Deep focus

Deep focus

The panel

Sriram Raghavan is a crime noir aficionado, and has directed two films ‘Ek Haseena Thi’ (2004) and ‘Johnny Gaddaar’ (2007), which established him as an original voice in Indian cinema. He is at work on his third film, ‘Agent Vinod’.

Vinayak Azad is a bureaucrat on deputation as regional officer, Central Board of Film Certification, Mumbai. A film buff, Azad says being at CBFC has somewhat taken the joy out of films, but he still watches the best before anyone does.

Siddharth Roy Kapur is the CEO of UTV Motion Pictures. As a young boy, he scanned pages of every film magazine. Ever since he joined UTV, he has been overseeing the making of some of UTV’s most successful films of the decade.

Nandini Ramnath is the managing editor of ‘Time Out’, Mumbai, and writes the fortnightly movies column Stall Order for Lounge. A passionate critic and commentator, she has previously worked with ‘The Indian Express’.

The List

Dil Chahta Hai (2001)

Farhan Akhtar’s directorial debut, the panel agreed, captures the real pulse and milieu of urban youth. It talks to the youth in their language. It is a self-contained film, with attention to detail and some great performances. Akhtar is not afraid to show weak moments, and songs are used in an integrated way to take the narrative forward. It has a freshness that few films since have been able to replicate.

Lagaan (2001)

For Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan, the consensus was arrived upon all too easily. It is classic, epic cinema. The sheer outrageousness of the concept of the film worked well with our panel—a real cricket match, an ignorant villager taking on the British, romance between him and an English girl, it all seems seamless and real in the film. The music adds to the epic quality.

Company (2002)

With Company, director Ram Gopal Varma delivers the best gangster film of the decade, reinventing the genre post-Satya in the process. While the panel agreed that Satya is Varma’s most complete film, they felt that the first half of Company is even better. Elements in the film, such as editing, sound and cinematography, are actually used to move the narrative forward, and not merely add something extra. Company is worth watching over and over, and is a study in the craft of making a stylish gangster film.

Montage: (clockwise from top left) Stills from Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi; Taare Zameen Par; Chak de! India; and Rang de Basanti.

Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2005)

Among the first Hindi films of the decade to portray how the political and the personal can be inextricably linked, Hazaaron Khwaishein presents a nuanced understanding of politics, poignantly capturing an era’s idealism and how it ultimately failed the youth. Through the film, director Sudhir Mishra tells us that passion could be for a person or for society or politics.

Rang De Basanti (2006)

The film Rang de Basanti holds the unique distinction of transcending the screen to became a movement, albeit a short-lived one. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s second effort taps into the prevailing public sentiment—a sense of frustration with the establishment. The performances are superb and the music adds to the film’s reach and impact.

Lage Raho Munna bhai (2006)

Rajkumar Hirani visits history in an inventive way in the sequel to the first Munna Bhai film and delivers something much better. Gandhigiri became a phenomenon in its wake. Hirani’s direction achieves the right balance of poignancy and humour. The simplicity is layered. It is a complete entertainer.

A hit: Sanjay Dutt as Munna Bhai.

Jab We Met (2007)

Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met was voted the best romance of the decade. The chemistry between Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapur is sparkling, there are some great lines, and the emotional upheavals are juxtaposed with the characters’ ordinariness. After a long time, the female lead plays an integral part in a Hindi film. The prospect of the couple not being able to be together lends the film a certain sweet sadness.

Chak de! India (2007)

Chak de! India is the perfect underdog story. There is a man; and there is a team of women, each one with her own quirks. The film possesses an electric energy, and while you know all along what the end will be, it is a thrilling ride, thanks to the control in Shimit Amin’s direction. Chak de! was Shah Rukh Khan’s best role in the decade.

Taare Zameen Par (2007)

Aamir Khan, who directed Taare Zameen Par, achieved something unprecedented in commercial Hindi cinema: He made a film where the lead character was a child and he introduced a Bollywood star in the film only in its second half; still, the movie fetched more than Rs60 crore at the box office. Darsheel Safary is unforgettable as the dyslexic boy and there is a very strong emotional core to Taare... that appeals to everyone. The film reflects both commitment and sensitivity.

Dev.D (2009)

Although Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday was on the panel’s longlist, it was Dev.D which finally made the cut. The film introduces a sensibility not seen before in our cinema. It is a heady trip no doubt, but it has great, well-etched characters too. The story of Devdas is incidental to the film, which is about troubled people who plunge into the dark and have no way of coming out. There are no heroics, and yet the film touches a chord and makes you sympathize with the characters. Kashyap is definitely one of the most talented directors around.

The process

We chose to meet the panel—comprising a film-maker, a CEO, a critic and a censor board official—at Mumbai’s quintessentially filmy hotel, the JW Marriott, to talk films over beer, whisky and nimboo paani (the CEO chose the last). The longlist was ready, and the yardstick for selection laid out: the most significant films in terms of box-office success, and films with unusual ways of storytelling.

We were anticipating heated arguments; a consensus didn’t seem easy. But as it turned out, the longlist of more than 30 films was whittled down to 15 in the first half hour—an early indicator, perhaps, of the fact that there haven’t been too many great films after all.

This decade has been one of extremes for the industry. On the one hand, for the very first time, some traditional notions governing commercial film-making were overthrown—content was supreme, the driving force behind most successful films. This was the decade of the small film. Although films such as Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Haasil and Chandni Bar didn’t make it to our list, our panel discussed them at length.

This was also the decade when budgets skyrocketed and the notion of “big" films changed forever—“big" (such as Blue) didn’t necessarily translate to big money at the box office.

Among the 10 films that were chosen, the consensus for seven was, again, quite easy. There weren’t many surprises—any movies of the decade list would include Lagaan and Lage Raho Munna Bhai, for instance—but for Lounge, one that stood out was not finding any of Vishal Bhardwaj’s films in the list. Bhardwaj is one of the most important directors of the decade, distinguished by his innovative storytelling.

But it was a democratic process. For the last two spots, our panel debated among five choices: Luck by Chance, Kaminey, Chak de! India, Chandni Bar and Taare Zameen Par. In the end, each vote mattered.