Jhund: Sense of an ending
At the end of Nagraj Manjule’s Jhund, Don (Ankush Gedam) reaches the airport just in time to join his teammates destined for a slum football tournament. He’s spent the last few days dodging bullies and the police, but there’s another obstacle now: the airport security check. He goes through once. Beep. Removes his phone and wallet, tries again. Beep. Removes belt and shoes. Beep. Now he looks rattled. It’s his first time at an airport. He’s a petty thief with a chip on his shoulder. He’s been running all his life. And we know there’s a penknife in his pocket.
Part of the reason this scene works so well is our lingering memory of the endings of previous Manjule films, in particular the shocking finale of Sairat. We know the check shouldn’t be a big deal. The guard will locate the offending item, ask Don to toss it in the trash. But we can’t be sure.
RK/RKay: Through the looking glass
RK (Rajat Kapoor), a film director, is having a nightmare week. First, the lead character in his film, Mehboob, goes mysteriously missing in the footage. Then Mehboob (also played by Kapoor) turns up in person, with no desire to go back and face his death in the film. Seeking some respite, RK heads to the edit bay to be alone with his creation. He sits alone in the dark, as his heroine, Gulabo (Mallika Sherawat), pines silently for Mehboob on screen. He picks up his cellphone and dials a number. She picks up the receiver of her landline; RK’s film is set in the 1950s. She addresses him as Mehboob, asks why he’s being so cruel. He panics, cancels the call. The next time they speak, they don’t need a phone—it’s like they can see each other.
One thing about this scene confused me initially. How did RK know which number to dial? One explanation is that RK has imagined his film's world so completely that he has assigned Gulabo’s phone a number. No wonder he, the creator, wants to escape his life, just as Mehboob, the creation, wants to cheat his fate.
Darlings: ‘Khaala cute lagti hai’
Badru (Alia Bhatt) and her mother, Shamshu (Shefali Shah), have drugged and tied up her abusive husband, but their confidante Zulfi (Roshan Mathew), in charge of minding him, has let him go. Two cops choose this moment to visit. They accuse Zulfi and Badru of plotting together. In danger of being arrested, Zulfi suddenly blurts out, “Mere ko toh khaala cute lagti hai (but it’s Shamshu I find cute)”. Surprising as the admission is (we’d assumed Zulfi was sweet on Badru), the screwball reactions are what sell it: Bhatt gazing slack-jawed at Shah, the disgust on the female cop’s face, the male cop muttering about Chinese porn, the instant sweetening of the background music.
Qala: Fever dreams
As Qala (Triptii Dimri) looks at the dead body of Jagan (Babil Khan), her rival and the brother she never wanted, a tiny insect moves up his face. We then cut to another shot, Qala looking straight at us. The same bug flits up her face now, and onto her unblinking eye. It’s only when moves her hand up to squash it that we realize she’s standing in front of a mirror. When she looks at her hand, there’s no insect, only a glimpse of mercury—the thing that led to Jagan’s death—running down her arm. Such stream-of-consciousness imagery abounds through Anvitaa Dutt's film, an unsettling visual equivalent to the toxic psychological drama.
Gehraiyaan: Insta infidelity
The best infidelity music video of 2022. With its rapid editing and cascade of tasteful, seductive images, ‘Doobey’ is the Instagrammable heart of Gehraiyaan. Deepika Padukone and Siddhant Chaturvedi fall into bed and bath, drink and sail and cheat on their partners as the film tempts us (and Padukone’s character) with the high life. It’s lusty but cool—to borrow John Berger’s words, an aesthetic of sex instead of an energy of sex.
All That Breathes: Owl
Two brothers, rescuers of injured kites in Delhi, offer a prayer at their mother’s grave. A bird calls out. Without looking up, one of them says, “Spotted.” It’s a spotted owlet. Shaunak Sen’s Sundance- and Cannes-winning documentary, hands down the best Hindi film of the year, arguably the best Indian film, is full of moments like this: understated, intimate, as natural as birdsong.
Maya (Vidya Balan) is meeting a conscious Alia (Kashish Rizwan) for the first time since she inadvertently hit her with her car by accident and put her in the hospital. We wait for Alia to recoil. Instead, she extends her hands and makes a wordless sound. “She’s saying thank you,” her younger brother says, and Alia nods. She evidently didn’t see who hit her; as far as she’s concerned, Maya saved her life by paying for expensive medical treatment. Not for the first time, Suresh Triveni's Jalsa places a character at a moral crossroads. Maya, who’s covered up her crime till now, could actually get away with it. Will this meeting make her more or less determined?
Vikram Vedha: Singing, fighting
Several films this year—Chup, Bhediya, Cirkus—used classic musical numbers, but no one did it better than Pushkar-Gayathri's Hindi remake ofVikram Vedha. The lilting ‘Kisi Ki Muskurahaton Pe’ plays as Hrithik Roshan's gang clashes with another clash by a river. Without the song, it would be a standard slow-fast action scene. But Mukesh’s guileless voice paired the abstract beauty of bodies flying through the air turns it into a daydream.
An Action Hero: I hate you (like I love you)
Bhoora (Jaideep Ahlawat), a thuggish politician from Haryana, is choking the life out of movie star Maanav (Ayushmann Khurrana). As they struggle, Bhoora growls: “You make your living from the love we give. If we tell you to dance, you dance, you sing if we tell you to sing… We have made you stars—you will do what we tell you to.” Anirudh Iyer’s An Action Hero is a breakneck thriller, but scenes like this show how well it understands the love-hate relationship between the public and Bollywood today, millions of people desperate for a few seconds of a star’s attention, yet also wishing they would choke on their own success.
Monica, O My Darling: Love hurts
There were two knock-down-drag-out fights between lovers this year, and they couldn't be more different. The one in Gehraiyaan is deadly serious. But while Rajkummar Rao and Huma Qureshi trying to murder each other in a playroom in Monica, O My Darling is no less bruising, it's also funny as hell, with a faux-Goan folk song and an almost sweet aftermath.
Badhaai Do: The mask that reveals
In its amiable way, Badhaai Do moves mountains by the end, allowing its protagonists, a gay man and a lesbian in a marriage by convenience, hard-won freedom and happiness without ever seeming out of touch with the reality of queer lives in India. Shardul (Rajkummar Rao) is watching Sumi (Bhumi Pednekar) dance with the others at the Dehradun Pride. He’s in uniform, on the sidelines, but his lover (Gulshan Devaiah) is calling him to join in. Shardul demurs, then unexpectedly asks a reveler for a rainbow mask. He wears it and then makes mimes the action of a bird taking flight. Masks usually conceal identities but Shardul, by donning one, is finally being able to publicly state who he really is.