Top 10 Films of 2006
Men in tights, clowns, and trophy maidens
2006 witnessed some highly profitable movies with at least half-a-dozen sizable blockbusters (Krrish, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, Rang De Basanti, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Phir Hera Pheri, and Fanaa) spearheading the box-office charge along with several moneymakers and a handful of break-even projects. Only 20 years ago, the Hindi film industry was in total turmoil: megastar Bachchan was mired in political and legal scandals, the Lata-Rafi music era had ended, and movies were so lackluster that in 1986-87 Filmfare didn't even bother hosting their famous film awards show. The resurgence of the film industry, interestingly, coincided with the liberalization of India's economy over the last two decades. Based on that theory, the future looks so bright that we may yet need the proverbial sunglasses to gaze at the marquee. A recap of the year's film highlights.
OMKARA Vishal Bharadwaj's superb hinterland drama—a virtual chess match where thinly veiled modern kings, queens, warlords, and their chosen underlings inhabit a vast rural canvas—was equally effective as an astute homage to Shakespeare's Othello and as a battle hymn for filmmaking virtuosity. Ajay Devgan's excellent titular criminal kingpin and Naseeruddin Shah's fine kingmaker are wonderfully balanced by Saif Ali Khan as a backstabbing backwoods scoundrel and Kareena Kapoor's luscious trophy damsel who ignites a fiery hot jealousy central to the plot. Pregnant pause: An ornate, squeaky indoor swing undulating heavily and ominously above two storied dead bodies. Coming up: Devgan will update Dharmendra's Veeru role in Ram Gopal Varma's remake of the legendary Sholay.
RANG DE BASANTI In the capable hands of filmmaker Rakeysh Mehra, historical lore, disenchanted youth and political graft converge brilliantly to carve up a parable about modern India.
The riveting film's mainstay was a successful overlap of two stories—the historical struggle for India's independence seen through the eyes of Indian freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, and a contemporary college
student's idealized notions of democracy. Pregnant pause: Faced with a outgunning-vs.- outrunning mortal choice, Hrithik Roshan) and Kunal Kapoor as they turn their defeated-but-not vanquished gaze to the camera and await their fate reminiscent of Butch's and Sundance's final freeze frame when they are surrounded by the Bolivian cavalry. Coming up: Khan will headline Mani Ratnam's Lajjo opposite both Kareena Kapoor and Manisha Koirala.
WATER All great trilogies must come to an end, and what better way for Deepa Mehta to finish what she started with the equally beautiful Fire and Earth than this exquisite portrait of lost souls bobbing up and down along a euphemistic river of life. Much like the first two installments, Water was not without controversy—a neorealist take on rural widowhood can ruffle political feathers in India, even in 2006. Filmed in Sri Lanka after the mothership refused permission to land there, Water proved to be a heartfelt tug boosted by super performances by Seema (Bandit Queen) Biswas and Indian-Canadian star Lisa Ray, along with John Abraham and Kulbhushan Kharbanda. Pregnant frame: Biswas's downtrodden widow contemplates the well-meaning advances from Kharbanda's village priest and, with silent resignation, declines the offer. Coming up: Mehta will take to the high seas for Komagata Maru to recreate the incendiary real-life 1914 journey of a Canada-bound Japanese trawler carrying Indian immigrants ultimately forced to turn away at the Vancouver harbor.
LAGE RAHO MUNNABHAI 2006 was a banner year for well-made comedies (36 China Town, Malaamal Weekly, Phir Hera Pheri). The flagship in that tattered-flag flotilla was this excellent Vidhu
Vinod Chopra follow-up to his hit 2003 entry Munnabhai MBBS. Selfdeprecating mercilessly, shamelessly strong-arming without resorting to violence, fun-filled with a catchy tune or two, the hit camaraderie between Sanjay Dutt's Munnabhai and his side-kick Circuit (Arshad Warsi) hit all the right notes. Pregnant pause: In a nearly abandoned, dusty library Dutt's morally challenged Munna has an epiphany in a final confrontation with the ghost of Mahatma Gandhi. Coming up: Dutt morphing into the brave real-life Mumbai cop who masterminded a 1992 standoff with Al Qaeda-linked arch narco-terrorist Dawood Ibrahim resulting in (no doubt bloody) Shootout at Lokhandwala.
FANAA In a somber post-9/11 world, a better story about a would-be terrorist's search for moral and spiritual redemption can turn just the right screws. Aamir Khan convincingly shouldered Rehan Qadri, a two-faced, marvelously shaded character who is both the remorseful protagonist and a would-be violent antagonist. Director Kunal (Hum Tum) Kohli finessed a handsome entry with ample support from the talented Kajol in her longawaited comeback. The consummate Khan proved again why his knack for selecting juicy scripts has resulted in five successive high-profile entries of which four went gangbusters at the box office (Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai, Rang De Basanti, and Fanaa). Pregnant pause: Dressed in an Indian soldier's uniform, Khan-the-terrorist unknowingly knocks on the doors of a snowy mountaintop villa only to find his beloved—and blind—Zooni (Kajol) answering the door. Coming up: Kajol is rumored
to have bagged Hema Malini's Basanti role in the Sholay remake.
KRRISH No film that makes this much money (in the top 10 all-time Indian moneymakers), goes to this many places to film (Malaysia, Mumbai, the Himalayas), gets helps from technicians from so many countries (India, U.K, China, Australia, Malaysia, United States) and, incidentally, spins off a superhero who borrows from so many other men in tights (Batman, Matrix, Superman, Zorro) will fail to grab headlines. Indeed, filmmaker Rakesh Roshan's and his star son Hrithik Roshan's followup to their 2004 hit film Koi Mil Gaya succeeded at doing exactly that. The Roshans' success at transforming Krrish into a global desi phenom got the attention of Harvard, where Krrish became the first Indian film to inspire a course that examines how the emerging India, Inc. can—and surely will—sell its ideas on the global bazaar. Pregnant pause: The pumped-up Krrish outsmarting Naseerudin Shah's diabolical usurper by resetting the dials of a time machine. Coming up: Hrithik Roshan will take his daredevil show on to Yash Raj's probable blockbuster Dhoom: 2, along with Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan.
BEING CYRUS A sharp filmmaking debut from newcomer Homi Adajania was actually a 2005 release that only became widely available in 2006. Set amidst the Parsi community of Mumbai, Adajania's story follows the wandering ruffian Cyrus (Saif Ali Khan) who shows up to apprentice under the tutelage of drunken pottery maker Dinshaw Sethna (Naseerudin Shah) and his hormonally imbalanced wife Katy (Dimple Kapadia). That the Sethnas are Exhibit A in the annals of comically dysfunctional families and that Cyrus may not be who he appears to be are the only two foregone conclusions in a multi-hued plot that
jabs at family estrangement, greed, and perhaps, just perhaps, murder. Pregnant pause: Traces of Cyrus's complex personality emerging through his recurring psychedelic sex dream involving a romp with both a nubile maiden and a homoerotic encounter with Dinshaw's aging father. Coming up: Adajania will script director Farhan (Don) Akhtar's acting debut in Anand Surapur's mystical India-to-Venice journey in The Fakir.
BLUFFMASTER The meteoric rise of Abhishek Bachchan (sometimes mentioned in the same breath as Hrithik Roshan) in part resulted from Bachchan losing his camera-shyness and finally embracing his lot as the scion of the biggest male star in Hindi cinema history. The other key to Bachchan's success was improved deliveries in roles that set him apart. Bluffmaster found Bachchan caught up in a reverse sting operation where having Bachchan's twobit rascal get his comeuppance was only half the fun. The other half
of the fun was Ayesha Punwani's eye-catching production design and the highly eclectic musical score featuring some of the best recent tunes from bands in India and the U.K. The sum of all was a perfect
antidote to formulaic A-list filmmaking. Pregnant pause: Onscreen baddie Nana Patekar playing felt-tip tic-tac-toe on onscreen eye-candy Priyanka Chopra's luscious thighs (how could he?) as Bachchan's jealous Bluffmaster fumes silently. Coming up: The trend towards sequels will continue in 2007 with Ram Gopal Varma's Sarkar 2, featuring Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, and Aishwarya Rai.
The filmmaking debut from Mohit Suri, a Mahesh Bhatt prot�g�, was a sensational entry. Internet-linked sex scandals in Washington, D.C., aside, Suri's fresh story succinctly illuminated the dark side of the net as a technology still being refined. With a sensitive performance by Kunal Khemu (another Bhatt prot�g� who was the child star in Bhatt's semi-biographical 1998 entr y Zakhm) as a newlywed who finds his life turn chaotic after a hidden camera recording from his honeymoon ends up for sale online. The 25-year old Suri's fine film cuts to the chase by zooming in on the culprits (chief among them Amrita Singh's venom-spewing corporate diva) who provide much for Khemu to react to. Pregnant pause: Khemu's onscreen childhood family forced to leave their home in Kashmir and migrate to Mumbai. The reason for the expatriation: the family is Hindu. Coming up: Khemu will headline Madhur (Chandni Bar) Bhandarkar's anti-exploitation drama Traffic Signal with Konkona Sen Sharma and Neetu Chandra.
PHIR HER A PHERI
In this Neeraj Vohra comedy, the trio of Akshay Kumar, Sunil Shetty, and Paresh Rawal provide decent mileage in the follow-up to the Priyadarshan's imaginatively comical 2000 entry Hera Pheri. Tossing aside political correctness, these equal- opportunity offenders go on a comical misadventure when each of them hook on different baits (in the form of Bipasha Basu, Rimi Sen, and Johnny Lever-as-a-gangster) who offer
a chance to double their modest pocketbooks. Pregnant pause: The baddie who can bite his way through steel doors and the 8-foot, faceless giant, both of who stay hot on the trail of our dastardly heroes. Coming up: Akshay Kumar, along with Katrina Kaif, will appear in Vipul Shah's Indian-Brit culture exchange in Namaste London, which will feature camerawork by ace Polish photographer Dariusz Wolski
By ANIRUDDH CHAWDA
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