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. Each film on this list has received critical acclaim at film festivals across the globe and has also battled our very own regressive Censor Board to narrate the true sensibilities of love, happiness, grief and violence that equally make our society. From the feminist wonder Lipstick Under My Burkha, the sensitive portrayal of homosexual love in Loev to the most badass Indian grandmother you will ever meet in Ajji—here is a list of 9 independent films from the country that we personally loved watching this year.
I. Lipstick Under My Burkha
For starters it’s the most powerful films on female experience made in the country this year, so if you still haven’t watched it, we suggest you do just that for your next movie night. The film takes us into the lives of five women who through small acts of courage hope to battle a callous society that won’t let them live life on their own terms. Marital rape and slut-shaming are some of the many taboo topics critically scrutinised in the film. What’s even more refreshing is that the film ditches a preachy tone and uses dark humour to reveal the horrifying ways in which patriarchy attempts to control female experiences. Each female character in the film is fierce, flawed and vulnerable in her own way; allowances made for Indian female actresses. As for the performances; from the 60-year-old Rosy played by veteran actress Ratna Pathak to rebellious teenager Rehana played by newbie Plabita Borthakur the film’s cast is is an exceptionally talented one. There is no reason why you should give this one a miss.
You can watch the film on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.
The country’s official entry to the Oscars the film is a scathing remark on the crumbling state of Indian democracy. Newton, played by the talented Rajkumar Rao, is a government clerk sent on election duty to a Naxal controlled town in the conflict-ridden jungles of Chhattisgarh where he struggles to conduct free and fair voting despite the apathy of security forces and the looming fear of guerrilla attacks by communist rebels that hangs over it. Rao’s high idealism meets gut-wrenching reality when despite all his efforts the jungle tribals become only a pawn in larger game of vote banks. With his performance Rao proves to be one of the most versatile actors of contemporary Indian cinema; he can play the utopian citizen in Newton as convincingly as he plays the chauvinist finance in Queen or the rowdy bridegroom in Bareli Ki Barfi. Newton is a haunting film of the country’s political reality that still manages to inspire its citizens to shake of their apathy and build a better tomorrow. Watch it for a much needed reality check, before you enter the new year.
You can watch the film on Amazon Prime Video.
III. A Death In The Gunj
Language: English and Hindi
Konkana Sen Sharma’s directorial debut; A Death In The Gunj is pure poetry punctuated by bitter-sweet moments of melancholy. Set in 1979, in an old Anglo-Indian town, a family unites along with close friends. At the outset it seems like the making of a perfect family holiday are in place but something is amiss. In the week that follows the quiet unraveling of one of one of the family members is persistently overlooked by the others until the seemingly peaceful atmosphere sees a violent implosion. The movie has an exceptionally talented cast of Ranvir Shorey, Kalki Koechlin, Tillotama Shome, Jim Sarbh, Tanuja Mukherjee and Om Puri, however it is Vikrant Massey who plays the sensitive and troubled Shutu that steals the show. A film with a haunting music score and arresting frames this one satisfies the artists’ soul.
You can watch the film on Amazon Prime Video.
IV. Mukti Bhavan
An unusual Indian film that explores the celebration of life while simultaneously accepting the inevitability of death. The film follows a reluctant son Rajiv who must take his 77-year-old father Daya to the holy city of Varanasi, where he believes he will breathe his last and attain salvation at an inn called Mukti Bhavan-Hotel Salvation’. Rajiv finds himself having to live and take care of his father for the first time in his life while Daya starts to bloom as he finds a sense of community in the hotel. Living together forces father and son to confront their unsettling differences while also giving their relationship a new beginning. However as time passes Rajiv finds himself torn between the responsibilities towards his father and the ones to his own family. With a stellar cast of Indian theatre veterans like Adil Hussain, Lalit Behl, and Geetanjali Kulkarni the film reveals the depth of family bonds replacing nuance for the melodrama that usually follows Indian commercial cinema. This one is for a night with the folks.
You can watch the film on Hotstar here.
Probably one of the most daring films ever seen by Indian cinema, the film explores the dark politics of vindictive justice. When nine-year-old Manda, a girl from is found raped in a garbage dump, the cops are powerless to help as the rapist is a local politician’s son. Her parents want to forget and move on but Manda’s grandmother Ajji will not accept this injustice. Can a frail, arthritic and powerless old woman grapple with the big bad wolf? Positioned as a dark take on the classic fairy tale; Red Riding Hood the film makes you question your own morals as you undeniably root for Ajji to get her revenge. A disconcerting parable for our times, make the time to watch this one.
You can watch the trailer here. The film was commercially released in theatres last month.
In a narrative that seamlessly tells of an estranged homosexual love that grapples between friendship and passion-this is one of India’s finest films in the LGBTQ+ genre. Two childhood friends Sahil; a Mumbai based musician and Jai; a successful New York businessman plan a road trip to Mahabaleshwar in the Western Ghats. During their time together they must confront the feelings they have for each other as love drives them both in and out of each other’s arms. Nuanced performances by both the lead actors complements the sensitively written script that at its best gradually reveals the many fractures in the human soul. We consider ourselves lucky that finally after two years of its release the film has been made available for streaming.
You can watch the film’s trailer here. You can watch the film on Netflix.
In the beautiful outskirts of a quiet village a couple is forced by circumstances to stay in a small house right in the middle of a large sugarcane field. The wife who is is eight months pregnant soon discovers that supernatural forces around her are after her unborn baby-she must find out who they are and stop them. This Marathi film derives its horror from the juxtaposition of stillness with mental chaos laced with haunting metaphors and symbols. The film is path-breaking with its commitment to pure horror in Indian cinema which has lately been plagued by the genre of horrex; combing the erotic with horror. Critically acclaimed at festivals around the globe this one is for those looking for a well-made film that also powerfully weaves the pleasure of horror.
VIII. Village Rockstars
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.
IX. Sexy Durga/S Durga
S Durga is a disturbing tale of toxic masculinity that surrounds Indian women at most if not all given times. Shot and filmed in a single night without a screenplay the film tells the story of Kabir and Durga who hitch hike a ride, in the dead of the night, in Kerala. A difficult watch, the film creates an exhausting and hellishly claustrophobic visual experience for the audience that suggests the biting reality behind the experiences of patriarchy that Indian women must live in. After several cuts by the Censor Board the film was allowed to be screened at MAMI this year however after the Information And Broadcasting Ministry of India decided to exclude it from the International Film Festival India held in Goa earlier this year, it seems unlikely that this internationally acclaimed film will reach Indian audiences through a commercial release. Consider yourself lucky if you get an opportunity to watch this one.
If you have any suggestions for Indian independent films that you would have liked to see on this list do let us know in the comments section below or write to email@example.com
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