The Hindi film industry, commonly referred to as ‘Bollywood’, releases close to 1000 films in a year, as per online statistics. Romance, comedy, drama and horror are the most common themes of Bollywood films. In recent years, ‘rom-com’, i.e. romantic comedies and ‘biopics’ have become even more popular. At times these films entertain, at times they irritate, but the overwhelming popularity of Bollywood films not just in India but across the world is something no one can deny. However, at times, far away from the ‘mainstream’ cinema, a few films manage to stand out as an exception. These films break the moulds preset by Bollywood and appeal to a large audience by virtue of being different from the lot. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Newton and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha are just a few such examples where filmmakers and actors went beyond the brief and brought something unique and different to the table.
This is not to say that the ‘mainstream’ cinema is to be shunned. We all still love to have a hearty laugh with comic capers like Golmaal and Housefull or romantic films like Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya and Bareilly Ki Barfi, and biopics continue to inspire many to follow their dreams. But we also absolutely love the fact that some filmmakers and actors dare to be different. Be it in terms of the subject they choose or the way they convey a message. In 2017, the Indian audiences were fortunate to watch some spectacular, pathbreaking cinema. Issues that were taboo became the central plot of films and became a part of dinner table conversations. Well, at least it started a discussion on issues people would often shy away from.
Here are five films that broke stereotypes and delivered a social message:
Newton is among Rajkumar Rao’s best work till date. The actor plays the role of a government clerk who tries to run a free and fair election in a conflict area in central India. The film dabbles with a grave issue which India faces, but which filmmakers often shy away from depicting in films. Newton was widely appreciated by both the audiences as well as the critics and was elected as the Indian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards. However, it wasn’t nominated. Rajkumar’s performance as a rookie government clerk who is sent on election duty to the Naxal-controlled town of Chhattisgarh won him the Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Actor.
2. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan:
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan brings back the hit pair from Dum Laga Ke Haisha back together – Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar. The film talks about the ‘gents problem’, i.e. erectile dysfunction and how the relationship between ‘Mudit’ and ‘Sugandha’ and their families changes when she discovers his problem. Not once does the film get boring or vulgar. It remains a fun, hilarious roller-coaster from the beginning to the end, yet conveying the message of what being a ‘man’ really means. Never before has a Hindi film taken this as a subject. But then, Khurrana has a history of doing the unconventional. Remember Vicky Donor?
3. Toilet – Ek Prem Katha:
It was a year of creating path-breaking cinema for Bhumi Pednekar. The actor teams up with Akshay Kumar in Toilet – Ek Prem Katha which is a satirical comedy in support of government campaigns to improve the sanitation conditions. It also stresses on the eradication of open defecation, especially in rural areas. Reportedly based on a true story, the film narrates the story of a man whose bride refuses to live with him due to the lack of a toilet inside the house. And in 2018, Akshay Kumar is coming out with yet another film that promises to shatter all stereotypes – Pad Man, which is based on the life of a social activist from Tamil Nadu.
4. Hindi Medium:
Hindi Medium is the classic story of parents born in the middle-class, but who make their way up the social ladder with their hard work and perseverance. However, they are unable to admit their child to a good school because they themselves are not ‘highly educated’ and don’t know ‘English’ well. The film emphasises on how ‘English’ has unknowingly become a prerequisite to becoming a part of the ‘high society’ and how parents are willing to do anything to get their child admitted to a good ‘English medium’ school. A dialogue from the film, India Is English, English is India, takes a dig at the social divide that exists in the country and is scarily close to reality, although it is a work of fiction.
5. Lipstick Under My Burkha:
Arguably one of the most controversial films of the year, Lipstick Under My Burkha is a black comedy that talks about what it means to live in a small town that is subjugated by males. Modernisation is sneaking in, but mindsets refuse to change. And under such circumstances, the film talks about the desires, need for attention and a strong urge to break from social norms that four women face. Lipstick Under My Burkha premiered in Tokyo and Mumbai Film Festivals, where it won the Spirit of Asia Prize and also the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality.
Besides these films, 2017 had several other pathbreaking films, including Death in the Gunj, Jolly L.L.B, Secret Superstar and The Ghazi Attack, which were known for choosing offbeat topics and creating a fascinating cinematic experience. These films might not be the most successful ones commercially, but it has surely inspired more filmmakers to follow suit and create films that are not just ‘popcorn’ cinema. Yes we still love the romcoms and the slapstick comedies, but we are glad that small-budget films on social issues are not just seeing the light of the day, but are also being loved by the audiences. Hope we have a much longer list of pathbreaking films for 2018!