A couple of years ago, veteran Hollywood filmmaker Martin Scorsese kicked up a storm by refusing to qualify superhero movies as ‘cinema.’ His comment came in the light of the gigantic worldwide success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers: The Endgame. “Honestly, the closest I can think of them — as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances — is theme parks,” he had said in an interview then.
Scorsese’s comments generated strong reactions. But, if you are an objective movie buff, and your loyalty doesn’t lie with a certain star or a particular movie franchise, you know what Scorsese means. Cinema is not just about grand set pieces, hopping from one episode to another, with scenes saturated with chaotic images, crammed with action and accompanied by loud music. Yes, it takes plenty of money to make a movie, but that doesn’t take away the fact that it’s still an art form. It is also a sorry fact that the best works of this art form are not always handsomely rewarded by a large section of the movie audience. And, the success of a sincere artistic expression cannot always be gauged by how many tickets it sells.
While movies such as RRR and KGF: Chapter 2 help the film industry to stay afloat amid a raging debate about the survival of the movie-going experience against the onslaught of streaming services, the wish to turn our diverse film industry into a monoculture of just big event movies is short-sighted.
Imagine an industry, where every filmmaker is driven by the commercial success of the movies and not by his or her artistic morality? Imagine an industry that only produces easy-to-digest movies on common themes by ignoring the local social, cultural, economical and political backgrounds for the sake of the mass market? Successful commercial movies are good for business but it does very little to nourish our collective souls. Again, diversity is vital. We need KGF and we also need Thithi. Even SS Rajamouli needs a break from big event movies to experience a nuanced and intimate take on life via a film like C/o Kancharapalem.
This is a piece to appreciate those brave-hearted filmmakers who grapple with the ambiguity of life and strive to bring out the myriad human stories from our mundane life, that shows us the depths of love and despair, increase our empathy, sow the seed of courage and inspire us to be a better person.
Here are my top 10 movies that the world would have missed if Indian filmmakers just focused on making KGF-like movies.
A narcissistic, selfish, entitled man-baby bumps into a wise man, with multiple scars and physical impairments at an airport on a rainy day. And his life will never be the same again. He sees human suffering first-hand and overcomes his limitations to shed a tear for another person. This movie is a masterclass on compassion.
A fictional story set in the volatile background of the Partition, it follows the transformation of a victim of hate crime as he goes from a non-believer to finding love, humanity and shared brotherhood again. It is the story of a Gandhi-hater becoming a Gandhi devotee.
One morning, a centenarian, who goes to a back alley to pass urine, falls dead. And his death sets off a chain of incidents that brings a rather sleepy and uneventful village on its toes, as it comes together to give a proper send off to the old man. A set of non-professional actors will charm their way into your hearts effortlessly.
Set in the backdrop of pre-Independence India, the movie combines a rich mythological tale with visual grandeur to reimagine India’s horror genre on a scale and vision never done before. It tells the tale of greedy humans stealing gold from a demon god despite the stories of his wrath.
A visually enriching movie tells the story of two young and ambitious artists, who find themselves at the forefront of the raging Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu. Armed with the people’s love for cinema, the two rise through the ranks of power, reshaping the political map of the country, at the expense of true companionship.
The Great Indian Kitchen
An excellent exercise in visual storytelling, the movie holds a mirror to the abusive and ancient but still prevalent cultural practices that curtail the freedom, dignity and potential of women.
This film is deeply rooted in the lifestyle of Angamaly. What if director Lijo Jose Pellissery had watered down the diverse cultural and social background that informs the actions of the characters to make it appealing for non-Angamaly natives? We would have never had the privilege to know the action-packed, and rebellious lives of the people who inhabit the area.
It’s a Marathi-language romantic movie about a young couple who fall in love with each other. The problem is they both belong to different caste groups. But, unlike most feel-good mainstream movies, they don’t face the odds and then live happily ever after. The ground reality of casteist society is more complicated than that. Such movies show that the violence perpetrated in the name of caste and ensuing human cost is universal.
The film revolves around a village, which is fast losing its farmers to various challenges in the agricultural sector. And a skinny, old man takes it on himself to preserve his piece of farmland to protect the legacy of the village’s agricultural past. It talks about a global crisis from a local perspective.
It’s a neo crime thriller that follows the events in the lives of a set of people, who decide to risk everything for a better life on the same day. To upset the old order and impose new rules in a short time, blood has to be shed. Director Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s inventive tone, texture and feel of the movie are a fresh breath of air in theour gangster genre.
Footnote: This list is barely scratching the surface.