The theatrical release announcements for some of the most anticipated, big-budget Bollywood films began to roll in one after another after the Maharashtra state government announced the opening of cinema halls on October 22, 2021. After all, the Hindi film business is based in Mumbai, the country’s metropolis.
While the rest of the country had already opened theatres in 2021, some at full capacity, Maharashtra allowed only a half-capacity opening, citing the country’s significant COVID spread. The trend of Hindi films being released on streaming services isn’t going away anytime soon. So, in 2021, there was still a diverse selection of films to see, whether in a theatre or at home.
Although there’s now a wariness about watching Netflix India anthology films because they prove to be a mixed bag, there are a few reasons to check Ajeeb Daastaans out. The first one being the chapter starring Konkona Sen Sharma and Aditi Rao Hydari called Geeli Puchi. Directed by Neeraj Ghaywan, a filmmaker who comes from a Dalit (formerly untouchable) background and has spoken about the lack of Dalit representation in Indian cinema, it tells the story of an evolving friendship between two women.
Their complicated relationship addresses issues of caste, class and sexuality with an assured hand. Sharma is brilliant as always and Hydari gets to add some nuance to the pretty paramour roles she’s known for. Ankahi is an interesting take on the well-worn narrative of a fraying marriage, using deafness as a plot and craft device. The result is touching in parts—however, the lack of dialogue also means there’s occasional overwrought acting.
Bunty Aur Babli 2
When Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee starred in Bunty Aur Babli in 2005, the pairing of two A-list actors playing small-time con artists who get bigger with each con they pull off was novel. The film has a deft touch thanks to the brilliant screenplay, lovely music, and genuine chemistry between Mukherjee and Bachchan. This sequel aims to recapture the charm of the first film. Bunty is played by Saif Ali Khan instead of Bachchan, although Mukherjee returns as the original Babli.
They’ve been living a retired life, having given up their scamming exploits. It turns out that Bunty and Babli’s legacy is being threatened by a new con artist couple in town. The two scheming duos square off. The sequel doesn’t quite match the original’s magic, although the younger Bunty and Babli pair (Siddhant Chaturvedi and Sharvari Wagh) show some sparkle.
Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui
Hindi cinema is taking slow steps in creating narratives around the LGBTQ+ community, which can be seen as a step towards inclusion. You could call Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui another one of those steps, despite the many problems it presents. Manu (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a beefed-up gym owner, with a bunch of gym rat friends and a meddlesome family.
One day, Zumba instructor Manvi (Vaani Kapoor) saunters into his gym and life. Sparks fly, and things get hot and heavy real fast. Except, Manvi is a trans woman, who has had sex reassignment surgery. This revelation has Manu go through a series of crises, while educating the audience about the challenges that Manvi has had to face.
There are several issues to raise about Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui: Kapoor is a cis actor playing a trans character; while the movie show some awareness of trans issues, there are also several cringeworthy moments serving stereotypical ideas about queer identity; and, in the end, the movie uses Manvi’s story for Manu’s personal growth.
As far as queer representation in Hindi movies go, it would be great to see more movies in the future where queer characters can simply exist, and not require their identity to drive the plot.
Haseen Dillruba is a pulpy criminal thriller in which Taapsee Pannu plays Rani, a newlywed woman attempting to find her place in her husband’s home. Its allure, on the other hand, comes from following the secondary characters who play her in-laws. Rani marries Rishabh because he appears to be a decent guy, especially since the guy she was dating didn’t seem interested in a long-term relationship.
Despite his mother’s protests that Rani is too sophisticated for him, the naive Rishabh marries Rani because he is captivated. Except it takes more than passing fancy to maintain a marriage, as Rani and Rishabh find out soon after the wedding is over. Throw in a beefcake distant relative, and the relationship becomes toxic. Someone dies. Who it is and how it happened forms the basis of the plot. While the film is entertaining enough, and some might see the plot twist from a mile away, the standout performances by the actors playing Rishabh’s parents add to the humor.
You’d be excused if you mistook this for a Hindi nature documentary dressed up as a drama. Amit Masurkar’s previous film Newton, which examined the electoral process in a distant community, was a harsh satire on Indian democracy. He shows us his extensive research into wildlife conservation and tiger poaching in Sherni, which can be tedious at times.
Nonetheless, seeing Vidya Balan in a major part with understated gravity as the forest ranger in charge of a remote area prone to tiger attacks was a refreshing change. She has to cope with nature while simultaneously dealing with an office full of stupid or corrupt colleagues and supervisors, as well as managing her relationship with her spouse, which she does largely via video chat. There are allies in the field and academia, however. Who triumphs in the end: Man or nature? There are no easy answers.