2023 was a puzzling year for Bollywood films. On one side, we saw giant blockbusters such as Jawan, Pathaan, Gadar 2, and Animal. On the other, we saw a good number of ‘content films’ falling like nine pins at the box office. The streaming channels became saviors to several of the smaller titles which might have stood a small chance at the box office in the pre-COVID era. The big question remains whether we will be able to watch a good number of quiet, understated, un-filmy films on the silver screen anymore!
Below are the 10 best Bollywood films of 2023, ranked in reverse order:
Director Anubhav Sinha’s film boils with anger. Chronicling one of the darkest episodes to have unfolded in modern India, the tense ensemble cast film is lensed in black-and-white. The performances are stellar from the dependable ensemble consisting of Rajkummar Rao, Bhumi Pednekar, Pankaj Kapur, Dia Mirza, Ashutosh Rana, and Aditya Srivastav.
9. Friday Night Plan
In Vatsal Neelakantan’s charming debut, we meet teen siblings Sid and Adi, essayed by Babil Khan and Amrith Jayan respectively. In a genre that Bollywood rarely attempts (possibly due to the lack of marketable teen stars), we get a film that is yuppie, relatable, and thoroughly entertaining. The filmmaker’s confidence in turning a simple story into a riveting watch proves he is here to stay.
Newbie Alizeh Agnihotri ably headlines the adaptation of the Korean film Bad Genius. The director Soumendra Padhi who previously gave us the gripping Budhia Singh – Born To Run and the web series Jamtara immerses us in a twisted story centred on volatile teens. Fast-paced and brimming with energy, the film instantly lets you sit up and take notice of the talent on display despite minor hiccups.
Sudhir Mishra’s film is near-perfect. If it were to omit the obstructive use of songs, it would have straight up landed in this year’s Top 3. Such is the impact of the mind-boggling world he exposes around the misuse of social media in modern-day India. The principal cast is fantastic (especially Bhumi Pednekar and Sumeet Vyas) while the screenplay, filled with one gutting sequence after the other, keeps you on the tenterhooks.
6. Mast Mein Rehne Ka
While recommending it to me soon after Mast Mein Rehne Ka dropped on Amazon Prime Video, someone said, “They don’t make such movies anymore,” The answer is that they do. They do not make their way to the cinemas because we prefer big spectacles instead.
Vijay Maurya’s film instantly drew me into the intimate world of Kamath, Prakash, Nanhe, and Rani. It may have a dull look to be classified as ‘sweet’ but it genuinely is. Filled with tender moments in abundance, the key players (Jackie Shroff, Neena Gupta, Abhishek Chauhan, and Monika Panwar) are predictably good. However, it’s Rakhi Sawant who throws a giant surprise as Bimla (formerly Bilkis).
Vishal Bhardwaj’s film works chiefly for its nuanced screenplay and its complex characters – each of whom has their respective personal truths and consciences. While the pace might seem a little off the beat at places, Khufiya holds its ground by delivering several peak points. While the interval point, as expected, is among the film’s penny-drop moments, the writing turns all the more gripping in the pre-climax reminding us of Bhardwaj’s knack for keeping us immersed purely via terrific screenwriting.
Indian filmmakers must attempt more dysfunctional family dramas for the simple fact that the subcontinent might have more stories to milk than any other geography. I do not have any statistics to prove the claim but I said what I said. As for Rahul V. Chittella’s film, it showcases an amusing tapestry of issues woven into the interpersonal equations between members of a family. The performances are unanimously superb and the screenplay contains the juice to keep you invested in their dilemmas.
3. Kho Gaye Hum Kahan
In his maiden effort, Arjun Varain Singh makes us introspect on why Gen-Z and the late millennials behave the way they do. Kho Gaye Hum Kahan is a sharply observed spectacle of emotions that hits right in the gut if you are an urban or semi-urban youngster dealing with the daily pangs of social media, dreams, expectations, closures, indecision, wounds, and unreciprocated love.
2. 12th Fail
The industry calls it a sleeper or a surprise hit. I would say the makers saw a hit coming from a distance. Such is the universality of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s underdog victory saga which features Vikrant Massey in an astounding turn. The plot may appear a little generic on paper but it contains all the ingredients to make you shed copious tears. The climactic stretch, in particular, is greatly inspiring aside from being a filmmaking marvel.
1. Three of Us
‘Three Of Us’ is a delicate and understated film that astonishes with its portrayal of tender childhood devotion, melancholia, and the fear of memories fading. The impeccable acting on display by Shefali Shah, Jaideep Ahlawat, and Swanand Kirkire is the icing on the cake in Avinash Arun’s Konkan-set slow-burn drama which is the best feature film of 2023.
Special Mentions: Goldfish, Dhak Dhak, Satyaprem Ki Katha and OMG 2
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