Best Bollywood Films 2018: When ‘small’ cinema got big and viewers snubbed conventional industry ‘wisdom’

Conventional Hindi film industry ‘wisdom’ dictates that women-led storylines do not lend themselves to box-office blockbusters, that audiences expect female-centric films to be issue-based and grave, and that male-centric films strike gold only when they are flashy, formulaic at least to some extent, larger-than-life and/or headlined by men stars with larger-than-life images.

Conventional Hindi film industry ‘wisdom’ can go take a hike. In 2018, viewers rejected the Bollywood seers’ unadventurous interpretation of what constitutes “small” and “big” cinema by often rejecting hyped-up mega-ventures, routinely embracing quality content without a care for scale, and proving that “small” or “big” lies in the eyes of the beholder.

That’s the difference between this year and last. Most films on my list of Bollywood’s best in 2017 were barely-promoted indies that got limited time and space in movie halls. In 2018, production majors backed a bunch of delightful, non-formulaic middle-of-the-road ventures, marketed them well, and ensured that they got pride of place in theatre schedules. Guess what? Many were hits. (Aside: I use the term Bollywood to denote the Mumbai-based industry that makes films primarily in the Hindi language.)

A brilliant screenplay, Alia Bhatt’s flawless performance and Shankar Ehsaan Loy’s best songs since Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) underpinned Meghna Gulzar’s emotionally charged yet restrained India-Pak espionage thriller. Raazi’s sensitive writing brought home the inevitable human cost of all war better than any Hindi film in recent years.

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