Compiling the best films list is never an easy task. Especially considering Indian films, India being the country that produces the most number of films in the world, spanning over a number of industries, based on languages from different parts of the country. There’s also the fact that some of the regional language films are not easily accessible with subtitles and like always, there would be a lot of films that might be missing from this list.
This year has been particularly strong in Tamil and Hindi (or Bollywood if you prefer) industries. But even a few of the acclaimed films from both of those industries missed spot on this list.
So here are the best Indian films of 2018 in reverse order (However, some of them on the same range are listed randomly). Some of them have premiered in festivals in the previous years but since they had the theatrical release in India only in 2018 they are also included. (By clicking on the titles which are highlighted, you can read the full review of the film.)
12. Naal (Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti, Marathi)
Is the relation between a mother and a son only based on their biological link “Naal” (“Umbilical Cord”) or more than that? But what would be the views of a kid who makes up his mind about things form the information he is fed by the other kids and adults around him? Shreenivas Pokale owns the film with his honest portrayal as the cute Chaitya.
11. Bioscopewala (Deb Medhekar, Hindi)
An adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Kabuliwala” giving a new backstory to the titular character. The story is made closer to the art of filmmaking and the politics is also explored with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. After many big names of India and French-Afghan filmmakers were connected with the project, it came to Deb Medhekar who succeeded in making an important and emotional version of the short story.
10. Chumbak (Sandeep Modi, Marathi)
“Chumbak” aka “The Lottery” is a story about the inherent goodness and innocence in the people who prefer to live a normal life, even when the whole world leads them to evil. To do the right thing in the world is more a struggle than to find a reliable livelihood to which our protagonists succumb to. Swanand Kirkire and Sahil Jadhav perform with the heart and innocence necessary for their characters.
“Manto” is a heartfelt portrait of a writer who has been much loved in the Indian subcontinent. It paints a vivid picture of a country that had just gained independence, something which it fought hard for and was almost immediately plunged into the turmoil of partition, along religious lines. The incident had a deep effect on Manto and troubled him for the rest of his life as he reluctantly left the city he loved, Bombay, to move to Pakistan. It is a sympathetic look at the riot-torn nations of India and Pakistan, through the eyes of an artist who himself deeply felt and intricately expressed the woes of Partition. Powered by a keenly observed and deeply sensitive portrayal of a writer sensitive to the turmoil around him from Nawazuddin Siddiqui and an acting ensemble that rarely ever skips a beat, “Manto” is a truly remarkable film which is going to intrigue audiences irrespective of their familiarity with the artist’s writings (Vidit Sahewala)
8. October (Shoojit Sircar, Hindi)
The Shiuli flower (Night Jasmine) that blossoms every “October” becomes the central motif in this film which is almost impossible to describe. Is it a love story? Is it just an obsession or misplaced guilt that leads the action of Dan towards Shiuli? For whatever reason it began, it soon transforms into a beautiful unspoken relationship. Varun Dhawan loses all of his Bollywood hero swag to play this moody and emotional character in his most understated and brilliant performance yet.
7. Tumbbad (Rahi Anil Barve, Hindi)
Bollywood had tried its share of period horror films. But none had come close to the creativity shown in “Tummbad”. Even with the existence of supernatural monster horror elements builds upon Hindu mythology, greed becomes the primary horror element here. Telling the story through pre-independence Brahmins, the film is also not shying away from possible political aspects. The production design and visual effects are brilliantly done which makes some of the big budget films from the country boasting those aspects look lame.
6. 96 (C. Prem Kumar, Tamil)
First love is one of the most beautiful feelings one can get. But when life itself pushes you away from that and you are still stuck in the magic of love, what happens? More than 20 years after their school days, when Ram and Jaanu meet again for their class reunion, Ram is still stuck as a schoolboy even with a successful career. Vijay Sethupathi shows the vulnerability of someone who is stuck in the past as well as someone who is strong and successful in his career. Trisha shows once again that she is perfect for this kind of roles 8 years after she played Jessie in “Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya”. Govind Vasantha’s music is among the highlights of the film that keeps you immersed in this subtly heartbreaking movie.
5. Ee. Ma.Yau (Lijo Jose Pellissery, Malayalam)
“Ee. Ma. Yau” short for “Eesho Mariyam Yauseppe” (“Jesus Mary Joseph”) is a prayer whispered in the ears of the deceased in some of the Christian communities in Kerala. Set in a coastal fishing village called Chellanam, “Ee. Ma. Yau” tells the story of a son who promised a grand funeral to his father the day before his sudden unexpected death. The rest of the film deals with the complications that ensue afterwards. The realistic portrayal of the life of these people through a darkly comedic tone that haunts you, the film is filled with symbolism that comes together to an almost surreal ending.
4. Merku Thodarchi Malai (Lenin Bharathi, Tamil)
“Merku Thodarchi Malai” (“Western Ghats”) chronicles the lives of the daily wage workers from the cardamom estates of the Western Ghats in the Kerala-Tamil Nadu state border. The film systematically shows all the aspects of the lives of these people, their dreams, their hopes and their family. The social workers who try their best to keep these people’s lives in order are also as important in their world. When people with money and power crave for more, it is always those who are at the bottom who suffer the most. Director Lenin Bharathi is successful in showing the lives of these people in an interesting and entertaining way.
While Dhunu flocks around with her elder brother and a young group of other naughty rural boys, she is enjoying the kind of freedom that even some modern day Indian girls don’t get. In showing her lying around, drenched in waters of the farmland, Das slowly brings us closer to the empowering nature of her tale. Dhunu’s freedom hinges on her mother’s calm rebellious nature towards what a girl should be based on the rural culture. At a point in the film, she shouts out loud, commenting on the actions of the other village women who defamed her daughter. Das also loads her slightly observed feminist troops and veil weaklings in the male species. Both Dhunu’s brother & her father are representations of a society which is only male-dominated for the sake of it, while the women become the ones who stand for themselves, earn for themselves and swim for themselves. (Shikhar Verma)
2. Pariyerum Perumal (Mari Selvaraj, Tamil)
There have been a lot of Indian films based on honour killings based on caste system. But they have always been focused on a certain story which, inevitably, ends up in such a situation. But “Pariyerum Perumal” is a film about the protagonist of the same name who has to go through the difficulties of being a lower caste from a rural village at every juncture. Such a story could feel very preachy and forced when this is shown at every point, that’s where this film brilliantly include everything perfectly aligned with the film. There is not a single moment that feels forced or preachy. Besides the caste politics, gender politics is also touched upon here without deviating from the narrative or the main subject. What can be considered a love story is weaved in such a manner that shows humane relationships are the most important thing in life and not the titles you give to anything and everything. Santhosh Narayanan’s music is also commendable along with Maari Selvaraj’s direction in making this film an unforgettable experience.
1. Vada Chennai (Vetrimaran, Tamil)
“Vada Chennai” (“North Chennai”) is the first part of the epic gangster trilogy planned by Vetrimaran. Covering a span of 20 years, the film explores the life of gangsters from the coastal slums of “North Chennai”. The narrative that jumps around through years non-linearly, demands concentration from the viewers by providing intricate details that would look trivial at first and prove to be important later on. From the vast array of characters “Vada Chennai” is necessarily about the rise of Anbu played by Dhanush. Yet Anbu remains small in front of characters like Rajan and Chandra. Music by Santhosh Narayanan and the performance by the entire cast is laudable. But the most praise should go to Vetrimaran in crafting this film with such detail, talking politics without being loud and preachy while similar attempts at that failed to convey the same themes.