Subhash K Jha picks his favourite Hindi films of 2023

Celebrating 2023's top 5 movies that stole the writer's heart

Karan Johar’s feisty film, Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani was a never-ending carnival of colour, verve, and flamboyance, writes Subhash K Jha (Photo: @ShahidzAnnie/X)
Karan Johar’s feisty film, Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani was a never-ending carnival of colour, verve, and flamboyance, writes Subhash K Jha (Photo: @ShahidzAnnie/X)

Subhash K Jha

I eagerly waited for Dunki before listing my favourite Hindi films of the year. The end product was not worth its wait in gold. The year was filled with dismaying misfires, making it tough to choose favourite Hindi films. Finally, the ones that made the cut:

1. Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani: Karan Johar’s feisty film was a never-ending carnival of colour, verve, and flamboyance. Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani is a riot of informed entertainment. It has a breathless pace, probably to match its leading man Ranveer Singh’s energy level. Alia Bhatt playing his Significant Other is equally electrifying. Together Rocky and Rani are as dynamic as fuel and fire. From the moment they meet, the screen is ignited by their combustive chemistry. Though poles apart in temperament and cultural values, we know instinctively that Rocky and Rani are meant to be together. Don’t ask how. We just know. This is not only about the love between Rocky and Rani. It is also a charming chronicle of the unfulfilled love between Jamini (a moving homage to Shabana Azmi’s silently eloquent act in Mrinal Sen’s Khandhar) and Kanwal (Dharmendra). The unfulfilled love in the past gets a befitting closure in the present. Karan Johar’s direction is exuberant, sometimes dizzyingly so when it wants to be. He then suddenly reins in the riot of colours and drama, as though to remind us that the insulated affluent lives that these characters lead also need to self-gaze once in a while.

2. 12th Fail: This is Vinod Chopra’s best film in years. It is a motivational film but not swamped by its urge to make a statement. Shot in real locations, the actors are well chosen, each furnishing a heft to his or her part without making it look like a favour to humankind. Vikrant Massey anchors the moving motion picture. That this moving and inspiring film is based on true facts makes it all the more commendable. Vinod Chopra, who has helmed a series of duds in recent years, including the anaemic film on Kashmiri Pundits Shikara, directs this heartfelt homage to the never-say-die spirit with an unwavering sincerity. This majestically motivational emotion picture is not for the snarky sections of viewers. It is a feel-good film in every sense. Goodhearted characters jump out of the dark desperate layers of poverty to light a candle in the wind for our hero.

3. The Mirror (Lust Stories Part 2): Like Neeraj Ghaywan’s Geeli Pucchi in the Karan Johar anthology Ajeeb Dastaans in 2021, Konkona Sen Sharma’s The Mirror stands leaps and bounds ahead of the rest. The Geeli Pucchi of Lust Stories 2 is Konkona Sen Sharma’s sensually ripe story of a very strange sexual bond between a suburban single woman and her househelp. Both the vaginally vibrant parts are played by two powerful actresses Tillotama Shome and Amruta Subhash who give a stirring sensual twist to the traditional maalkin-baai equation. Konkona herself pitches in as a voice on the phone in this deeply sexualized story of voyeurism, orgasms and other forbidden pleasures.

4. Zwigato: You won’t find Nandita Das and her co-writer Samir Patil juicing the tragic circumstances of her delivery-boy Manas (Kapil Sharma) for tears in this gently effective drama of fringe employment, produced by Applause Entertainment. This well-cut nugget has no room for tears. Kapil’s Zwigato delivery-boy delivers a performance that is keenly observant of reality: the languorous paunchy body language, the endless rounds on two-wheelers, handling difficult insulting customers at work, an invalid mother and two children at home…Kapil brings the entire force of destiny down on his character’s shoulder without making him a crybaby.

5. Satyaprem Ki Katha: What works, and works wonderfully, is the crackling chemistry between the lead pair. Kiara and Kartik look more made-for-each-other than Kiara and Siddharth Malhotra in Shershah. Director Sameer Widhwans shoots their “asexual” romantic scenes with a sensitivity and suppleness that are rare in Hindi cinema. This film is a new beginning for both Kiara and Kartik. They shine in the emotional scenes, maybe a little more than expected, as the supporting cast is woefully sketchy. If only director Samir Widhwans had stuck to the central story of a vagrant who finds an anchor in his commitment to that thing called love. Sattu’s Gujju love story, or Amour In Ahmedabad if you will, has a peculiar rhythm to it. He woos a girl way too classy and beautiful for him. But wins her in no time. Like Aishwarya Rai in Sanjay Bhansali’s Hum…De Chuke Sanam, Katha won’t let her husband sleep with her, ostensibly for his sleeping habits…you know, Saawan ka mahina Sattu kare snore….But there is more.

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