A rundown of the best political films made in Bollywood

An overview into how Hindi Cinema used to make good political films that had coherence and didn’t pander to the ruling party

The state of the recent political movies in Bollywood cuts a very sorry figure. Movies like the Accidental Prime Minister and PM Narendra Modi are woeful products in more ways than one. Yes they are incoherently staged both in terms of acting and storytelling, but apart from these aspects the movies have been used as tools for negative political propaganda. In the case of The Accidental Prime Minister it was clearly made to malign the former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh along with the entire Congress party. PM Narendra Modi on the other hand was meant to absolve Modi from all crimes and put him on a pedestal.

On the other hand both Kashmir Files and the Kerala Story are hugely islamophobic in nature. There is no denying the sufferings of the Kashmiri pundits but director Vivek Agnihotri presented a rather one sided pictures with all the Hindus being sufferers and Muslims being monsters. The Kerala Story on the other hand hugely exaggerated story of Hindu women being radicalized by the ISIS. Much like Kashmir Files here too you won’t find any positive Muslim character. This hate against Muslims represents the attitude of the BJP government. The success of both these movies is a byproduct of the times we live in.

Then there are the likes of Uri: The Surgical Strike, Tejas and this year’s Fighter. Uri: The Surgical strike was a highly dramatized account of Indian army retaliating to the URI Attacks. The movie was clearly meant to establish that the surgical strike had taken place in real. Not surprisingly the BJP party used the movie as a tool of propaganda particularly the dialogue “How’s the josh”. Hrithik Roshan’s Fighter was on the other hand was inspired by the Balakot strike. The climax of Fighter is straight out of a single screen universe with patriotic dialogues and ample dose of jingoism.

This year the team of The Kerala Story returned with Bastar: The Naxal Story which made a mockery of the Naxal movement, it didn’t find audiences even with those who like propaganda movies. Article 370 on the other hand directed by Aditya Suhas Jambhale did fairly well primarily due to the performances of the two leading ladies Yami Gautam and Priya Mani. However the characterizations of the Kashmiri locals which include the politicians was highly laughable. The director made it look like only Prime Minister Modi and BJP are concerned about the welfare of Kashmiri population.

Not surprisingly Narendra Modi mentioned about the movie urging the viewers to watch it a few before the movie’s release. Even you look at Kashmir Files the party workers played a significant role in promoting the movie. But it has to be said that political movies in Bollywood has not always been like this and following is an overview into some of the well crafted political ones.

Rang De Basanti directed by Rakesh Om Prakash Mehra was about the corruption in the defense department that leads to the death of a pilot played by R Madhavan. The movie did not shy away from showing the deep rooted corruption and the cynical attitude of the youth who believe that no good change can come.

What also added to the impact of Rang De Basanti was the way it intertwined the sacrifices made by our revolutionaries Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad among others and today’s youth who think thoughts of revolution and sacrificing for the country is an outdated thought. The gradual change in the protagonists played by Aamir Khan, Siddarth, Kunal Kapoor, Sharman Joshi etc was wonderfully written and directed.

Prakash Jha is someone who is well known for directing movies that have an undercurrent of socio political aspects. For example his 2010 film Rajneeti was modeled on the epic Mahabharata while looking at the dark underbelly of the political scenario in our country. Through the huge ensemble of actors Director Prakash Jha cooked a gripping cocktail of complex relationships, an uncontrollable lust for power and rivalry of the siblings among other things.

A major highlight of Rajneeti was the strong characterizations of all the actors.  For example Ranbir Kapoor’s character Samar starts off as a young man leading a quiet life in the US. But getting sucked into the family politics brings out the monster in him. There is a hugely poignant scene towards the end where Samar decides that he has had enough and politics is not for him. Apart from the strong characterizations Rajneeti also had some powerful scenes showcasing the political circus that takes place when candidates meet ordinary people.

Aarakshan on the other hand directed by the same man took up with the burning topic of reservation, special benefits being given to people belonging to a particular caste. There are some powerful scenes in Aarakshan particularly the first half which depicts the class and caste conflict. Case in point being Pratik Babbar and Saif Ali Khan’s characters expressing their contrasting views about reservation, Pratik’s Sushant is a typical rich brat who thinks that Dalits should not be given any special privileges and are afraid of working hard.

Tamil Director S. Shankar is well known for making movies featuring vigilante protagonists. Through his protagonists the director has covered issues that are important to the common man. S. Shankar’s Nayak: The Real hero is the remake of his own Tamil movie Mudhalvan.  Unlike the vigilante protagonists of his previous movies who have an inbuilt social consciousness Anil Kapoor’s Shivaji Rao Gaekwad is more of a reluctant hero who wants to lead to peaceful life. Shivaji starts off as a cameraman in a popular television channel; from there he eventually becomes a reporter. One day his life takes a dramatic turn while interviewing the chief Minister of Maharashtra, Shivaji questions the chief minister on certain things like choosing to not control a violent riot that causes a lot of damage. In a very filmy turn of events Shivaji ends up being the Chief Minister of Maharashtra for a day and does a lot of good,  eventually he replaces Amrish Puri’s Balraj Chauhan.

Of course there is nothing subtle in the way Shankar goes about depicting the issues plaguing the society. Every point feels hammered in but at the same time there is no denying the relevancy of what Shankar addresses. There are scenes in the movie that mirror the real life corruption that we read about everyday from grassroot to national level. Through the character of Amrish Puri director Shankar also explored the harmful affects of vote bank politics and appeasing a certain community to just win the elections.

Nayak: The Hero is a movie that has aged well. Sure it was not a hit movie at the time of its release but over the years it has made a certain place in the viewer’s hearts.

Anurag Kashyap’s  Gulaal is also a noteworthy political movie. The plot of Gulaal is set in Rajasthan focusing on the community of the former royalty who want to restore both the Rajputana province and the kingship.

The central protagonist of this tale is Dilip Singh (Raj Singh Chaudhary), Dilip Singh starts off as an unconfident guy but soon gets involved in local politics after the death of his roommate cum friend Rananjay Singh (Abhimanyu Singh). Rananjay Singh was contesting in college elections, a local commander Dukey Bana (Kay Kay Menon) insists Dilip to contest in place of his slain roommate and he makes sure that Dilip does win on the behalf of the Rajputana party. Running side by side are multiple subplots.

Anurag Kashyap’s depiction of student politics and the violence is hard to stomach; nevertheless the movie makes a strong impact. Gulaal also works as a critique of some movements that talk about how a particular community or a region is superior to the rest.

Sometimes the movie also plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy combing elements of jealousy, greed and corruption. At other times you have the Quentin Tarantino touch in the staging of the scenes that show the lawlessness.

Here’s hoping that Bollywood gets back to making solid political movies. The current trend of propaganda political movies have reached a saturation point which is evident in the lackluster response of the recent ones.

OTT opens new doors for female actors

With the advent of OTT, the likes of Shefali Shah, Sushmita Sen, Manisha Koirala, and Sonakshi Sinha got their due.

The advent of OTT platforms has led to a significant change in more ways than one. One of the major changes has been to the narrative style.

Thanks to the longer runtime and long-form format, web shows have more scope for sustained storytelling.

Another major positive change is the space OTT has created for female actors to challenge themselves in mainstream and middle-of-the-road cinema.

With the longer runtime in web series, the actors have more time to build their characters and delve deeper into the nuances, which is often not possible in mainstream films with a limited run time.

They are also breaking the stereotypes of age and conventional roles.

Many female actors, despite talent, have been limited to supporting roles, with minimal scope of showing their acting prowess.

Of course, there have been phases where women-centric films have garnered both critical acclaim and commercial success. Some of these include The Dirty Picture (2011), Kahaani (2012), Queen (2014), Neerja (2016), Raazi (2018), etc.

However, the format of a web series offers more scope for the portrayal of powerful characters.

With the advent of OTT space, female actors got their due, especially in the case of Shefali Shah and Manisha Koirala, who have shone in Delhi Crime (2019 and 2022) and Heeramandi (2024) respectively.

Careers of Shefali Shah & Sushmita Sen revived

Shefali Shah in ‘Delhi Crime’. (X)

Among the firsts is the web series Delhi Crime (2019 and 2022), which revived the career of Shefali Shah.

She played the role of a DCP in the Delhi police. DCP Varthika helms the team which investigates the Nirbhaya case and also handles the public anger owing to the heinous crime.

She is a strong-willed officer who is also dealing with a rebellious daughter. The audiences had not seen Shefali previously in this kind of role and she surprised one and all with a rock-solid performance. Shefali Shah further surprised the spectators with her negative role in Human (2021).

Another similar example is Sushmita Sen, known for her glamorous roles, including that of lecturer Miss Chandini in Farah Khan’s masala potboiler Main Hoon Na (2004). While she was presented glamorously, the actor in Sushmita has mostly taken a backseat on the big screen.

Then comes Aarya (2020, 2021, 2023, and 2024) and Taali (2023)—the perfect examples of why Sushmita deserves better roles in mainstream cinema.

In Aarya— a crime thriller, she goes from being a single mother to eventually being sucked into the world of crime.

Taali, on the other hand, was a biopic of the transgender activist Shreegauri Sawant. In both these series, Sushmita was absolutely brilliant.

A realistic portrayal by Huma Qureshi

Huma Qureshi in ‘Maharani’. (X)

Huma Qureshi reinvented herself with the web series Maharani.

She has always been a competent actor starting from the Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) movies. She played important roles in movies like Badlapur (2015) but has never carried a film on her shoulders.

However, in the three seasons of Maharani, Huma showcased her larger bandwidth to play with. Her role of Rani Bharati (based on Rabri Devi) starts as a simple woman who is happy in her domestic life.

She is a school dropout much like the other women in her village. However, her life undergoes a huge change when her husband who is also the Bihar chief minister gets severely injured in a shootout.

From feeling like a fish out of water to becoming a fierce administrator, there is a huge canvas that Huma Qureshi got to play with and the actor absolutely nailed it.

In all three seasons, she got the nuances of the role spot on. She also did a good job of getting her dialect right.

Sonakshi Sinha & her acting prowess

Sonakshi Sinha in ‘Dahaad’. (X)

Then comes Sonakshi Sinha, who has shown that she is here to stay with Dahaad (2023) and Heeramandi (2024).

For a large part of her movie career, Sonakshi has played roles where she is restricted to just a song and dance routine, and being a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued.

These include Rowdy Rathore (2012), R Rajkumar (2013), the Dabbang films (2010, 2012, and 2019) and even the last theatrical release Bade Miyan Chote Miyan.

Yes, some of these movies have turned out to be money spinners but a sense of repetitiveness crept in.

However, the two-web series—Dahaad and Heeramandi—showed the actor in a very different light.

In Dahaad, Sonakshi Sinha was seen as a Dalit police officer (Anjali Bhaati).

On more than one occasion, she is insulted because of her gender and caste.

Sonakshi was adequately fierce and managed to capture the grittiness of a determined police officer well.

In Heeramandi, Sonakshi played an archrival to Manisha Koirala’s Mallikajaan; Sonakshi’s Fareedan is as ruthless and emotional as Mallikajaan.

Sonakshi Sinha chewed the scenery and more than held her own opposite the more accomplished Manisha Koirala. Fareedan was an absolute firebrand and Sonakshi did complete justice to her part.

A powerful comeback for Manisha Koirala

Manisha Koirala in ‘Heeramandi’. (X)

Heeramandi has also given a fresh lease of life to Manisha Koirala’s career.

In the films post her cancer recovery, the actor played a mother to heroes Ranbir Kapoor and Kartik Aryan respectively. There is a little depth in these characters for Manisha to chew into.

However, Heeramandi is a show that will give a major impetus to her second innings.

The role of Mallikajaan is far removed from all her previous roles; she never played a terrifying matriarch before. The body language along with dark shades is a completely new territory.

It is something that the viewers don’t expect from Manish Koirala, but the actor surprised everyone.

She portrayed both dark shades and emotional vulnerability with finesse.

Konkana Sen & Karishma Tanna

Konkona Sen, an actor par excellence, proved her talent over and over again in many shows and films. However, with Killer Soup (2024), the versatile actor proved she could play a negative character with equal finesse.

Konkona did play a negative role in Ek Thi Daayan (2013), but in that movie, she was just one of the three heroines. The Abhishek Chaubey directorial, though, had her as a major pivot.

Karishma Tanna in ‘Scoop’. (X)

In the Killer Soup web series, Konkona Sen played a housewife named Swati Shetty.

Swati dreams of opening a restaurant so she can have an identity of her own. But all she gets in the name of support from her husband are empty promises.

The role of Swati goes from a loving wife to a plotting woman. Konkona pulled off the different moods without fumbles.

Finally coming to the splendid performance of Karishma Tanna in Scoop (2023). The actor, too, has been part of known movies like Grand Masti (2013) and Sanju (2018). In these films, she was a mere glam doll.

But Scoop turned out to be a big game changer as the role was author-backed and Karishma made complete use of it.

In this web show, she played a journalist named Jagruti, who was falsely implicated in the murder of a fellow investigative journalist.

The role comes with many shades, starting as a confident woman who later becomes dejected yet maintains a fighting spirit in the harsh jail atmosphere.

Karishma Tanna was immensely successful in making the viewers root for Jagruti.

This is just a brief peek into how OTT has opened new doors for female actors. Many more women actors from mainstream and middle-of-the-road cinema are likely to join this list in the future.

Emerging stars: Telugu cinema’s new wave of actors takes center stage

An overview of how a handful of Telugu actors broke through the dynastic ‘herodom’ and carved a niche for themselves.
Published in: Southfirst

Many new-age actors from outside the film industry have made their mark as heroes in Telugu cinema in the last few years. Their success augurs well for the industry.

They might not be ‘mass’ heroes but they played roles that resonated with different types of audiences. They also endeared themselves to the audiences with their multiple skills.

Actors like Naveen Polishetty and Siddhu Jonnalagadda would never enjoy the mass patronage of an Allu Arjun or a Jr NTR.

The reason is the market dynamics coupled with their backgrounds. So, they have chosen a different path for themselves by playing underdog characters in the case of Suhas. Or doing movies where both comedy and thrills are intermingled.

There is also a certain sense of self-depreciation in the roles. Let’s go one by one:

Naveen Polishetty

Naveen Polishetty’s ‘Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty’ won audiences’ hearts. (X)

Naveen Polishetty started his career with Shekar Kammula’s film Life is Beautiful (2012), where he played a negative role.

This was followed by D for Dopidi (2013) and Sukumar’s 1: Nenokkadine (2014).

However, Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya (2019) gave him a much-needed break in his career. Naveen was the leading man in the film and also the co-writer.

The movie minted money at the box office and also won critical acclaim; a promising new talent was born.

Naveen further consolidated his status as a hero with the nonsensical comedy Jathi Ratnalu (2021).

The flick also featured Rahul Ramakrishna and Priyadarshi, but Naveen was the star of the show. He embraced the tonality of the film with zero inhibitions.

What additionally made Jathi Ratnalu special was the backing of Nag Ashwin, the director of Yevade Subramanyam (2015) and Mahanati (2018). It was a big promotion for Naveen.

Though the film was released at a tricky time, right after COVID-19, it became a huge success.

Naveen Polishetty scored a third consecutive hit with the romedy drama Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty (2023), directed by Mahesh Babu P. His role demonstrated that he was also an emotionally intelligent actor.

Naveen has a striking screen presence and an energy that makes him endearing. He has impeccable comic timing that can lift the most bizarre of situations, as we already witnessed in Jathi Ratnalu.

Siddhu Jonnalagadda

Siddhu Jonnalagadda delivered a blockbuster with ‘Tillu Square’. (X)

Siddhu Jonnalagadda is another new-age Telugu actor who proved himself as a writer and a hero, too.

He wrote both DJ Tillu (2022) and the superhit sequel Tillu Square (2024).

Siddhu thoroughly entertained the viewers with his antics. His comic punches often left the viewers in splits.

But what made DJ Tillu and the sequel a big success was how the actor-writer integrated the elements of comedy and thriller.

Apart from the above-mentioned film, Siddhu Konnalagadda was also the co-writer of Krishna and his Leela (2020). It was a breezy romantic film that dealt with contemporary relationships.

Siddu’s strength as an actor majorly comes from his ease in front of the camera and a certain style with which he delivers his dialogues.

Sure, his dramatic skills have not been tested yet, but characters like Tillu are a perfect fit for him.

Adivi Sesh

Adivi Sesh will next be seen in ‘Goodachari 2’. (X)

Unlike Naveen and Siddhu, Adivi Sesh is someone who comes with the looks of a dashing mainstream hero.

He also has a literary family background. His grand-uncle Adivi Bapiraju is a famous novelist and a playwright. However, that does not mean he had it easy in the industry.

It has taken a while for him to establish his space after playing small roles in big films; a case in point is SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali: The Beginning (2015).

Sesh’s good looks and strong physicality helped him gain a strong base. But, apart from his looks, the actor impressed everyone with his acting and writing skills.

He became a thriller specialist with the likes of Kshanam (2016) and Goodachari (2018).

The actor‘s speciality is strong characterisations. For example, Anasuya Bhardhwaj and Satyam Rajesh in Kshanam or Vennela Kishore in Goodachari.

Adivi Sesh made the well-known story of Sandeep Unnikrishnan a hugely engrossing film both with his acting and writing abilities in Major (2022).

As a director, he has done only one movie — Karma (2010), which unfortunately was a big dud.

Hope he proves himself a good director, too, one day!

Suhas

Suhas is on a film signing spree and has become a bankable actor. (X)

The physical structure of Colour Photo (2020) and Ambajipeta Marriage Band (2024) actor Suhas is very similar to Tamil actor Dhanush.

Of course, the young Telugu actor does not have the mass image of the latter, but still, there are certain similarities in the underdog roles he has chosen.

Suhas also started with supporting roles in Agent Sai Srinivas Athreya and Prathi Roju Pandage (2019), among others.

However, he got his first break as a leading man in Colour Photo.

In the National Award-winning film, he played the role of a milkman’s son and won appreciation for his awe-inspiring performance.

This was followed by Writer Padmabhushan (2023) and Ambajipeta Marriage Band. Both these movies also had Suhas as an underdog.

But, in Ambajipeta Marriage Band, his character is fierier in comparison to Colour Photo, which belongs to the same terrain. In the second half, the actor pulled off scenes of aggression proficiently.

Priyadarshi Pulikonda

Priyadarshi is coming up with ‘Save The Tigers 3’ web series. (X)

Priyadarshi Pulikonda is another bright talent in Telugu cinema who has proved himself beyond comedy.

His performances in Mallesham (2019) and Venu’s Balagam (2022) are solid examples.

The actor also proved his mettle in the digital space with both seasons of Save the Tigers (2023 & 2024). The makers are soon coming up with the third season.

Priyadarshi was seen in the role of a dairy farm owner Ghanta Ravi in this web series. He was spot-on in capturing the nuances of the Telangana dialect.

The second season of Save the Tigers had some good father-and-daughter scenes.

What made the new-age Telugu actor successful is his imbibing the body language of the roles he portrays — in Mallesham or Save the Tigers web series.

Well, this is a brief account of some of the new-age Telugu actors who found success despite not having a filmy background.

There are also the likes of Raj Tarun, who started promisingly but could not sustain due to poor choice of roles.

Let’s hope many more actors outside the dynasties will try their luck in the Telugu film industry!

Goat Days: Novel and movie complement each other

Goat Days written by Benyamin and the movie based on that Adujeevitham (The Goat Life) directed by Blessey complement well with each other. There are definitely more details and nuances in the book but at the same time the movie brings both the protagonist’s family life in Kerala and the drudgery of the desert in Saudi Arabia visually more alive.   

One of the best aspects of the book for me was the crisp writing of Benyamin. The life of Najeeb in the desert is narrated in a racy manner making it a very easy read. Even slow readers can finish the book very fast. Najeeb’s struggles with rearing the goats and how he formed a bond is sketched in greater detail here in comparison with the movie.

For example in the novel there is a portion where a goat gives birth to its child right in the hands of Najeeb. Najeeb considers the baby goat as his son and names it Nabeel. Nabeel was the name he considered for his actual child if his wife had given birth to a male. She was pregnant when he left. Now he doesn’t know whom his wife delivered boy or girl. Still he believes it is a boy and proceeds to look after the baby goat as his own offspring.

He pampers the animal a lot. He even allows Nabeel to drink milk from his mother now and then which is a taboo in that place. If the owner of the goats comes to know of it Najeeb will have to face his wrath in the form of lashings and deprivation of food.  

There is also a hugely disturbing portion in the book where Nabeel’s genitals are cut off. In the place Najeeb worked only a few male goats are allowed to have their genitals intact. It might be a universal practice with all goat rearers in the world but Najeeb finds it hard to accept it for his little one.  

He tries his level best to save Nabeel by picking up some other goat for castration. But the Arab, his master, is a shrewd man with a great memory. He loses his patience and gives a tight kick to Najeeb. Najeeb begs the Arab not to cause any harm to that goat but in vain. The heartbreak of Najeeb is palpable.

The movie Aadujeevitham would have been even more engaging if director Blessey had included these scenes. However one area where the movie scores over the book is the Juxtaposition of Nabeel’s past life in Kerala backwaters and his present status of a wretched life. This juxtaposition added a lot to the movie because we get a thorough idea of how happy his earlier life was. In the book we do not see Najeeb remembering his wife so much.

The book also gives more clarity on why preservation of water is considered so important in that desert area. In the movie there is a scene where Prithviraj’s character uses water to clean himself after going to the toilet but his master kicks him for doing it, telling him to use stones instead of water. We feel it is so inhuman.

But while watching the movie we don’t initially understand why the Arab objected for the use of water for such a basic need. Book gives more clarity on this. Similarly we also don’t understand why the goats are taken for a walk every day in that scorching heat in spite of no grassland anywhere nearby. Actually this goat walking is meant to keep the animals active and healthy. If they are lazy their meat doesn’t taste good is something we come to know only after reading the book.   

The escape scenes of Najeeb, Hakim and his co worker Ibrahim Khadiri in the desert come much later in the book unlike the movie where it occupies almost the entire second half. Though this journey of theirs is heartbreaking it felt a little dragged in the movie. The space given to it in the book seemed right because after a point it gets repetitive.

Both the film and the book have their own advantages and disadvantages. Keeping aside the stretched second half in the movie, director Blessey and actor Prithviraj Sukumaran deserve a huge appreciation for a gritty survival drama that makes you think about the plight of so many not so educated men and women who become easy target in those unknown lands.

If no other man or woman is fooled to slavery in this way ever again, the purpose of both the book and the movie will be served. Hope the Governments of both lands take notice. The movie should have come much earlier considering the huge success of the novel (more than 100 reprints in the Malayalam original). Thanks Najeeb, Thanks Benyamin, Thanks Blessey and Thanks Prithviraj Sukumaran.

Social Dramas Shift From Theatres To OTT Space

A rundown of how gritty stories are of late being made more for the OTT platforms, both as films and web series.
Published in: Southfirst

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many changes in the film industry. The uncertainty of what works and what doesn’t work on the big screen has grown bigger than before.

The demand seems to be more for larger-than-life entertainment — whether it is Pushpa: The Rise (2021), RRR (2022), Pathaan (2022), Jawan (2023), or Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani (2023).

Sure, there are also the likes of Vikrant Massey’s 12th Fail (2023), which sprung a huge surprise. But many films which did well since COVID-19 are full of action and heroism.

Of course, movies with messages when mixed with entertainment — social dramas — do reach more audiences.

For example, in Shah Rukh Khan’s Jawan, director Atlee touched upon some pressing grassroots issues like poor facilities in government hospitals and farmer suicides among others.

In Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani — a mainstream love story, director Karan Johar made some important points on inclusivity, the side effects of toxic masculinity, etc.

However, commercial trappings don’t always gel with issue-based films. For example, take Bheed (2023). It was mainly a story about the mass migration of workers during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Director Anubhav Sinha chose to insert a love story which didn’t gel in the overall tonality of Bheed. It was the commercial elements like these that hampered the film in a big way.

Now, let us look at the social dramas streaming on the OTT platforms:

OTT space sees influx of social dramas

After the advent of OTT, many social issues have come to light on screen.

For example, Manoj Bajpayee’s Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai (2023) was a legal drama based on the trial of Asaram Bapu who raped a minor. This movie garnered a lot of acclaim for the realistic portrayal of the courtroom along with Manoj Bajpayee’s performance.

Pankaj Tripathi’s Kaagaz (2021) was about the struggle of a farmer who was declared dead in official papers. This social drama got decent reviews with particular praise for Pankaj Tripathi’s performance as a common man.

Vidya Balan’s Sherni (2021), again a social drama, dealt with the protection of wildlife which includes saving tigers.

Now, even the big production houses and stars have made a foray into OTT. I will start with King Khan.

Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies made a few films on some important topics — Love Hostel (2022), Darlings (2022), and Bhakshak (2024). Darlings is a co-production of Alia and Shah Rukh Khan.

Love Hostel

A poster of the series ‘Love Hostel’. (X)

Vikrant Massey and Sanya Malhotra’s Love Hostel was set amidst the background of families and Khap panchayats resorting to honour killings.

Sanya Malhotra played a Hindu girl named Jyothi in it, while Vikrant Massey played a Muslim named Ahmad. They stay in a protection home after marrying without the consent of their respective families, but this protection home does not guarantee their safety in any way.

Bobby Deol as Dagar is seen in the role of a ruthless mercenary who is hired to kill these young lovers.

Director Shankar Raman made this chilling film that questioned the self-appointed custodians of society.

The subject of Love Hostel isn’t particularly novel but what made this film click was the taut narration coupled with the trio of Vikrant Massey, Sanya Malhotra and Bobby Deol.

As the ruthless mercenary, Bobby evoked fear with just his demeanour. Dagar is someone who believes that his actions are necessary to keep the social fabric intact and the actor got the nuances of the character spot on.

Vikrant and Sanya as young lovers also made a striking impact; they aced the dialect apart from sharing a wonderful chemistry.

Bhakshak

‘Bhakshak’ on Netflix. (X)

Bhakshak, directed by Pulkit, was based on the real-life incidents of sexual abuse that happened in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur shelter home.

Bhumi Pednekar played the role of a small-time independent journalist who wants to bring out the reality of this shelter home.

In the recent past, the portrayal of journalists in movies has been quite objectionable. But here, the director did an authentic job of depicting journalism and journalists.

The scenes of sexual exploitation were also shown with the required sensitivity, never bordering on exaggeration.

Bhumi Pednekar aced her role as did Sanjay Mishra and Aditya Srivastava, among others.

Darlings

A poster of the film ‘Darlings’. (X)

Jasmeet K Reen’s Darlings is a dark comedy/thriller about two Muslim women; Alia Bhatt as Badrunissa—the daughter and Shefali Shah as Shamshunissa—the mother.

Badrunissa faces both physical and emotional abuse from her husband Hamza (a scary Vijay Varma) but is always hopeful that he will change.

Shefali Shah’s Shamshunissa is more practical as she already experienced abuse from her spouse.

Darlings does have tonal issues in the second half but for a debut director Jasmeet K Reen did a good job in showcasing the unequal power structure of marriage and also the usage of the bustling chawl (lower middle class colony) which became a character in itself.

After Darlings, Alia Bhatt co-produced Poacher, a web show on another important social issue, which is about the poaching of elephants.

Richie Mehta is the director. His follow-up to Delhi Crime works as both an investigative thriller and human drama. It makes the viewers do some serious soul-searching about the need for peaceful co-existence between man and nature.

The Railway Men

Stills from the series ‘The Railway Men’. (X)

Yash Raj Films is mostly known for producing big-scale entertainers. But, of late, it came up with a web show on a social issue — The Railway Men.

Of course, they have produced films like Chak De India (2007), Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (2009), etc. However, The Railway Men, produced by Aditya Chopra is a different entity altogether, as the series is based on the sensitive subject of the Bhopal gas tragedy.

Shiv Rawail made his debut as a writer cum director with this one. The debutant focused his lens on the little-known heroes of the Indian Railway who put their lives at stake to save thousands of people from the lethal gas.

The subject of The Railway Men is not an easy one to handle but Shiv Rawail showed a lot of maturity aided by some powerful performances from Kay Kay Menon and Babil Khan, among others.

More social dramas

Director-producer Karan Johar also sprang a pleasant surprise on the eve of Valentine’s Day with the docu-series Love Storiyaan (2024).

Love Storiyaan (2023) focused on real-life couples across age groups and states narrating their stories of resilience and strength. The narratives could have easily fit into a movie but he chose to do a docu-series.

Arjun Varain Singh’s Kho Gaye Hum Kahan (2023) is a friendship-based story on the loneliness of Gen Z in the digital era.

Zoya Akhtar also is a commercially successful director but she chose Kho Gaye Hum Kahan‘s story for the OTT space.

This increase in social issues in OTT platforms has its positives as more authentic presentation is possible. But at the same time, there is also the danger of theatrical experience being reduced to just larger-than-life entertainment stories.

The triumph of ‘Hanu-Man’ amidst star-studded Sankranthi films…

Storywise, ‘Hanu-Man’ doesn’t boast of much novelty. It is a classic tale of good versus evil with the superhero tropes of Hollywood.
Published in: Southfirst

Much like Teja Sajja’s character Hanumanthu in the film, Hanu-Man is also an underdog in more ways than one.

Neither Prasanth Varma is a blockbuster director nor the leading man Teja Sajja. The young actor was still finding his footing as a commercial hero when the fantasy flick was released.

Sure, he was a part of the hugely successful film Oh! Baby (2019), but that was primarily Samantha and Lakshmi’s vehicle.

In such a scenario, Hanu-Man was up against Mahesh Babu, Venkatesh, and Nagarjuna — three big stars of Tollywood.

Guntur Kaaram (2024) was the reunion of Mahesh Babu and Trivikram. Saindhav (2024), on the other hand, was the 75th film of Venkatesh.

Saindhav had a massive pre-release buzz, and Venkatesh sounded very confident in his interviews and functions. Additionally, director Sailesh Kolanu of the successful HIT franchise was helming it.

Lastly, Naa Saami Ranga (2024) was expected to rake in good numbers given the rural atmospherics. Furthermore, Nagarjuna’s last two Sankranthi releases were commercially successful.

The USP of Hanu-Man

A poster of Teja Sajja’s ‘Hanu-Man’. (X)

Hanu-Man not only held its own among all four Sankranthi releases but also emerged as the biggest winner.

Storywise, Hanu-Man doesn’t boast of much novelty. It is a classic tale of good versus evil with the superhero tropes of Hollywood.

The protagonist of this tale is a small-time thief in a fictional village called Anjanadri, a village located miles away from urbanisation.

The protagonist here is the last person whom you would associate with having superhero powers.

What made Hanu-Man click was how Prasanth Varma weaved the elements of mythology in a contemporary setting. The amalgamation of devotion with the superhero elements made a perfect mix.

The transformation of Teja Sajja’s character was also done well, and the young actor pulled off the different shades with finesse.

Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, as Hanumanthu’s elder sister, was another big strength of the film.

The brother-sister bond gave the movie an emotional gravitas. Varalaxmi Sarathkumar also had her masala moment, which was a treat to watch.

Though the film’s budget doesn’t come anywhere close to Adipurush (2023), the special effects are far superior. These factors made Hanu-Man a big hit among all age groups.

Underwhelming performances

A poster of Mahesh Babu’s ‘Guntur Kaaram’. (X)

The other three Sankranthi releases underperformed for different reasons.

In the case of Guntur Kaaram, Trivikram’s favourite theme of discord in families and an estranged son fixing things backfired badly. Mahesh Babu had fun with his role but for the audiences, it was a slog for the most part.

The tone of Venkatesh’s Saindhav is similar to Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Leo (2023), a family man with a violent past.

A poster of Venkatesh’s ‘Saindhav’. (X)

Venkatesh works as a crane operator in the port city of Chandraprastha. Before taking up this job he was a member of a drug cartel.

Things take a drastic turn when his daughter is diagnosed with SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy). To survive, she needs urgent medical treatment that costs ₹17 crore.

Saindhav had all the elements needed for a solid action drama. Venkatesh, as the single father, also delivered a commendable performance and pulled off the action sequences with the required intensity.

But the film was not entirely satisfying for fans of the action genre. The big reason for that is the uneven screenplay coupled with the lack of attention-grabbing twists.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui played an eccentric antagonist with a mix of Hindi and Telugu dialogues. But the unhingedness of his character comes across as irritating.

Doesn’t hit the mark

A poster of Nagarjuna’s ‘Naa Saami Ranga’. (X)

Naa Saami Ranga, directed by Vijay Binni, is a decent entertainer, provided you are not looking for a lot.

The village atmospherics are good as are the performances, particularly of Allari Naresh.

But the sharp writing needed for a wholesome Sankranti film is missing. The portions of Nagarjuna with his love interest Varalakshmi (Ashika Ranganath) feel dated.

The friendship between Nagarjuna’s Kishtayya and Allari Naresh’s Anji needed to be etched better.

To conclude, Hanu-Man has once again proved why big stars are not always needed to draw the audience in huge numbers.

Sometimes, solid storytelling can transform an actor into a star!

Three Bollywood Biopics Based On Indian Prime Ministers — All Congress Bashers!

All three biopics depicted the Congress leaders as cardboard cut-outs; they are either scheming villains or incompetent buffoons.

Indian biopics in general turn out as reverential portraits where the flaws of a person are mostly hidden or camouflaged. They end up being more of a highlights reel.

This is even more so in the case of movies dwelling on the lives of politicians and those related to the army.

All three movies mentioned in this article have one striking thing in common—Congress bashing.

Congress leaders reduced to cardboard cut-outs

All three biopics, including The Accidental Prime Minister (2019) depict the Congress party as cardboard cut-outs. The Congress characters are either scheming villains or incompetent buffoons.

PM Narendra Modi (2019) was always meant to be a highly respectful portrait and the film did just that.

Director Omung Kumar took many cinematic liberties in presenting Modi as the perfect person.

An example of this cinematic liberty comes in the portions involving the Gujarat riots. He even showcased Narendra Modi as the hero of religious minorities!

This movie also has some Congress characters who seem to have stepped straight out of the sets of The Accidental Prime Minister.

A better biopic

Pankaj Tripathi in ‘Main Atal Hoon’. (X)

The recent addition Main Atal Hoon (2024) is a biopic on Atal Bihari Vajpayee. This film is definitely notches ahead of the other two movies.

Yes, the movie does come across as a highlights reel, particularly in the second half. But at the same time, there is some visible craft.

Director Ravi Jadhav did a good job of showcasing the different stages of Atal’s life.

The USP of Main Atal Hoon was the use of his poems; they come at the right juncture.

The speeches of Atal are another highlight of the film, especially the scene where he expresses anguish about the disturbing events of the emergency.

Ravi Jadhav also did a fine job of showing Atal’s political ideology, which includes wanting peace between India and Pakistan.

One of the early scenes in Main Atal Hoon perfectly establishes how he was the right mixture of calmness and aggression.

Pankaj Tripathi, in the title role, added another feather to his cap. The actor was magnetic and owned the screen.

A subplot featuring Pankaj Tripathi and Piyush Mishra (as Krishna Bihari Vajpayee, the father of Atul) was filled with so much warmth. The father-son scenes are so endearing, with portions of subtle humour.

But here, too, the portrayal of the Congress continues to be caricaturist.

The characterisation of Indira Gandhi, in particular, left a lot to be desired.

Payal Nair, as Indira Gandhi, was blank in her expressions. She had a sullen face throughout.

A clumsy propaganda

Vivek Oberoi in ‘Prime Minister Narendra Modi’. (X)

Now, to The Accidental Prime Minister, which was released much before these two biopics.

It was released during the run-up to the 2019 general elections. As it was also a biopic on Manmohan Singh, the previous PM, one would have naturally expected some good things about his life and deeds.

But even that film was meant to valorise the BJP and downgrade Congress.

Apart from BJP propaganda, another big problem with The Accidental Prime Minister was the clumsy manner in which the role of Manmohan Singh was written and enacted.

Manmohan Singh is a man who has donned multiple hats apart from being the prime minister. He was an economist and academician.

But in the film, he comes across as eternally confused and a puppet figure.

Anupam Kher is an acclaimed actor who has brought many characters to life. But here, he was doing more mimicry with exaggerated hand movements and a stiff voice.

Director Sriram Raghavan and his unique casting choices…

Apart from creating deliciously dark characters, filmmaker Sriram Raghavan’s speciality lies in presenting his actors in different roles.

For example, much before Saif Ali Khan did a negative role in Omkara (2006), he was cast in the role of a smooth charmer who wreaks havoc in the life of Urmila Matondkar’s Sarika in Ek Hasina Thi (2004).

Saif handled this role — his very first negative character — like a pro by showcasing his versatility in a big way.

In Johnny Gaddaar (2007), Sriram Raghavan trusted a complete newcomer like Neil Nitin Mukesh with a challenging role. His role of Vikram comes across as a calculating and cold person who does not hesitate to sacrifice even his friends.

Neil’s performance in Johnny Gaddaar remains his best to date.

Sriram Raghavan also tapped a different side of the veteran actor Dharmendra in this film. Dharmendra played a ring leader. Though the duration of his scenes was less, his role was well-written and enacted.

Now, I will primarily focus on Sriram Raghavan’s last three films Badlapur (2015),  Andhadhun (2018), and Merry Christmas (2024).

Interestingly, in these movies, the director has pushed his lead actors to do something different from what they have done previously.

Badlapur

Sriram Raghavan and Varun Dhawan on the sets of ‘Badlapur’. 

Sriram Raghavan and Varun Dhawan on the sets of ‘Badlapur’. (Facebook)

Before BadlapurVarun Dhawan only did romantic and comic roles; he was absolutely charming in Main Tera Hero (2014) and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014).

But with Badlapur, the actor stepped into a new zone.

The film is based on a real-life event where Varun’s character goes through many stages — physically and emotionally. Varun Dhawan played Raghu, whose life changed drastically after the death of his wife and son.

Raghu is consumed by revenge, and in the process of retribution, he does some questionable things. Even after succeeding in his mission, Raghu does not find complete peace.

In Badlapur, the viewers saw a new Varun Dhawan. The actor completely submitted to the vision of Sriram Raghavan and delivered one of his best performances so far.

Despite sharing screen space with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, there was not a moment where Varun Dhawan came across as anything less.

Andhadhun

Ayishmann Khurrana in a poster of ‘Andhadhun’. 

Ayishmann Khurrana in a poster of ‘Andhadhun’. (X)

Like Varun Dhawan, Ayushmann Khurrana also delivered a career-defining performance in Andhadhun (2018).

Ayushmann never did thrillers before, but director Sriram Raghavan trusted the actor with the role of a supposed blind pianist.

Even at the end, the viewers don’t know if he is blind. Ayushmann shared a lot of scenes with the veteran actor Tabu, but still, he more than stood his own.

Sriram Raghavan etched the character brilliantly with many shades, and Ayushmann Khurrana did complete justice to the director’s vision.

Merry Christmas

Katrina Kaif in ‘Merry Christmas’.

Lastly, you have the recent Merry Christmas starring Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi. The film does not match the brilliance of Badlapur and Andhadhun, but there is no denying Sriram Raghavan’s uniqueness in bringing two actors who belong to vastly different worlds.

Vijay Sethupati is a proven actor with a brilliant repertoire of roles as diverse as Super Deluxe (2019) and Master (2021).On the other hand, Katrina Kaif is known more for her dancing skills than her acting.

Not many directors would have thought of bringing them together but Sriram proved his penchant for taking risks.

A big USP of Merry Christmas is how Vijay Sethupati and Katrina Kaif feed off each other as two strangers in the beginning and develop a bond during a Christmas night.

They shared a wonderful chemistry, which helped the film tide over the speed bumps.

In Merry Christmas, Sriram successfully explored a different side of Katrina.

Her character goes from an alluring and vulnerable single mom to a hurt and revengeful wife. Katrina Kaif was proficient in her part managing to pull off both the shades.

Her role as Maria is a new beginning for Katrina even though the film has not done great business.

It is interesting to see Sriram Raghavan’s unique casting choices, which bring out something different from them every time. Hoping to see more such experimenting.

Increase Of Male Bonding In Mainstream Indian Cinema

From ‘RRR’ to ‘Animal’, an overview of how protagonists are sharing better onscreen chemistry with their male counterparts.

Most directors of mainstream action films hardly give any importance to the female leads. The primary duty of leading ladies has always been looking glamorous and waiting to be flirted or rescued by the heroes.

A recent deviation to this trend is YRF spy films, where Katrina Kaif and Deepika Padukone did some full-fledged action. Still, they cannot be called substantial parts.

But, of late, the female leads in action films are not even getting their romantic space.

Instead, the male leads bond with themselves rather than the opposite sex. For example, in Pathaan (2023), Shah Rukh Khan shared more chemistry with his nemesis, John Abraham, instead of Deepika Padukone.

Romantic comedies and movies of other genres are, of course, a different matter.

In romantic comedies, female leads usually have a substantial presence. In some movies, they get more screen presence than the heroes.

For instance, Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met (2007) was a huge turning point in the career of Kareena Kapoor. Both her performance and film are remembered fondly by the audience to this day.

Likewise, in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014), which can be described as an ode to the blockbuster Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Alia Bhatt’s Kavya Pratap Singh was much more assertive in her love than Kajol in the original.

Getting back to my original point, in most recent blockbusters — particularly pan-Indian movies, women’s roles have been pretty negligible. These include Salaar: Part 1-Ceasefire (2023), Gadar 2 (2023), and Animal (2023).

The male bonding in these pan-Indian hits consists of different types. In Salaar: Part 1-Ceasefire and the historical fantasy RRR (2022), the focus has been on intense brotherhood.

Salaar: Part 1-Ceasefire

Prabhas and Prithviraj Sukumaran in ‘Salaar: Part 1-Ceasefire’. (X)

In the case of Salaar: Part 1-Ceasefire, the characters of Prabhas and Prithviraj Sukumaran are shown to be close from a young age.

The very first scene of Salaar has Deva (Prabhas) taking on a seasoned wrestler for his friend Varada (Prithviraj).

As the plot progresses, Deva becomes an extremely valuable commander-in-chief for his friend. Their bromance is particularly visible when they both take on some drug-infested zombies and indulge in some hilarious banter.

Expectedly, this became a major highlight of Salaar: Part 1-Ceasefire. Not only were there any major scenes with the women characters, but they were grossly underwritten and mostly left as bystanders.

RRR

RRR is a historical fantasy with a huge hangover of “Amar Chitra Katha“. SS Rajamouli chose the lives of two famous freedom fighters — Komaram Bheem and Alluri Sita Ramaraju (Junior NTR and Ramcharan).

He created a fictional scenario where the paths of these two meet and what happens after that.

In RRR, the two characters are not childhood friends but bond with each other fast while saving a young boy.

This friendship goes through many tests and trials before the ultimate happy ending.

Right from the first frame, it was clear that Rajamouli majorly focused on the bromance aspect. The different stages of their relationship came out well, but the rest was a huge mess.

The romantic angle between Ramcharan and Alia Bhatt’s Sita was pretty much nonexistent. Even the few scenes between them lacked the punch.

Ironically, Alia’s only substantial scene was with Junior NTR when she saved Bheem by pretending to have a deadly disease. The likes of Shreya Saran and Olivia Morris didn’t even get that.

Gadar 2

In Gadar 2Animal, and Jawan, the male bonding is seen as father and son. In the case of Animal, there is also the additional angle of estranged brothers.

Talking about Gadar 2, Sunny Deol’s affection for his onscreen son is the biggest selling point of this blockbuster sequel.

Unfortunately, Ameesha Patel was reduced to either a weeping wife or a mother, depending on the circumstances.

The scenes between Sunny and Ameesha have hardly any scope for romantic chemistry.

Animal

Sandeep Reddy Vanga could have easily named his movie “A Son’s Psychotic Love for his Father” instead of Animal, because nothing else mattered in the flick.

All the women’s characters in the film are redundant, including Rashmika Mandanna’s Geetanjali.

Ranbir Kapoor has intimate scenes with Rashmika and Tripti Dimri, but the actor shares most chemistry with Anil Kapoor’s Balbir Singh and Bobby Deol’s Abrar.

A good example of this can be seen in an emotionally charged fight scene on an airport runway. Both Ranbir Kapoor and Bobby Deol are seen shirtless, and the entire sequence plays out like a romantic ballad. There is a particular moment where they even lie on top of each other.

Jawan and Pathaan

Atlee’s Jawan is essentially a father-and-son drama with a liberal dose of Shankar’s vigilante brand of cinema.

Unlike the abovementioned films, the women characters here are not insignificant. Nayanthara had a meaty role, particularly in the first half, where we see her doing a balancing act — a single mother who is also an NSG officer.

The women in SRK’s vigilante gang also had reasonably fleshed-out parts, particularly Sanya Malhotra.

But the highlight of Jawan is easily the scenes where SRK features as father and son — the emotions are so palpable.

In the other SRK film Pathaan, the male bonding comes out big time when he shares screen space with John Abraham’s Jim. The scenes between John and SRK were cracking — whether it was the banter they indulge in or the big action sequences, which have a lot of grit.

On the other hand, the attempt at creating a romantic chemistry between Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone came as an unnecessary distraction. Even in Jawan Shah Rukh’s chemistry with Deepika was rather cold.

Pushpa

Allu Arjun’s Pushpa does not exactly fall under the category of the abovementioned films because there are some proper romantic moments.

But it has to be said that Allu Arjun’s chemistry with Jagadeesh’s Keshava made a bigger impact. Their bromance can be particularly felt in the song “Srivalli“. Throughout the song, Pushpa asks Keshava whether or not Srivalli has seen him.

This trend might be good for heroes as it is helping them to expand their market like never before, along with a variety of roles. But for the cine-goers and female actors, the scenario is not desirable and needs to change fast.

An overview of how 2023 has been a game changer for some Bollywood heroes

From Shah Rukh Khan and Sunny Deol to Ranveer Singh, these Bollywood actors made a comeback of sorts in the current calendar year.

2023 has been a remarkable year for Bollywood in more ways than one. The success rate of films is much higher than last year.

Additionally, some of the major stars have made a smashing comeback after a series of duds — be it Shah Rukh Khan with Pathaan and Jawan, or Sunny Deol with Gadar 2.

Shah Rukh in Pathaan and Jawan

There was a period when Shah Rukh Khan was struggling to deliver solid box-office hits. Films like Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017), Fan (2016), and Zero (2018) are major examples of this.

Rahul Dholakia’s Raees (2017) was a box office success but it was nowhere close to what Aamir and Salman were delivering with 3 Idiots (2009), Dangal (2016), PK (2014), and Sultan (2016).

In between, Shah Rukh played an adorable shrink in Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi (2016) which was a moderate success. But it was only a relief considering how the aforementioned films went.

Of course, he was appreciated for playing a supporting role in a female-centric movie headlined by Alia Bhatt.

After Zero, the actor took time to sign his next films as a leading man and the wait has certainly paid off.

Reinventing himself

At the age of 57, Shah Rukh Khan reinvented himself as an action star in both Pathaan (2023) and Jawan (2023). On the surface, both are masala flicks, but the presentation of Siddharth Anand and Atlee are as different as chalk and cheese.

In Pathaan, Shah Rukh was in equal parts charming and rugged. The actor didn’t disappoint one bit — whether it was in the high-octane action sequences or in the more intense bits like the confrontation scenes with John Abraham.

In Jawan, the Bollywood Badshah further pushed the envelope with his double role. And within that double role, there were a lot of variations.

For example, he is a vigilante who uses unconventional ways to speed up societal changes. He is also a military officer who has been accused of cheating the nation and suffers from partial memory loss.

Jawan can be described as a South Indian thali (meal) with a North Indian flavour. Shah Rukh got the pitch of the film perfectly and delivered a thunderous performance, particularly in the father’s role.

There is also Dunki coming up in December and it is expected to rake in good box office numbers, considering the directorial skills of Rajkumar Hirani along with Shah Rukh Khan’s star power.

Sunny Deol in Gadar 2

When the trailer of Gadar 2 was released, it was dismissed as outdated with not many giving it a chance. But the film’s collections surprised many trade analysts.

The nostalgia associated with Gadar (2001) definitely played a part in making it a box-office hit. But more than that, it is Sunny Deol as Tara Singh who sold the movie with his intense performance. Even at the age of 65, Sunny has a commanding presence that resonates well with the audience.

After a series of disasters like Bhaiaji Superhit (2018), Yamla Pagla Deewana Phir Se (2018), and Mohalla Assi (2018), the Bollywood actor is back with a bang with Gadar 2.

His performance particularly stands out in the emotional scenes that Tara Singh shares with his son Jeetay (Utkarsh Sharma). The action scenes are deliberately over the top but Sunny Deol sells them with his conviction.

Ranveer Singh in Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani

Before the pandemic, Ranveer was having an absolute dream run with his varied characters. Whether it was the despicable Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat (2018), the masala cop in Rohit Shetty’s Simmba (2018), or the young Muslim boy who has a fascination for rap in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy (2019).

In all these movies, the Bollywood actor got critical acclaim as well as box office success. But post-pandemic, things started going downhill for the actor.

It started with Kabir Khan’s 83 (2021). Ranveer won rave reviews for his portrayal of Kapil Dev and so did the film. And yet, it didn’t achieve its full potential. The sudden hurricane of Pushpa: The Rise (2021) definitely played a spoilsport for this Ranveer Singh-starrer.

His next release Jayeshbhai Jordaar (2022) was directed by a new director Divyang Thakur. The flick didn’t do well at the box in spite of tackling a socially relevant subject.

Much was expected from Rohit Shetty’s Cirkus (2022) but neither the director nor the actor could recreate the success of Simmba (2018).

A flamboyant Punjabi

The situation was looking grim for Ranveer too. But this year has been good for the actor, thanks to Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani directed by Karan Johar.

Ranveer’s Rocky is a flamboyant Punjabi guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. He is someone who is neither politically nor culturally sophisticated.

His life undergoes a metamorphosis after falling in love with a fiercely opinionated Bengali journalist Rani Chatterjee (Alia Bhatt).

The role of Rocky gave Ranveer ample scope to display both his comic and dramatic skills.

On many occasions, Ranveer brought the house down with his broken English. A good example of this is when Rocky attempts poetry to flatter Rani who is very amused.

On the other hand, he was also equally effective while displaying the fragile side of Rocky. For example, there is a brilliant dramatic scene where he apologises to Rani’s onscreen dad (Tota Roy Chowdhury).

Rocky gives a heartfelt monologue about how he has been conditioned to think in a certain manner from childhood. He also talks about the Cancel Culture and how none of us will learn anything if we keep on cancelling each other.

Ranveer also surprised one and all with his Kathak performance on the famous number “Dhole Re Dhola.” His sizzling chemistry with Alia was an icing on the cake.

Ayushmann Khurrana in Dream Girl 2

Ayushmann Khurrana already proved his credentials as a good actor in different genres. Whether it is Sriram Raghavan’s thriller Andhadhun (2018) or Anubhav Sinha’s social drama Article 15 (2019), he gave a series of hits before the pandemic.

However, post-pandemic, Ayushmann’s brand of cinema stopped working; they were not just outright disasters, none of them took a good opening either.

As a result, the Bollywood actor took the route of a masala comedy with the film Dream Girl 2 (2023). Dream Girl 2 definitely had the sequel advantage.

Dream Girl (2019) remains Ayushmann’s highest-grosser to date. Dream Girl 2‘s critical response was mixed but Ayushmann’s performance, particularly as Pooja, did receive a good response.

Dream Girl 2 earned over ₹100 crore at the domestic box office.

John Abraham in Pathaan

In the last few years, John Abraham has been following the route of Akshay Kumar — either playing a patriotic hero or doing slapstick comedies.

The likes of Pagalpanti (2019) and Satyameva Jayate-2 (2021) were disasters both critically and commercially. But, with Pathaan, John more than made up for his previous lacklustre outings.

His role as Jim was not just about being a dashing villain, there is also an emotional back-story about why he does what he does. As viewers, you might not agree with his actions but you do understand his resentment with RAW (Research and analysis wing).

There are certain moments where John Abraham expresses the angst of his character and he did a good job.

Akshay Kumar in OMG 2

Unlike the above-mentioned actors Akshay Kumar is not the leading man of OMG 2 (2023), nor is it a major supporting role. In OMG 2, he had only an extended cameo as the messenger of Lord Shiva in Human form.

Though there was not much scope for performance, Akshay still brought the right amount of divinity to his part. It is easily his most relaxed performance in the recent past.

Akshay Kumar also pulled off a Shiv Tandav with ease. After the debacle of Samrat Prithviraj (2022) and Raksha Bandhan (2022), OMG 2 must have been a much-needed relief for him.