These shows and movies made my year much easier and entertaining. Hope it does the same for you.
It was a starting point of a decade. There were serious talks regarding things changing for better, but to be honest, there wasn’t any notable change in the air, with almost all the big dates of the year (festive/national holidays) again booked by stars, as ever, the distributors/exhibitors weren’t interested in the small, medium-sized films, eventually, they had no way to go but to head directly to streaming platforms or clash with these big, commercial giants and incur losses both financially and artistically. After all, going with the popular perception- the big screens are exclusively for event/big-ticket films while small screens are best suited for “arty” films.
But the year had an alternate plan. Enter Covid 19. The lockdown was announced all of a sudden, everything came to a halt. With cinemas being shut, everyone headed towards streaming platforms. It was party time for them. And with no time, they jumped at the opportunity, and eventually, almost every platform had multiple releases this year, out of which of course, some fired, a major chunk of it fell short but what is noteworthy that this year would go down in the history to be remembered as a year of OTT platforms, a year where small films finally found its audience, a year where long-form storytelling just rose to another level, and a year where actors (not stars) made all the right noise. This year would also be remembered for its hardships and struggles, where most of the universe struggled to just keep going forward, locked up in our homes, with nothing to do, most of us turned to art and artists, half of the year went in re-watching our go to movies and shows, while the other half was about just exploring the newly released stuff.
As we talk about the best from the year, it is extremely important to recognize the privilege one has, just in terms of accessibility and affordability. The fact that even in our darkest and gloomiest days, we can turn to entertainment, when the majority of the universe struggles to even survive, is a matter of great privilege.
Disclaimer- The following list is a mixed bag, which comprises of web shows, feature films (released both in theatres and online), and short film. The list is incomplete in some sense, for instance - I didn’t have the good fortune to catch up on movies that had a limited theatrical release later this year like- Rohena Gera’s Is Love Enough? Sir, and many more. This list is just a recommendation, nothing more than that, as these shows and movies made my year much easier and entertaining, hope it does the same for you.
Here it is then, the Best of 2020, in no particular order-
Ø Paatal Lok-
Paatal Lok; a dark, disturbing, and riveting saga of crime, religious bigotry, and casteism. The 9 episode series is set in Delhi, perfectly capturing the depravity of the institutions and the people running them. It’s a tale of underDOGS- Hathi Ram (a flawless Jaideep Ahlawat), the protagonist-a police inspector, heads the investigation of an attempted assassination on once a popular journalist Sanjeev Mehra (a sincere Neeraj Kabi). As the narrative dives deeper, the show slowly transforms into a profound commentary on the times we live in, shedding light on how media propels propaganda- fake news, how criminals are made (not born) and skilfully employs mythology to bring its point across. Written by Sudip Sharma, the show has a solid cast, comprising of- Gul Paang, Vipin Sharma, Swastika Mukherjee, Iswhak Singh, Abhishek Banerjee, and others.
Paatal Lok is streaming on Prime Video.
Ø Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story
This list would be incomplete without mentioning this show- the show that has made entire India grooving on its title track, the show that arguably has the best ensemble cast of all time, the show that has bestowed its showrunner (Hansal Mehta) with the remark of “the director of the year” and the show that has turned its lead actor (Pratik Gandhi) into an overnight star. Scam 1992 is a detailed, engrossing account of the scam that shook the nation back in the 90s. Based on the book by Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu, it follows the rag to riches story of the controversial stockbroker Harshad Mehta. Scam 1992 is a well-observed portrait of what exactly happened. The biggest plus point of the show that it doesn’t shy away from bringing complex financial topics/details (it took me a while to comprehend) into the discourse and neither it is afraid of taking actual names- which even includes calling out the former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao for his alleged involvement in the scam. However, the show’s biggest highlight is the charismatic portrayal of Harshad Mehta by Pratik Gandhi. He doesn’t miss a beat; perfectly embodying Mehta- his portrayal is both stylish and sincere. Mehta was frequently referred to as BSE’s (Bombay Stock Exchange) Bachan, and story too pitch Mehta as an ‘Angry Young Man’, whether it is his tussle, as an outsider challenging the status quo, or his troubled cum loving relationship with his father, the show gives him “a Bachan character arc” which indeed is entertaining.
Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story is streaming on SonyLiv.
The biggest surprise of the year had to be Churails, a 10 episode series, directed by Asim Abbasi. Set in Karachi, the show is spunky and engaging. The show narrates the tale of a group of vigilante women who decides to take on abusive men. They start a detective agency with the motto- “Mard ko dard hoga” and as they promise, they smash the patriarchy, avenge cheating men, inflicting serious punishments. The premise is fun and playful. The production design is classic and photographic. But soon the show transcends into something very serious, narrative starts moving back and forth, revealing the backstories of its four leads- Sara, Jugnu, Batool, and Zubeida, each performed elegantly. Churails is not only deeply compelling but is something that is need of the moment.
Churails is streaming on Zee5.
Panchayat is like a wave of fresh breeze. The eccentric 8 episode series is possibly the best thing that could happen to the Indian streaming scene. The setting is simple, Abhishek Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar) is appointed as a Secretary of a panchayat office in a hinterland– Phulera, how an urban boy settles in a remote village, his frequent (deeply funny) interactions with the villagers which include the Pradhan of the panchayat (a masterful Raghubhir Yadav), his wife (an excellent Nena Gupta) and others, his coming of age, forms the rest of the story. The screenplay smartly brings out the inherent monotony of village life. Panchayat frequently reminded me of the second season of Biswa Kalyan Rath’s Lakhon Mein Ek; which was one of the best shows from last year. This light-hearted web show it's worth everyone’s time.
Panchayat is streaming on Prime Video.
Black comedy when done right is the best, no other genre can match it. Afsos is symbolic of the same. A writer wants to get himself killed; he hires an assassin for the same, with twists and turns at every end, Afsos is indeed a deeply enjoyable ride, giving plenty of laughs. It seeks to address themes like death and immortality, without being preachy and boring. Gulshan Devaiah as Nakul, the writer, is arguably the performance of the year. The ease with which he delivers the tension that his character embodies is just representative of the acting talent that Devaiah possesses. It’s high time, Hindi Film Industry start taking this gem of talent seriously.
Afsos is streaming on Prime Video.
Sanjay Mishra finally gets a film of his own. Kaamyaab, directed by Hardik Mehta is a film that asks its audience to shift its focus from the “hero” and look at “side/character actors”. Actors who we see in countless movies, just standing behind our hero- Kaamyaab is a love letter to them. Whenever a film ends, we walk out of theatres without even looking at the end credits, this where their name exists but we only remember them for the character they have done. The film is meta in some sense too; the fact that it employs Sanjay Mishra in the lead, somebody who has spent half of his career in doing character (small) parts and is distributed by Shah Rukh Khan (a mega star) so that it reaches its audience, says a lot about its theme and the industry.
Kaamyaab is available on Netflix.
“Every frame is a painting”. Cargo, directed by Aarti Kadav is an original, sci-fi film that explores ideas such as reincarnation, mortality, loneliness, and human relationships. It’s extremely refreshing and deeply innovative. Set in 2027, it narrates the story of Prahastha (an effective Vikrant Massey), an astronaut, who is shouldered with the job of the transition of dead humans into next lives; he is assisted by Yuvishka (a playful Shewta Tripathi). The film plays out at its own pace with a soothing background score and alchemical production design. With other sci-fi releases this year (an impressive Jl-50), Cargo beautifully explores the rare, unexplored genre.
Cargo is available on Netflix
Ø Serious Men
Sudhir Mishra is back. His film, Serious Men is arguably the best Hindi film released this year. It strongly questions societal prejudices and privileges. Ayyan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui in top form), a Dalit, a clerk at a National Research Institute along with his son Adi (an electric Akshath Das), decides to take on the deeply prevalent casteism in the society. The film is filled with absurd dark humor and is consequently deeply comical. Nawaz has been given one of the best lines of the film and he delivers all with utmost conviction. The film has a strong cast which includes Shewta Basu Prasad, Indira Tiwari among others.
Serious Men is available on Netflix
Ø Eeb Allay Ooo
If I had to pick only one favorite film from the year, it would Eeb Ally Ooo, without any doubt. Rarely Hindi cinema makes a film as sharp and witty as this. Directed by Prateek
Vats and premiered at the-We are One Film Festival, it is designed as a profound satire on the state of the nation, it chronicles the migrant crisis. Anjani (a pitch-perfect Shardul Bhardwaj) works as a monkey repeller; his job is to stop monkeys from entering the homes and offices of government officers. The premise is bizarre, funny but realistic. The camerawork, just like the performances is flawless, it captures the vulnerability and loneliness of Anjani- him being struggling at his workplace, traveling in metros, crossing railway tracks, sitting idle near the Rastrapathi Bhawan, all these moments play without any dialogues, these are moments of despair and melancholy. Highly recommended.
Eeb Ally Ooo is currently playing in selected theatres.
Out of all the short films I watched, Rubaru which was released recently moved me the most.
The 18-minute short film, directed by Tisca Chopra, also starring her, is an inherently poignant tale of a star, trying to discover the actor inside her. Chopra gives a sincere performance; she plays Radha, once a popular Bollywood star, now trying her fate on stage. Watch out for the scene in the green room, featuring vulnerable Radha and the mirror, it brings all out in open -the insecurities a star goes through, the struggle a star faces when asked to give “a realistic performance”. In a year where actors ruled our hearts, Rubaru is a timely reminder to all the stars, to bring out “the actor” out of them
Rubaru is available on YouTube.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Brief Bulletin.