A few years ago, veteran Hollywood filmmaker Martin Scorsese sparked a firestorm by refusing to qualify superhero movies as “cinema”. His comment came in light of the gigantic worldwide success of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers: The Endgame. “Honestly, the closest I can think of to them – no matter how well done, with actors doing their best under the circumstances – is theme parks,” he said in an interview at the time.
Scorsese’s comments drew strong reactions. But, if you’re 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 big sets, jumping from one episode to another, with scenes saturated with chaotic images, packed with action and accompanied by loud music. Yes, it takes a lot of money to make a movie, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s still an art form. It is also unfortunate that the best works of this art form are not always generously rewarded by a large part of the cinema audience. And the success of sincere artistic expression is not always measured by the number of tickets sold.
While films such as RRR and KGF: Chapter 2 helping the film industry stay afloat amid a raging debate over the survival of the cinematic experience in the face of the onslaught of streaming services, the desire to turn our diverse film industry into a monoculture of great movies events is short-sighted.
Imagine an industry, where each filmmaker is motivated by the commercial success of films and not by their artistic morality? Imagine an industry that only produces easy-to-digest films on common themes while ignoring local social, cultural, economic and political contexts in favor of the mass market? Blockbuster commercial films are good for business, but they do very little to feed our collective souls. Again, diversity is key. We need KGF and we also need Thithi. Even SS Rajamouli needs a break from big event movies to live a nuanced and intimate life via a film like C/o Kancharapalem.
It is a piece to appreciate these brave-hearted filmmakers who wrestle with the ambiguity of life and strive to bring out the myriad human stories of our mundane life, which show us the depths of love and despair, increase our empathy, sow the seed of courage and inspire us to become a better person.
Here are my top 10 movies the world would have missed if Indian filmmakers were only focused on making KGF-like movies.
A narcissistic, selfish, self-righteous baby-man clashes with a wise man, with multiple scars and physical disabilities 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 film is a masterclass in compassion.
A fictional story set against the volatile backdrop of the score, it follows the transformation of a hate crime victim as he goes from being a non-believer to finding love, humanity and shared brotherhood. This is the story of a Gandhi hater turned Gandhi devotee.
One morning, a centenarian, who goes to an alley to urinate, falls dead. And his death sets off a chain of incidents that puts a rather sleepy, uneventful village on its toes as it comes together to give the old man a head start. A set of non-professional actors will charm your heart effortlessly.
Set against the backdrop of pre-independence India, the film combines rich mythological tale with visual grandeur to reimagine India’s horror genre on a scale and vision never before realized. It tells the story of greedy humans stealing gold from a demon god despite stories of his wrath.
A visually rewarding film tells the story of two ambitious young artists, who find themselves at the forefront of the Dravidian movement raging 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 camaraderie.
Great Indian cuisine
An excellent exercise in visual storytelling, the film is a mirror of the abusive and ancient but still prevalent cultural practices that restrict women’s freedom, dignity and potential.
This film is deeply rooted in the way of life of Angamaly. What if director Lijo Jose Pellissery had toned down the cultural and social diversity that underlies the characters’ actions to make it appealing to non-Angamalys? We would never have had the privilege of knowing the eventful and rebellious life of the inhabitants of the region.
It is a romantic Marathi film about a young couple who fall in love with each other. The problem is that they both belong to different caste groups. But, unlike most mainstream feel-good movies, they don’t face the odds and then live happily ever after. The ground reality of caste society is more complicated than that. Such films show that the violence perpetrated in the name of caste and the resulting human cost are universal.
The film revolves around a village that is rapidly losing its farmers due to various challenges in the agricultural sector. And a thin old man is in charge of preserving his piece of land to protect the heritage 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 life events of a group 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, it takes bloodshed. Director Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s inventive tone, texture, and feel of the film is a breath of fresh air in our gangster genre.
Footnote: This list only scratches the surface.