Are you confused about which films are worthy of your Friday movie nights? Navigating through Netflix’s never-ending roster can be a tiresome process, whilst dealing with yet another predictable Bollywood blockbuster is simply a waste of time and money. Fortunately, to save you from the frustration of watching mediocre cinematic content, Indian independent cinema has produced some visual gems this year. With urban life chewing away your time you might have missed catching them at your nearest cinema hall or perhaps between the dancing cat videos in your news feed, they never showed up.
So we decided to curate a list of some of the most path-breaking independent Indian films of the year; thought provoking stories, talented casts and mindful entertainment. The films on this list have either been celebrated internationally, or ticked off the censor board or managed to bring controversy by saying things no one wishes to say out loud (or even all three!). From Love, Sonia’s chilling narrative of trafficking to Rajma Chawal’s heartwarming comedic nature—here is a list of 9 independent films from the country that we personally loved watching this year.
Director: Nandita Das
The film based on iconic writer Sadat Hassan Manto is a deep emotional portrait of the man who’s works we know, love and celebrate. Nandita Das conveys his firebrand feminism, and the complex treatment and construction of his female characters.The women in his stories are defiant, strong-willed, and self-aware. Most importantly, they are humanised and are metaphors for humanity itself. Despite obstacles and discouragement, Manto discussed female sexuality and sexual violence in a time where discourses on them were limited. If you need any more encouragement to watch the film, do it for Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s stunning performance as the author.
You can stream the film on Netflix.
Director: K.M Sarjun
‘Maa’ is another game-changing short film from K.M Sarjun who’s previous work ‘Lakshmi’ went through much controversy for portraying a woman having an extra-marital affair. It revolves around how the mother of a 15-year-old girl navigates the complex issues of teenage pregnancy. The issue isn’t dealt with a biased moral lens, it shows how the mother reigns in her anger and judgement to tackle the situation, attempts to communicate with the boy and emotionally support her distraught daughter. Maa is a thought provoking short film that definitely should feature on your weekend binge-list.
Director: Rishi Chandna
Meet the Bhardes, a regular retired couple living with their grown-up sons and two cats-Ginger and Garlic in a modest apartment of Mumbai’s cramped suburbs. What breaks the normalcy of this picture-perfect family is their nightmarish, pet rooster. A hell-raising bird, it moves faster than the eye can catch, lands on people’s head on a whim while leaving his droppings all over the house. Sameer, the younger son disapproves all together, Aasim the elder one decides to remains diplomatic while Celestine their mother has accepted the bird’s antics as part and parcel of her daily life. The eccentric Nusrat Bharde who though feels a fondness for the creature must ponder on the inevitable decision- how long should he be allowed to flap around the house before being served for dinner? A hilarious documentary with a fair shade of darkness.
IV. Daas Dev
Director: Sudhir Mishra
Sudhir Mishra’s Daas Dev is a witty twist on the classic Devdas. The director believes that there’s as much Shakespeare in the film as there is Chattopadhyay, making it a carefully-crafted half-way between Devdas and Hamlet. Constructed as a political thriller, Paro sheds the garb of the dreamy heroine we know and assumes the role of a feisty politician, becoming the political rival of Dev. The setting being the political atmosphere of Uttar Pradesh in 1997, Daas dev is a story of love, power, corruption and more.
You can watch the trailer of the film here.
V. Rajma Chawal
Director : Leena Yadav
Brought to you by the award-winning director of Parched, Leena Yadav’s Rajma Chawal is a light, warm flick. Featuring veteran actor Rishi Kapoor, the film is a hilarious take on a father and a millennial son who are trying to navigate the generation gap between them. The father in an attempt to communicate with his son catfishes him with a fake profile on social media, under the guise of a good-looking girl ‘Tara’ (which obviously brews chaos). The film has gained international acclaim and was even showcased at the 2018 London Film Festival.
The film can be streamed on Netflix.
VI. Bhor: Dawn
Director: Khamakya Narayan Singh
Centered on the Musahar community in Bihar, it tells the story of young Budhni who despite being forced into marriage before the legal age, refuses to back down and fights for the life she wishes to lead. She strives to continue to study even after marriage and speaks up against women having to openly defecate at wee hours of the morning due to lack of proper sanitation facilities. The director deals with multiple themes with balance and nuance, and makes viewers recon with them through the construction of characters in a real and unfiltered manner. As Suparna Thombere writes for Cinestaan, though the film deals with similar themes as the Bollywood film ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’, Bhor feels ‘less cosmetic and more immersive’.
Director: Kabir Mehta
Swinging between a documentary and a fiction film, Mehta’s Buddha.mov explores the life of young cricketeer Buddha Dev, a 27-year-old flashy Goan cricketer. Tempted by the chance of being a protagonist in a documentary film, he starts allowing unrestricted access into the most private aspects of his life. In an age where we ourselves navigate issues like the tricky mediums of social media or dealing with sex in a sexually repressed country,traversing Buddha’s mindscape makes for a very relatable watch. The film made its world premiere at the 2017 Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival and was even showcased at India at the MAMI film festival.
VIII. Love, Sonia
Director: Tabrez Noorani
The film delves into the story of an innocent, naïve teenage girl – Sonia – who gets ensnared in a terrifying, dingy world of sex-trafficking in Mumbai after her debt-ridden father is forced to sell her sister – Preeti – into the trade. With a star-studded cast including Freida Pinto, Anupam Kher and Demi Moore, the film brought the audience to tears and even received a standing ovation. What makes the film more striking is it’s scary semblance to the reality of trafficking, as its narrative was pieced together from true accounts and survivor stories witnessed by director, who is also an anti-trafficking advocate.
You can stream the film on Netflix.
Director: Samarth Mahajan
Samarth Mahajan along with his crew pushed boundaries with filmmaking by travelled the length and breadth of the country, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir to document the lives of those travelling in the unreserved departments of trains. Documenting conversations with the Travellers, the one hour film makes an honest, but ambitious, attempt at capturing snippets of their lives on camera. The impressive 265 hours of travel resulted in a documentary where we can engage with the lives of those beyond our perceived realities.
You can watch the trailer for the documentary here.
X. Village Rockstars
Director: Rima Das
Though released in 2017, we felt that this iconic independent film deserved attention as it is India’s official entry for the Oscar’s in 2018.
This film is the single-handed ambition of Rimi Das who has scripted, directed, shot and edited the film. The story follows 10-year old Dhunu who forms a rock band with the boys in a remote Assamese village. When the boys begin to give up on their music dream, Dhunu’s wish to own a guitar only grows stronger. Will her fortitude drive her towards achieving her dreams? The film that is stylistic of Italian neorealism was made over the course of three years during which Das patiently developed the story and captured an authentic picture of life in a small village. The talented casts compromises of non-professional actors, including her own cousin, who plays a powerful lead and has inspired much of the story. The charm of the film lies in its unsentimental treatment and the serenity with which it unfolds to the audience. A thoughtful film to unwind with as the year ends.
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