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.
Guzaarish (2010): Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Guzaarish is perhaps Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s most underrated works yet.
He presents a ‘taboo’ subject which is brilliantly essayed by mainstream actors like Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
Renowned former magician Ethan (Roshan), now a quadriplegic, files a petition for euthanasia.
While he awaits the verdict, Omar (Aditya Roy Kapur), a young magic enthusiast, convinces Ethan to pass on his legacy to him.
A heart-wrenching narrative which sparks the debate about the legalisation of euthanasia in India is enhanced by spellbinding cinematic aspects, making this a gem.
Hrithik Roshan gives his career’s best performance yet in this and every emotion resonates with the audience. For this, he even won several awards.
Shockingly, this movie did not make big numbers at the box-office. But thankfully, the critics expressed their appreciation for it.
It’s heartening to know that at least the film’s screenplay was invited by the Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (Oscars) to be part of its permanent script collection!
No One Killed Jessica (2011): Raj Kumar Gupta
“Justice has been denied. You can live with it, I will not.” NOKJ is a riveting watch about a news reporter (Rani Mukerji) who seeks justice for a woman (Vidya Balan), whose bartender sister was unwarrantedly killed by a politician’s son.
Based on the real-life murder of model Jessica Lal and the years-long legal proceedings that curtailed.
This eventually made the case a nationwide topic which raised awareness of both systemic corruption and women’s rights.
It was an eye-opening thriller which really questions the Indian judicial system and the power-play of elites.
Topped by Raj Kumar Gupta’s cutting-edge filmmaking style and visual aesthetics, this one presents a shocking true story in a sensitive yet enriched manner.
Made on a lenient budget, this received decent footfalls at the box-office, leading to winning several awards at various ceremonies.
NOKJ is easily one of its kinds to feature a powerful female double-act in a Bollywood film which challenges our society and the way it operates.
English Vinglish (2012): Gauri Shinde
Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish was a trendsetter when it released in 2012. It emerged as a critical and commercial success.
Not only did it mark the comeback of actor (late) Sridevi who had ruled in the 90s (the highest-paid actor of her time), but it was also one of those few films which instantly connected with the audience.
Shashi (Sridevi), a middle-class housewife who makes and sells laddoos as a home-business, but is poked fun at by her family members for not being able to speak English fluently.
When she goes to New York for her niece’s wedding, an incident at a cafe leaves Shashi heart-broken and she finally decides to enrol herself in English-speaking tutorial classes.
The movie is not only women-centric but it also centres around the theme of self-love. The English language almost becomes an additional character.
For crafting an outstanding piece of cinema, Gauri was nominated for ‘best debutant’ directors at various award ceremonies.
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013): Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
The sports genre has been on a revival and Hindi cinema knows well how to weave heart-touching stories through this style. One such iconic venture is Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.
Milkha Singh is known as ‘The Flying Sikh’ and the Indian athlete was the only Indian male athlete to win an individual athletics Gold medal in the Commonwealth Games till as recently as 2013.
But that’s not all. Singh’s past was a lot more eventful, a lot more poignant and layered.
Some notable highlights of the film include Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s direction, Farhan Akhtar (along with the entire cast’s) emotion-stirring performances and the 50-60s setting was created with perfection.
The technical aspects are par excellence too… Especially Binod Pradhan’s crisp cinematography and PS Bharathi’s swift editing enhance the film’s cinematic appeal.
This emerged as one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films of 2013, gaining widespread appreciation from critics and audience alike, winning several awards too.
Lootera (2013): Vikramaditya Motwane
Lootera is an artsy ode to Bengali, vintage Indian cinema pioneered by filmmakers like Satyajit Ray and Bimal Roy. This film is an unspoken, underrated masterpiece.
Sonakshi Sinha’s performance reminds one of the legendary actresses like Waheeda Rahman and Sharmila Tagore.
Whilst Ranveer Singh’s enactment of a charming conman also reminds one of the boy-next-door characters played by legends like Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Dharmendra.
Inspired by O. Henry’s 1907 short story The Last Leaf, Vikramaditya Motwane creatively customises this traditional tale amidst the backdrop of the Zamindari Abolition Act by the newly independent India.
Though narrated by a slow pace, the developed characters and picturesque locations enhance the film’s beautiful appeal.
Furthermore, Amit Trivedi’s soul-stirring soundtrack manages to recreate the 50s magic. Even years after, it’s a soundtrack which strikes a chord with listeners.
It is so unfortunate that such a marvellous piece of cinema received immense critical acclaim, but lacked the ticket numbers. Nonetheless, it’s still an amazing film!
Talvar (2015): Meghna Gulzar
This award-winning film revolves around the mysterious murder cases of a 14-year girl, Shruti and the domestic help, Khempal who worked at her place.
The film is based on the real-life Noida Double Murder Case of 2008, where the parents were said to be the prime suspects of the murders.
Talvar showcases three perspectives to the case which emerge as the investigation moves forward.
Meghna Gulzar’s extremely sensitive, mature and balanced presentation on such a harrowing case is commendable.
Plus, to portray multi-angles to a narrative requires an excellent craft of filmmaking – which Gulzar has displayed. Vishal Bhardwaj’s dark/gritty writing plays a huge role in this too.
Despite a slow pace, it immediately grabs viewers by the throat and never ceases to let go. It is a gritty fusion of a documentary and ‘whodunit’ – making it a fascinating piece of cinema.
With some earnest performances by Irrfan Khan, Konkona Sen Sharma and Neeraj Kabi, such movies restore our
After making waves in international film festivals, it emerged as a critical and commercial success.
Udta Punjab (2016): Abhishek Chaubey
Udta Punjab is amongst the few Hindi films that carry high visual appeal, as well as tackling a rampant and serious topic.
Despite the initial online piracy and censorship issues, the movie proved that arts conquer all.
The film narrates the story of four lives: Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor), a Bihari migrant (Alia Bhatt), Dr Preet Sahni (Kareena Kapoor Khan) and Sartaj Singh (Diljit Dosanjh), who mutually face the issue of drug abuse.
All four performances of the leading cast are powerful and every member gets a chance to shine in their respective roles, with each character neatly weaved into the storyline.
The movie could have easily been quite slow and morbid, but thankfully, this is not the case. The narrative progresses quickly.
Having said that, Chaubey balances light-humour with the serious content of the film. He handles the three narratives very well with each other.
Though a moderate commercial success, the film was appreciated by critics and audiences alike.
Dangal (2016): Nitesh Tiwari
Dangal the award-winning sports blockbuster is inspired by true events in Haryana, India.
It revolves around Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan), a wrestling coach who trains his two daughters Geeta (Fatima Sana Shaikh) and Babita (Sanya Malhotra) to become world-class wrestlers.
The film spans the length of 10 years. As such, the movie explores the grit and determination Mahavir has against all odds.
He bravely embraces criticism from society, surviving with a lack of money, apathy from officials and more. But he doesn’t give up, just to see India win Gold.
Being a film which focuses on female empowerment and gender equality, could have easily been preachy.
But the writers and director Nitesh Tiwari ensure that the theme is weaved into a narrative which informs, entertains and inspires the audience.
In addition, Aamir’s body transformation from 98 kilos to 70 within five months is truly a magnificent achievement.
Badhaai Ho (2018): Amit Sharma
Badhaai Ho touches on a subject which has not been seen before in Bollywood – that too featuring ‘content king’, Ayushmann Khurrana.
With some excellent performances by experienced actors of the industry, it tells the story of a middle-aged couple (Gajraj Rao and Neena Gupta) who get pregnant much to the disappointment of their adult son (Ayushamnn).
Never has Bollywood showcased a story about a middle-aged lady getting between pregnant and the ramifications this has on society. It breaks taboos on a sensitive and mainstream level.
The humour is subtle to the core and that is why it tickles the funny bone and there is no exaggerated comedy. It all happens organically and in a way works well with audiences.
Importantly, the movie also begs the question as to why is it so embarrassing to know that parents have sex?
Most deservedly, this became amongst 2018’s highest-growing films, winning the National Film Award for ‘Providing Best Wholesome Entertainment’ and commemorating Surekha Sikri for ‘Best Supporting Actress’.
The Sky Is Pink (TSIP)(2019): Shonali Bose
In spite of getting widespread acclaim at international film festivals, sadly the box-office collections fail to do justice to this masterpiece.
TSIP is based on the true story of Aisha Chaudhary (Zaira Wasim), a young motivational speaker and author who was born with an immune deficiency disorder and died at the age of 18.
As such, the heartbroken parents (Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Farhan Akhtar) give up their jobs and travel to London’s Great Ormond Street, the only place that offers hope for their daughter.
The generosity of people’s donations funds the treatment that saves young Aisha and the family eventually moves back home.
Years pass and all seems well, but the family is not out of the woods. Director Shonali Bose avoids pulling on the heartstrings in the most obvious manner.
She adapts a very balanced, poetic and Hrishikesh Mukherjee style of storytelling: one which makes us laugh and cry at the same time.
Plus, the principal performances are outstanding. Such realistic depictions by Priyanka, Zaira, Farhan and Rohit. They recreate the real-life personalities well on celluloid.
Some films are more than just cinematic expressions. Many come as a lesson in which one has to live according to our circumstances.
This is one of those movies as it encapsulates the true essence of life and death.
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!