Any given year in the artistic calendar is earmarked with how much the filmmaking media channelizes and showcases our immediate truth beyond our own externalities. Well to put it very honestly, 2019 found bright minds tune into the collective darkness of our environment with a focus on those who understood that paying lip service at the altar of defeated hope will be bogus and simply refuting our everyday trysts with all sorts of disasters big and small. Cue the return of new seasons of THE HANDMAID’S TALE and BIG LITTLE LIES and the smog filled battle royale of GAME OF THRONES’ final stretch. Or the surprising blend of renewed beginnings and danger for Jesse Pinkman in EL CAMINO: A BREAKING BAD MOVIE. In short, amorality was a conduit for the soul.
The fact that most of the works that this writer found accessible and riveting enough to make it to the most defining ones of this year were backed by streaming giants is an abiding statement in itself . Hence the independent paradigm of creating the truth beyond an illusory, cursory reading of life triumphed. It was a period where hope was earned after spells of great soul searching and humour wrought from deep wells of loneliness ( as in the case of the sterling properties of Amazon Prime’s FLEABAG and THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL)
So here instead of calling these the best of the year, I will reframe by saying that the following works all reflected the sign of our times. They were beholden to our immediate culture and proved beyond a doubt that we needed these moments of sustained truths more than anything else. I start with homegrown gems that perfectly, like all great art, encapsulates a metropolitan India at its best and worst, with all traces in between those dual poles .
THE HOMEGROWN WORKS
The Indian subcontinent is an uniquely diverse phenomenon, with its litany of cultures, dialects, customs all glued to an universal ideal of humanity. This plural representation had been sorely missing in cultural paradigms of filmmaking across the mediums on an enlarged platform because regional industries were beautifully championing tales within the particular state /demographic since time immemorial. In 2019 itself, works like HELLARO (Gujarat), NATHICHARAMI (KARNATAKA), KUMBALANGI NIGHTS and UYARE (KERALA) have taken the mantle forward to truly espouse an Indian panorama of impressive creative experiences.
The following works that I was privy to this year continued the winning streak on the part of their respective cast and crews, blurring boundaries between the big and the small screens with a homogeneous approach.
Incidentally some of this year’s finest offerings delved deep into the cerebral complexities of police personnel and national agents as they faced obstinate and often mind numbing instances of lawlessness, beckoning inner strength to counter social scrutiny and the impunity of those on the other side of justice.
As usual, writers and filmmakers respected the very real intersections of the personal and the political in each case, as in the even more probing and psychologically hypnotizing journey of Sartaj Singh(Saif Ali Khan) on SACRED GAMES’ second season. On the other hand was the amoral nerve ends of gangster Ganesh Gaitonde (iconic Nawazuddin Siddiqui) as more players entered from the margins of humanity to his fold and true to the source novel’s interiority, the series cut off every excess and indulgence to shine a light on multiple corruptions arising out of chambers of faith and often impenetrable power structures. AMRUTA SUBHASH and SMITA TAMBE were welcome guest stars to this banquet of peculiarities .
Like the continuous use of this season’s central mantra that gets chanted ‘AHAM BHRAMASMI’, it was beguiling, brilliantly executed and intelligently cued in the year’s cynical attitude towards our place in the world in addition to growing fears of environmental apocalypse. By casting Pankaj Tripathi and Kalki Koechlin as sophisticates slyly leading a spiritual movement, it achieved the verisimilitude of Osho and his closest aide Maa Anand Sheela, so memorably captured in last year’s landmark event WILD, WILD COUNTRY. Overall, SACRED GAMES went where viewers wanted filmmakers to go : miles away from a familiar headspace of moral chaos often whitewashed in black and white shades so far. Here loyalties were tested while affiliations changed perceptions at every turn.
Elsewhere female prefects of the policing force occupied the discourse centered around rising cases of crimes against women and general misogyny in tales set in the country’s capital city Delhi.
DELHI CRIME, the first edition of a proposed anthology series, was based on the hunt for culprits of the brutal Nirbhaya case from 2012 and the record time in which the city’s police force nabbed them, propelling the due course for justice while the Netflix original film SONI was about a senior and junior police officer(Vidya Ohlyan) respectively who attempt to make sense of the patriarchal values that still govern them and questions their inherent feminity while never relinquishing their reserves of compassion. But the compassion was adjunct with the simmering charge of anger that singed our souls and more so in the current climate following the brutal death of a doctor in Hyderabad.
Also the challenges of the work at hand and interactions with people personifying scum of the earth netted in individual viewpoints of all, especially younger members of the demographic such as the head officer’s daughter in DELHI CRIME who questions the status quo even as prevalent unsafe conditions convinces her to pursue college in Canada while in SONI a cruel prank from her classmates makes the senior officer’s(Saloni Batra) niece verbally articulate her internalized disgust. The great takeaway from both remained the bonding between the experienced policing leader and newly inducted officers and in DELHI CRIME, the former(Shefali Shah) quotes the latter’s (Rasika Duggal) seizure of illegal rhino horns on routine duty as reason to put more female boots on the ground.
In the end, in both instances, they share a moment of solidarity and practical assessment of truth without offering simplified closure. As their line of duty takes its toll, they retain a semblance of normalcy to uphold a non-partisan outlook on life. SONI and DELHI CRIME were difficult to watch in their recreations of grim realities but they triumphed because they didn’t compromise with portrayals of immediate sentiments running high in all of us, age and gender no bar. These also had renaissance minds play the parts and on the writing and directing staff.
So the best of the lot are :
SACRED GAMES SEASON 2(NETFLIX)
DELHI CRIME SEASON 1( NETFLIX)
THE FAMILY MAN SEASON 1( AMAZON PRIME VIDEO)
THE FAMILY MAN was utterly novel in the subtle, dramatic – comic flourishes with which it observed the mundane churning of a secret agent’s middle class life and succeeded in offsetting that dynamic intensity with his field work, relaying every political strain that India finds as Achilles heels in its evolution.
The mood swings were dealt with genuinely while Manoj Bajpayee and the cast brought their concerns to life in the most formidable fashion. It’s special to me since in a rare instance, my parents watched in altogether on a Sunday, a first of its kind, betokened occasion where we paid our due respects to streaming channels’ facilitation of engaging tales.
In the end, a distinctive coming of age was brought to ARTICLE 15, this year’s game- changing study of small town politics, social divisions and the law and order situation that opens a young police officer’s eyes to centuries worth of class consciousness affixed with corruption and exploitation on those on the lowest rungs of a man made ethos.
It was exemplary as it made a male officer come down from his high horse, was divested of false chivalry or heroism in the character design and was in the spirit of discovering unsavory truths of humanity, with an expert cast bringing it credible realism and in the beginning portions almost a documentary style factual air.
SELECTION DAY SEASON 1, PART 2(NETFLIX)
Part 2 of SELECTION DAY saw brothers MANJU and RADHA soar to new heights as cricketers, navigating their individuality all the while overseeing Bombay’s fabled quicksilver fabric of diversity and their father’s toxic masculinity.
It was fast paced, well written, led the path for more chapters getting a layered treatment, all in six half – hour capsules. It was ultimately a shot in the arm for discovering their mother’s fate and teenage conundrums opening up hitherto unexplored vistas for them in future installments. Also, let me say that RATNA PATHAK SHAH is a class apart.
SPECIAL MENTION : MAN V/S WILD ( BEAR GRYLLS AND NARENDRA MODI EPISODE)
Everybody’s favourite survivalist ate his extra dose of humble pie as he explored India’s iconic Jim Corbett National Park with the premier in tow, making way for ratings hitting the roof and an interactive session that was a welcome relief from Bear’s usual adrenaline rush.
This was an otherwise ordinary installment as nothing really happened in its forty minute runtime. But these two gentleman hit the common ground of never fearing the wild and looking out for Mother Nature, concretized by the fact that Mr. Modi had lived a great part of his youth as a nomad /gypsy.
THE FIRST TIME : SUHANA KHAN’S debut in short film THE GREY PART OF BLUE.
The elliptical nature of short films was perfect for the static capsule that was THE GREY PART OF BLUE as it lead its way around a teenager’s feelings for a boy she’s taking home to meet her parents, in a clearly diasporic setting.
The surprise factor was Suhana Khan, who adequately punctuated the silences with her eyes and vocal power in a mere ten minutes or so. Daughter of the legendary Shahrukh Khan who, in turn, featured on a special episode of iconic host David Letterman’s Netflix series, she chose the path less traveled and buoyed by acclaim, she has made all the difference to her beginnings courtesy this humbling taste of her artistry.