2022 for the Hindi Film Industry (or popularly known as “Bollywood”) hasn’t been much of a memorable year either in terms of commercial success or when it comes to innovative films, and the post-pandemic effect cannot be ignored. Furthermore, the sorry state of the Indian economy and market also did not help as the masses faced terrible losses during the pandemic, and the film viewing habit cannot be viewed in isolation. This was only exacerbated by the high exposure to the OTT platforms for some sections of society. Yet there were a handful of exciting films that made this bland year memorable in the context of Hindi films. This list will consider films that marked their theatrical release in India in 2022 and will also include direct digital releases or things like Netflix originals. So, here are the top 10 Bollywood films of 2022 (ranked):
This Alia Bhatt-starrer also sees her in a new role as she marks her debut as a producer. “Darlings” (2022), directed by debutant Jasmeet K. Reen, deals with the very serious theme of domestic abuse, but she interestingly manages to shed light on it through the use of dark comedy and makes the film quite gratifying to watch as it gives a slapping reply to misogyny. But the film is also not without its demerits, it can be conventional at times, and heavily depends on the highly talented cast of actors, which is one of the main reasons this film is a one-time watch, with the performance of Vijay Verma as the abusive husband standing out.
9. Love Hostel
After making a brilliant neo-noir film, “Gurgaon” (2017), director Shankar Raman carved out a very bleak and intense thriller with a very atmospheric nature that is quite topical, especially given the kind of religious divides and intolerance seen in India with the massive rise of the far-right Hindutva goons. “Love Hostel” (2022) does not waste any time and gets to the point from the get-go, and although on the surface it looks like a very straightforward story of an interfaith couple on the run, its layers go well beyond the deep-rooted rot of bigotry and patriarchy, all of which are tackled in a very raw and uncompromising manner. Furthermore, it interestingly features a tremendous acting display by Bobby Deol, who is simply menacing as the film’s main antagonist.
8. Laal Singh Chaddha
Although it was a mammoth task to adapt the highly beloved 1994 film Forrest Gump, major praise should be given to writer Atul Kulkarni for managing to pull it off in the Indian context. “Laal Singh Chaddha” (2022) promises to be an emotional joyride, and it is one of those underrated films that has its heart in the right place, evokes a perfect sense of purity and innocence, and does a brilliant job of adapting the 1994 film, even surpassing the original in some areas. It has quite a well-crafted romance with a brilliant performance from Kareena Kapoor and kind of has a unifying and healing effect. It also subtly talks about religious extremism, especially in such a time when hate was sold in the disguise of vile propaganda. Even though it did not receive its fair share of love, hopefully, with time, it will get the acknowledgement it deserves.
7. Badhaai Do
In recent times, especially pre-pandemic, there was a rise in small-town mid-budget films that often focused on a socially relevant story told through a humorous lens yet were found lacking many a time from the cinematic or artistic aspects. From the onset, “Badhaai Do” (2022) looked like a comedy-drama of a similar sub-genre, especially given its very mundane trailer and poster. But this was proven completely wrong as this Harshavardhan Kulkarni directorial was both a very nuanced take on the subject matter of LGBTQIA+, along with some rich and layered representation, and also shed light on various other aspects of caste, religion, etc., while not compromising with the cinematic aspects. Other than that, a special nod should also be given to the cinematographer, Swapnil S. Sonawane. This makes for quite a refreshing watch with some great performances from its highly talented cast of actors, and especially an exceptional cameo from Gulshan Devaiah, who, even with minimal screen time, manages to leave a massive impact. “Badhaai Do” (2022) manages to be a huge step in the right direction also from a socially relevant and important aspect and manages to evoke very strong emotions in its viewers.
6. Gangubai Kathiawadi
Although I’ve never been a huge Sanjay Leela Bhansali fan, the dedication he has towards his unique way of filmmaking can’t be denied, and “Gangubai Kathiawadi” (2022) is one of his best films. Bhansali paints the canvas with broad strokes and balances them perfectly with a very morose tone at the same time to showcase the brutal worlds of prostitution and patriarchy without any kind of moral judgment. At the same time, it is a very gutsy biopic that is very empowering to see with its unabashed nature. This is further enhanced by the brilliant performances from the entire cast of actors, along with some impressive cameos, especially by Ajay Devgn. Furthermore, Alia Bhatt delivers her career-best performance in the titular role, and she totally embodies both the lost innocence and the showcase of power, elevating the film to even greater heights.
5. An Action Hero
Probably among the most inventive action-comedy Hindi films, especially in recent times, this film manages to succeed in both aspects, be it the action part or the comical part. “An Action Hero” (2022) was a maddening ride of a film, with the big screen experience something to behold. The whole film demonstrates some great writing and technical prowess, from the visuals and the audio to the brilliant orchestration of action sequences. It comprises a fine acting showpiece by Ayushmann Khurrana along with one of the best acting performances of 2022 in Hindi cinema by Jaideep Ahlawat, who is just pitch-perfect in carrying out the no-nonsense persona along with his enactment of the deadpan humor. Furthermore, there is a marvelous on-screen chemistry between these two. Other than that, “An Action Hero” (2022) does not hold its guns back in taking on the sad state of affairs related to media and journalism in India and is also a brilliant satire on that aspect, perfectly showcasing the hate-spewing and jingoistic media, selling news purely soaked in sensationalism (basically the so-called ‘godi media’). Although the most unfortunate thing is that this highly entertaining and uniquely refreshing film went relatively unnoticed in the theaters, leading to a commercial failure, it further disincentivized the Hindi film industry from making more unique and original films.
Rajat Kapoor has always been one of the most talented artists in Hindi cinema, and he has a firm command over writing, directing, and even acting. Although he and his works remain criminally underrated, “RK/RKay” (2022) also falls into the same category and, interestingly, was funded through a massively successful crowdfunding campaign. This film has quite a unique and quirky premise, where a character from a film has escaped from the negatives and entered the real world, and through this, director Rajat Kapoor crafts a highly meta film that is definitely a delicious watch, also featuring some very strong writing and technical prowess. “RK/RKay” (2022), which also makes the viewers use their minds and decode stuff at the same time, is quite a fun and engaging watch, and with its self-reflexive nature, plays a brilliant game of hide and seek with the viewer’s minds along with giving a sarcastic look at the process of filmmaking along with the headaches it causes.
3. Monica, O My Darling
With a brilliantly talented ensemble of actors, this Vasan Bala directorial is the perfect crime thriller that is brilliant in the art of detailing and blending various genre tropes, ranging from an impressive femme fatale played magnificently by Huma Qureshi, to some tremendous acting showcase from the entire cast of highly talented actors. Vasan Bala uses a very stylized approach that is further translated visually by cinematographer Swapnil S. Sonawane, making each frame a delight to watch, especially for noir lovers. Among all these, the characterization in “Monica, O My Darling” (2022) is brilliant and adds to the rewatch value, with each character dwelling in the gray areas, further elevating this interestingly twisted tale with thin morals. Furthermore, the film blends a murder mystery and an investigative drama with very humorous doses of dark comedy, some of them among the funniest moments in Hindi cinema in 2022. Other than that, the brilliant use of music, both through the score and songs by Achint Thakkar, that perfectly caters to the mood of the film while at the same time paying homage to old-school Hindi crime thrillers of filmmakers like Vijay Anand, is at a different level altogether, along with the highly cheeky lyrics of Varun Grover, especially in the standout song “Farsh Pe Khade.”
Nagraj Manjule has proven his mettle as a director with back-to-back masterful works in Marathi films with “Fandry” (2013) and “Sairat” (2016), which are not only great films but also among the most hard-hitting films to come out of India that explore the deep-rooted caste-based discrimination in Indian society. With “Jhund” (2022), Manjule marks his Hindi-language debut by teaming up with the legend Amitabh Bachchan, and it is no exception as the filmmaker once again strikes gold through his craft. Although the premise may seem very simple and uses quite a tried and tested formula from the onset, here lies the brilliance of a filmmaker like Manjule, who manages to go beyond the formulaic nature of sports-based dramas. It is engaging and does not let itself lose in the sports part and also the aura of Bachchan; rather, these are used to enhance and further delve into the socio-political themes of the film, which are very interestingly blended into the narrative, bringing out some of the most hard-hitting truths, that too without sugar-coating them. Each and every character holds significance and is not merely a tool or prop, with some really mesmerizing scenes, especially his use of the song “Saare Jahaan Se Accha,” which is also worth noting for how it presents the idea of India as a time when jingoism and hyper-nationalism have seen a rise in Hindi films.
1. Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon
Although this film premiered way back in 2018 at film festivals, it saw a huge delay of four years before seeing the light of a theatrical release. Revolving around the underbelly of the capital city, Delhi, the film takes the viewers on a mesmerizing and very unique journey through these fabled lanes of ‘Purani Delhi’ and, interestingly, is a result of filmmaker Anamika Haksar’s documentation of the lives of street people in that area. The film has a very distinct flavor, both in terms of the subject matter and how it is displayed. Anamika Haksar brilliantly brings out a totally out-of-the-box film that is very exciting in its approach through a highly experimental use of cinematic grammar that is often reminiscent of Kamal Swaroop’s underrated masterpiece “Om-Dar-B-Dar” (1988). “Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon” (2022) further blends layers of satire and dark humor with a very poignant and affecting film, shedding light on the struggles of the working-class people in a big city and highlighting the importance of human connection and empathy, while at the same time taking a dig at the current socio-political climate of the country.
Although some of these films did not manage to garner the necessary attention, hopefully, you will give them a watch. Other than these above-mentioned films, here is a list of special mentions: “Bhediya” (2022), “Vikram Vedha” (2022), “Drishyam 2” (2022), “Gehraiyaan” (2022), and “Jalsa” (2022).