[This list is based on the movies I have seen through 2007. I have not seen “Dharm” or “Blue Umberella” , which is why they were not considered in the making of this list. ]
6. Guru Is it a public-relations piece that seeks to white-wash the sleazy legacy of a corporate criminal by presenting him as a crusader against a flawed economic system ? Or is it a “warts-and-all” biopic of one of modern India’s most significant figures colored by director Maniratnam’s over-all sympathy for the main character?
What makes “Guru” such a delight, besides the Maniratnam-signature polish and the rock-solid performances (Mithun-da rocks but what’s new?), is that it provokes debate, not just on the director’s motivations or the saintliness of the protagonist but also whether it was “Guru”bhai who corrupted the system or whether it was the corruption inherent in the system that made “Guru”bhai inevitable ? A detailed review here.
5. Johnny Gaddar A deal gone wrong. A death that should not have been. A shitload of money that has disappeared. A traitor in the gang. And right in the middle of this crisis, the leader of the group , Dharmendra tells a nervous underling in trademark “garam paaji” style: “Go get a drink. You will be all right.”
Johnny Gaddar is all style. And also substance. Rarely has one seen such a crime caper in Hindi filmdom where the story travels along unexpected lines without going off into the realms of the fantastic; where the characters take a break from walking in “Sanjay Gupta-patented” rapturous bad-ass slow-motion to live, breathe, hesitate, panic, think and even regret their actions.
4. Namesake Having a father who came to the US in the late 60s to do his PhD (like Ashoke Ganguly) and having spent some part of my childhood in the US, this is a movie that I emotionally connected with at multiple levels. And when my mother told me how moved my father, not normally a very emotional man, was after seeing Namesake I appreciated even more the power of this Mira Nair-Jhumpa Lahiri creation to pull at one’s heart-strings—a power that can make both father and son sit silent in their seats for a few seconds after the end credits roll. [More about this movie here]
3. 1971 Lacking big stars, a mega budget, item numbers, glam dolls, and most importantly a hype-generating PR machinery, this little gem, that exhorts the nation to not forget the Indian prisoners-of-war still illegally held by the butchers across the border, passed underneath the radar of the average cine-goer.
Directed by Amrit Sagar (the grandson of Ramanand Sagar) 1971 starts slow and just when you want to dismiss this as yet another well-meaning but cinematically flawed tribute to the troops (one of the Pakistani army-men who seems to be channeling Keshto Mukherjee and Dev Anand is unintentionally hilarious), it explodes spectacularly in the last hour to become a frenetically breath-taking escape drama that culminates in an extra-ordinarily conceived, stirring climax that is anything but formulaic.
2. Gandhi My Father A Mahatma—too invested in being the father of the nation to give any kind of attention to his own offspring. An imperfect son, unwilling/ unable to live up to the high ideals that the Mahatma imposed on himself and by extension his family, dodged throughout his life by accursed luck both professionally and personally, defining his own existence through desperate rebellion against his father on one hand and continuous craving for paternal approbation on the other.
“Gandhi My Father” is the tragic story of this father-son conflict played against the backdrop of tumultous historic events, brought to life by nuanced performances from Darshan Jariwala (Mahatma Gandhi), Shefali Chaya (Kasturba Gandhi) and an acting tour de force from Akshaye Khanna as Harilal, the failure son of one of the most iconic historic figures of the 20th century.
1. Taare Zameen Par An engaging, restrained message movie that will hopefully foster greater understanding for children with learning disabilities, Aamir Khan’s “Taare Zameen Par” elevates itself to greatness in the sequences where it explores the magical world of Ishaan Awasthi, a hyper-imaginative 9 year old whose mind wanders out the window to the wide world outside while his friends cram and suit up for the rat-race they are forced into.
The essence of being a child has rarely been captured so evocatively as it has been in “Taare Zameen Par” where Aamir Khan, looking through the eyes of Ishaan, finds wondrous beauty in a puddle, in the sight of a building-worker climbing a scaffolding, in the twirl of ice-candy and in mixing paint. He also extracts a heart-wrenching performance from Darsheel Safary, who as Ishan Awasthi, expresses wonderment, despair, anger, and frustration often wordlessly, without taking recourse to the “cute kid” over-precociousness that has become the staple of commercial Hindi films.
Take a bow Mr Khan—-you have outdone yourself.