Indian cinema is the world’s largest by the number of feature films produced. As such, Hindi cinema aka ‘Bollywood’ is an industry which many foreign audiences have related with.
Over the last decade, there have been an array of trends which have changed quite gradually.
During the 2010s, the industry saw established stars such as Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar and Shahrukh Khan making big-budget masala films like:
Dabangg, Ek Tha Tiger, Rowdy Rathore, Chennai Express, Kick and Happy New Year with much-younger actresses.
Although the films were often not praised by critics, they were commercially successful.
Some Aamir Khan films have been credited with redefining and modernising the masala film with a distinct brand.
Having said that, there has been a recent shift in exhibiting narratives which are progressive, realistic and champion woman empowerment.
In a special 5-part series, Filme Shilmy explores 50 best Hindi films of the decade, which will be measured by a movie’s concept, cast performances, rather than just judging it’s box-office collections.
My Name Is Khan (MNIK) (2010): Karan Johar
Prior to this, director Karan Johar was known for making/backing larger-than-life movies like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.
But many forget that his forte has been exploring human relationships amidst complex circumstances. This also forms the crux of MNIK.
The film chronicles an Indian Muslim man with Asperger’s syndrome to speak with the President of the United States seriously, embarking on a cross-country journey.
Besides the social and cultural repercussions of 9/11, this is the first and initial ‘commercial’ Hindi movies which raise awareness of conditions like Asperger’s Syndrome.
As such, this movie tactfully steers away from emerging as a propaganda movie which makes various political statements.
However, It is the characters, situations and rich visual aesthetics which do the talking.
This super-hit emotional drama is topped by some award-winning performances by SRK and Kajol, re-defining their iconic pairing.
7 Khoon Maaf (2011): Vishal Bhardwaj
Amongst Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ best performances, as she plays an Anglo-Indian femme fatale, Susanna Anna-Marie Johannes, who causes seven deaths in an unending quest for love.
Whilst this may not have gained heavy footfalls in terms of box-office collections, it gained widespread appreciation by critics and even won several awards.
Being the adaptation of Ruskin Bond’s short story Susanna’s Seven Husbands, this is a noteworthy movie in the Hindi black comedy genre.
The director paints a poetic, murky and realistic image of this murderous lady. Whilst we sometimes sympathise with Susanna, her character is never glorified or romanticised.
There is a perfect blend of Shakespeare and Agatha Christie-style of storytelling. There are an enigma, enchantment and Vishal Bhardwaj at his best!
Kahaani (2012): Sujoy Ghosh
Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani is a key film which pioneers for the prominence of female-centric films in Bollywood.
It stars Vidya Balan as Vidya Bagchi, a pregnant woman searching for her missing husband in Kolkata and is assisted by Satyoki “Rana” Sinha (Parambrata Chatterjee).
The film is noted for its deft portrayal of the city and for making use of local crew and cast members.
Ghosh uses the traditional Durga Puja as a way to depict the triumph of good over evil.
Subsequently, the movie explores themes of feminism and motherhood in male-dominated Indian society.
Made on a shoestring budget, the movie received huge amounts of moolah at the box-office as well as several prestigious awards.
Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (YJHD) (2013): Ayan Mukerji
Ayan Mukherji’s films really speak to the youths. There are a strong relatability and amiability to his filmmaking style… Especially when it comes to essay relationships.
Exuberant locations, resonant characters, poignant love and a die-hard friendship – that’s YJHD for you.
Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani depicts the relationship between two characters, Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor) & Naina (Deepika Padukone), at two separate but defining times in their lives.
First, when they are just out of college and standing on the crossroads of multiple decisions that will shape who and what they become and then later on, in their late-twenties when they meet again.
They holding on to certain fulfilled and certain unfulfilled dreams, at a crossroads of another nature this time.
Emerging as a big box office success, this uplifting coming-of-age film is one which will bring a smile on one’s face, as well as a sprinkle of tears.
Queen (2014): Vikas Bahl
Queen is another key movie which empowers women and celebrates liberation. Having said that, the self-discovery aspect is a highly relatable theme.
Plus, it also became the reason why Kangana Ranaut won the ‘Best Actress’ trophy at National Film Awards.
It focuses on 24-year-old Rani (Kangana) who decides to spend an independent ‘honeymoon’ abroad, after being rejected by her fiancé Vijay (Rajkummar Rao), the night before.
During Rani’s journey abroad, she encounters and experiences new and unique things. Thus, she becomes the “Queen” of her own life.
Rather than crying and moping over a broken relationship, Rani decides to let it go and live her life.
The crisp cinematography, simple but poignant storyline and engaging direction pique the viewers’ attention. Europe becomes an additional character, almost like an alter-ego of Rani.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan (BB) (2015): Kabir Khan
Unlike previous intense and problematic depictions of the Indo-Pak relationship, this Kabir Khan movie narrates a light-hearted, optimistic story of friendship and an appreciation of both cultures.
If we look at other films like PK, which challenged religious dogmas and superstitions, BB is the complete opposite.
This is because the movie does not focus on religious differences, but conveys that we. as human beings should respect and support each other, with a well-intentioned heart.
An innocent story of a simpleton Indian endeavouring to drop a six-year-old back to her home in Pakistan is an endearing watch, in which Salman Khan gives his career’s best performance.
Not only did the movie emerge as a box-office blockbuster, but it also won widespread awards, including a major triumph at National Film Awards.
It even made huge waves during its release in China!
Pink (2016): Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury
Pink is a game-changer for the courtroom drama genre in Hindi cinema, that too at a time before #MeToo began in India.
Through its naturalistic setting and mainstream appeal, it raises awareness of ‘consent’, female honour and sexual harassment.
The film is about three Delhi girls: Minal (Taapsee Pannu), Falak (Kirti Kulhari) and Andrea (Andrea Tariang) who elope after one of them escape a molestation attempt by the rich and chauvinistic, Rajveer Singh (Angad Bedi).
In self-defence, Minal hits Rajveer with a bottle, inflicting grievous bodily harm. From this day on, all the girls’ lives change… Forever.
Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury raises stark questions the treatment of women during nights out as well as society’s regressive views, all in a non-preachy or cliched manner.
Arguably, the movie broke the glass ceiling for Taapsee Pannu’s career in Hindi cinema – proving her to be one of the finest actors in the industry.
Besides a commercial success, this movie received widespread critical acclaim, in addition to awards galore.
Hindi Medium (2017): Saket Chaudhary
Hindi Medium depicts the story of Raj Batra (Irrfan Khan) who owns a fashion retail store in Chandni Chowk, New Delhi. He lives a happy life with his wife Mita (Saba Qamar) and daughter Pia.
The family moves to an English speaking society in Vasant Vihar – hoping that this lifestyle will work in the favour of Pia getting into a good grammar school.
After Pia’s admissions are rejected, Raj and Mita decide to leave their rich life and act as being poor so that they can claim free education under ‘The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) 2009.’
Despite being adapted from 2014 Bengali hit – Ramdhanu, it smartly tackles various issues – including language barriers, corruption and education, as well as distinguishing the difference between rich vs poor.
Through satire and entertainment, it effortlessly makes a thought-provoking commentary on India’s education system.
Although made on a modest budget, the movie emerged as a critical and commercial triumph, paving way for a sequel which releases in 2020.
Padmaavat (2018): Sanjay Leela Bhansali
A film that was embroiled in controversies, the masterpiece became a subject of national outrage which even imperilled the lives of Deepika Padukone and Sanjay Leela Bhansali (SLB).
Eventually, though, art conquered over conflict, the film grossed over 300 crores and swept several trophies at the National Film Awards.
Bhansali’s epic film is an adaptation of Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s poem, around how a tyrannical sultan (Ranveer Singh) and his army attack a prosperous kingdom to try and capture the beautiful Queen Padmavati (Deepika Padukone).
Her husband Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor) assembles his valiant forces to defend his land and the honour of his beloved wife.
The film is another visual spectacle by Bhansali which focuses on female honour, royal power-plays and desire.
More than anything, this magnum-opus raised awareness of India’s tortured past and the dark chapters of history.
Gully Boy (2019): Zoya Akhtar
India’s official submission to Oscars, Gully Boy centres around 22-year-old Murad (Ranveer Singh) from a ghetto in Mumbai.
Murad is a rapper, and the story is his journey from realising his love for rap, to chasing his dream and to inadvertently transcending his class.
Prior to this masterpiece, director Zoya Akhtar was stereotyped in solely making films on the ‘elite society’.
But here, but here she showcases an organic, authentic & hopeful depiction of Mumbai’s underbelly.
It also beautifully exhibits India’s rampant rap and hip-hop culture, which gives the colonised poor an opportunity to escape the rut and respond to social injustice.
Unlike Slumdog Millionaire, this movie does not romanticise poverty, nor does it indulge in stereotypes.
Gully Boy is a refreshing and revolutionary and progressive venture for Hindi cinema which will forever be cherished.
On the whole, Hindi cinema has given us some fantastic movies and to pick a handful of 50 films which bookmark the decade is no easy task.
Therefore, we certainly hope our choices in this article and forthcoming writeups will be emblematic of Bollywood’s finest works yet.
Given the recent emergence of digital platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, there is an impetus of strong and relatable content. Thus, one looks forward to seeing what the future holds.
Stay tuned for more updates on this series!