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From Airlift to Dangal: 13 must watch films of 2016

A year of big blockbusters and delightful little films, 2016 was also the year in which the regional film finally arrived. As the year winds to a close, we take a look at the films from 2016 that you just cannot miss. 

Shriram Iyengar

Airlift - 15 January 
Director: Raja Krishna Menon 
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Nimrat Kaur, Inaamul Haque 


In what could be a metaphor for this list, Airlift was a wonderfully crafted film about the escape of Indians from Iraq during the Saddam Hussein coup. While Akshay Kumar was perfect as the sometimes selfish, but always pragmatic businessman, it was the supporting cast that truly epitomised the film's success. Inaamul Haque as the Bollywood dialogue spouting major, Prakash Belawadi as the irate NRI, or Kumud Mishra as the quiet government man who steps in the rescue were metaphors for a film that was about a group of survivors in calamitous times. 

Neerja - 19 February 
Director: Ram Madhvani 
Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Jim Sarbh


2015 was the year of biopics, and 2016 began with a searing, courageous one on the life of Neerja Bhanot. Ram Madhvani's film managed to capture an entire lifetime's fear, anxiety and courage within the span of 2 hours in Neerja. Set in the last two days of a courageous 23-year-old's life, the film saw Sonam Kapoor deliver her finest performance as the ordinary young girl who finds the extraordinary courage to save her passengers from terrorists. Add to it the nuanced sorrow of Shabana Azmi, the controlled direction of Madhvani, and it is obvious why this film makes the list. 

Kapoor & Sons - 18 March 
Director: Shakun Batra 
Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Alia Bhatt, Rishi Kapoor, Fawad Khan, Rajat Kapoor, Ratna Pathak Shah 



A film named after the first family of Indian cinema and produced by a studio that gave birth to the phrase 'It is all about loving your family', Kapoor & Sons represented the generational shift in the idea of families. This was not a family that celebrated lavishly or had sons that were dutiful. Shakun Batra's version was delightfully cracked, distorted and had a bittersweet aftertaste that made it all the more real for the audience. Throw in a sassy prosthetic covered Rishi Kapoor, and you have the perfect recipe. The courage of having Fawad Khan, the poster boy of romance, play the gay brother, was a marker that Hindi cinema had finally grown out of its conservatism. 

Nil Battey Sannata - 15 April 
Director: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari 
Cast: Swara Bhaskar, Ratna Pathak Shah, Pankaj Tripathi, Sanjay Suri, Riya Shukla


The diversity of content coming through Hindi cinema was one of the remarkable characteristic of the year 2016. Ashwini Iyer Tiwari's little gem had Swara Bhaskar play the 'kaamwali bai' who wants her headstrong daughter to get back to her books. The sullen reluctance of the young girl and the dogged determination of her mother make up for a fantastic battle in the film. Garnished with some sparkling performances by Swara Bhaskar, Ratna Pathak Shah, and an in form Pankaj Tripathy, the film was a delightful canter away from the highways of big blockbusters this year. 

10 films that focussed on serious problems plaguing Indian children

Dhanak - 10 June 
Director: Nagesh Kukunoor 
Cast: Hetal Gada, Krrish Chhabria, Vipin Sharma



It is very difficult to make a children's film, but not make it look childish. Nagesh Kukunoor managed it with some class in this year's Dhanak. A touching tale of a brother and sister on a journey to restore the little boy's eyesight, Dhanak won the Crystal Bear Grand Prix at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival. Filled with characters of every hue that join the caravan, Dhanak was a rainbow you could not miss in 2016. 

Udta Punjab - 17 June 
Director: Abhishek Chaubey 
Cast: Shahid Kapur, Alia Bhatt, Diljit Dosanjh, Kareena Kapoor Khan 


The film's launch made a bigger splash than the film itself. Every once in a while, some film, by choice or accident, becomes the poster child of its generation. Udta Punjab was it for the post millennials. Uncouth, brash, loud and direct, Abhishek Chaubey's film on the drug problem in Punjab's heartland was anti-establishment in its very pixels. No wonder that the Censor Board did not approve of it. So began the revolution that took the spotlight away from the main issue of the film — the growing drug culture in Punjab. Nevertheless, this was the film that brought a divided industry together against the greatest threat facing it today — censorship. 

Raman Raghav 2.0 - 17 June 
Director: Anurag Kashyap 
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vicky Kaushal


Anurag Kashyap is certainly not in a rich vein of form. The debacle of Bombay Velvet took a heavy toll of Hindi cinema's rebel without a cause, and Raman Raghav 2.0 was his vengeance. Epitomised by the flawless, gripping performance of Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the serial killer, and Vicky Kaushal as the out of bounds cop on his trail, the film was a surreal tale of bloodlust and evil. Though it failed at the box-office, it was a stern reminder of the technical and narrative skills that makes it difficult to take your eyes off an Anurag Kashyap film. 

Sultan - 6 July 
Director: Ali Abbas Zafar 
Cast: Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma, Randeep Hooda, Amit Sadh, Kumud Mishra

We could give you 10 reasons why Sultan is among the films to watch this year, but one is enough — Salman Khan. Playing the down and out desi wrestler who regains his confidence and pride by entering the MMA ring, Salman put in a 'bhai'tastic performance that had pathos, courage, and some real acting. His overt machismo was balanced by the grit, determination and power displayed by Anushka Sharma. In a true blue Salman film, she became the first heroine to actually catch the critics' eye for her acting performance. The film raked in an astounding Rs500 crore business. 

Pink - 16 September 
Director: Aniruddh Roy Chaudhary
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, Angad Bedi 



The film of the year was Aniruddh Roy Chaudhary's hard-hitting drama, Pink. Powered by some dramatic performances by Taapsee Pannu, Kriti Kulhari, and Amitabh Bachchan, the film was a stiff uppercut to the male patriarchy. In an industry where heroines constantly complain of second citizen status, Pink was a daring and necessary statement on the status and independence of women in Indian society. 

M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story - 30 September 
Director: Neeraj Pandey 
Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Disha Patani, Kiara Advani, Anupam Kher


It is never easy bringing life to a biopic, let alone one whose lead character is still alive, and playing. Neeraj Pandey's take on MS Dhoni's rise to the top of Indian cricket's legends was a well-narrated story, but it looked better with Sushant Singh Rajput playing the daredevil wicketkeeper from Ranchi. Though it was a story that had been repeated a million times before, M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story is one to watch for its historicity alone. To be able to remember those moments that made you an Indian cricket fan. And for Rajput too. 

Aligarh - 26 February 2016
Director: Hansal Mehta
Cast: Manoj Bajpai, Rajkummar Rao



If there was a performance to watch in 2016, it was Manoj Bajpai as the hounded Prof Siras trying to escape the witch hunt against his sexuality in Hansal Mehta's epochal story, Aligarh. For a long time, Hindi cinema has been accused of stereotyping the gay and transgenders of the country. For a change, the sensitive, struggling face of Manoj Bajpai conveyed the strife and ostracisation suffered by this sensitive people. 

Dear Zindagi - 18 November 
Director: Gauri Shinde
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Alia Bhatt, Angad Bedi, Kunal Kapoor



Alia Bhatt as a confused tweenie. Shah Rukh Khan as a grizzled psychiatrist. What else do you need to make a film watchable? Oh yeah, a great story. Gauri Shinde's Dear Zindagi was a wonderful slow sonnet to life and love in a world of high-speed wifi connections. Subtle and devoid of any excess emotional drama, Dear Zindagi is one film you have to watch if you are tired of romantic dramas filled with angsty songs over breakups. 

Dangal, 25 December 2016 

Director: Nitesh Tiwari 

Cast: Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Sheikh, Sanya Malhotra

This is how the year ended, with a bang, not a whimper. Aamir Khan stormed the last month of the year with his emotionally uplifting Dangal. Directed by Nitesh Tiwari, the film told the story of wrestler Mahavir SIngh Phogat who trained his daughters in the male dominated sport of wrestling to earn gold medals for the country. True to his type, Aamir Khan delivered an acting masterclass with his physical transformation surprising one and all. Well written, astutely directed, and brilliantly enacted on screen, Dangal proved to be the box office blockbuster that the industry needed to ring in the new year. It also proved to be the latest in Aamir Khan's Christmas miracles. 

Read more: How Aamir Khan stole Christmas from the rest of Hindi cinema

Marathi films to watch in 2016 

Natsamrat - 1 January 2016 
Director: Mahesh Manjrekar 
Cast: Nana Patekar, Vikram Gokhale, 


Few roles outdo their players. Hamlet. Hannibal Lecter. Ganpat Ramchandra Belwalkar aka Natsamrat. As one of the senior Marathi actors of his generation, it was rightfully due that Nana Patekar take on a role that was once hallmarked by Dr Shriram Lagoo. Powerfully crafted, filled with high emotions and dialogues, this was a film that marked the rise of Marathi cinema as a true equal to the Hindi cinema industry in 2016. 

Sairat - 29 April 
Director: Nagraj Manjule 
Cast: Rinku Rajguru, Akash Thosar 

If Natsamrat was the beginning, Sairat was the main course. And quite a main course it was! Nagraj Manjule's version of Romeo and Juliet set in rural Maharashtra opened a whole new cultural multiverse that was previously subdued. On its release, the film exploded into a phenomenon that transcended language and boxoffice rules. It remains the only Marathi film to cross Rs100 crore. Some years later, perhaps, critics will point it out as the film that started it all. 

Half Ticket - 22 July 
Director: Samit Kakkad 
Cast: Bhalchandra Kadam

Based on the Tamil National Award Winner, Kakka Muttai, Half Ticket was a lovely little film about underprivileged children. Though it might not have the heft of Natsamrat or the cultural underscoring of Sairat, it was a film that offered that distinct sense of humour and freedom that defines Marathi cinema. 

Ventilator - 4 November 
Director: Rajesh Mapuskar 
Cast: Ashutosh Gowariker, Jitendra Joshi, Viju Khote, Sulabha Arya, Achyut Potdar 

Call it Priyanka Chopra's debut as a producer, Ashutosh Gowariker's return to acting, or a fine Marathi film, Ventilator would prove you right. Rajesh Mapuskar's return to the directorial chair was a funny, snarky film that would make for a great tale at a dinner party. Filled with hilarious chatter and witty remarks, Ventilator was a film with a heart. Watch it as a reminder of why Marathi literature and films are considered among the finest remedies for a bad day. 

Kaul - A Calling - 18 November 
Director: Aadish Keluskar 
Cast: Rohit Kokate, Deepak Parab, Saudamini Tikle, Makarand Kajrekar 

The range of films emerging from the Marathi industry in 2016 is enough to give the big budget Hindi cinema a complex. Daring, inventive and different, Kaul - A Calling was an experiment, the likes of which hasn't been seen in Hindi cinema since Mani Kaul. If you look at cinema as a medium of art in itself, this is a film that bends to that narrative.