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The best of Indian cinema
VALLEY OF SAINTS KASHMIRI | Musa Sayeed
This is the kind of film that should have ideally been sent for the Oscars. Its strifetorn location, Srinagar, needs little introduction. Yet Musa Sayeed's debut feature manages to tell a fresh, slice-of-life friendship story between a shikarawala and a research scientist that sheds new insights on the crumbling ecosystem of one of Kashmir's greatest natural attractions - the Dal Lake. More importantly, it also tells a story of life, love and loyalty with dollops of humour, beyond its edgy backdrop. Drawing a parallel between Kashmir's turbulent past and present strife, the visiting scientist asks the local boatman, "Do you think the number of demons have increased in Kashmir today?" He reacts, "No, there are no saints in Kashmir anymore!" Even if 100 years late, expat Sayeed's heartfelt celluloid ode to a fond memory comes as a welcome departure from the usual despairing onscreen narrative on Kashmir
BARFI! HINDI | Anurag Basu
Myriad debates around its many inspired scenes and the doubt surrounding its Oscar selection notwithstanding, Barfi! remains one of the better pieces of cinematic art to have come out of India this year. Its deaf-and-dumb protagonist (Ranbir Kapoor in another Best Actor-winning performance) makes you want to be good, reminds you to say 'thank you' to the selfless relationships in your life, teaches you to live in the present and be happy with the gifts life has given you. Celebrating and showcasing some of the best traditions of Indian storytelling, Barfi! also boasts one of the best musical scores of the year and inspiring acting down to the last cameo
KAKSPARSH (CROW'S TOUCH), MARATHI | Mahesh Manjrekar
The most significant Marathi film of 2012 is also the most high-on-drama narrative to come out of Indian cinema this year. Based on Usha Datar's unusual love story of the wasted life of a young widow in a progressive Brahmin family in pre-independence India, the highlights of Kaksparsh are its authentic period mise-enscene and moving performances led by veteran Marathi actor, Sachin Khedekar. A child widow declines every possibility of a better life to honour the oath of her dead husband's elder brother. She nurses a silent, lifelong love for the caring patriarch, who realises it too late. Kaksparsh is Mahesh Manjrekar's most mature interpersonal drama exploring the unspoken sexual needs of a woman in a patriarchal society since Astitva (2000)
VAZHAKKU ENN 18/9 (CASE NO. 18/9), TAMIL | Balaji Sakthivel
Vazhakku Enn 18/9 is a new-age teen thriller that packs in romance, whodunit, class commentary and social lament into a compelling cocktail. It innovatively juxtaposes two contrasting manifestations of love from the rich and poor ends of society. Backed by competent performances by its young newcomer cast, the highlight is a surprise act of subtle villainy achieved to shocking effect by Muthuraman as a corrupt inspector, who exploits the faith of the poor and the fear of the rich to personal profit sans any qualms. Call it a path-breaking landmark in teen Tamil noir or radical storytelling at its disturbing best, it is courtesy celluloid achievements like this that one wants to believe in Mani Ratnam's claim of 'now' being the golden era of Tamil cinema
BAANDHON (WAVES OF SILENCE), ASSAMESE | Jahnu Barua
An old couple coping with the loss of their young has been the stuff of many a moving cinema, with contemporary Indian classics like Saaransh (1984) and Piravi (1988) for reference and influence. Baandhon ventures into that zone, but only in its climactic moments. What makes this film a must-see is its spirited capture of retired life - not its cares and scares, but the fun and faults that sustain amour at an advanced age. Stories of the empty nest need not always be about despair;they can also make for an entertaining love story with drama as is revealed by the latest film of veteran Assamese director Jahnu Barua. Barua's urban film may not be in the league of his earlier rural classics, but it still abounds with enough evidence of his sensitive auteurship known for its redeeming revelation of life sustaining moments in the ordinary. The 70-plus lead 'romantic pair' of Bishnu Khargoria and Bina Patangia is unusual as it is convincing with its compellingly attractive 'now-sweet-now-sour' chemistry!
VICKY DONOR PUNJABI/HINDI | Shoojit Sircar
The USP of Shoojit Sircar's romcom lies in its opting for a Basu Chatterjee like comic sensitivity to make palatable a taboo topic like sperm donation. This film manages to walk the fine line between education and entertainment, cheap vulgarity and thought-provoking cinema. Vicky Donor's comic setting helps us relaxingly acclimatise with its timely concerns introduced through doctor Chaddha's (Annu Kapoor in the year's best character part) many funny, but fairly argued conversations with Vicky. The narrative's serious turn of events towards the end make us empathise with the affected players on either side of this experiment of giving and receiving life. Don't be surprised if its near perfect screenplay sweeps some of the writing honours this year
GANGS OF WASSEYPUR HINDI | Anurag Kashyap
Anurag Kashyap lived up to his reputation of the enfant terrible of independent cinema with a gangland double drama that in spite of using every tested formula in the genre and inspirations from Godfather to Ram Gopal Varma, still managed to tell a fresh story. While it's researched expose of Jharkand's coal mafia upped this three-generation crime saga's curiosity factor, what made this violent double epic a repeat treat was its colorful supporting cast of some uncanny characters with whacko names (Perpendicular, Definite, etc) and wackier attributes that finally got the masala right in Kashyap's meticulous servings. The film also has the most daring music score of the year topped by some hauntingly cathartic melodies like Piyush Mishra's "Ik bagal mein chand ho aur ik bagal mein loriyan...". Some of the best songs of the year, undoubtedly!
EEGA TELUGU | SS Rajamouli
One needs guts and imagination to make a film revolving around the antics of a fly. SS Rajamouli, southern cinema's most consistent fantasy churner in the action genre, once again lets his imagination charter a new dimension with this story of a 'cute' fly out to protect his human love at all costs. While the film's narrative repackages one of Indian cinema's favourite plot turns - the reincarnation angle - technically Eega is also a testament of the coming-of-age of Indian animation
ENGLISH VINGLISH HINDI/FRENCH/ENGLISH | Gauri Shinde
This multi-lingual adventure story of a Marathi hausfrau's discrete identityseeking adventure in the madness of Manhattan is to be celebrated as much for the power-packed return of one of the finest actresses of our generation as for the debut of another woman filmmaker worth looking out for. Gauri Shinde deserves to take a bow for highlighting the life of a homemaker sans any hoopla. In spite of Amitabh Bachchan's politically incorrect cameo, English Vinglish is that rare commercial film that has its heart and its concerns in place.
BHOOTER BHOBISHYAT (THE FUTURE OF PAST), BENGALI | Anik Dutta
Easily the friendliest, scare-free ghost movie in a long, long time. Ghosts from different eras, social structures, age groups and callings unite together in this Bigg Boss-like ghost house in one of the few crumbling domains from Kolkata's Raj heritage to have survived the ongoing malls and urbanisation onslaught. It may not be the most 'surreal' or 'thought provoking' movie out of the Bengali film industry this year, but it sure is the most imaginative satire with more than a stinker criticism of capitalism. Its narrative appeal can be best gauged from rumours of its remake rights being sought by some of the 'talented' biggies of Bollywood!
KAHAANI HINDI | Sujoy Ghosh
Easily the best cast film of the year, this taut spy drama with a shocker ending began 2012's promise of quality cinema. While Vidya Balan further establishes her reputation as the Meryl Streep of Bollywood making a strong pitch for another Best Actress award, it was Saswata Chatterjee's Bob Biswas who became the most talked about villain in Hindi cinema since Gabbar Singh (Sholay, 1975) for making the act of murder threateningly close, common and casual
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