Shubhra Gupta’s list of best films of 2022, and why this will be the year Bollywood lost the plot – The Indian Express

Here we go again, back to drawing up hits-and-misses lists. And I must confess that I’ve had a tough time zeroing in on my best of Bollywood 2022. If 2021 was annus horribilis, this, the year of our lord 2022, has been worse.
Not because there weren’t enough films, unlike in the last two years that were lost due to the pandemic. As Covid receded, theatres started opening, and by the middle of the year, there was a steady flow of films. But one after the other, starry vehicles began dying at the box office. 2022 will go down in Indian movie history as the year we were forced to ask ourselves over and over again: has Bollywood lost the plot?
This was the year the unthinkable happened. RRR (Telugu) roared pan-India and is still doing so around the world. KGF 2 (Kannada) cast its net far and wide. And Kantara (also Kannada), grew so big that even its strongest votaries are surprised. Till just three years back, it was almost impossible to find a non-Hindi film getting prime space in the multiplexes in the North. Dubbed or subtitled films would release on Friday, and be thrown out by the next week, if they did manage to last that long, with a Bollywood biggie muscling into that precious real estate.
In 2022, the tables have turned comprehensively. The box office has been taken over by the Southern behemoths — SS Rajamouli was already a familiar name because of the mega-success of ‘Bahubali’ and its sequel; Yash and Rishab Shetty have now firmly taken hold of popular imagination. While this turnaround has been underway, big-budget Bollywood films starring the biggest A-listers, from the biggest studios, have literally bitten the dust.
2022’s worst films
Right on top of that sorry heap is Yashraj’s ‘Shamshera’, a period film starring Ranbir Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt, which saw empty halls on its opening Friday. On Day 1! A YRF film! Unbelievable. Another Yashraj production, ‘Samrat Prithviraj’, starring Akshay Kumar, fell flat on its face. Two more Akshay films, the mothballed social drama ‘Raksha Bandhan’, and the beyond-ghastly ‘Bachchan Pandey’ were roundly rejected. The much-anticipated Aamir Khan starrer ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’, three years in the making, was a major disappointment. And the audience stayed away in droves.
There are several reasons for the no-show. The #BoycottBollywood gang working non-stop to spread disfavour, the general junta still a little worried about going into movie halls because who knew if the virus still lurked within, the plentitude of ‘content’, including the much-more interesting OTT shows, available on streaming platforms: yes, these were all factors. But, and this is the thing, these big Bollywood movies were nothing but expensive duds, buried under star egos and dangerous complacency, ranging from terrible to plain bad to simply not good enough.
The audience, hunkered over their devices during the pandemic, had realised the meaning of choice: great films in other Indian, and foreign, languages. What was once alien, became something to experiment with, and savour. In the best movies across languages and continents, story-telling was supreme. The message, to big, bloated Bollywood which still expected viewers to accept old wine in older bottles, was loud and clear: sorry, but not sorry.
It isn’t as if all the ‘South films’ that made a beeline for the North were equally successful. The mighty tentpoles which have made the big bucks this year, as well as last year’s ‘Pushpa’, were strongly formulaic, toplining bristling bromances, and a level of discomfiting misogyny, which refuses to bow out of mainstream cinema, especially the films which target the more conservative bastions in the South. Anything out of this zone was ignored. In his ‘Bahubali’ double bill, for instance, Prabhas was a huge draw, but no one showed up for his soggy rom com ‘Radhe Shyam’. Also, it wasn’t as if all Bollywood films were beyond the pale, but they were not what the audience, starved of entertainment for over two years, wanted: event movies, where everything was larger than life.
Clearly, Bollywood in 2022 has been stuck plumb in the middle of a rock and a hard place: almost no films, mounted on as big a scale as RRR or KGF2, blockbuster written all over them; and not much in the smaller, smarter zone, either (this space was mostly colonised by a series of terrific Malayalam films). You could argue that Dharma Production’s lavishly mounted ‘Brahmastra’ was meant to be precisely that first kind of film, and it may have scraped into the year’s bigger box office successes list because some of its comic book elements embedded in the overarching theme of good ‘devs’ and evil ‘asuras’ appealed to a section of the audience, but how I wished it was a better film. And we didn’t need an Israeli filmmaker to tell us that ‘The Kashmir Files’ was vulgar and propagandist, whose strong run at the box office was clearly down to the kind of film it was.
It is equally clear that the road to resurrection for Bollywood will be tough. For one, it doesn’t seem to be learning fast enough. You would have thought ‘Govinda Naam Mera’, also from Dharma, starring the New Gen trio of Vicky Kaushal-Kiara Advani-Bhumi Pednekar, would be a course correction. But ugh, what a crashing bore.
Bollywood’s best of 2022
Just what is Bollywood waiting for? While we wait for answers to this crucial question, here is a list of the Bollywood 2022 offerings, in the order of release from January-December, which made me pay attention. Not one of these films is perfect or without flaws, but at least each strove to create something new, freshen familiar themes, or presented characters who made us believe.
Love Hostel: The dystopian world Shanker Raman creates reminds you of his debut ‘Gurgaon’, but this companion piece, about a pair of runaway lovers in Haryana, is darker and harder, compelling you to watch despite yourself. Did I want to breathe a little easier through the film? Did I want a ray of light at the end? Yes and yes. But is this the fate of young people who want to follow the dictates of their heart in this part of India? Yes, pretty much.
Badhaai Do: Theme-wise, amongst the bravest this year. What does a man who likes men, and a woman who likes women, do? Get into the mutual convenience of a lavender wedding, that’s what, figuring out how to live a full life, while being true to their authentic selves. If it hadn’t become the familiar joint-family-comedy-central in the second half, the film would have been much better. Still, props to Rajkummar Rao, Bhumi Pednekar, and director Harshavardhan Kulkarni for going down a path so rarely travelled.
Gangubai Kathiawadi: Sure, the beauteous Alia Bhatt looks too young and untouched to be the legendary hard-nosed madam of a brothel. But if you surrender to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s universe, where each bit of grunge is gorgeous, you see Bhatt owning every beat of her role. That early scene, a stunning chiaroscuro, with the camera pulling back as the newbie Gangubai learns to call out to potential punters, is a classic.
Darlings: Domestic abuse ‘nahin chalega’. And no really means no, even if it comes from a girl who lives under the thumb of a tyrannical husband. Alia Bhatt and Shefali Shah form a great pair as they tackle misogyny, and Vijay Varma aces it as a man who has learnt how to pay hatred forward in Jasmeet K Reen’s striking first film.
Matto Ki Saikil: Prakash Jha in and as Matto, the man with an intimate relationship with his old rusted-but-trusty cycle, which takes him back and forth from his back-breaking job as a daily wager, is stellar. The set-in-a-village hardscrabble story, which has almost vanished from our screens, gets a fillip in this debut feature, sure-footedly directed by M Gani.
Goodbye: A Chandigarh-based family dealing with the death of a beloved member takes refuge in patches of clunky humour, in Vikas Bahl’s film which tries to refresh the tropes of cementing cracks-coming together-learning life lessons. The big bonus is that it gives Amitabh Bachchan a worthy role after a long fallow period; the scenes he shares with Neena Gupta are warm and life-affirming.
Doctor G: Can your regular standard-issue guy– entitled momma’s boy, oblivious to the meaningful things in life– grow up and become a sensitive gynaecologist, complete with the requisite ‘female touch’– during the course of a two hour film? The premise is a stretch, but Ayushmann Khurrana and Rakul Preet Singh, under the baton of first time director Anubhuti Kashyap, get in some nice strokes.
Monica My Darling: This cocktail of murder, femme fatales, twisted motives, and crooked humans, in the hands of Bollywood fanboy director Vasan Bala, is quite a lot of fun. Sure, there are things to quibble about, but the film gives Rajkummar Rao a chance to move away from the good-guy territory, and an interesting ensemble to slither about snakily.
Bhediya: To completely commit to silliness requires conviction, and it is on ample display in this Varun Dhawan-Abhisek Banerjee starrer, directed by Amar Kaushik. A scenic corner of the picturesque North east, colourful myths, speedy werewolves, and a bunch of bumblers riffing off an ensemble cast which looks as if it belongs to the place? Yes, I’ll take it.
An Action Hero: Who is a real hero? The guy who ripples his abs onscreen, and behaves like an entitled brat off it? Or the one who learns to shed his starry mannerisms, as he runs for his life? Anirudh Iyer directs this sharp two-hander starring a self-aware Ayushmann Khurrana and having-a-blast Jaideep Ahlawat, while cocking a snook at Bollywood trolls.
Still waiting for Ranveer Singh and his ‘Cirkus’, out later this week. Will it make the list? Let’s see.
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Shubhra GuptaShubhra Gupta is film critic and senior columnist with the Indian Expr… read more


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