2023: A Round-up of Hindi Movies

Disclaimer: I may have been involved in a professional capacity with at least one film in this list. But before you dismiss that as partiality, do note that the other reviews have been more effusive that my assessment.

Honourable Mentions 

Over the years, Avinash Arun has built up a very wide range of filmography - from Pataal Lok to School of Lies to Killa - that defies slotting him into any genre. As we wait for the second season of Paatal Lok in early-2024, he expanded his genre list further with Three of Us. An achingly beautiful portrait of love, longing and loss, it has three stellar performances by Shefali Shah, Jaideep Ahlawat and Swanand Kirkire. 

Of the many worthies who have written paeans to Bombay, Vijay Maurya is an underrated name. And yet, his eye and ear for the Quirky Central that is Bombay comes across smoothly and hilariously in Mast Mein Rehne Ka. The ensemble cast is terrific, the story is far-fetched but sweet, the locales are real, but what takes the baida roti (never cake, never pav bhaji) is the dialogue - written by Maurya himself. 

5. Kho Gaye Hum Kahan - Arjun Varain Singh 

With Dil Chahta Hai, we first realised that the rich are also nice people, who fall in and out of love, can’t decide on their careers or partners, turn away from childhood friends, and can go anywhere if there is cake. Kho Gaye Hum Kahan might just do the same for the Gen Z, making us realise the fragile, sensitive, and yet adventurous souls these much-maligned kids are. Going behind the protein shakes, Tinder swipes and Insta filters, the writers (Arjun VS, Zoya A, Reema K, Yash S and Rahul N) serve a heartwarming tale of young love and ambition, leaving aside all the judgement, but not all the jokes. And after watching Ananya Panday, one might want to go a bit easy on the ‘nepo’ tag next time! 

4. Bheed (Anubhav Sinha) + Afwah (Sudhir Mishra)

These are two separate films but together, they form a sort of unified comment on the post-Covid, post-truth world we are now part of. 

Bheed traces the lives of a bunch of migrant labourers over the first couple of days of the Covid lockdown in March 2020, while Afwah traces the life of a rumour and the impact it has on its subject and a bystander. Both films are located in painfully accurate settings, with eminently recognisable characters, and pack in a lot more than expected in their runtimes. Bheed reminded me of Paar (Gautam Ghose, 1984) in the sense that both films are about a group of destitutes trying to be even more desperate than they normally are. Afwah reminded me of Party (Govind Nihalini, 1984) because in both films, the upper crust suddenly see their elitist theories about class and society getting dissolved by the acid of the real world seeping in. 

3. Rocky aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani - Karan Johar 

What can I say about Rocky and Rani - and their mad families, and their crazy chemistry, and their over-the-top fashion sense, and their zany humour, and their ability to hold my daughter’s attention - that hasn’t been said already?

Well, I can say a bit... that my 12-year-old daughter probably wants to marry Rocky Randhawa. And I will probably agree. Kyunki uski shaadi usse nahin hogi jisse woh prem karti hai, uski shaadi usse hogi jisse main prem karta hoon!

2. All India Rank - Varun Grover 

All India Rank
was shown in festivals this year and is awaiting a theatrical release in early 2024. I saw it at MAMI and was blown away by the fresh, innocent, almost-diaphanous feel of the film - a coming-of-age tale of an IIT aspirant banished to Kota. Despite Kota being the place where a million poetic ambitions come to die, it forms a lovely, almost-romantic backdrop to the charming story set in the late 1990s. Grover mixes intricate detailing of the ‘period’ with a sharp view of the Indian middle-class, and garnishes it with great performances from the debutant and experienced ensemble cast.
That Grover is also a poet-lyricist of the highest calibre is brought out in the joyous lyrics of the soundtrack. 

1. 12th Fail - Vidhu Vinod Chopra

When I first heard of this film (sometime in May 2023), I couldn't believe that a director of grand spectacles had chosen this subject. Why this gritty, grimy topic?

And on the last day of the year, it is easily the best reviewed film of the year that has left both hard-nosed critics and audiences teary eyed, not to mention inspired. And 10 weeks after its release, it has made more than 5x its budget and just started streaming while still running in the theatres.

Many critics have said this is Vidhu Vinod Chopra's most realistic film. I would argue the success of 12th Fail is the best fairytale - not only VVC - Bollywood has come up with in 2023.