The movies and shows released this year have been one of the greatest respites, allowing us to escape to a whole new world. A world that was at times a reflection of our own, at times, a complete fantasy, and at times, a wonderful blend of both thanks to novel concepts, expert direction, and brilliant writing.
Here's a look at the directors who brought us some of the finest Indian stories of the year:
1. Hansal Mehta: Scam 1992
With Scam 1992, Hansal Mehta showcased that the true power of OTT platforms should not be senseless violence and sex but rather the chance to tell an in-depth story at a steady pace - a luxury that movies can't afford. No wonder a financial scam involving the confusing world of share markets became a gripping thriller that even at over 7 hours, made for ideal binge-watching.
2. Ram Madhvani: Aarya
With OTT platforms serving one crime drama after the other, Ram Madhvani deserves complete credit for serving a show that was so much more than just swear words and violence. Seamlessly adapted for the Indian audience, Aarya never felt like the story of a crime lord. Rather it became the story of a single mother fighting against all odds to secure her children's future. That's the result of brilliant writing, powerful performances, and of course, expert direction!
3. Anvita Dutt: Bulbbul
A feminist fantasy masquerading as a horror tale, Bulbbul was undoubtedly one of the finest films of the year. While it may have had its flaws, especially the choice to root female empowerment in tragedy and abuse, Anvita Dutt still deserves complete credit for bringing alive a hauntingly beautiful, impactful, and original story.
4. Vikramaditya Motwane: AK vs. AK
Ever since his debut film Udaan, Motwane has been pushing the bar when it comes to cinematic expression. With AK vs. AK he achieved the ultimate meta thriller that intrigues and entertains in equal measures, solidifying his position as one of Hindi cinema's most experimental directors.
5. Anurag Basu: Ludo
Anurag Basu's brand of cinema continues to remain a unique, often chaotic, but forever endearing look into life's follies and Ludo was no different. With a stellar starcast and an interesting take on life and karma, Anurag Basu presented a madcap thriller and made sense of the madness in a way only he could.
6. Rohena Gera: Sir
Rohena Gera's Sir managed to do what many movies have attempted but hardly any have achieved - effectively bridge the vast class divide that afflicts our society, without taking away from the very real, lived experiences of the different classes. Sensitive, evocative, and delightful in a piercingly, haunting way, Sir made for a soul-stirring watch indeed.
7. Deepak Kumar Mishra: Panchayat
The show that finally, showcased the villages of India in a different light, Panchayat was a much-needed break from intense, gritty dramas. Writer Chandan Kumar and director Deepak Mishra built a humorous, honest, and above all, charming, world with Panchayat that would always be there to welcome you, at the end of a bad day perhaps, ready with a wry smile and sharp retort.
8. Honey Trehan: Raat Akeli Hai
The 'locked room', or 'impossible murder' mystery is not a new conception to crime-detective fiction. But Honey Trehan employed this format to offer a commentary on child sexual abuse, along with the deep-rooted misogyny and colorism that exists in our society. And that, coupled with brilliant performances, made Raat Akeli Hai one hell of a thriller.
9. Avinash Arun, Prosit Roy: Paatal Lok
While writers Sudip Sharma, Sagar Haveli, Hardik Mehta, and Gunjit Chopra deserve complete credit for skillfully adapting Tarun Tejpal's story for OTT, directors Avinash and Prosit were instrumental in ensuring Paatal Lok remained rooted in reality and does not resort to melodrama or exaggerate reality to get the point across.
10. Anubhav Sinha: Thappad
The third film in Anubhav Sinha's trilogy of movies exposing social issues, Thappad truly packed a punch. Thappad took on a subject like patriarchy and toxic masculinity through subtle storytelling and well-developed characters, rather than loud emotions and forced monologues. And that truly made all the difference. Clever, insightful filmmaking at its finest.
11. Debbie Rao: Pushpavalli
There is no question about Pushpvalli being comedian and actor Sumukhi Suresh's brainchild. But that's what makes Debbie Rao's expertise even more invaluable. Because it takes a special kind of skill to not only understand another person's vision but to also translate it accurately for thousands of people.
12. Nicholas Kharkongor: Axone
A much-needed foray into telling the right story with the right cast, Axone may have not checked off all boxes when it came to representing the wide-spread racism that certain minorities (in this case, North-easterners) experience in India, but it was a step in the right direction.
13. Meghna Gulzar: Chhapaak
In her inimitable style of striking at the heart of the matter and laying bare the human emotions that bind us all, Meghna Gulzar showcased the harsh tale of acid attacks and female abuse in India. WIth Chhapaak, Gulzar sensitized the audience to the subject, while also expertly imparting the sense of injustice that envelops acid attack survivors in India, due to a failed legal system. Nuanced storytelling at its best.
14. Sooni Taraporevala: Yeh Ballet
One of Netflix India's most underrated gems, Yeh Ballet was a story of hope and dance that greatly benefitted from its able starcast. However, it was also a brilliantly developed story that hooked you right from the start and tugged at your heartstrings, while making you fall in love with a dance form that Bollywood rarely, if ever, gets right.
15. Sharan Sharma: Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl
Thanks to Sharan Sharma's relatable storytelling, Gunjan Saxena evolved from being a female pilot's story of grit and determination to an emotional tale of a father-daughter relationship that resonated with most of the audience. It's the kind of Bollywood drama that we can wholeheartedly get behind.
16. Prateek Vats: Eeb Allay Ooo!
Prateek Vats' directorial debut, written by Shubham, is a true win for satire in Indian cinema. Vats highlights each character's role, effectively piecing together an intricate puzzle that becomes a humorous insight into the way the society functions. It'll get you laughing, only to leave you pondering over the crisis that affects our migrant workforce.
17. Megha Ramaswamy: What Are The Odds?
With What Are The Odds?, Megha Ramaswamy offered a magical, nostalgia-fueled trip to our awkward teenage years, that was made all the more wonderful with the film's brilliant cinematography (by Johan Heurlin Aidt). It was perhaps far too ethereal in parts, but in the end, the story came together and left you smiling for more than one reason. I count that as a win.
18. Sudha Kongara: Thangam
Meshing the pain of unrequited love with the harsh reality of being transgender in India, Sudha Kongara builds a beautiful, heartbreaking tale of love, loss, and friendship with Thangam. Sudha offers a fresh perspective on the deep apathy and ostracization that transmen suffer in a society where, for the longest time, the third gender was not even recognized, let alone respected.
19. Dibakar Banerjee: Story 3: Monster (Ghost Stories)
While Ghost Stories was nowhere as impressive as the directors' earlier anthology Lust Stories, Dibakar Banerjee's segment stood out from the rest. Banerjee cleverly uses gore and symbolism (cannibalistic beasts are as scary as it gets) to offer a riveting, disturbingly insightful commentary on the far-reaching but insidious ill-effects of class-divide and totalitarianism. Truly a clever nod to the direction India seems to be headed.
Keeping alive the magic of storytelling!