By Siddhartha Krishnan . 5 Min Read
“How do you make a truly global film?” asked film critic Anupama Chopra to filmmaker Nandita Das in an interview during the Cannes Film Festival, to which the filmmaker responded by saying, “You have to be truly local for it to be global.”
In a bid to appease a mass audience or crossover to an international audience, Indian films both commercial and art-house, have often been guilty of pretension. This manifests into excesses in the storytelling, thereby, turning potentially good films into average ones because honesty often gets sacrificed at the altar of aspiration.
That said, filmmaking is also a money-making business and striking a balance between art and commerce often demands such compromises.
The Hindi film industry which contributes roughly 43% of the revenue generated by the Indian film industry is often faced with this dilemma. It enjoys a clear advantage over other regional film industries because Hindi is a language either spoken or understood across the country. Hence, its films have a Pan India appeal, much like Hollywood films have a worldwide appeal. However, to say that Bollywood (as it is called) makes the best films in India, is not exactly true, although lately, the quality of films has undoubtedly improved.
On the other hand, language and cultural barriers remain the biggest obstacles for regional films to break through to a Pan India audience. Also, producers lack the money power to adequately promote and secure screenings across the country. But herein lies an advantage for regional cinema as well. The presence of a well-defined target audience helps regional filmmakers remain true to their culture and often make films on topics that are not seen in mainstream Hindi films. In other words, they have the freedom to be “truly local” and yet remain profitable. This is not to say that bad and average films are not made in regional cinema, but the pretension is lesser. Moreover, of late, the emergence of OTT platforms has ensured that after these regional films have had their run at the box office they are able to reach out to a wider domestic and international audience who are on the lookout for good cinema.
Personally, when I am in search of good films (not just from India but across the world), my need is simple – I just want to be entertained. In other words, the storytelling must engage me emotionally. The language, genre and scale of the film is inconsequential if the story is unique and keeps me invested from start to finish.
With this context at your disposal, here are 7 Indian regional films of 2019 which I would like to recommend to all movie lovers. A rather late recommendation, but better late than never:
- Mallesham (Telegu) | Director – Raj Rachakonda
Loosely based on the life of Chintakindi Mallesham, the man who invented the Lakshmi Asu Machine to reduce the strain on handloom weavers of his village, “Mallesham” is the quintessential story of hope and perseverance. Of late, many films have been made in this genre, like “Padman” and “Sui Dhaaga” to name only a few, but what set this film apart was its minimalism. It starts of like an episode of “Swami and Friends” from “Malgudi Days” and then quickly transforms into a coming of age story. The standout feature for me, however, was the portrayal of the simple village life – the rituals, customs, festivals and daily struggle of handloom weavers. It was a refreshing watch!
The film has been given an 8.5 IMDb rating and you can watch it on Netflix.
- Anandi Gopal (Marathi) | Director – Sameer Vidwans
A biopic based on the life of India’s first female physician, “Anandi Gopal” is an essential watch because it talks unabashedly about women empowerment, gender equality and the incumbent need to question archaic customs. Hence, a lot of heavy lifting is done by the screenplay, especially the powerful dialogues. Since, this was a period film, the production and costume design were critical aspects and the film delivers on these facets as well. But for me it was the performances of the lead actors Bhagyashree Milind (as Anandi Gopal) and Lalit Prabhakar (as Gopal Rao Joshi) which stood out. The crackling chemistry between the on-screen couple kept me engaged throughout.
The film has been given a 9.0 IMDb rating and you can watch it on Zee 5.
- Gantumoote or Baggage (Kannada) | Director – Roopa Rao
At the very onset you realize that “Gantumoote” is much more than a high school romance story. Its a film full of subtexts and social commentary on difficult topics like stalking, influence of cinema, pressure of board examinations and the evils of our patriarchal system. But this commentary is woven so seamlessly into the screenplay and with minimal dialogues that nothing comes across as unnecessary. Mind you, the film is not an easy watch because it shows things as they are through the eyes of a high school teenager. Hence, the overwhelming feeling was that of melancholy, although the film has its fair share of humour and intrigue as well. The atmospherics of each scene is such that you know that something unwanted is round the corner. The performance of actress Teju Belawadi in the lead role of “Meera” was praiseworthy.
The film has been given an 8.2 IMDb rating and you can watch it on Amazon Prime video.
- Kedara (Bengali) | Director: Indraadip Dasgupta
In “Kedara” a ventriloquist devises ingenious ways to cope with his loneliness. He is a deemed failure but is unwilling to give in to the ways of society. The film is a slow burn and intentionally so – how else could loneliness have been portrayed on screen? There is a lot of focus on visual storytelling in this film, hence, be mindful of the nuances. The production and sound design is top notch and significantly aide the storytelling. Kaushik Ganguly in the role of the lead character “Narasingha” carries the film on his shoulder and gives a stunning performance.
The film has been given a 7.4 IMDb rating and you can watch it on the online streaming platform Hoichoi.
- Aamis (Assamese) | Director: Bhaskar Hazarika
Midway through this cute and presumably simple love story oddly titled “Aamis” the director knocks you on your head and drags you into a murky uncharted territory, previously not seen in Indian cinema. The sudden twist in the tale is so bizarre that it is bound to make you cringe and suffocate. But to take everything that is unfolding on-screen literally may not be a good idea since the film is steeped in symbolism. Its trippy, surreal and easily one of the best films of last year.
The film has been given an 8.2 rating on IMDb and you can watch it on moviesaints.com
- Kumbalangi Nights (Malayalam) | Director: Madhu C Narayanan
Four broken men live in a broken house beside the lagoon in a little island village called Kumbalangi. Much like them, their house too is unwanted and is located at a corner. The four brothers pass their days aimlessly doing nothing. Toxic masculinity has put them on a path of self-destruction; hence, pain and loss are inevitable. But “Kumbalangi Nights” is also a story about love, relationships and redemption and is bound to leave a smile on your face at the end of it. It is technically one of the best films of last year—be it screenplay, sound design, music or background score, everything is exemplary. The performances too of all the actors came across as very natural, especially that of Soubin Shahir and Fahadh Faasil. However, for me, the highlight of the film was its imagery, which had a poetic and meditative quality to it. It blends seamlessly into the screenplay and takes the story forward. Kerala is often called “God’s Own Country” and through cinematographer Shyju Khalid’s lens you see why?
With films like Virus, Jallikattu, Helen and Uyare (to name only a few) coming out of its stable, 2019 was a stellar year for Malayalam cinema. The 80s and early 90s is widely considered as the golden age of the Malayalam film industry but a new generation of directors, technicians and actors armed with modern cinematic sensibilities are now putting that notion to the test.
Kumbalangi Nights has been given an 8.6 IMDb rating and you can watch it on Amazon Prime video.
- Super Deluxe (Tamil) | Director: Kumararaja Thiagarajan
Kumararaja Thiagarajan’s “Super Deluxe” is an anthology like none other—four interconnected stories about ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Each story in this thriller is bold and imaginative unlike anything you have seen before in Indian cinema. The film is satirical in nature and takes on topics that one would usually avoid in public discourse. The writing is layered and might demand a couple of viewings from your end to get the inner meanings and depths of each character.
If not for anything watch the film for the performance of Vijay Sethupathi in the role of a transgender called “Shilpa”. The scenes between “Shilpa” and little “Raasakutty” is bound to steal your heart. In my opinion this film should have been India’s official entry to the Oscars last year – a truly local, hence, global film.
The film has been given an 8.4 IMDb rating and you can watch it on Netflix.
To sum up, 2019 was a great year for films in general. But the reason why I watch regional films is that it gives me a little window to escape into a different reality. India is not one thing, its many – a cosmos of an eclectic mix of cultures and languages, some known and many unknown to me. Hence, by watching Indian regional films, I am able to acknowledge and celebrate this diversity. What else can I ask for?
Pic credits: Scroll.in, The Week and IMDb