Every year there are mega-budget Bollywood films that shatter existing box office records but unfortunately there are only a handful of them; for every blockbuster like Dabangg, there is a mega-dud like Kites also.
Then there are big commercial hits that are so bad that their success can only be termed as embarrassing. As usual, this year also had a mix of such films, more debacles than successes in terms of the content or the box office performance. However, this year, we saw a number of small budget films where the content was the ultimate winner and they performed decently well commercially also; keeping in mind their low production costs and revenues through theatrical run and satellite rights.
It would be right to say that 2010 belongs to these well made gems that delivered on the promise of good cinema.
Topping my list is director, Vikramaditya Motwane's debut film Udaan, which first got noticed when it got screened at the Cannes Film Festival under the Un Certain Regard category.
Thanks to the international recognition, the film managed to get a decent theatrical release and the rest was taken care of by great word of mouth. Written by Motwane and the film's producer, Anurag Kashyap, Udaan is a touching, coming-of-age film that goes straight for your heart. Set in Jamshedpur, the film sensitively portrays the dreams and aspirations of a 17-year-old motherless boy who has a tumultuous relationship with his authoritarian father.
A great script, measured performances by the leading actors (Ronit Roy, Rajat Barmecha and the little kid, Aayan Boradia); great camera work (Mahendra J Shetty) and a superb soundtrack (Music - Amit Trivedi, Lyrics - Amitabh Bhattacharya) make Udaan one of the finest Hindi films in the recent times.
Dibakar Banerjee gave us Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006) and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008); two wonderful films that entertained and surprised with their simplicity. His third film however, relied on the shock factor, starting from its name to censorship issues. Love, Sex aur Dhoka (LSD) was provocative and path-breaking because of its content as well as the treatment.
Shot with rank new comers, LSD touched upon the themes of honour killing, MMS scandals and sting operations in three differently presented yet inter-linked stories. Hand held cameras; plain-looking actors and nudity are some of things the director experimented with.
LSD was an audacious film and that's what got it noticed, on the other hand it did alienate the family audience, which is fine for a low-budget flick.
Shyam Benegal's Well Done Abba (WDA) is one of those rare films that entertain along with delivering a social message. Winner of the National Award for the Best Film on Social Issues, WDA touches upon a number of concerns including illiteracy, corruption, depleting water sources and women's liberation.
With so many messages, WDA could have been boring but a director of Benegal's caliber only could handle the film with so much ease and make it immensely entertaining. Set in a water-starved village called Chikatpalli in Andhra Pradesh, WDA traces the journey of Armaan Ali (Boman Irani), a poor man who is trying to get a baori (well) dug in his fields under a new government scheme. His struggles with bureaucracy and corruption are presented in a light-hearted yet acerbic manner in the film.
A fine actor, Boman delivers as usual but the real surprises in the film were Minisha Lamba and Samir Dattani, who did a fine job with the Hyderabadi accent. WDA unfortunately was not promoted well and could have performed much better commercially with a little bit more publicity.
Where Well Done Abba floundered, Peepli Live succeeded - publicity. Once again a film based on social issues, Peepli Live got a lot of promotional support thanks to the high profile producer, Aamir Khan.
Directed by Anusha Rizvi, it is a satirical take on the state of media, politics and poverty. The sensitive issue of farmers' suicides is captured well in the film through humour. Great performances by actors mainly comprising names from the world of theatre, witty and cutting dialogues and a hatke music score (Indian Ocean) helped the film find acceptance with a wider audience.
The most commercially successful film in this list, Peepli Live is now India's official entry for the Oscars under the Best Foreign Film Category.
From nowhere this film comes out with a Pakistani actor and creates box office troubles for a big star cast film on its opening weekend. Writer-director, Abhishek Sharma's Tere Bin Laden (TBL) can be described as hilarious in one word.
TBL is about the west, particularly America's obsession with Osama Bin Laden and the Asian youth's (Pakistan in this case) obsession with America. Lead actor, Ali Zafar's comic timing and Pradhuman Singh's bang on Osama look-alike act are the highlights of the film along with its peppy music (Shankar Ehsaan Loy; lyrics: Jaideep Sahni).
Apart from these top five, I'd like to mention Khichdi: The Film (Dir: Aatish Kapadia) and Disney's Do Dooni Char (Dir: Habib Faisal) too. While you can't term Khichdi as great cinema, the film successfully managed to take a popular TV series to the film format that worked, opening doors for other TV to film adaptations.
Do Dooni Char is an endearing slice of life film that captured the great Indian middle class dream of owning a car on celluloid. If there were films that were small and good, there were some experiments that also went wrong such as Dev Benegal's Road, Movie and Priyadarshan's Bumm Bumm Bhole, amongst others.
Let's hope 2011 brings interesting films that are more about the art of story-telling than the budget.
The author is a film buff like you and would love to hear what you think also. Do share your views and ideas in the comments section.