The 30 Best Indian Movies of 2022: Indian cinema had a fascinating 2022. A return trip to the theatres opened up fascinating possibilities for both commercial and ambitious indie filmmakers to open up an OTT audience for an experience that was as unconventional as it was immersive. Films started serving the familiar and worn-out elements again, but for a change, they did so in a self-aware and constantly convincing manner. There were awaited films and mediocre disappointments (and titles like the commercially successful Brahmastra representing both), but it would be hard to deny 2022’s position as a year of greats.
Of course, we had Malayalam cinema elevating its own high bars as its great storytellers interweaved grounded and homegrown stories with an earnestness not easily found in most of its other regional counterparts. Bollywood got inspired and got one of its biggest box-office successes in the form of Drishyam-2, a remake of the Mohanlal film of the same name that got its release in 2021. This was also a year coiled in cinema-based controversies, undeniable now given the politically repressed yet actively operative times that we live in. The questioning of the humongous glorification of Hindu cultural images in well-made films such as Kantara paints a hopeful picture of a thinking audience.
One of the films that most obviously finds a place in our list, RRR, put Indian cinema’s grandstanding tradition of mass filmmaking on the global map like nothing in Indian cinema ever could. While flawed and unsubtle, its large-hearted anti-colonial intensity might just have taught a lesson to Hollywood’s empty mega-spectacles a thing or two.
In the end, the conflict with the quality of films remained. The construction of this list found the two co-writers disagreeing and agreeing to forever disagree on a few additions made to the list and their positioning. However, moving beyond barriers like the subcontinent, we bring you the 20 Best Indian Movies from 2022 that you should watch.
On the surface, there is nothing that is new about Thallumaala. With an old-school and familiar story about a toxic man, his rogue friends, and the wealthy lady whose heart he has won, it is an old wine in a new bottle. But this new bottle is nothing if not intricately designed.
Starring Tovino Thomas in a brilliant leading performance that surpasses his energy from Minnal Murali last year, this is a film that uproots a narrative from its masala-movie origins and makes it a love letter to the quirky action entertainment served by pop culture in general. The leading couple’s playful post-separation banter becomes one of the best musical numbers of the year.
Of course, it isn’t perfect. It runs for so long that it needs its sparkling moments only to rejuvenate the viewer’s interest in the film. However, it is so smart, self-aware, and bonkers that it ultimately becomes hard to resist.
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Chup, a proper serial killer thriller by its very design, is R. Balki’s most solid effort in years and one that pays off well. First and foremost, a truly well-meaning ode to the life and traumatic end of Guru Dutt, the film celebrates movies in a dark and sordid way.
What makes it largely work is its tonally appropriate messiness, one that enables it to become silly-smart and unabashedly campy, plotting its steps in an implausible and largely enjoyable manner. It is a film that seems fairly careful about not getting mind-numbing in its loudness and deals with its emotional aspects with surprising conviction.
It is due to this substantial and smart writing that the performances work, too. Only, it doesn’t translate into total brilliance because the lack of subtlety and nuance ultimately restricts the film from addressing its stance on the art of film criticism and how it gets inspired by the art of filmmaking. And while this is a limitation, it thankfully doesn’t cloud the film because the exposition stays crisp and engaging.
28. Jana Gana Mana
Jana Gana Mana is what you create when you are angry with the system and have a pessimistic outlook believing in its disability to change. It is what you create when you can see that inequality and violence permeate all spheres of life, and hate is engineered into society by the establishment. Jana Gana Mana is antithetical to propaganda and antidotal to the crises of our generation that has discrimination normalized by institutions.
Powered by an angry performance by Prithviraj Sukumaran and a calm but sharp performance by Suraj Venjaramoodu, Jana Gana Mana represents a courtroom drama, the turns of which cannot be predicted. The unpredictability of the screenplay is potent enough to confront our ignorance of how deep-rooted social ills can really be. At the same time, it exposes the intersectionality and interdependence of each social ill due to which one ill fosters the other and prevents the inculcation of rational temperament.
Jana Gana Mana takes inspiration from almost all major social upheavals, events of brutality, and institutional murders that took place since the arrival of a right-wing government into power in India and weaves a fictional reality mimicking that of ours.
As a result, it lays bare the perils of conformity and the urgency of dissent. Most importantly, it explores the weaponization of social media and how truth is violated on an everyday basis by the instruments of society that were built into the system for the protection of civil society. One can always scrutinize that the film exploits real-life events for its self-righteous preaching but because any form of radical act originates from the recognition of problems, Jana Gana Mana can be said to have its heart in the right place.
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27. Chhello Show
The selection of Chhello Show as India’s official entry for Best International Feature at the Oscars was surprising because the applause RRR garnered in the west made it the most reasonable choice. In the first wave of discourse, Chhello Show got dismissed quite unfairly because RRR stood a greater chance at the Academy but was neglected. But it must not be forgotten that Chhello Show was a small arthouse film while RRR moved with muscle and money. And therefore, Chhello Show must be watched before any kind of criticism of appeasement is hurled at it. I never knew I was in for a pleasant surprise when I started the film.
Chhello Show is every cinephile’s story. There comes a moment in our lives when we look at the big screen in awe and discover our fascination for a universe that holds every possible reality. When Samay (played by Bhavin Rabari) discovers cinema, we discover a memory from our lives that we never registered in complete glory. Memory is a metamorphosis in which we find ourselves changing. Simultaneously, Chhello Show also becomes about the struggle to preserve the newfound identity in ourselves, i.e., that of a cinephile. Cinema becomes an ex post facto, driving our behavioral actions. Pan Nalin channelizes his love for cinema as he recreates what has already been created numerous times and retells what has already been told through the experiences of so many. But that doesn’t hold Chhello Show down because the tryst with cinema has been universal.
The only sour feeling I come out with after watching Chhello Show originates from Pan Nalin’s ignorant oppressor caste gaze by which he invisibilities glaring caste divisions in favor of class divisions through one of the critical dialogues. The choices of the protagonist, his caste location, and his economic state of being are fine given their prevalence but ignorance against the much more violent and prevalent reality is an outcome of comfortable social location. That said, Bhavin Rabari’s performance and the film’s climax is a treat to watch.
In an age when every new romantic comedy feels like a soft reiteration of the one that was released some time before it, it genuinely feels nice and warm to see something as oddly charming and sweet as Thiruchitrambalam.
There’s nothing especially unique about the plot or its treatment here. Through background music that anchors sentiments, individual music videos that work better than the songs themselves, and a heavy plot twist that threatens to ruin the third act, it is as old-school as it gets. In fact, it suffers from the inclusion of two badly written love interests for its hero.
However, even in this format, the sharp script inserts enough heart and gravitas for you to get invested and emotionally moving beats which surprisingly work. It is also a treat to see the romance of Pazham and Shobana come of age, especially because Dhanush and Nithya excel tremendously in their roles.
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25. An Action Hero
While watching An Action Hero, I was constantly reminded of Sachy’s 2020 film Ayyappanum Koshiyum starring Biju Menon and Prithviraj Sukumaran. While being a completely different film in terms of motivations and form, it shared the basic plotline with An Action Hero: a battle of ego between two men from two different class positions.
Sachy’s previously written film Driving License was also along the same lines. Having loved both films, I immediately developed an admiration for everything An Action Hero tried to comment upon. The class conflict wasn’t as rigid, and we lacked a common man’s hero, but both protagonists represented the causes and symptoms of a failing society. Their coming together in a face-off is preordained because it is fueled by accumulated anger and envy. And in the contemporary era of corrupted journalism and hate-driven social media, their fates shall only be determined by propaganda.
An Action Hero is a highly entertaining affair with a shining act by Jaideep Ahlawat, who strengthens his portfolio as one of the important actors of this generation. While I had a few reservations against how An Action Hero resolves itself, I cannot deny the meta structure of the narrative that only adheres to the inevitable. There couldn’t be an alternate ending without detaching the film from its sociopolitical reality, and perhaps that’s why I have to appreciate the ending even if I do not like it.
24. Hawk’s Muffin
Hawk’s Muffin is possibly the most original science fiction Indian film since Amit Dutta’s Sonchidi. There are multiple ways to read this film, and I read it as a synecdoche for the modern human history of imperialism. There are imperialistic and para-imperialistic forces at play, represented by characters fighting for the acquisition of free lands represented by the bounty.
The character of The Unidentified personifies the prophetic force or the idea of rebellion. Amidst all this, you find a free-spirited, living embodiment of awakening that cannot be shackled, for it not only holds the power of creation but is essentially a force of the future that would inherit everything that is, regardless of the current owner. And through this character of Ruby, played by Ketaki Narayan, Hawk’s Muffin also becomes a coming-of-age story in a post-apocalyptic milieu.
The protagonists are an elite minority who have found themselves in isolation from the barren world in a makeshift paradise. There is an audacity to examine the fate of the lucky few who, with a presumably pro-state sentiment, chose murder of life in exchange for a bounty, at its best, or the fulfillment of an agenda, at its worst. In any post-apocalyptic scenario, a group of such people would survive better than the others, but does it lead to their emancipation or renders them as miserable as those who lost? Therefore, the film also poses the question: are there any victors in war?
Krishnendu Kalesh’s debut feature is an experiment with the genre with clear inspirations from Tarkovsky and Miyazaki. It is also one a kind of audio-visual experience that must not be missed.
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23. Gangubai Kathiawadi
A male filmmaker choosing to tell a story-oriented around a woman and her tumultuous life might pose a problem of the lack of an active female gaze. Bollywood’s very own baroque auteur Sanjay Leela Bhansali chooses to adapt a chapter from S. Hussain Zaidi and Jane Borges’s book The Mafia Queens of Mumbai, a tale of a Kamathipura brothel madame’s coming-of-age and an eventual rise to a powerful pedestal. And the film effectively tells that story with flourishing aesthetics and neatly done fairly gritty storytelling.
His most powerfully made and sentimentally honest film since Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Gangubai Kathiawadi, might initially suffer from its Bollywood glitter that is obviously unreal. However, the performance of Alia Bhatt as the titular heroine is so extraordinary and imperative that one immediately forgets these minor misgivings, sits up, and starts taking notice. The young actor is becoming the definitive actress the Hindi cinema canon was in real need of.
22. Monica, O My Darling
I have to say that Monica, O My Darling was the most surprising Hindi film of the year for me. Dark comedy is a tough genre to crack, and the prominent Hindi filmmakers of the 21st century, such as Sriram Raghavan and Anurag Kashyap, have toyed with its potential.
With Mard ko Dard Nahi Hota, Vasan Bala rose to prominence as a quirky filmmaker. With Monica, O My Darling, he establishes that his films are elaborate acts of enjoyment secured during the process of creation. The films aren’t storytelling devices but also a journey through which Bala can be imagined constantly enjoying his quirks spread all over the screenplay.
One might wonder if he is overdoing it because a lot of things exist in a vacuum, detached from the larger narrative. And this is where he challenges the notion that an element can exist in the narrative only when it is attached to it and can add value to the same.
Bala utilizes the musical genius of Achint Thakkar, Mikey McCleary, and Varun Grover to create an impeccable soundtrack intricately embedded into the screenplay. While the songs give tributes to various musical legends, they also function as brilliant needle drops.
The triad of Rajkumar Rao, Sikander Kher, and Bagavathi Perumal makes it a ride marked by efficiently crafted humor and meticulous performances. And the biggest merit of the film is its rewatch value.
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I think it would be best to take Rishab Shetty’s Kantara as a hero-oriented mass movie in the tradition of regular action masala, for only then does it seem to revitalize the regular tropes of the genre truly.
Balancing the fantastical with the spiritual, the film works within the boundaries of a gritty rural narrative that is a plea to reclaim one’s roots through all means. Rishab doesn’t try to shoulder the film altogether with a character or performance that towers above all; rather, he focuses on the potent tension and cultural rootedness of the tale, initially articulating the mythical history like an essay.
The film might have worked better if it were more responsible in its portrayal of brash masculinity. Also, the running time is a bit exhaustive and should have had fewer rough patches. But as it stands, it is an entertaining and bone-chilling experience that immerses you in its atmosphere.
20. Dear Friend
Director Vineeth Kumar’s Dear Friend starts on such a warm note that not even the tense build-up can prepare you for the fact that the film is meant to take the rug off your feet (unless, of course, you have read all that has been written about it).
Dotted with minimal and suitably understated performances from each member of its cast, Dear Friend hides beneath a taut and tense thriller, a story of how friendships break down when a feeling of losing commitment or being cornered gets to the nerves. Tovino Thomas is especially excellent, his mysterious character elevated to nearly mythical proportions by the film’s haunting and haunted climax.
While the film is considerably unsubtle and flawed, it is a rare and focused drama that truly understands young people and their impulses, especially when they start landing work and having new ambitions, and we don’t get a lot of that here.
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Vipin Das’ Antakshari was another surprise genre entry from Malayalam cinema apart from Bhoothakaalam. This is a thriller film built around a serial killer and has an atmosphere akin to the finest of South Korean thrillers.
The motivations of the killer aren’t hollow. It is deeply rooted in social trauma. The cat-and-mouse chase between the killer and the detective creates an atmosphere of urgency and vulnerability, and the film keeps closing on you.
This makes Antakshari extremely experiential for a film. Saiju Kurup finally gets a role that extracts the finest parts of him as a serious performer and gives him a presence that cannot be replaced by someone else. If mystery thrillers are your comfort genre, then Antakshari will provide you with an enthralling couple of hours.
Bhoothakaalam’s instrument of horror is one’s past. There are enough genre conventions at play here that render this film with an anxiety-inducing appeal. But the confrontational feature of the narrative makes the film a potent commentary on mental illness and its manifestations.
When we talk about the past, vindicating someone else unfairly while refusing the recognize our own role as the principal agent in those past events, we choose an apathetic stance that lacks self-awareness. Bhoothakaalam confronts this act. The dysfunctionality of any relationship stems from punctured communication or an absolute lack of it. The inefficiencies of communication can be overcome with the inclusion of empathy. The film triggers an introspection.
Driven by a couple of breathtaking performances by Revathy and Shane Nigam, one can’t help but marvel at the potential of the horror genre that keeps churning out great films.
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Jhilli is a milestone in Indian cinema because it single-handedly destroys all aesthetic conventions previously established by the oppressor caste-class filmmakers and substitutes them with the crude reality that is apparent but ignored for the comforts arising from the sustenance of the status quo. If art has ever been about causing discomfort to the comfortable, then Jhilli is a potent example of that art.
In this bed of existence lie humans, and most of them are pushed to a margin that is absolutely invisible to the fertile central ground of the elites. The handful of elites have all the resources, and their waste and leftovers are left for the consumption of the marginalized.
In a highly violent setup such as this, the only identity that is accorded to the marginalized is that of those sustaining on filth. The oppressor group argues that their spirit has internalized dependence on waste, and they have an utter lack of ambition. But there is a dichotomy here; for the marginalized that are identified for their dependence on everything that society rejects and excretes are also institutionally identity-less people. They aren’t seen, heard, or felt. Their ambitions do not matter because they are preposterous. But there is an entire civilization in the squalor.
At no point does Ishaan Ghose romanticizes the state of being of his subjects because they aren’t meant for the voyeuristic gaze of the audience. Their existence has a meaning that is independent of the need for social approval. It has to be reiterated again and again that their existence has meaning. And that should motivate us to build an equitable future before we plunder everything on which we depend.
As I watched Rocky, a set of questions came to my mind: Can there be a right to violence? Can the right to violence be an earned one? Can the outcome be detached from institutions that lead to violence? Can there be a restoration to the previous order once violence gets triggered? And finally, is violence a natural manifestation or merely an outcome of crisis?
Rocky ended up being a collective answer to all the aforementioned questions, and the answer is no. And violence is an outcome of crises, while destruction is a natural manifestation. The character exists in a universe where the law of the land seems utopian, and people can only be swayed by greed, not ideology. In this milieu, survival is a struggle. Violence isn’t earned in Rocky; it is just the only means.
Treading within the periphery, Arun Matheswaran exploits the possibilities of visual action while exploring his character from the inside, which is the instrument of all the action occurring onscreen. Arun plays with visual language, employing a poetic aesthetic to the most gruesome of acts and the most suffocating of situations. Rocky is an outcome of meritorious direction and an intricate understanding of action genre films. Rocky has a common denominator with most action films, and the tropes are molded into the Indian sociocultural context for their effective utilization. It also catapults Arun Matheswaran to the list of filmmakers to watch out for.
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The reason why Mammootty remains one of the greatest living actors even today is the fact that he places the performer before the glorious larger-than-life image. The actor pulls off a first-rate leading performance as Kuttan, a middle-aged and bigoted toxic parent and IPS officer who is uptight and spineless at the same time.
As the man who consumes his own hatred to the point that the hatred itself becomes a serpentine outgrowth that consumes him, he seeps into the skin of the character and makes him a layered and messy human being, first and foremost. Puzhu, the film that focuses on him, is almost too patient and slowly drawn out. However, it is also characteristically powerful and interesting enough to milk the best of him with conviction.
In her debut, Ratheena is conscious of using the sense of space with immense conviction and roots the film’s theatricality to lived truths, something that makes Puzhu mainstream and minimal both in a complete sense and also in a slightly messy way.
14. Doctor G
The sound of a new Ayushmann Khurana social comedy has gotten irritating off late. Most of his recent ‘subgenre’ dramas have fumbled in horrible ways despite being equipped with potent intention and a progressive outlook. Anubhuti Kashyap, through Doctor G, shows us a positive and hopeful mirror while delivering a mature character study.
The film, tracking protagonist Uday’s coming-of-age as his uncomfortable and fussy journey as a gynecologist goes on to change his perspective towards the women around him, makes us think about how casually male entitlement penetrates in our society and becomes a failure of the ‘good men’ to look inwards, rather projecting a toxic and assuming attitude outside.
With writing that avoids archetypes and bland humor meanwhile sticking to the central narrative with sensitivity, empathy, and minimalism, this is a truly entertaining feature debut and the most impressive commercial Bollywood comedy in recent times.
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Mahesh Narayanan is one of the most interesting filmmakers in the Malayalam film industry. The way he expands the scope of his seemingly simple and human ideas to convey powerful stories is incredible, mostly so because he has this constant tendency to do away from the regular tropes.
Ariyippu, his best film since the 2020 screen thriller C U Soon, is easy proof of this. A story of a Malayali couple laboring in a rubber gloves factory in Noida for easy access to opportunities abroad, the film initially seems to be a potent commentary on hostility towards outsiders in North India. Eventually, it doubles up as a much more internal and complex human drama with an honest and piercing observation of how authorities and toxic masculinity mishandle power.
The documentarian touch of Sanu John Varghese’s cinematography gives us some of the most piercing visuals seen in Indian cinema this year, if not exactly covering up the lack of nuance and emotional distance kept from the narrative.
12. Laal Singh Chaddha
I will ruffle some feathers, and with complete self-awareness and confidence in my argument, Laal Singh Chaddha is a better film than Forrest Gump. And the reasons are purely political. Aamir’s performance is undisputedly inefficient and can’t be compared to Hank’s performance in the original. But otherwise, Atul Kulkarni’s adapted screenplay is clever with his choices of settings, environment, and characters. Stories are built into stories.
Forrest Gump is a man who does without question. The responsibility of work defines his life. And there is a passion in his expression of love. But the virtual harmlessness of this man masquerades his subscription to the status quo. He is away from discourse. Forrest Gump is essentially the US’ self-image. The innocent savior to whom all good things happen because it is a fruit of his virtuous living. Even Gump’s apathy-cum-indifference to counterculture despite his love for Jenny amplifies the perceived (by rightwingers) futility of counterculture itself.
These are the aspects where Laal Singh Chaddha becomes better than Forrest Gump, and primarily in its dilution of political conservatism. The dilution is less intended and more default. The first reason is the absence of a counterculture movement in India. India was never liberalized in any shape, despite all political turmoils.
On the contrary, it has grown to become more intolerant and conservative. Laal Singh Chaddha doesn’t become antithetical to intolerance, but its positioning in a dynamic political landscape causes it to become unassumingly anti-establishment. Forrest is the right winger’s idea of himself. Laal Singh Chaddha is actually about simplistic virtues and spontaneous living. On the other hand, Laal Singh Chaddha is not the self-image of the Indian state. There are a couple of things that could have made Laal Singh Chaddha a much better film, such as its acknowledgment of casteism by creating a marginalized character through Balaraju. But apart from this lost opportunity and an overconfident Aamir Khan, the film is something to cherish.
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There is no rational argument that can either justify or provide a logical reason for anything that happens, and yet, RRR pretends to be a symphony that finds melody somewhere along its pretension, which renders artistic gravity to “how” the film comes into effect than the “effect” itself.
The filmmaker is neither a philosopher nor a humanist. His political temperament sees only the binary. His idea of sym(em)pathy versus cruelty treads on the extremes. What he does understand is that the binary can still dance to create its own vibrance. The self-awareness is evident because the binary of everything is visualized and verbalized (fire and water becoming weapons, equipment, background, and environment of the two protagonists who move, talk and appear like fire and water themselves).
Rather than bringing a plethora of characters with individualistic motivations than communal triggers and a spectrum of characteristics into our protagonists, Rajamouli keeps them restricted and uses the limitations of their characters against different expositions, revelations, stories, and situations to make his film appear colorful and layered.
In the process, his actors become commodities for his artistic and ideological motivations. They become performers of the music he is playing. They are no longer fluid akin to humans but mechanical in that they must be strict and measured in their movements so that they complement each other while also ensuring the manifestation of instances that cannot occur randomly and, yet, have to appear random.
RRR is a culmination of coincidences and choreographed events. It will cease to exist if anything changes a bit and if anything fails to land as it did. Even something as small as a piece of rock thrown from behind the fences meters away has to hit a certain framed photograph. Purely random events, which must not have a causal effect on anything that follows, actually do in Rajamouli’s universe because his film isn’t a story told via devices such as set pieces. Still, it is an aggregate of set pieces that use the story as their device.
In simpler terms, the story isn’t central; the spectacle is. Devices don’t propel the story; the story itself is a device to propel the grand illusion. Rajamouli is committed to the creation of spectacles that aren’t disjoint pieces but seamlessly weaved to have a unified identity of their own. It is not patronizing to the audience because Rajamouli never attempts to write a lot within the set pieces to come out as someone who’s trying to make sense of it all. All his writing is a set of labels and not descriptions. Labels on blueprints of what is to be rendered via choreography. If he has to make his protagonists walk on water, he would be invested in creating an adequate mechanism that will make possible an illusion come into the picture. Perfect, precise, and preposterous.
The protagonists and the antagonists are caricatures/instruments exploited for eyegasmic sequences and nothing more. RRR is a film full of objects driven by objects. There are more dreams and less life. But they are enough to make us feel alive.
10. Ponniyin Selvan: Part 1
Just like random romantic comedies and masala potboilers, period historical costume dramas are no news to Indian cinema. Elevated displays of battlefield valor and silken coutures of ethnic wear designed by established fashion designers either come together to deliver mediocrity or peddle shameless propaganda. The exceptions, well, are too few to count. Having said that, Mani Ratnam’s PS-1 is a film that asks its audiences to demand better from their period-drama filmmakers.
An adaptation of a bestselling book from the 1950s of the same name, the film condenses the complex and sophisticated family drama of the Chola kingdom into a three-hour film that is often confusing. However, it is also utterly convincing, and its different, sophisticated moments gather up to create an immaculate and strongly directed drama which is also one of the best Indian movies of 2022.
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9. Badhaai Do
Massively underseen during its theatrical run and initially assumed to be another addition to Bollywood’s exploitative tradition of using small towns and their quirks to deliver messages and taboo topics, Badhaai Do is actually one of the most important Hindi films to come out in the longest time.
Harshvardhan Kulkarni’s charming little chronicle about a gay cop and lesbian PT teacher’s lavender marriage is not just thoughtful and sincere but also that rare Hindi rom-com that grows on you.
Starring Rajkummar Rao in one of his finest performances and Bhumi Pednekar matching his grace with her cheerful flavor, the film draws you into its comfortable and lived-in atmosphere. And then, slowly, it starts liberating itself with some of the most unapologetic and charming images to be framed in the celluloid of Hindi cinema. Even the emotional foil of its third act is so truthfully crafted that one can’t shrug it off despite their position in society or the spectrum of their sexuality.
Vikram is Kamal Haasan Porn. Lokesh first builds a myth around Kamal Haasan, and then he takes Haasan away from the frame. But the spirit lingers, and even without considerable screentime in the first half, Kamal claims a dominating presence. Once he returns onscreen, the film becomes a cloak worn by the superheroic presence of Kamal Haasan. It becomes a festival that celebrates him.
The biggest merit lies in Lokesh’s ability to bring three massive stars together, provide them with substantial characters aiding each other’s arc, and yet keep the film about Vikram. He also recognizes the intimidating appeal of each of his actors’ eyes. They reflect the fundamental aspect of a character, as established by Lokesh. He knows the respective strengths of his actors and instrumentalizes them to the benefit of the screenplay.
Vikram is a massive action entertainer that is tropical, intense, and loud. Substance and style are weaved meticulously to craft an experience worth clapping for. I doubted the film to be a one-time affair, but it worked as great as it did upon the first watch, albeit the “Fridging” trope became more apparent upon a rewatch, leaving a tinge of bitterness. But Vikram was never without its problems. However, what’s there to cherish is its unabashed fanboyish character and Lokesh’s successful establishment of a universe in which the antagonist keeps getting bigger and more threatening. Vikram ends in its own satisfying way but leaves you anticipating what is to come next.
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It is not hard to find genuine experiments in India’s independent cinema, but it is really hard to find an Indian film that embraces storytelling with the same sincerity as its experiment. Aavasavyuham (the Malayalam title of the said film) is one such rare experiment. A satire that digs into man’s toxic symbiosis with his environment through a mysterious eco-fable set on Kerala’s coasts, it also doubles up as a cautionary thriller.
A constantly and outrageously funny comedy set in a fragile ecosystem, the film alternates between sturdy realism, absurd mockumentation, and fascinating comic-book flourishes with such outstanding ease that it is hard not to submit to the kind of experience that it creates. Although director Krishand is no auteur and his lead Rahul Rajagopal is no star, they churn out a spectacle no less compelling than a big-budgeted one from the west.
6. Natchathiram Nagargiradhu
Pa. Ranjith is no new name for someone following India’s regional cinema for the last five years. Although he has been around for much longer and churned out mainstream fare that spoke the language of not an individual but a community (which is also what makes his work personal), Sarpatta Parambarai became his moment in the spotlight. While I am not the biggest fan of that film, I was still impressed with the clever subversion of boxing movie tropes and the continuously entertaining, sprawling drama.
I am also happy to report that Natchathiram Nagargiradhu, a film more outspoken and radical about its existence, is a brilliant step up. Aesthetically way more mature and realized, it makes a wise and direct effort to tackle love across social identities and barriers. This makes the film all the angrier, given the nature of the country’s cinematic deafness towards accessible representation. Although not all of its expositions in a lengthy running time of three hours truly land, it is pulled off with such a clever and splendid visual approach that you can’t take your mind off the film for some time after watching it.
It is the kind of quintessential yet idiosyncratic romance that doesn’t want you to dismiss its openly political and powerful commentary on casteless and genderless love. A violent and chaotic showdown in its third act, thus, is shocking but not entirely so because it is a reflection of what is happening in this nation on a daily basis.
Jhund is a revisionist film for the internalized storytelling aesthetics commercial Hindi cinema has been adopting for quite a while. The apolitical gaze, star-centered screenplay, and utter disregard for representation have been glaring problems of Hindi commercial films, especially the virtue-signaling cinema driven by social issues. The filmmaking grammar has been specialized to create cinematic moments via staging and framing tricks to elicit faux responses from the audience. The cosmetic appeal becomes overwhelming, and films come from a space of assumed understanding about a social group/individual than actual knowledge and lived experiences.
Jhund is very much a mainstream film, and it panders to the same sensibilities (the story of underdogs, an activist fighting the world for their emancipation, disbelief of the world in them, their disbelief in the world, their gradual rise and eventual victory), but Nagraj Manjule’s intimate understanding of social reality allows him to build representational reality in the mold of tropes. This exercise retains the mainstream character of the film without stripping it of empathy.
Jhund is about representation. There is immense diversity in characters and cast, which is not by default but a conscious directorial choice. Ultimately, the voice of the people has to come from people. Amitabh, the superstar, is merely an instrument of amplification. Apart from the subtle political commentary through random dialogues, the visual language of the entire film is committed to exposing the class-caste divide, but this time, the exposure of the divide also comes with the acknowledgment of the wall of separation that is impossible to pass through and can only be trespassed.
Nagraj demands accountability from people representing institutions and makes a case for the potential of sports as an emancipatory device. Additionally, he accommodates a number of other social issues not “within” the central narrative and makes a case for intersectionality. The dialogues are written in a manner that allows people to be present in the frame and, therefore, represent themselves through their existence and not get represented by an external agent with a philosophical/practical aid.
Jhund is not just another film about the marginalized. It contributes to the development of a filmmaking language that mimics political reality without exoticization.
Related to Best Indian Movies of 2022 – Jhund (2022) Review
Gautham Ramachandran’s Gargi is one of the most powerful and important Indian movies of 2022. Starring Sai Pallavi in what can confidently be called a career-best performance (which is quite a statement for the career of an actress who pulls off one gem after the other), the film takes a fierce issue and tackles it with a clutter-breaking and often overlooked perspective.
Essentially charting the realization and liberation of a young woman as she comes to terms with thundering realities one after another, the film uses amplified mainstream elements. There is background music to anchor its emotions, some editing that resembles a melodrama in its moments, and even potent comic relief.
However, it understands the cinematic effect of such mainstream filmmaking and never uses this to hammer its message into the minds of its viewers. It reflects the harsh truth of society in a way that a movie should and a public service announcement cannot.
On the 4th of October, 1996, four members of Ayyankali Pada – Kallara Babu, Vilayodi Shivankutty, Kanjangad Rameshan, and Ajayan Mannur – held the then-District Collector of Palakkad, W.R. Reddy, hostage, to protest against the Tribal Bill passed in the state legislature that deprived the Adivasis of their land. The radical act leading to a hostage crisis lasted 9 hours. Their demand was to bring the issue to public attention and ensure that the government recalled the tribal bill.
The crisis was resolved after thorough negotiations, and the activist group was recognized for their demands with no immediate arrests. However, the government came back at them later, and the land issue continues to remain unresolved to this date. The event that held an institution hostage for rightful claims was never intended to take a violent turn. Twenty-six years after the incident, Kamal K. M. returned as a director to bring the real-life incident to public attention through a film adaptation after extensive research. The sincerity and urgency with which Pada is made make it one of the most important Indian movies of 2022.
There is no pretentious value-neutrality in directorial choices that determine Pada’s cinematic form, and the ideological stance is rigid and apparent. It is courageous because Kamal’s sympathy lies not with the state but with the people, and the story is essentially about people.
In a time when dissent is being persecuted, minorities are institutionally targeted, and hate has been normalized, Pada’s anti-establishment sentiment becomes crucial to film culture itself. It contributes to the determination of the type of stories we wish to tell, the form in which we wish to tell them, and the nature of the relationship with the state we wish to foster.
When Pada is analyzed for its form, it works beautifully as a thriller film with an ensemble of serious performances. It is easily one of those Indian films that must not be missed at any cost.
I remember watching Dhuin twice in the span of two days when it was screened at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2022. And I kept thinking about it for a number of days. Achal Mishra’s sophomore feature managed to feel extremely personal, like his debut film Gamak Ghar. But Dhuin emitted a profound sadness that can birth a crisis in an artist’s heart. Chaitanya Tamhane’s The Disciple (2021) explored the murky region where art and skill converge and how insufficient skill compromises one’s ability to create art. What is the aftermath of an artist being engulfed by mediocrity, and what happens to an artist if art ceases to originate from them?
Like The Disciple, Dhuin explores a murky region where art, or the creation of it, becomes dependent on the material. Its material dependence becomes suffocating, and the artist gets engulfed by material deprivation. The question posed by Dhuin remains the same: what happens to an artist if art ceases to originate from them? When a subject chooses to leave art behind, do they also leave behind the artist inherent to them, or art and the artist are detachable?
In its brief runtime, Dhuin also showcases how one’s class position informs one’s exposure to art. But most remarkably, it does so not by verbalizing who-knows-what through characters but by visualizing gestures through which gatekeeping occurs and by implication, how artist circles preserve the status quo despite arguing for the opposite.
Dhuin is deeply personal because life hasn’t been any different in this corner of the world. This makes me question if I will ever live through art or if art will choke due to overwhelming deprivation.
Related to Best Indian Movies of 2022 – Dhuin : ‘MAMI’ Review
1. Kadaisi Vivasayi
With every new film, Tamil filmmaker M. Manikandan keeps solidifying his humanist, sensitive, and overall empathetic vision of life that comes out in very unexpected ways. The same is true for Kadaisi Vivasayi, which might just be his most well-realized work yet.
Starring the late Nallandi in a greatly expressed leading role, the film works as a beautiful eco-fable wrapped around substantial rural drama. Following the last surviving farmer of a village, it is a plea against progressive exploitation. However, instead of hammering its themes through blunt political force, it effortlessly channels its peaceful energy into the simple and solitary life of this old man. However, as a big plus, it does so with ample wit and humor.
Related to Best Indian Movies of 2022 – Kadaisi Vivasayi : ‘SonyLIV’ Review
The list is curated and written by Ashwani Kumar Tiwari & Shashwat Sisodiya