Indian cinema is the world’s largest by the number of feature films produced. 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.
Band Baaja Baaraat (BBB) (2010): Maneesh Sharma
In his directorial debut, this Maneesh Sharma movie can be easily called Dhinchak, Dhasu and Damdaar.
Yash Raj Films are pioneers in weaving love-stories amidst various locations and professional backdrops. BBB was the first time we saw a romantic-comedy in the world of wedding planning.
Marking the debut of (now) Bollywood superstar Ranveer Singh, this slice-of-life movie realistically presents the lives of ordinary youths in Delhi.
He plays a college dropout who teams up with the ambitious Shruti Kakkad (Anushka Sharma) to run the successful marriage bureau, ‘Shaadi Mubarak.’
The spunky pairing of Anushka (who was an established actor during the film’s release) and Ranveer has managed to gain iconic status.
Even now, people cannot forget Shruti and Bittoo’s Picante pairing especially in songs like ‘Ainvayi Ainvayi’ and ‘Dum Dum’.
Made on a very modest budget, BBB emerged as the most-popular sleeper hit of 2010, as well as a popular film… Especially amongst the youth.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD) (2011): Zoya Akhtar
Zoya Akhtar has the knack for humanising geographical locations. In ZNMD, Spain is not just an escapist location, but a place which helps the protagonists to discover themselves.
Akhar presents a tale of three mates (played by Farhan Akhtar, Hrithik Roshan and Abhay Deol) who reunite for a three-week road trip and explores each strand in a convoluted manner.
Aside from seeing the three characters holidaying in an exotic, foreign location, we see them overcoming their insecurities and fears, which is a theme which many viewers can resonate with.
It is equally refreshing to see a group of guy friends who do not act like brash toxic masculines.
They are open in expressing their emotions and are not hellbent on concealing their weaknesses. At the same time, the female characters too play a significant role in this amiable movie.
Having received critical acclaim and high box-office takings, it is no surprise why the movie also won several national and international awards!
Barfi! (2012): Anurag Basu
The Award-winning Anurag Basu directorial and India’s official entry to the Oscars is a perfect ode to legends like Raj Kapoor and Charlie Chaplin.
Not only did Barfi! gain a great critical and commercial success, it also offers some career-defining performances by Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra Jonas, whilst marking Ileana D’Cruz’s Bollywood debut.
It is set in the 1970s, based on Ranbir as Murphy “Barfi” Johnson (a deaf-mute Nepali boy from Darjeeling) and his relationships with two women, Shruti (Ileana) and Jhilmil (who is autistic, played by Priyanka).
Basu not once portrays the handicap aspects in a morbid or dull way. He presents these ‘challenges’ as the protagonists’ strength, as well as showcasing how these conditions impact the people around them.
The love-story itself adopts a very sweet, light and poignant tone, which strikes a chord with the audience.
Whether it’s Murphy throwing his shoe in the air to catch Jhilmil’s attention or her locking the small finger with his, the audience cannot stop admiring Jhilmil and Murphy’s innocent bond.
Plus, the picturesque locations of Darjeeling and Kolkata enhance the visual appeal, where it almost seems like a painting.
Above all, it’s the soulful and melodious soundtrack by Pritam which also brings a huge smile on our faces.
Go Goa Gone (GGG) (2013): Raj and DK
Indian American filmmaker – Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK have filled a void in the Hindi film industry. Their style of comedy is the wittiest, quirkiest and most unapologetic.
An iconic film which encompasses all such virtues of humour is India’s first slacker film and horror-comedy – Go Goa Gone.
The movie revolves around Hardik (Kunal Khemu) and Luv (Vir Das) who are two dope heads who tag along to Goa with their buddy, Bunny (Anand Tiwari), on his business trip.
Luv comes across a free-spirited girl, Luna (Puja Gupta) who casually invites them to an exclusive underground rave party on a remote island.
The party is headed by the macho Indo-Russian Mafioso, Boris (Saif Ali Khan), who is originally from Delhi.
But something is not right on this island and suddenly, they are accosted by zombies.
A wacky laugh riot which also marks a highlight performance of Saif Ali Khan, GGG offers pure entertainment as well as bookmarking a new genre in Hindi cinema.
After emerging as a sleeper hit and gathering a cult status in horror comedy, one highly awaits the sequel!
Haider (2014): Vishal Bhardwaj
Marking the third film of his ‘Shakespeare’ trilogy, ace-filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj adapts the tragedy play, Hamlet.
Customising an ancient English text amidst the insurgency-hit Kashmir conflicts of 1995 and civilian disappearances is a very fascinating and creative move, though it did attract some controversy.
Shahid Kapoor plays a young man who returns to Kashmir after his father’s disappearance to confront his uncle, whom he suspects of playing a role in his father’s fate.
This is probably Shahid’s biggest film to date (in terms of performances) as he swept several the “Best Actor” award at several high-profile ceremonies including Filmfare, Screen and Stardust.
The film also achieved several National Film Awards in various subjects and it truly deserves the accolades.
Kapoor left no stone unturned for this character as he memorised a six-page monologue for the climax where his character goes mad.
He presented the delivery of that monologue in front of a crowd of 5,000 listenings. Plus, the earnest performances by Tabu, Kay Kay Menon and Shraddha Kapoor are applaud-worthy too!
Badlapur (2015): Sriram Raghavan
After doing an array of ‘masala’ movies such as Main Tera Hero and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania the year before, Badlapur broke the glass-ceiling for Varun Dhawan’s career and it presented his true craft as an actor.
Dark, brutal, tragic and twisted… Welcome to the cinematic world of Sriram Raghavan.
The film is about Raghu (Varun) whose wife, Misha (Yami Gautam) and son are killed during a bank heist escape. The nabbed robber, Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) claimed that he did not kill Misha.
On the contrary, he argues that it was his partner (Vinay Pathak). But regardless of whether he was telling the truth, Raghu begins to see red, sparing no one. His sole motive becomes Badla (revenge).
Dhawan shines in playing a grim, layered and unforgiving antagonist. His confrontation with Nawazuddin sets the screen on fire, leaving us feeling distressed, sympathetic and furious.
Throughout his tale of vengeance, Raghavan presents his signature direction style of assembling various characters in pivotal narrative-points.
Given that the ‘neo-noir’ genre is not as popular Hindi cinema, Badlapur‘s box-office collections proved that such styles of cinema can be appreciated on the mainstream front if the content and performances are strong.
Piku (2015): Shoojit Sircar
Piku is amongst the rare Bollywood films which exhibit a modern and sincere father-daughter relationship, as well as covering a taboo health topic like constipation.
The Shoojit Sircar masterpiece chronicles a cab driver (Irrfan Khan) who is caught between a dysfunctional father (Amitabh Bachchan) and daughter (Deepika Padukone) as he drives them to Calcutta.
This uplifting and feel-good movie is exemplary for Mr Bachchan and Deepika both. Firstly, this is perhaps Amitabh ji’s most eccentric and grumpy character, that too of Bengali descent.
Likewise for Deepika. Contrary to some glamorous roles before this, we see her in an empowering architect avatar which strongly resonates with the common man.
Despite made on a moderate budget, this movie worked wonders due to amazing cast performances, an enriched concept (a la Juhi Chaturvedi) and an entertaining appeal.
Subsequently, this garnered great box-office results alongside awards galore and it truly deserves it.
If anything, it will compel you to jump into a car and go on a long, soul-searching road trip.
Kapoor & Sons (2016): Shakun Batra
Shakun Batra is one of the finest filmmakers in Bollywood to showcase dysfunctional relationships… Kapoor & Sons is a testament to this.
The narrates the story of two estranged brothers Arjun Kapoor (Sidharth Malhotra) and Rahul Kapoor (Fawad Khan), who are reunited on the calling of their ailing 90-year-old grandfather (Rishi Kapoor).
Performances by the lead cast Fawad and Sidharth are terrific. In both of their filmographies, this shines like gold.
This Dharma Production is enriched with a powerful ensemble cast consisting of names like Ratna Pathak Shah, Rajat Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. Plus, the facial aesthetics on Rishi Kapoor are fantastic.
It carries a quirky, bitter-sweet tone similar to Hrishikesh Mukherjee style of movies. But the beauty is that this family drama is not portrayed in a larger-than-life manner. It is poignantly realistic and layered.
More than that, this movie courageously and smoothly covers a ‘taboo’ topic like homosexuality and it impacts on a contemporary Indian family.
For such a progressive movie perform well critically and commercially proves that the audience is open to accepting and appreciating unconventional styles of cinema.
Secret Superstar (2017): Advait Chandan
In spite of releasing alongside the big commercial Blockbuster Golmaal Again at Diwali, the triumph of this Advait Chandan directorial debut proves that content is always king… It even worked wonders in China.
The movie narrates the story of 15-year-old Insia (Zaira Wasim) from Baroda in Gujarat. She aspires to become a singer, but her dreams are suppressed by her father’s regressive tyranny.
Concealing her true identity by wearing a burqa, Insia becomes an internet sensation after her singing videos go viral on YouTube.
With the help of popular music producer Shakti Kumaarr (Aamir Khan) and the support of her mother Najma (Meher Vij), Insia tries to pursue her dream to sing on stage.
An award-winning act by Zaira and Meher, this musical drama also sensitively deals with issues like deals with social issues including feminism, gender equality and domestic violence.
This is a progressive, optimistic and uplifting movie which proves that ‘commercial’ cinema does not always need major actors (in the forefront) to provide ‘entertainment’.
Sometimes heartfelt like narratives like Secret Superstar are necessary to raise awareness through the audio-visual platform.
Laila Majnu (2018): Sajid Ali
We know the story of Laila Majnu, but novice director Sajid Ali (screenplay by Imtiaz Ali) customises this traditional folklore in such a poetic, plaintive and contemporary manner.
This one is a love-letter to Kashmir. Without indulging in political conflicts, the film encompasses the culture, picturesque geographical locations and lifestyles of Kashmiris.
The narrative revolves around star-crossed lovers Qais (Avinash Tiwary) and Laila (Tripti Dimri). Typically rejecting his overtures initially, Laila finally gives in.
They meet on the sly as their families are at loggerheads. But soon enough, their love comes out in the open during an unpleasant atmosphere. Further circumstances spiral this love saga out of control… So do they ever meet?
Avinash delivers an extremely powerful performance. He truly grasps and executes the obsession of Qais and his chemistry with debutant Tripti is electrifying.
Although gaining widespread critical acclaim, the movie could not make up the numbers at the box-office.
However, since its streaming on the OTT platform, Laila Majnu is finally getting the recognition it rightfully deserves. It is PURE magic, that must be viewed from the heart.
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!