India produces the most number of films every year in the world. Despite this, what most people are actually referring to when they say Indian cinema is Bollywood. Make no mistake, Bollywood has produced some gems over the years but nothing captures the spirit of this country like regional cinema.
1. Sairat (Marathi)
While its Hindi remake flushed the caste dynamics down its Bollywood toilet, Sairat continues to be one of the few films in India that talked about honour killings and caste atrocities that still exist in our society. It has the naivety of young love but doesn’t let you forget the harsh world it must endure just to keep breathing.
2. Kothanodi (Assamese)
Bhaskar Hazarika’s anthology is a horror film is a series of folklore with a feminist touch. All three stories will seem bizarre to you but you never end up questioning them because of the director’s ability to keep you hypnotised by everything that is happening on the screen. Seema Biswas and Adil Hussain give strong performances that will make you wish there were more stories to hear.
3. Local Kung Fu (Assamese)
This is the best low budget, homemade entertainer that you’ll ever see. The whole film is an elaborate joke and the creators know as much. It has romance, action, comedy and even a catchy song; everything you need to be a commercial success. It has already attained a cult status and even has a sequel.
4. Pariyerum Perumal (Tamil)
Another film about the caste atrocities faced by the lowered caste people in our country, Pariyerum Perumal revolves around a young couple. However, the girl’s family are not happy with the relationship and harass the boy to no end. Mind you, there are scenes in the film that will make your blood boil. So be prepared for that.
5. Paddayi (Tulu)
This is undoubtedly one of the more excellent adaptations of Macbeth. Film Companion has called it ‘a sumptuous film that blends Shakespeare and traditional folk theatre, myth and modernity.’ That is high praise indeed and deservingly so. The story chronicles the life of a newly married couple from a fishing community in India, who driven by ambition bring tragedies upon themselves. It’s available on Amazon Prime. So do watch!
6. Asha Jaoar Majhe (Bangla)
This beautiful film shows a day in the life of a married couple who only see each other only for a few hours after working different shifts during the day. The film is so beautifully shot that the absence of a dramatic plot doesn’t even bother you. It’s beautiful, simple and greatly detailed like a great home-cooked meal, so much so that you want to keep going back to it.
7. Sudani from Nigeria (Malayali)
The film is set in North Kerala and follows its mad footballing obsession. It shows humanity and friendship coming from the unlikeliest of places and often makes you smile in the face of it. Both Majeed and Samuel, the lead characters of the film take you to a place of vulnerability and grief that binds them together and makes you a better person for having watched the film.
8. Super Deluxe (Tamil)
The dark comedy has four interwoven stories running parallel to each other. It’s a brave film, that keeps getting better as every second passes. It’s epic and eccentric in nature but stays intimate with its characters. It’s classy but profane at the same time. Also, a little difficult to explain without giving away the plot. It’s available on Netflix. So just go ahead and have the time of your life.
9. Mallesham (Telugu)
This biopic is based on the life of Padma Shri-winner Chintakindi Mallesham who invented the ‘asu’ machine, that revolutionised saree production to help the women in his village from very dangerous and difficult work. It’s a rare honest biopic. It’s a small film, almost indie at heart and is very aware of that.
10. Kanchivaram (Tamil)
Prakash Raj as the father who promises his daughter to drape in a kanchivaram saree on the day of her wedding will melt your heart as much as he breaks it. The film is truly tragic and explores the lives of poor weavers whose hard work paid for the luxurious lives of zamindars. The film is righteously political in nature but it’s also a very intimate tale. It won Prakash Raj a national award for his portrayal of Vengadam.
11. The Great Indian Kitchen (Malayali)
This film captures the not-so-subtle but rampant sexism that prevails in most Indian homes. It tells the story of a newly-wed woman who finds it exceedingly difficult to be the submissive wife and the daughter-in-law that her family wants her to be. Things get worse when her husband decides to visit Sabarimala which make him take celibacy and avoid eating food prepared by menstruating women. It does have a happy ending though, just not the one you expect.
So, yeah, move a little away from Bollywood and maybe, just maybe, you will find yourself in awe of cinema that truly captures India.