After a refreshing start to the second half of the decade, 2007 continued the trend of Bollywood venturing into diverse subjects, sample this potpourri:

– A sports movie based on a women’s hockey team, a love story of a 65 year old man and a 32 year old woman, a film about a dyslexic child, two noir styled films: a thriller that plays like a cheesy James Hadley Chase plot and a mystery set in rural Rajasthan, a psychedelic movie about the evils of smoking and a traditional boy-meets-girl love story with a modern tadka. That’s material enough for someone like me to be get wide-eyed and super excited.

Along with the above, the industry was introduced to a few new faces both in front and behind the camera: front of the camera: Ranbir Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Neil Nitin Mukesh, and Darsheel Safary; behind the camera: Navdeep Singh, R Balki and Aamir Khan.

Spotlight movies of the year:

Chak De! India:  A Yash Raj banner film with Shah Rukh Khan as a coach of an underdog women’s hockey team was anything but a typical Yashraj production. Shimit Amin’s direction and Jaideep Sahni’s writing keep it close to the subject and SRK delivers another restrained performance (second only to Swades). Much has been written about the scene when the hockey girls beat up some eve teasers – that it was overtly feministic and not something that should be encouraged…girls taking the law in their own hands…tch tch tch! In my opinion, it is an important scene that if shown in any other subtle way would have robbed the pleasure from the entire population of Indian girls who must have wanted to do just that numerous times  in their lives. They got a chance to live out their fantasy, if only on the screen.

Taare Zameen Par: Aamir Khan’s directorial debut is a story about the life of a child with dyslexia (the subject itself shields the product from criticism). Darsheel Safary plays the dyslexic child Ishaan and Aamir plays his teacher who is the only one who understands Ishaan because, yes, he is/was dyslexic himself.  Aamir tries hard to stay away from the spotlight and mostly succeeds in the first half. The do-all-good Aamir emerges in the second half and stays there until the credits roll. A well made movie that tugs at your heart in more than one place largely because of a stellar performance by Darsheel.
Johnny Gaddar: Sriram Raghavan’s noir thriller is one of the best movies of the decade. The movie pays homage to the yesteryear crime thrillers such as Johnny Mera Naam, Parwana,  Jewel Thief etc. The plot has everything a pulp thriller should have: a heist, group of questionable characters, murder (the one shot on a moving train is a memorable piece of film-making in recent Hindi movies), adultery, corrupt cops, gambling, double-crossing and then some. Raghavan mizes all these elements in right doses and comes up with a heady concoction. His use of colors (reds and blues) and thematic elements (matchboxes, fish) throughout the movie are lovely garnishes. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy produced a fantastic soundtrack which also pays homage to the sound of the 70s. For the Bollywood trivia fanatics, this movie offers a treasure of little winks and nods to many movies of the past. The one that specifically stood out for me was the use of the classic song ‘Mora gora rang lai le’ from Bimal Roy‘s Bandini (starring Nutan, Ashok Kumar and Dharamendra). I will take the liberty to highlight the difference of using scenes/quotes/songs from old movies: the way Raghavan, Navdeep Singh(read Manorama below) and Vishal Bharadwaj use it in their respective movies is very non-obtrusive to the core plot of their own movies. When Farah Khan, Aditya Chopra or Karan Johar use it, it comes off as self-referential and a shameless device to draw attention.
Manorama Six Feet Under : Rajasthan, the name itself evokes feelings of mysticism and romanticism at the same time. Many a movies have been set with this beautiful state as it’s backdrop. Navdeep Singh’s directorial debut is a noir style film set in a non-descript Rajasthani desert town named Lakhot. It is a sort of the town where nothing of any importance happens and the rest of the world doesn’t seem to care much about it. The only news it makes is when people die of extreme heat in its unforgiving summers. Abhay Deol plays Satyajeet Randhawa who is a Government employee and aspires to be a write of crime novels. We learn that he has been suspended from this job and has caused some tension amongst his wife (Gul Panag) and not to mention the boredom that comes with not having the only activity that keeps a man busy in town like Lakhot. Until, Satyajeet accidentally gets involved in the life of a mysterious woman who claims to be the wife of a local politician. It’s to our delight much like Satyajeet’s when one strange incident leads to another and you begin to see that things are not what they seem in this sleepy town. The plot unfolds and provides explanations for the central mystery but leaves some events unexplained (deliberately so). The film is clearly inspired by Roman Polanski‘s classic neo-noir Chinatown but is not a copy of it by any means. Navdeep is so confident and comfortable with his material that he actually shows a scene from Chinatown playing on a television in the movie.  Bravo!

Other notable releases:

Anurag Kashyap‘s No Smoking is one of those movies which fall in the category of love-it or hate-it cinema. I have personally not understood the movie but am pleased to see that someone had the moxie to make a completely self-absorbed movie (another such director is Sanjay Leela Bhansali ). The Gulzar-Vishal soundtrack is a masterpiece which went mostly un-noticed.
Diwali 2007 will be rememberd for the battle of Om Shanti Om and Saawariya. Both were mega budget productions from two powerhouse film studios. While OSO had the King Khan paired with new girl Deepika Padukone (daughter of Prakash Padukone), Saawariya was a launch vehicle for two Kapoor kids – Ranbir (the son of Rishi and Neetu Kapoor and grandson of Raj Kapoor) and Sonam (daughter of Anil Kapoor). It’s now history that OSO became the biggest blockbuster of the year, and Bhansali’s Saawariya was panned by the audiences and the critics alike. While the first half of OSO pokes fun at all that is Bollywood in general, it becomes just that which it poked fun of in the second half and takes itself too seriously. Had it maintained its zaniness throughout, it would have been a much better film. SRK does all the heavy lifting (with washboard abs to prove) with his histrionics which is such a departure from his performance from Chak De India.  The success of the film proves yet again why he is the KING of Bollywood – a Super Star. As for the newcomer Deepika, she could not have asked for a better debut vehicle, and it certainly helped that she did not have to speak a whole lot in the movie (smart move by Farah Khan).

Now let’s talk about Saawariya,shall we! SLB’s adaptation of Dostoyevsky‘s White Nights is set in a dreamy town  in……Himachal? Italy? Russia?France? None…its set in Bhansaligarh. And if you live in the world that Bhansali inhabits (which is scarcely populated) you will “get” his style of moviemaking. We have already established that it does not belong on any place on this planet (note that flashing your junk from your window is totally OK in this town), so the characters of course do not speak the way we earthlings speak. Which also means that the problems of their lives are nothing close to what you and me for example might have, and yes everyone for all intensive purposes has a heart of gold (even the prostitutes). Yet, my dear readers, give me a SLB  movie anyday to a Sooraj Barjatya’s family-wedding-album’esque film. The man once again stays true to his heart and his convictions – goes over the top with everything in a way which will either make you run for the nearest exit of the cinema hall or would leave you in wonder with the sheer audacity of the whole exercise. Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor manage to hold their own in this “only the director understood what was going on” movie. They will eventually feature in some important movies in the coming years which were, thankfully set on this planet.

Imtiaz Ali‘s romantic comedy Jab We Met also became a major hit in 2007 with the then real-life boy friend girl friend jodi of Shahid and Kareena Kapoor playing the on screen couple. The movie did not break any new grounds in the genre but succeeded because of it’s clever writing (Imtiaz himself wrote the movie) and an enthusiatic performance of Geet Dhillon by Kareena Kapoor.

R Balki’s directorial debut Cheeni Kum, was also a romantic comedy about a 65 year old London Chef (a bearable Amitabh Bachchan) and a 32 year old woman (a gracious Tabu). The movie had all the ingredients for a spicy dish but in the end feels like a watered down chicken curry. A commendable effort nevertheless.

Anurag Basu‘s Life in a Metro tells the mutiple intertwining stories (one sub-plot lifted entirely from The Apartment) of characters living in Mumbai. It tries with minimal success to display a slice of a society in this metropolis where adultery and one-night-stands have proliferated more than one would like to accept.

Last but of course not the least, a mention must go to Ram Gopal Varma and his supremely audacious attempt at remaking the much loved, adored and idolized movie “Sholay“. There is nothing wrong in trying to remake old art (it has been done countless times in the past in most all art forms) but its another thing when you deliberately try to butcher it, abuse it and completely ignore the few well-wishers you have who might be telling you (more like – Yelling at you)  “Uhm…Ramu, you might want to step down from that pedestal that you erected for yourself and rethink this project. Stop smoking whatever that you are and let’s take a fresh and a sane look at this, shall we?”  RGV was one of the path-breaking movie makers of the 90s who is single-handedly responsible for bringing the gritty and realistic look to mainstream Bollywood with the maginificent Satya (and to an extent Shiva). Somewhere down the line, RGV became bigger than the art (Amitabh exhibits similar symptoms) and that’s where the downfall started. There is a reason why Sachin Tendulkar, Asha Bhosale, Lata Mangeshkar, A R Rehman and their likes are consistent in their performance  – they are firmly grounded individuals who understand that they exist because of their art (and not the other way). Ram Gopal Verma ki Aag is as narcissitic and megalomanical piece of work as there can be. Everyone associated with this wretched film, I am sure wants to vehemently forget about it and erase it from their lives.

With that we move to the closing chapter of the decade.

Movie of the year: Johnny Gaddar

Actor of the year: Shah Rukh Khan (Chak De India, Om Shanti Om)

Actress of the year: Kareena Kapoor (Jab We Met)

Director of the year: Sriram Raghavan (Johnny Gaddar)

Music director of the year: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (Johnny Gaddar, Taare Zameen Par)