Rewind 2019: The memorable non-Hindi films of the year

Vijay Sethupathi’s Super Deluxe, national award-winning Gujarati film Hellaro, Mohanlal’s political thriller Lucifer, Bhaskar Hazarika’s Aamis are among the gems that we witnessed from other regional cinema in 2019

By Mayur Lookhar

As a Hindi speaking viewer, yours truly isn’t quite the best person to judge other regional (non-Hindi) content.  The advent of digital media and producers willing to release non-Hindi content in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, has helped non-traditional markets to get some taste of these films. It’s been observed that south Indian films are integrating a bit of Hindi, too, to have a more pan India appeal.

Yours truly was privileged to have seen some quality non-Hindi films this year. And the experience spreads across Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati and  there’s even a bone chilling Assamese language film too.

We are in no position to rate these films, but here are the non-Hindi-films of 2019 that left us spellbound.  The titles appear in alphabetical order.

Aamis  (Assamese)

Anurag Kashyap was right in every sense when he stated that he had never seen anything like this before from India.  Budding director Bhaskar Hazarika’s Assamese film Aamis is an incredible platonic love story that literally takes few chunks out of your flesh.

Nirmali Saikia [Lima Das], a Guwahati based doctor forms a close bond with Sumon [Arghadeep Baruah], a young Ph.d student. The platonic relationship is built on their love for zesty meaty.  The insatiable greed of Nirmali though leads the duo on a sinister path.

First-time actress Lima Das’s intense, matured act would surely rank as one of the best this year.  The dark, novel tale is enough to send shivers down your spine.  Aamis will satiate your appetite for an innovative, romantic, bone chilling drama.

Ahaa Re  (Bengali)

Given its social structure, secular values, Bengal is at the forefront of opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act, and National Register of Citizens. The Indian government has designed these policies to weed out illegal immigrants from the country,  but it is also being undertaken to grant citizenship to select persecuted communities in our troubled neighbouring countries.  Illegal Bangladeshis have long been perceived as a menace. Director Ranjan Ghosh’s inter-faith love story Ahaa Re though came like a breath fresh air busting stereotypes.

Food is at the heart of this delectable romantic drama. The aroma of Basundhara’s [Rituparna Sengupta] home cooked food is, too, good to resist for Bangladeshi legal migrant chef Farhaz Chowdhury [Arifin Shuvo]. The latter loses his heart to the Bengali woman. A familiar story of religion divide threatening to nip this relationship.  Ghosh’s matured handling of the subject without hurting any sentiments was the hall mark of Ahaa Re.  The stellar show by its leads – Sengupta and Bangladeshi actor Shuvo, made Ahaa Re a sensitive and appetizing romantic drama.  It’s message is simple – spread love not hatred.

Baba  (Marathi)

This film was produced by Sanjay Dutt, but Baba was not a biopic on the controversial actor, who is fondly called as Baba.  Set in interior Maharashtra, director Raj  R Gupta’s Baba was an heartening tale of a poor deaf and mute couple’s battle to save their adopted child from being taken away from them.  Deepak Dobriyal and Nandita Dhuri’s moved you with their performance as the deaf and mute couple – Madhav and Anandi, respectively.  There were the teary moments, but Baba was injected with the right dose of emotion, drama and entertainment. 

Hellaro (Gujarati)

Imagine a film that gets a National award wasn’t picked as India’s representation to Oscars.  Hellaro makers had to release their film in a solitary screen in order to be in consideration for Oscars.   The Gujarati film would later get a wide release in November.

Written and directed by first-time director Abhishek Shah, Hellaro is a path breaking feminist tale. There was no armed rebellion, but the women in the small Kutch village find their momentary escapism through the dance form of garba [Gujarati folk dance].  The film is backed by admirable performances, led by Shraddha Dangar. With its breathtaking cinematography and the joyful choreography, the period feminist drama is a visual treat seldom seen in Indian cinema before.

Jallikattu [Malayalam]

Maverick filmmaker Lijo Jose Pellissery showed his class again with the noir drama Jallikattu. Based on the short story Maoist by Hareesh,  Jallikattu was a subtle dig at the controversial ritual of Jallikattu that makes animal rights activists see red.

Jallikattu is a traditional spectacle in Tamil Nadu in which a bull is released into a crowd of people, and multiple human participants attempt to grab the large hump on the bull’s back with both arms and hang on to it while the bull attempts to escape.

The film is set in Kerala, and the word Jallikattu is not even mentioned once.  A buffalo has gone wild and the villagers gather in hundreds to get a piece of the raging bovine.  Anthony [Anthony Verghese] wants to make sure he gets his hands first at the buffalo. However, old foe Kuttachan [Sabumon Abdusamad]  has a score to settle with Anthony.

The buffalo is used as a metaphor to show human greed, barbarism. Jallikattu shows a mirror to the society that is so blinded by greed that it is willing to cut each other’s throat.

Brilliant on technical aspects, especially the sound designs, Jallikattu is an art house lover’s delight. The impressive performance by the leads – Anthony Verghese, Sabumon Abdusamad, Chemban Vinod Jose uplift the overall experience.

Lucifer (Malayalam)

Directed by actor Prithviraj Sukumaran, Lucifer is a political action thriller that will resonate with many political dynasties.  It featured super star Mohanlal in a stellar role as Stephen Nedumpally, the adopted son of the late Mahatma-like Kerala chief minister P. K . Ramdas [Sachin Khedekar].  Stephen is despised by Ramdas’ daughter Priyadarshini [Manju Warrier] who fears that the man has returned to take power. Priya and her scheming husband Bobby [Vivek Oberoi] have their own power ambitions too.   Prithviraj himself played a pivotal role in this film. Lucifer was a gripping, entertaining political thriller that struck a chord with both masses and classes alike.  It was refreshing to see Oberoi perform so well in a Malayalam film.   

Super Deluxe (Tamil)

Given how it received international critical acclaim, one was perhaps surprised to see Tamil film Super Deluxe miss out to Gully Boy as India’s representation to Oscars.

Maverick filmmaker Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Super Deluxe was a unique creative, visual experience.  The thriller film boasted of a stellar star cast – Vijay Sethupathi, Samantha Akkineni, Fahadh Faasil,  Ramya Krishnan, Gayathrie.  The film has three different story lines, and eventually they intertwine in the most bizarre fashion.  Sethupathi’s performance as a transgender is one of the best acts in recent times. The film though produced many such fine performances. Bagavathi Perumal as the bad cop Berlin, and child actor Ashwanth Ashokkumar as Shilpa’s [Sethupathi] son Rasukutty were standout performers too.

It’s novel plot was backed by P. S. Vinod, Nirav Shah’s breath-taking cinematography, and ace production design.   Though a little exhaustive, but Super Deluxe is a modern technical masterpiece.

Sweater  (Bengali)

A relatively underrated sibling drama that introduced this writer to the talent of young Anuradha Mukherjee and Ishaa Saha. Director Shiladitya Moulik’s Sweater is a refreshing tale of sibling revelry. Tuku [Saha] is an extrovert and a submissive girl.  Her dark complexion is making it difficult for her parents to find her a suitable groom.  Her chauvinist, opportunist boyfriend Pablo [Saurav Das] is merely using her as an object.  

The Bengali family receives a bizarre proposal from a wealthy family. The matriarch [played by June Malia] seeks no dowry, but all that she wants is Tuku to knit a sweater and she would then earn the right to marry her Chartered Accountant son. Tukur’s father takes her to his sister’s place, who among many things, is adept at knitting. The visit changes Tuku’s life for good as she emerges as a confident young lady.  

Tuku’s more confident, beautiful, outgoing sister Sree [Anuradha Mukherjee]  lives on her terms.  At the end of the film, the two sisters experience contrasting fate.

Sweater is all about discovering one’s own voice.  With its beautiful locations, pleasant soundtrack, and fine performances by the leading cast, Sweater is a light-hearted sibling drama that deserves to be wrapped on.  If you haven’t seen the film before, then this winter is perfect to put on Moulik’s Sweater.

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