It would be so much easier to pick out the rotten apples from the Bollywood basket. 2017 gave us horrific atrocities that left me feeling sick in the pit of my stomach. But then there were the sparkling gems redeeming what is possibly one of the worst movie-going years in living memory. Here goes with the redeeming masterpieces (in no particular order):
1. G Kutta Se: In Haryanvi and partly in Hindi, the language of oppression that debutant director Rahul Dahiya spoke in this bludgeoning masterpiece left me speechless. This extraordinary film derives its unhampered persuasive powers not from posturing but from ripping apart all our perceptions of what cinema is and should be , by entering the nervous system of a patriarchal community where women are still not given the right to choose their partners.There is no honour in honour killing. But there is an illimitable amount of honour in a film like this. Take a bow, Mr Dahiya.
2. Anaarkali of Arrah: Another debutant director, Aninash Das showed us what the tried and tested Vishal Bhardwajs and Imtiaz Alis failed to do this year. Fresh, feisty and fearless ,nothing in this unexpected storm-trooper of a film prepared us for its high-velocity energy and fervent statement on female sexuality. Without exaggeration Anaarkali of Aarah was the surprise of the year. Stunning in thought, spellbinding in plot and utterly gripping in the way the story of a small-town dancer-singer's adventures in lecher-land unfolds. And Swara Bhaskar in the title role dazzled with a beauty that was visible in her character's soul.
3. Mukti Bhawan: Debutant (again!) Shubhashish Bhutiani's Mukti Bhawan sweeps us into a world where death is not the end but a release into a realm of imperishable freedom. Or, moksha, if you will. Crafted with the care of a jeweller working on a specially intricate piece, the director brings to life the most precious and vital truth about death. As he takes us, along with his two protagonists, on a journey to the holy city of death Varanasi, the film somewhere along its resplendent route to salvation, becomes a treatise on life as defined by the inevitability of death. This was yet another debutant director bringing immeasurable hope to our cinema.
4. The Silence: Like the under-celebrated G Kutta Se, this film is not in Hindi, but Marathi, although one of the protagonists spoke in Hindi. It really wouldn't have mattered which language it is in. The film's shrieking silences batter our conscience into a rude awakening. The Silence is a very painful film to watch. It strips aside the niceties that would make child-rape more palatable to the audience, and puts the audience face-to-face with the innocence of the little girl Chini (Vedashree Mahajan) and the monster Mama (Uncle) who molests her. The Silence is not a film which you would forget in a hurry. The little girl's guilty eyes will follow your nights and vitiate your days. And, Anjali Patil's powerful performance holds the film together. By its jugular.
5. Solo: Four stories about bereavement and loss, Solo, with its supremely impassioned plea to fob off isolation is a shout-out for comfort and warmth in a world gone completely cold. In the frigid frozen environment of isolated hearts and broken promises, a light is lit. Solo is ample proof of Bejoy Nambiar's mastery over the desi noire genre which so far Anurag Kashyap thought he owned. It is also a lucid testimony to Dulquer Salmaan's virtuosity. He has rapidly emerged as one of India's most exciting contemporary actors.
6. Tu Hai Mera Sunday: Once in a while in my long career as a movie fanatic I come across a sparkling gem that reminds me there's still so much to see, so many places to go, for Indian cinema. First-time feature filmmaker Milind Dhaimade takes us into places where we all have visited at one time or another. It is this mix of mirth and melancholy that makes Tu Hai Mera Sunday one of the most precious slice-of-life films in recent times. The ensemble cast is the finest in years. If you didn't get a chance to catch this gem in the theatres get it on a DVD. Beg borrow steal. Don't miss it.
7. Hindi Medium: The surprise success of the year is a wise and sensible peep into the world of English-medium education. The desperate clamour to find a place in these expensive prestigious schools leads to an absurdist drama in this deliciously droll satire. Hindi Medium is a well-told parable of middleclass aspirations, scattered with moments that every parents would recognize with a combination of pleasure and dread.
8. Loev: The spelling isn't right, I know. But the heart in this drama of same-sex love was in the right place. Loev is a tender yet brutal, slender yet sturdy drama strewn with clues to the heartbreak that eventually awaits those who dare not love beyond the prescribed boundaries. Writer-director Sudhanshu Saria doesn't waste time in constructing back -stories or deconstructing the complex relationship of his two characters to make their passion more accessible to us. He goes straight for the kill. With implosive and passion and understated skill.
9. Lucknow Central: This was the most engaging thinking-man's thriller of the year again by a debutant director Ranjit Tiwari. Ballsy and brave, it penetrates the politics of prison life without relinquishing the right to engage us in a solid storytelling spree where a clever cat-and-mouse game is played out between a sadistic jailor (Ronit Roy, in top form) and a non-guilty prisoner (Farhan Akhtar) who is hellbent on getting his liberty at any cost. This was a prison-break drama on a par with Franklin Schaffener's 1973 classic Papillon and certainly superior in its intellectual political and spiritual ramifications to the overrated Shawshank Redemption.
10. Arjun Reddy: This Telugu game-changer did to cinema in Andhra what Baahubali did to the costume-drama genre in Indian cinema. A startling jolting take on Devdas its leading man played with insouciant intrepidity by Vijay Deverekonda, was an arrogant drugged doped borderline misogynist. But guess what! Arjun Reddy is also a brilliant surgeon. Director Sandeep Reddy Vanga's narrative seesaws between arrogant brilliance and lurching experimentation creating a protagonist a film that is impossible to forget, let alone ignore.
(Subhash K Jha is a film critic and movie expert)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)