A remarkable decade for Hindi cinema nears its end, and as we look behind (and forward), what better occasion than the week of Thanksgiving and Eid to recap some favorite films that I'll remember the past 10 years by? Please add your favorites -- if you have a blog, perhaps you could consider compiling your list there?
Before we get to the films, a note of thanks to you, dear visitors, for making this space what it is. This blog was registered in 2005, but I didn't post much at all until a couple years later. It has since been a welcome avenue to discuss films with some very cool film lovers and connoisseurs, from whom I continue to learn much, and for whose participation I am thankful. This blog would be pointless without you.
I am thankful to Sita-ji of Bollywood Food Club -- she was the first to trust me with a link. She was also the first to refer to me as 'theBollywoodFan'. (I say this at the risk of sounding like a politician, but my journey to read contemporary Indian culture through popular cinema led to theBollywoodFan being conceived as a name applicable to all of us -- as Rajpal Yadav in Paheli (2005) would say, "I am the Bollywood fan, you're the Bollywood fan, we are all Bollywood fans!" Turns out it's not at all a bad identity for personal use either. :)
I am thankful to Aamir Khan, A. R. Rahman, and Ashutosh Gowariker, for making me a believer in Hindi cinema. In 2000, I was hardly a fan. A redundant brand of cinema lacking much purpose (it continues to survive, and often thrives) had turned me away for several years. These three changed that. Their irresistible blend of storytelling, acting, and sound forced me to give the industry a long, hard look. Together, they offered fair indicators that the new era of Hindi cinema, in which experiments and substantive themes are lauded (think ticket sales -- long-term sustainability without profit is improbable at best), is here to stay, and that the diversity (in innumerable categories) films of the 2000s carried indeed lead to encouraging signs for the future.
As an Aamir fan, I think it's fair to say he is the only actor who has come close to defining a decade of popular cinema, since Amitabh Bachchan did in the 1970s. Everything must end, and his incredible streak will, too, of course. Been a fun journey, for which I am thankful.
On to the films that bind us. Here are my favorites from the decade, then, in the order in which they were released. We tend to have stories associated with the best films we consume (they manage to make things personal for most), and these are hardly any different.
1. LAGAAN (2001)
I don't think (and by now, I know you probably don't think, either!) I'll ever run out of things to say about this magical film that set a new standard for how a Hindi film should look, feel, and sound. The production values it brought along revolutionized the industry. QSQT (1988) often serves as a reference point signaling a new era of films. Lagaan is a second such film originating from the same career. Rare? Sure. Worth celebrating? Of course! Lots more here.
2. DIL CHAHTA HAI (2001)
Films with serialized plot lines leading to a unified conclusion got a jump start with this fine film by Farhan Akhtar. It spoke to the urban youth by portraying the urban youth with startling accuracy. Excellent performances by Aamir, Preity Zinta, Akshaye Khanna, and Saif Ali Khan (whose career finally took off after this), sleek cinematography, and a reminder to make the most of the present, made this one of the hottest contemporary films of the decade. And let's not forget the debut of music directors Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy -- Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe -- ruled every desi party my freshman year in college. It still rules every desi party, from L.A. to Paris and Dubai. Eerie factoid: This is probably the closest to reality any film has come in portraying my relationship with my folks (heck, even their professions!)
3. TERE NAAM (2003)
Salman Khan owns this role in what is a remake of a Tamil film. His look in the first hour of Tere Naam befitted the title he's earned in 'Style Bhai' (see him in this song, for instance), but it was a soul-stirring second half that made it extremely difficult to not shed a tear to. The film was bothersome, which means the it was effective. I liked the soundtrack (Himesh Reshammiya) more than I thought I would. Think Salman can't act? Watch Tere Naam, and let's discuss.
4. SWADES (2004)
By far -- I repeat, BY FAR -- my favorite Shah Rukh Khan film. Too bad it wasn't well-received by his fans, and too bad it didn't do better overall. My theory is our folk in India didn't enjoy seeing an Indian from abroad solving tangible problems, and Indians abroad probably weren't too thrilled to be reminded of what they aren't doing that they could be doing where they are needed most. Brilliant in almost all respects, this one's a keeper. It would likely make my top 10 of all-time. More here.
5. MEENAXI: A TALE OF 3 CITIES (2004)
A beautiful woman in a beautiful film! Thank you God! Please excuse the candor here, but while on offering thanks, I am extremely thankful to have had the presence of Tabu impact my perceptions of beauty and femininity. (Although my mom might be a little worried this woman who's about a dozen years older dominates my walls, but that's another story.) Meenaxi by M. F. Hussain is one of the few films in which her poise, grace, and major sex appeal were finally showcased in a fitting manner. More here.
6. MANGAL PANDEY (2005)
The only thing I don't like about this (well, the only thing besides that it stars Amisha Patel) is that it's only one film away from Lagaan in Aamir's filmography. But let that not affect whether you see this film. It's grandiose in its presentation, it's about a critical period in the history of the Indian sub-continent, and it's got Aamir and A. R. Rahman at work again (and this time with Rani Mukherjee in the mix!). What more does one need to say about it? More here.
7. IQBAL (2005)
A gem of a film which thankfully didn't go unnoticed, Iqbal proves script is king. Sure, it's got cricket at its core (and that component is exceptionally well-researched), but it'll most definitely have you rooting for the underdog with its fine, heartwarming screenplay, and spectacular performances by Shreyas Talpade in his coming out party and the classy Naseeruddin Shah. Consider checking this out if you haven't. My film collection would be incomplete without it.
8. HERA PHERI (2000) and PHIR HERA PHERI (2006)
Next time Kabeera calls, let's thank him. I liked the first in the series more (geeky Tabu is better than no Tabu), but that doesn't mean the second was anything but good. Unadulterated fun despite treading the fine line between tacky and funny, these films are the quintessential nonsensical/screwball offerings of the decade, with Paresh Rawal, Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty pitching in with howlarious performances that simply refuse to get old.
9. RANG DE BASANTI (2006)
I'd seen this film in theaters in three countries across three continents before I saw it at an event at the university I attended, celebrating India's Independence Day. Nothing had prepared me for the sports bar-like atmosphere during the film -- it was intense! This, probably more than any of the decade, hit its intended audience hard. This, as much as any, is a shining example of the potential carried by films that are commercial but meaningful, sensible and fun. More here and here.
10. TAARE ZAMEEN PAR (2007)
Probably running out of Aamir credits here, but I told you it's no secret he's been behind the best popular films of late. Taare Zameen Par took the road less traveled by.
Aamir the director at work here, and you know the rest. Joke in my household is it's no coincidence I moved to California to be close to my nephew within six months of this films release. Yeah, right! More here.
11. JODHAA AKBAR (2008)
Third consecutive Ashutosh Gowariker film that had a power-packed soundtrack by A. R. Rahman. The editing issues in Jodhaa Akbar were obvious and even painful. But the film excelled in many departments, including, again, the narrative and -- my favorite, this -- the underlying theme of acceptance (and not merely tolerance) by Hindus and Muslims of their cultural elements which were a lot less intertwined at the outset of Akbar's rule than they were at its end. Let's not forget here that the vast majority of Hindi films still use Hindustani, the language developed because of the Moguls' inventing Urdu. There is a lot to admire about Akbar and his rule, and there is a lot to admire about this film and Gowariker's approach to it.
12. AAMIR (2008)
(Disclaimer: This film makes this list despite its title, not because of it. :o) Here's a good example in changing attitudes and expectations from cinema. Aamir, with a small budget, no glitz, and a debutante each in its writer, director, lead actor (Rajeev Khandelwal), and music director (Amit Trivedi), outperformed at the box office a concurrent release starring Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, and Aishwarya Rai. Low on the fluff and as hard-hitting as it gets, it's one of the few Hindi films that credits its inspiration (a foreign film) at the very outset. More of this, please. Said this last year, and let's say this again: Amit Trivedi, whose stunning soundtrack to this film could've been better-appreciated, is primed to be the next big thing in film music if he so wishes.
Devdas (2002), Parineeta (2005), and Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (2008) for Madhuri Dixit, Vidya Balan, and Genelia D'Souza, respectively. (Why is Jaane Tu not in the Top 12? I had to cut off the Aamir Khan connection somewhere.) On my wish list for the 2010s: Better roles for these lovely ladies who can act!
Now the fun part, since there are so very many more films out there! Do you agree/disagree with my selections? Which films would comprise your 'Best of 2000s' list?
Have a blessed Eid and a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! And let's all be thankful for the many blessings we have. Hindi cinema is certainly among them.