Movies in 2017: 13 reasons why
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Year-ender rankings may hint at the quality of cinema in a given year, but as an indicator of what will stick in the mind, they’re of little use. Cinematic memories aren’t a neat record of worthy films, they’re a jumble of songs and one-liners and camera tricks, jokes that no one in the theatre laughed at but you found hilarious, clunky scenes in good films, memorable sequences in terrible films. Culled from indies and blockbusters, regional films and documentaries, these are 13 moments we’ll remember Indian film in 2017 by.
1. In Avinash Das’ Anaarkali Of Aarah, Hiraman (Ishtiyak Khan) recognizes stage singer Anaarkali (Swara Bhaskar) in a dhaba (eatery) and shows her the first real kindness she’s seen in a long time. He shoos off a few insistent fans, introduces himself, insists that she eat something. I’m not hungry, she lies. His reply is weird and beautiful: “Hamaare liye na sahi, desh ke liye kha lijiye (if not for my sake, have something for the sake of the country).”
2. A bomb-maker goes about his work, tying stone with string, his arms around the trunk of a tree. His explanation: “If this explodes right now, only my hands would be damaged. Or else my face and everything else will be wrecked.” Violence refracted through the prism of the comic and the everyday: a typical scene from Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Angamaly Diaries.
3. The most infuriating scene of the year, in Shashank Khaitan’s Badrinath Ki Dulhania. After Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt) runs out on Badri (Varun Dhawan) on their wedding day, he tracks her down in Singapore. As she’s walking alone one night, he comes up from behind, puts a hand over her mouth, picks her up with the help of a friend, throws her in the trunk of his car and drives off. It’s hard to imagine Vaidehi not thinking that she’s going to be raped or killed. Turns out Badri is just another male protagonist acting out, and it’s Vaidehi who has to say sorry and apparently be grateful that Badri isn’t planning to murder her, as his father sent him there to do. Badri may be a product of his toxic environment but to minimize the seriousness of his actions—he’s soon forgiven, and moves into her apartment—is to endorse the film’s view that a little abduction here, a little death threat there, is understandable.
4. In Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla’s documentary An Insignificant Man, Arvind Kejriwal watches with great seriousness as a fictionalized version of his activist life—Prakash Jha’s Satyagraha—unfolds on screen.
5. Pankaj Tripathi, Rajkummar Rao and Ayushmann Khurrana—responsible for about half the worthwhile Hindi cinema in 2017 between them—share a scene in Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Bareilly Ki Barfi. Rao gets the best line. “Aao, tuning kar dete hain (come, let me tune you up),” he tells the neck-brace-wearing Tripathi. Hindi film has grown scarily adept at this sort of tossed-off scene—defiantly middle class, ensemble cast, one-liners tossed between family members like sped-up Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
6. A moment of grace orchestrated by the angriest character of the year. When the titular hothead of Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Arjun Reddy finds out his grandmother has died, he comes home, coaxes his father out of grief-induced inaction and plays her favourite record, Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World.
7. Cake stolen off a grave. A dead father. A séance. A moth pressed between the pages of a book. The possible off-screen murder of a frog. “Eulogy.” A bug burnt under a magnifying glass. Om Puri, who didn’t live to see the release of the film, saying, “Nothing gets better at this age.” Blood dripping off a tree trunk. Mortality in Konkona Sensharma’s A Death In the Gunj.
8. Pankaj Tripathi’s great hangdog performance in Amit Masurkar’s Newton reaches its apogee in the scene where the titular election officer (Rajkummar Rao) pulls a gun on him and his men. Shaken out of his customary calm at first, Aatma Singh’s instincts kick in. He makes an exaggerated show of how relaxed he is, folding his arms, leaning against a tree, telling the agitated Newton to take his time. We see, for the first and only time in the film, why Singh is in charge of a platoon in an area this volatile.
9. Tired of the needling of wedding photographer Arshad (Vikrant Massey)—who’s also her uncaring lover—Leela (Aahana Kumra) plants a kiss on her shy fiancé’s mouth. A rare outright win before the collective fall in Alankrita Shrivastva’s Lipstick Under My Burkha.
10. “Show me one husband in Lucknow who makes a drink for his wife with his own hands”—Akshay Kumar setting low standards in Subhash Kapoor’s Jolly LLB 2.
11. Some of the funniest, most progressive gender politics of 2017 came in the unassuming form of a sexual dysfunction comedy, R.S. Prasanna’s Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. After she has a meltdown in front of her parents, Sugandha (Bhumi Pednekar) is given a birds-and-bees talk by her mother (Seema Pahwa), who begins with some light erotic poetry and goes on to describe her own wedding night (“Your father was very gentle. Perhaps a little too gentle”). But when she compares a woman’s body to a treasure cave which opens only for Ali Baba (and not the 40 thieves), Sugandha has had enough. “Ali Baba needs this education, not the cave,” she snaps.
12. In an abandoned trench, the sexiest scene of the year. Silent-film star Julia (Kangana Ranaut), slightly tipsy, runs rings around officer Nawab Malik (Shahid Kapoor), who has no idea how to fight off this sort of attack. “Why are you blushing? You saw me naked,” she purrs, as the camera swoons and sways. They end up rolling in the mud, the debris of World War II around them. A moment from Rangoon that’s pure Vishal Bhardwaj.
13. Early on in Vikramaditya Motwane’s Trapped, Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao) makes a rushed, distracted exit from his flat—putting on his shoes as he talks on the phone, saying a quick prayer, pulling the door behind him. Nothing out of the ordinary and yet, this is a clever bit of foreshadowing, and an indication of how minutely planned the film is. These same actions, repeated with the same level of distraction a little later in the film, almost prove fatal.