilliant sequences ever seen in Indian cinema, with the famous Piano Scene, which, although inspired by a French short, still acts as a lesson in filmmaking and Raghavan makes it his own through his masterful direction. Furthermore, the film boasts of perfect casting and brilliant performances from Ayushmann Khurrana and especially Tabu, the show-stealer.
2. Visaranai (2015)
This Vetrimaaran police procedural thriller works on various levels. It talks about a lot more serious issues that the common man faces from the various state authorities. The plot revolves around four migrant laborers who are arrested and tortured by police to force a confession for a theft they didn’t commit. The film follows a hard-hitting take showcasing the grim reality faced by the have-nots of society at the hands of various authorities, mainly the police forces. The film does not shy away from showing the harsh police brutality on the big screen and provides a very tense and disturbing atmosphere throughout its runtime, making one feel claustrophobic and nauseated. Even after the end of the film, it is impossible for the viewers to stop thinking about and questioning various things about the politics of the country.
1. Aaranya Kaandam (2010)
Before making the marvelous genre-blending film, “Super Deluxe” (2019), filmmaker Thiagarajan Kumararaja debuted with an equally engaging hyperlink thriller with his 2010 film, “Aaranya Kaandam.” It is a fascinating film that completely changed the landscape of Tamil cinema as well as Indian Cinema with its raw and gritty depiction of the people of the state, along with a very engaging narrative from the get-go. Kumararaja also manages to showcase an entirely different side of the popular Hindi actor Jackie Shroff, who was brilliantly cast as the gang leader, suiting his heroic persona previously seen in Hindi Films. “Aaranya Kaandam” (2010) also features one of the strongest female characters seen in recent Tamil cinema, and it is an out-and-out path-breaking film through its depiction of violence, gang wars, and even the conversations among the characters.
Even though the list tried to encapsulate as much as possible in the case of Indian thrillers released in the past decade, there also remain some other interesting and intriguing films that could not make their way into the list but are definitely worth a watch. The Special Mentions: “Talaash: The Answer Lies Within” (2012), “Special 26” (2013), “Madras Café” (2013), “Talvar” (2015), “NH10” (2015), “Badlapur” (2015), “Neerja” (2016), “Trapped” (2016), “Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru” (2016), “Vikram Vedha” (2017), “Maanagaram” (2017), and “Gurgaon” (2017).