2015 has been an interesting year overall for Indian Cinema, there have been a lot of films across languages which appealed to both the audience and critics alike. Writers and filmmakers seem to have shown their willingness to explore a variety of topics, often surprising people in the process. As for Hindi Cinema it was a decent if not an excellent year and there were quite a few interesting developments observed. There were some good Hindi films in the first half of 2015 including Baby, Badlapur, Dum Lagake Haisha, NH10, Piku, Tanu Weds Manu Returns etc. This clearly indicated that variety was key and that even a big star like Akshay Kumar was keen to try out meaningful films within the commercial boundary. The third quarter of the year was dominated by two biggies, Baahubali and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, while thankfully a relatively smaller film like Masaan also got noticed. Baahubali’s success in Hindi is unprecedented, as no dubbed film has performed anywhere close to how Baahubali has performed in Hindi. It will be interesting to see if this remains an exception to the norm or whether there will be more such films to follow. The last quarter of the year saw some interesting films like Talvar, Titli and Bajirao Mastani, while the success of Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 took everyone by surprise. SRK showed that he definitely is good at marketing, but that alone can’t change the quality of a film like Dilwale. Sooraj Barjatya returned after a long hiatus with Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, which despite having Salman Khan in a dual role, didn’t do as well as expected.
Malayalam and Tamil Cinema continued to show promise, some of the good films coming out from these 2 industries helped in balancing the regular onslaught of big commercial entertainers, especially in Tamil. After a long time we saw Kamal Haasan come up with multiple releases, having Uttama Villain, Papanasam and Thoongaa Vanam in Tamil. The master filmmaker Mani Ratnam proved that he still knows the pulse of the youth as he bounced back in style with O Kadhal Kanmani. Horror as a genre and comedy-horror as a sub-genre continued to thrive in Tamil Cinema as films like Darling, Kanchana-2, Demonte Colony, Maya etc demonstrated. A big star like Ajith tried to do something slightly out of his comfort zone with Gautham Menon’s Yennai Arindhaal but the public seemed to prefer him rather in a formulaic film like Vedalam instead. Shankar’s mega movie I made money, but it wasn’t in the same league as his best works. While S.S.Rajamouli’s Baahubali worked very well in Tamil as well, Chimbu Deven’s period fantasy with Vijay, Puli did not meet with success. A lot of small films continued to get noticed like Rajathandhiram, Tamizhukku En Ondrai Azhuthavum, Kirumi, Orange Mittai etc. There were also some films which did well within the commercial space like Thani Oruvan and Naanum Rowdy Dhaan etc. And of course films like Kaakka Muttai and Kuttram Kadithal made the industry proud indeed.
You can also check the post from Mukesh for more on the best of Tamil Cinema. And as I have already written a separate post on the best of Malayalam Cinema, I will leave that out for this article. Bengali Cinema had a relatively good year; there were some notable films among the rest of the commercial clutter. It was wonderful to see a film based on the relationship between an old couple, Nandita Roy and Shiboprasad Mukherjee’s Bela Seshe turning out to be a stupendous success, taking the audience, critics and trade by surprise. Srijit Mukherji once again had 2 releases, Nirbaak which saw Sushmita Sen make her Bengali debut and Rajkahini, a period saga. Kaushik Ganguly as always came up with an interesting film, Chotoder Chobi and actor-director Arindam Sil also came up with 2 interesting films, Ebar Shabor and Har Har Byomkesh. Veteran Aparna Sen had a release in the fag end of the year, Arshinagar, while the darling of the festival circuit and multiple award winner, Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love) managed a small release in Kolkata and a few cities across India thanks to the PVR Director’s Rare platform. Actress Churni Ganguly’s debut film as director, Nirbashito, Suman Ghosh’s Kadambari and Anindya Chatterjee’s Open Tee Bioscope were also some of the better Bengali films of the year.
Talking of Punjabi Cinema unlike last year this time around the films that made money were mostly the run of the mill formulaic ones like Sardaarji, Angrej and Mukhtiar Chadha. An exceptional film like Anup Singh’s Qissa got a poor release and failed to make an impact on the box office while Nanak Shah Fakir, a biopic on Guru Nanak Dev got embroiled in controversies and hence the release was affected. Kannada Cinema for a change had a few good films to talk about, including the blockbuster of the year, RangiTaranga, directed by debutant Anup Bhandari. P.Seshadri’s Vidayaa, K.M.Chaitanya’s Aatagara, Duniya Soori’s Kendasampige and B.S.Lingadevaru’s Naanu Avanalla…Avalu were some of the other films which were better than the run of the mill regular content. While almost all the popular heroes including Sudeep, Shiva Rajkumar, Puneeth Rajkumar, Upendra, Yash etc had releases, none of them were out of the box and worthy of a mention here. Coming to Telugu Cinema, the best thing that happened to the industry was without a doubt, S.S.Rajamouli’s Baahubali which was a true phenomenon indeed. Gunasekhar’s Rudhramadevi which was being projected as another potential period saga did not live upto expectations, unfortunately. Koratala Siva’s Srimanthudu was an exception among the big hero commercial formula films; as it enabled Mahesh Babu to bounce back in style and stood out for its theme. Nani cemented his position as a bankable actor with some interesting films like Nag Ashwin’s Yevade Subramanyam and Maruthi Dasari’s Bale Bale Magadivoy. Krish Jagarlamudi’s Kanche had promise and while the romantic angle had no novelty, the World War II portions were convincingly shot and left a good impact on the audience and critics.
Marathi Cinema had a mixed year of sorts; there weren’t as many good films this year when compared to 2014. Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court and Avinash Arun’s Killa which had already become popular thanks to the festival run and multiple awards, including the National Awards, finally released and did reasonably well, especially Killa. The biopic on Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak by Om Raut, Lokmanya did not do as well as expected, same was the case with Nikhil Mahajan’s Baji, touted as the first superhero film in Marathi. Ravi Jadhav’s Timepass 2, the sequel to his own blockbuster Timepass (2014) turned out to be a big success despite the critics giving it the thumbs down. Other sequels seen this year were Kedar Shinde’s Aga Bai Arechyaa 2 and Satish Rajwade’s Mumbai Pune Mumbai 2. Interestingly this year saw a few official remakes of films from the South being made in Marathi, including Aditya Ajay Sarpotdar’s Classmates (remake of Malayalam film Classmates), V.K.Prakash’s Shutter (remake of Malayalam film Shutter) and Sanjay Jadhav’s Tu Hi Re (remake of Tamil film Sillunu Oru Kadhal). Umesh Kulkarni’s Highway strangely did not find takers among the audience while films like Sameer Vidwans’ Double Seat and Chandrakant Kanse’s Daagdi Chawl did well commercially. Bhaurao Karhade’s National Award winning film Khwada managed to get released after some struggle. Diwali saw actor Subodh Bhave’s directorial debut Katyar Kaljat Ghusali release and the film which is based on a famous play of the same name and rich in classical music, has turned out to be one of the better films of the year, thankfully accepted by the audience as well.
Now that an overview of Indian Cinema in 2015 has been done, let me go on to share my thoughts on what I feel are the Top 15 Indian films of 2015.Films considered are across Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. Kindly note that this is purely a personal selection, you are free to differ with my choices. Care has been taken to include only those films which I have personally watched. Also only films which have had a theatrical release in the period 1st January-31st December have been considered. This is the reason why films like Vetrimaaran’s Visaaranai (Tamil) or Raam Reddy’s Thithi (Kannada) do not feature in the list.
So here I go with my list of Top 15 Indian films of 2015, keeping the release date to decide the order (Jan-Dec).
1. Qissa-The Tale of a Lonely Ghost: Directed by Anup Singh
Despite doing reasonably well in the festival circuit and having the benefit of a well-known star cast, it wasn’t easy for Anup Singh to release his film Qissa. Finally the film managed to come out earlier in the year. Steeped in magic realism, the film is based on a family that is displaced from Pakistan during the partition. Umber Singh (Irrfan Khan) and his wife Mehr (Tisca Chopra) have three daughters and Umber aspires for a son, but when their fourth child also turns out to be a girl, Umber impulsively announces it’s a son, naming her Kanwar. Later Kanwar (Tillotama Shome) who has been raised as a boy is married off to Neeli (Rasika Dugal), and then things are never the same for the family. Boasting of fine performances, wonderful production design, a haunting BGM and a narrative that keeps you hooked, this is the kind of output one looks forward to from Punjabi Cinema, sadly not seen very often though. This is easily one of the finest Indian films to have emerged in recent times.
2. Court: Directed by Chaintanya Tamhane
Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court has been one of the true blue Pan Indian films to have emerged in recent times, I say this because while it is classified as a Marathi film, the film actually has a mix of Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati and even English. This is truly befitting a city like Mumbai where the film is set in, doing total justice to the characters the film portrays. Court is also truly an indie film in every sense and it is interesting to see the journey that Chaitanya and Vivek Gomber, the producer (he also plays the important role of defence lawyer Vinay Vora) have taken with the film. Court makes us look at the Indian Judicial System in a totally new light, even raising questions without ridiculing it. And this is done by taking us through the eyes of various interesting characters, without actually taking sides. At the end we realize that even someone like Public Prosecutor Nutan (Geetanjali Kulkarni) has other worries as well, like what to cook for dinner, how to handle her kid etc, showing their human side in addition to what is normally seen or expected. The ending of Court is probably the ending of the year among all Indian films this year, not because it is the best but because it was the one which was perhaps the most debated.
3. Nirbaak: Directed by Srijit Mukherji
Srijit Mukherji is someone I openly admire for his hunger to make films, and to come up with themes that are always different from everything that he has done in the past. This year he had two releases, Nirbaak and Rajkahini, and while the latter is the one which has generated more interest, thanks to its scale (being a period saga) and talks of its Hindi remake, it’s the former which appealed to me a lot more. Yes Nirbaak is bizarre, in fact you need patience and true grit to last through the initial few minutes where you see a narcissistic middle aged man (Anjan Dutta) indulging himself in various ways. But get through that and the film is actually quite an interesting look at 4 tales, all of them lead to each other in a strange yet compelling fashion. Sushmita Sen made her Bengali debut with Nirbaak, but the one who actually impresses the most in the film is Ritwick Chakraborty who plays a mortuary attendant who falls in love with a dead body. The use of popular 90’s Bollywood songs, the brilliant way by which a dog is made to show its love for the master and the stark use of colour and its absence, all of them add to the mayhem and make it one of the most experimental yet interesting films of the year.
4. Bela Seshe: Directed by Nandita Roy and Shiboprasad Mukherjee
This director duo has been consistently making films over the last few years, with most of their films doing well commercially and/or receiving critical acclaim. But I’m certain that no one could have predicted the kind of success that their latest film Bela Seshe would go on to attain this year. The film brought back the Ghare Bhaire pair of Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Sengupta and had the plus point of a wonderful supporting cast as well. It’s a sweet little tale of large family which is having their annual get together during Pujo when the head of the family Biswanath Majumdar (Soumitra) shocks everyone gathered by saying that he wants to divorce his wife of 49 years, Aarti (Swatilekha). Despite being an emotional tale it doesn’t get melodramatic and the film is strewn with lots of wonderful moments. It even makes you ask yourself if romance comes with an expiry date, why communication is important in any relationship and why ego never helps any relationship. Bela Seshe showed that you can make a successful entertainer suitable for all ages without resorting to typical formulaic elements.
5. Piku: Directed by Shoojit Sircar
A 30 year old architect who is a successful career woman and is not yet married, her 70 year old father who is a proud Bengali and a chronic hypochondriac, obsessed with his bowel movements of late, and a road journey where the cab service agency owner himself reluctantly joins them along, Shoojit Sircar’s Piku is one of those few films which look great not just on paper but on the big screen as well. With excellent performances from Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan and Irrfan Khan, with none of them trying to outdo the others, Piku is like an acting masterclass. Good to see Deepika maintain her good form and holding her own against seasoned actors like Amitabh and Irrfan. The film has a lot of interesting moments and Juhi Chaturvedi’s writing continues to impress. Anupam Roy’s music adds to the charm of the film and the end result is a wonderful feel good film. It is a simple old fashioned tale; similar to what we would see in films of Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Basu Chatterjee long ago, and for me personally is the best Hindi film of 2015.
6. Premam: Directed by Alphonse Putharen
If you are reading this and have not heard of this film then either you don’t follow Malayalam Cinema and/or you have been living in some isolated cave for a long time now. Jokes apart, this film by Alphonse Putharen was a true blockbuster in every sense. A fun nostalgic ride, it’s a peep into the life of George David (Nivin Pauly) as he moves along from the age of 16-30 in the company of his friends Koya (Krishna Shankar) and Shambu (Shabareesh Varma). It’s also about the women who enter the life of George at three different points of time, and how they leave an impact on him. While the premise by itself doesn’t really sound all that great, what made things work in favour of the film is the way it has been executed by Alphonse Putharen. The film has gone on to make all the 3 heroines Anupama Parameshwaran, Sai Pallavi and Madonna Sebastian popular; Sai Pallavi in particular perhaps had the most impactful debut this year. Rajesh Murugesan’s songs were all chartbusters and “Malare” became an anthem of sorts. Despite the piracy issue the film went on to very well both in Kerala and outside, even managing to complete its 200 day run in Chennai where it still continues to play. Be it the dialogues, the costumes worn, the locations etc, almost everything has gone on to become popular ever since the film released. The film also has been a good example of marketing, especially getting the online marketing strategy right.
7. Kaakka Muttai: Directed by M.Manikandan
Easily the best Tamil film of the year, this was also an example of how a small film with a large heart can go on to become a landmark film in every true sense. Manikandan who wrote, directed and shot the film, clearly knew what he set out to do and the result is evident for all of us to see. The film is a simple tale of two slum kids, brothers who go by the names of Chinna Kaakka Muttai (Ramesh) and Periya Kaakka Muttai (Vignesh) ( preferring to be called this over their actual names), they lead a simple yet contended life along with their mother and grandmother. One fine day they come to know of something called Pizza, which looks and feels appealing enough for them to aspire and work their way around buying it. A simple slice of life tale with a wonderful sense of humour woven in, there is never a moment where we are led to see a false show of emotion and thankfully there is no unwanted melodrama at all. The supporting cast led by Aishwarya Rajesh is quite wonderful and G.V.Prakash Kumar’s music is a wonderful aid to this fantastic film. Producers Dhanush and Vetrimaaran did take a wise decision by backing this gem of a film.
8. Killa: Directed by Avinash Arun
Avinash Arun’s debut film as director Killa is a film which took me back on a nostalgic ride all the way, back to the time when girls were not yet the most important thing on mind, where cycling around with friends and exploring new places gave me a thrill. Shot by Avinash himself in some scenic locales of the Konkan region, this is a film which is virtually led by the boy brigade. Chinmay (Archit Deodhar) and his mother (Amruta Subhash) relocate from Pune to a small coastal town in the Konkan region. Initially, Chinu is upset over leaving his friends behind, but soon gets friendly with a few boys from his class. His mother is a Government employee who has a tough time at work and struggles to cater to Chinu’s mood swings as well. The film ends on a poignant note, perhaps Avinash’s way of telling us that life is always unsure and kids often get smarter over time by getting exposed to unexpected situations. Killa is a film for the child in each and every one of us and easily one of the best debuts in recent times by a filmmaker.
9. Asha Jaoar Majhe/Labour of Love: Directed by Aditya Vikram Sengupta
The darling of the festival circuit, this is a film which put Bengali Cinema in a different trajectory and rightly deserves all the awards that came its way, including the National Awards. A man who works night shifts in a printing press and who goes about doing his daily chores at home during the day, a woman who works during the day in a factory. We get to see the daily routine in the lives of these 2 people who stay away from each other all day except for a brief moment where they are together, enough to keep them going for the rest of the day. Both Ritwick Chakraborty and Basabdatta Chatterjee are well cast, the lack of dialogues is hardly a hindrance after you get used to the initial few minutes. There is good usage of ambient sound and film makes good use of the black and white format. Despite its rather comfortable run time of 84 minutes it’s not a film which would work for everyone, but if you consider yourself to be a discerning viewer then give it a shot for you could end up being surprised by this indie film.
10. RangiTaranga: Directed by Anup Bhandari
As I write this I realize that this Kannada film made by debutant Anup Bhandari is completing 6 months of its release this weekend and continues to play in a few screens in Bangalore. If you haven’t seen or heard of the film then I won’t be surprised if you think I’ve gone crazy by including a commercial blockbuster in this list. Well yes, it’s a blockbuster alright, but also a very good entertainer and certainly a film which deserves its success. Except for veteran Saikumar the film has a relatively new star cast and Anup has taken on the mantle of being the screenwriter, lyricist and composer as well. Shot in some exotic locales, cinematographers Lance Kaplan and William David ensure that the film is visually pleasing, enhamcing the look and feel of the film. Nirup Bhandari who plays Gautam, the novelist, is a welcome addition to Kannada Cinema, certainly looking quite promising. The film’s songs became extremely popular and Anup Bhandari and producer H.K.Prakash made the film’s marketing strategy a benchmark for others to follow. RangiTaranga is a rare Kannada film which eventually went on to get a good release in many cities outside Karnataka as well as overseas. Kannada Cinema can certainly do with more such films.
11. Baahubali: Directed by S.S.Rajamouli
The most defining moment of Telugu Cinema, Baahubali was the cinematic event of 2015 as far as Indian Cinema was concerned. While the fact that it did well in Telugu and Tamil was not surprising, the mega success of its Hindi dubbed version was a positive indication of how the audience is hungry for home (Indian) productions which can boast of this scale and magnitude. While there were a few loose ends in the film, thanks to the larger than life projection and the spectacular action set pieces, production design and of course the VFX, everything else took a backseat. The film has not surprisingly made Prabhas quite popular across India, while people remembered Rana Daggubati once again. Judging by the number of memes and posters floating with the “why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?” question last year the film’s popularity can easily be understood. Whenever Telugu Cinema has been looking a little down and out we have seen a film from Rajamouli sort of stabilising things a bit, and Baahubali too did the same, only on a far bigger scale this time around. Expectations for the sequel are, as expected, very strong and it will be interesting to see how Rajamouli takes the tale forward now.
12. Masaan: Directed by Neeraj Ghaywan
Despite the film making it to Cannes as an official entry (Un Certain Regard) and winning a couple of awards, I was a little sceptical of how the film would have turned out. But Neeraj Ghaywan’s debut film, backed by a lovely screenplay by Varun Grover ensured that there was no need for any worry. This was a film about real characters in the heart of India and despite being based in Benaras the film avoided looking at the place the way a tourist would look at. Hence, the locations looked quite real, interesting and with a lot of character that you could feel. Parallel narrative based tales are not easy to pull off and by now we have got used to watching a lot of such films, but Masaan makes sure that the use of the same technique doesn’t come across as a gimmick of any sort. All the characters in the film be it Devi (Richa Chadda), Vidyadhar (Sanjay Mishra), Deepak (Vicky Kaushal), Shaalu (Shweta Tripathi) or Jhonta (Nikhil Sahni) have a lot of depth to them making the tale quite enriching. Avinash Arun’s cinematography and Indian Ocean’s music also work quite well for the film. Masaan was another example of debutant filmmakers impressing in 2015.
13. Ennu Ninte Moideen: Directed by R.S.Vimal
This was the film which saw Prithviraj begin his outstanding form in the later part of the year. Based on the real life tragic love story of Moideen and Kanchanamala, this was a subject on which director R.S.Vimal had already made a much appreciated documentary film, Jalam Kond Murivetaval (2006). Armed with a lot more research done over the years, it was a fitting subject for Vimal to make his feature film debut as well. Prithviraj and Parvathy carried off characters of Moideen and Kanchanamala with a lot of grace and charm, so much so that the audience fell in love with this lyrical romantic tale and Ennu Ninte Moideen went on to become the third blockbuster of the year (after Oru Vadakkan Selfie and Premam). The songs composed by Ramesh Narayanan, M.Jayachandran and Gopi Sunder, as well as the cinematography by Jomon T.John were the added highlights in case of the movie. Despite 2 more films of Prithviraj releasing over the next few weeks, Ennu Ninte Moideen continues to play today in select screens of Kerala, truly making the success even more special. A film like this is a good example of the fact that one doesn’t have to make a dumbed down film alone to earn megabucks.
14. Kuttram Kadithal: Directed by Bramma.G
2015 certainly seemed to be an important year for debutant filmmakers in India; this is another example of a wonderful debut film. Despite having committed producers and with a good festival run and a National Award to boast of as well it took some time before the film could finally manage a release. Merlin (Radhika Prasiddha) and Manikandan (Sai Rajkumar) are newlyweds, having gone through a tough time before getting married. One fine day while Merlin is busy working in her school something goes wrong, throwing their lives down a spiral. Kuttram Kadithal clearly shows us that our life may not always be in our control and how one stray incident can literally bring things down to a standstill. It also makes us realize that handling kids in school is no easy task, making one respect the teaching profession all the more. The actors are mostly new except perhaps for Pavel Navageethan who plays the boy Chezhiyan’s (Master Ajay) uncle. The supporting cast is wonderful and Radhika Prasiddha comes up with one of the best debut performances of the year. Shankar Rengarajan’s music is apt for the film and the reworking of the classic Subramaniya Bharathiyar song“Chinnanchiru Kiliyae” is a treat indeed.
15. Ottaal: Directed by Jayaraj
A festival favourite and multiple award winner, including 2 National Awards, Jayaraj’s Ottaal is an official adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Vanka, a fact that has been highlighted prominently. Screenwriter Joshy Mangalath leaves no stone unturned in ensuring that the Russian short story is not just adapted keeping in mind the local flavour and traditions, but also without changing the basic soul of the plot. Set in the scenic backwaters of Kuttanad in Kerala, Ottaal is a tale of a grandfather and his 8 year old grandson whose parents are now no more. The scenic locales of Kuttanad are brought alive wonderfully on screen by DOP M.J.Radhakrishnan and the BGM by Sreevalsan J.Menon is haunting yet soothing. Featuring mostly newcomers (Shine Tom Chacko being an exception), the performances are amazingly wonderful. Ottaal is a fable like tale that’s virtually a visual treat on screen and is easily one of the best works of Jayaraj and one of the finest Malayalam films of the year.
Its been a tough and interesting experience while compiling this list and writing this long post and I will be happy to hear from you all about what are your favourite Indian films of 2015. Feel free to use the comments section to indicate your choices and whether you agree or disagree to my choices :).