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Rewind 2017: The 10 best Hindi films of the year

As the year wheels to an end, it is time to look back at the films that entertained, touched, and shocked us into thinking through their stories, performances and pictures.

The Cinestaan Team

If there is one thing 2017 will be remembered for, it is the return of the middle class in Hindi cinema. In Bareilly Ki Barfi, Tumhari Sulu, Badrinath Ki Dulhania and many more, Hindi cinema returned to the small towns, second-floor apartments and naukri-chakri that were the favourites of auteurs like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee and Sai Paranjpye.

The year also belonged to the infusion of new thoughts, new ideas and new names into Hindi cinema. Avinash Das, Alankrita Shrivastava, Suresh Triveni, Saket Chaudhary and Advait Chandan were among the directors who made a mark with content-driven films.

The failure of star-powered vehicles like Jab Harry Met Sejal, Tubelight, A Gentleman and OK Jaanu only underlined that this was a watershed year when audience tastes transcended the box office. Not even Shah Rukh Khan's romance or Salman Khan's presence could convince audiences if the content itself was weak.

Rewind 2017: The 10 worst Hindi films of the year

Instead, the year saw a new breed of artistes step forward. Whether it was Rajkummar Rao, who had a great year, or Ayushmann Khurrana, who is now the new Average Guy, or Vidya Balan, who re-defined sexy with her voice and voluptuousness, the year was a basket of surprises.

And it wasn't about the money either. Bareilly Ki Barfi, the year's most acclaimed and popular film, was made on a budget of Rs20 crore. Newton, Trapped, Lipstick Under My Burkha all fell in the same category.

In a sense, 2017 saw Hindi cinema return to the basics with good screenwriting, acting and storytelling, discovering some fantastic new-generation heroes as well. So, here are the 10 films that we believe marked the triumph of Hindi cinema in 2017.

10. Monsoon Shootout

Amit Kumar's sensational noir saga hinged on a singular moment with the potential to change several lives. A well-crafted thriller, Monsoon Shootout had brevity, sharpness and stylized visuals which added to its appeal. The magic of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Neeraj Kabi's craft did the rest. 

The film had been doing the rounds of the festival circuit for three years before finally arriving in theatres at home on the back of critical acclaim. By then Siddiqui had become a star in the world of independent cinema and Kabi was being hailed for his work. Even cinematographer Rajeev Ravi had gone on to make the brilliant Kammatipaadam (2016). It might have been a few monsoons late, but Monsoon Shootout was in time for this list.

Click here to read our review of Monsoon Shootout

9. Anaarkali Of Aarah

After her turn as the poor but ambitious mother who dreams of a good education for her child in Nil Battey Sannata (2016), Swara Bhaskar delivered another powerhouse performance in Avinash Das's rustic film. The story of the struggle of a bawdy performer in Uttar Pradesh was filled with drama, politics, intrigue and a sense of desperation.

Das's film portrayed the struggle of such women against the parochial, patriarchal society as well as their own kind. While the film was bolstered by sensitive writing and sharp wit, the performances of Bhaskar and Sanjai Mishra gave it the fillip it needed to make the transition from localized story to one that the country could relate to. 

Click here to read our review of Anaarkali Of Aarah

8. Tumhari Sulu

Nowhere was the return of the middle class to cinema consciousness more evident than in Suresh Triveni's directorial debut Tumhari Sulu. A delightful tale of a housewife who turns late-night RJ, the film was filled with nonchalant details that brought back vestiges of a fading world in the urban sprawl that is Mumbai. With afternoon naps, tacky ringtones, and women unafraid of the world around, Tumhari Sulu told an endearing tale of love and laughter. 

Playing her natural, charming self, Vidya Balan, backed by Manav Kaul, Neha Dhupia, Vijay Maurya and a wonderful ensemble cast, cast a spell on the screen. The audience, obviously, fell in love with the film at the first 'Hello'.

Click here to read our review of Tumhari Sulu

7. Hindi Medium

That this gem starring Irrfan Khan finds itself this far down the list is testament to the competition it faced. Saket Chaudhary took on the middle-class love for English education in this wonderful satire. Khan and Pakistani actress Saba Qamar played the desperate couple willing to suffer even poverty if that would help their little girl get into an English-medium school.

Humorous, sharp, and led by the inimitable Khan, Hindi Medium was a hit, giving a hint that the audience is no longer hung up on so-called star power. Khan even won Best Actor (Popular) at the Star Screen awards this year. The winds of change are blowing. 

Click here to read our review of Hindi Medium

6. Secret Superstar

While Tumhari Sulu offered a charming dose of nostalgia for the middle class, Advait Chandan's Secret Superstar looked at the hypocrisy that needs to be challenged. Starring Zaira Wasim, the film told the story of a rebellious Muslim teenager who turns to music to break the shackles imposed on her by her tyrannical father.

The film deftly wove two key themes of the year — Feminism and Freedom — into its impeccable script. Add to this mix some enchanting music and a wacky, maverick Aamir Khan and lo! you have success.

While Secret Superstar could not match the box-office performance of Khan's previous film, it certainly proved that Wasim's turn in Dangal (2016) was no flash in the pan.

Click here to read our review of Secret Superstar

5. Trapped

The greatest challenge for an actor is to dominate the screen all by himself. It is easy to play off the energy and charisma of those you share the frame with, but to keep an audience glued to its seat when you are the only person on screen is tough. But considering the year Rajkummar Rao has had, he could have put on a solo performance of Manoj Kumar's infamous Clerk (1989) and people would have watched it.

The actor pushed himself to his psychological and physical limits in Vikramaditya Motwane's Trapped. Starving himself, eating non-vegetarian food when he is actually vegetarian, and becoming a man hanging on to life by the edge of his teeth, Rajkummar was captivating on screen. All by himself.

Click here to read our review of Trapped

4. Mukti Bhawan

It is difficult to philosophize in cinema without coming across as preachy or snobbish. Director Shubhashish Bhutiani managed it by discussing the complex question of life, death and its purpose within the structure of a modern nuclear family.

Lalit Behl played the bored, tired father who wants to die in Benares while Adil Hussain played his overworked son who is saddled with the task of helping to fulfil his father's wish.

A simple story, told elegantly at a leisurely pace, Mukti Bhawan was one of the gems that slipped under the radar of the film-going public but was on the must-watch list of every cinephile. While it had two artistes in Behl and Hussain giving fantastically nuanced performances, it was the tenderness and realism of the film that charmed the audience.

Click here to read our review of Mukti Bhawan

3. Newton

As the questions on India's great democracy continue to grow in volume with every passing day, Amit Masurkar's Newton only gains in credibility. The film managed to speak truth to power without standing in judgement on the complex and delicate nature of India's democracy.

The film, co-written by Masukar and Mayank Tewari, is a victory of great writing. While Rajkummar Rao and Pankaj Tripathi were peerless, it was the screenplay and the dialogues that were the real heroes. Staccato dialogues laced with sarcasm made Newton a rarity in Hindi cinema.

The film would not have made it to the screens a decade ago. Produced on a meagre budget of Rs9 crore, it made over Rs15 crore in box office collections. And even earned nomination as the country's official entry to the Oscars.

Click here to read our review of Newton

2. Lipstick Under My Burkha

Decades later, Lipstick Under My Burkha will be looked upon as a watershed moment in Indian cinema. This courageous film by Alankrita Shrivastava marked the rise of Hindi cinema in the digital age. When a 'sanskari' Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) led by Pahlaj Nihalani (distributor of Julie 2, lest we forget!) sought to scissor the film to suit their sensibilities, the film received vociferous backing from social media.

Voices on Twitter, Facebook, from within the film industry and outside, united to rain wrath on the CBFC. The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal finally stepped in and gave it an 'A' certificate. Its eventual success at the box office marked the arrival of a new age when social media started to voice the needs of a cinema-going public. 

Click here to read our review of Lipstick Under My Burkha

1. Bareilly Ki Barfi

Like a well-brewed cup of tea, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari's film was the concoction that captured the indigenous joys of Hindi cinema. Inspired by Nicholas Barreau's The Ingredients of Love, the film was a sweet romance about a young woman Bitti (Kriti Sanon) and a mysterious author (Ayushmann Khurrana) who picks her to be his muse.

Crisply written, Bareilly Ki Barfi had Nitesh Tiwari and Shreyas Sinha's dialogues infusing Rajkummar Rao's Pritam Vidrohi with panache, Bareilly-style. But the story was built around characters that were real in their insecurities and charming in their errors. Rao's astonishing range was matched emotionally by the underrated Khurrana and Sanon. But it was Seema Pahwa and Pankaj Tripathi who truly stole the show.

It is no surprise that the audience took Iyer Tiwari's film to heart, filled to the brim as it was with slices of life that were as real as they were cinematic. If 2018 promises more of this, it would be a year to look forward to.

Click here to read our review of Bareilly Ki Barfi

What did you think of our choice? Tell us in the Comments section below.