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Stalker's Top Ten 2010: Ram Solanki's Top Indian Films

10FSReel.jpgWe're actually almost out of Stalker's Top Tens for this year, yes it was a small turn out, but they were, and are, perfectly formed. The penultimate entry on the list is Filmstalker regular and one of the original Stalkers, Jun6lee, or as you might also know him, Ram Solanki.

His list is once again on Indian cinema, an industry that not only rivals Hollywood is known to beat it, and there's a fair list of films from that past year. I'm not going to list the entire year that Ram did, you can see that over on his own site, suffice to say there were 117 releases this year in the UK and he's picked his top ten from the ones he saw.

Although the Top Tens for 2010 are almost at an end that doesn't mean you can't send one in, and it doesn't have to be a top ten for 2010, nor does it have to be a top ten favourite films, it can be anything film related. Here's how to send on in.

Just create a list, add at least a sentence explanation about each entry, how you'd like to be known on the published article along with a site link, and email it to me at topten@filmstalker.co.uk.

Right, let's see what Ram is saying about Indian cinema this year and hear his top ten. You can read more about the releases over at his site and you can follow him on Twitter. Over to Ram.

This industry, just like any other, runs on fiscal profit. So for your perusal here's the Top 10 box office takings so you can see what's been successful worldwide this year.

1. Dabangg
2. Golmaal 3
3. Raajneeti
4. My Name is Khan
5. Housefull
6. Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai
7. Kites
8. Tees Maar Khan
9. I Hate Luv Story
10. Anjaana Anjaani

Though some of these do reflect on my list, some decent gems would be missed if we relied entirely upon Box Office takings, so here are my own recommendations, based on how satisfied I felt after the show:

A story of romance between individuals caught in a web of crime, suspense, passion, and deceit. Two thieves, Khalujan and Babban, are on the run from their boss. They seek refuge with an old friend, and instead meet his widow. As they plan their escape, their time spent together draws the duo to her, Khalu with his tinted vision of old-fashioned love, and Babban with his lustful eye. The threat of imminent death forces them on a path of violence and betrayal. Set in a rural landscape, Ishqiya explores basic human emotions as influenced by desire, greed and revenge.

It has an independent film feel to it. Set in quite a rural atmosphere, quite slow paced, it builds characters that are flawed but likable without pushing towards the larger than life characters, nor does it go overboard in showing a depressing exploited rural India, like more commercial cinema often does.

My Name is Khan
The triumphant story of an unconventional hero overcoming mammoth obstacles to regain the love of his life. Rizvan Khan, a Muslim man from India with Apergers Syndrome, moves to San Francisco and lives with his brother and sister-in-law. After falling in love with Mandira, a single-parent Hindu girl, despite protests from his family he marries and they start a small family business together. All is looking well until September 11, 2001 when attitudes towards Muslims undergo a sea-change. When tragedy strikes, Mandira in a fit of rage tells Rizvan to leave & not return until he has told the President of the United States that though his name is Khan, he is not a terrorist. Rizvan confused and upset embarks on a touching and inspiring journey across America to seek the President, in hope to win her back.

Opposite end of the spectrum in terms of scale, this is an expensive film. I'll be the first to admit that it's not perfect, but it's certainly pushing the bar where it comes to bringing Indian cinema to an international level of acceptance. The worldwide distribution by Fox goes to show I'm not the only one of this mindset. It's a good half-way-between film, high in emotional drama, duration and a fairy tale on one hand (very Bollywood), while the story is off-beat & the locales and production value are reaching out leaps and bounds (much like Hollywood).

Karthik Calling Karthik
The story of a loser, Karthik, an introvert who is walked over by everyone, from his landlord to his colleagues. On his birthday, he receives a mysterious phonecall from someone claiming to be not only a well-wisher and friend, but himself, Karthik. His life begins to change for the better as the calls start to become a regular guiding part of his life, but who's on the other end of the line? A thrilling, soulful and romantic mystery of this man's victory against his own demons & weaknesses.

The Mystery of what is actually going on is gripping. You make assumptions, guesses, double guess yourself, right until they want you to know what is going on & at this stage you aren't disappointed by their explanation. With a quirky story like this, that's all that was needed, making all the remaining assets such as the background score & the gorgeous Deepika, a mere bonus.

A modern take on the classic Hindu epic: The Ramayan, told from the point of view of it's iconic villain - Raavan. The battle between good and evil, between Dev and Beera, between Ram and Raavan is an interesting spin on the original tale. As more detail is given of the villains past and present, the lines dividing good and evil are blurring. It questions whose side would you take when hate turns to love and the good starts looking shady? Do good and evil even exist, or are they a mere point of view?

Many were disappointed by this film, in fact I myself was in two minds about it initially. I couldn't decide whether it was a stroke of genius or a disaster. This said, I couldn't stop thinking about it, so they blatantly did something right. Incidentally, they had released a Tamil version 'Raavanan' on the same date, so I went and watched that version the following weekend. It had some minor tweaks in the editing that definitely ironed out some creases, but the blinding difference was that the actors were so much better suited for their given roles (with the exception of Govinda who's performance in the Hindi version was simply irreplaceable). So now, having seen two separate versions, the Tamil one was not only better, but settled my unrest about my initial feelings. It was genius & highly recommended.

Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai
Known also as Mumbaai goes Rewind, this retro chic styled flick traces the changing face of the Mumbai underworld and how it all started. A tale seen through the eyes of a police officer. It is set primarily in the 1970s and follows the rise of Sultan, and the conflict, when his protege Shoaib challenges his supremacy, and usurps power to rule the murky underbelly of Mumbai.

With this one it's the style that the tale is told in that's appealing. Sultan may be a criminal, but in many ways he is the one centre-piece ensuring that there is harmony & respect amongst criminals. If his grip loosens, things are going to take a turn for the worse for everyone. We know how this is going to pan out from the very outset, but we don't want it to. The gradual building of tension only grows as we get to know the characters and their motives better.

The story of Chulbul Pandey, a fearless corrupt police officer with unorthodox working methods. Chulbul has had a bitter childhood. His father passed away when he was very young after which his mother re-married. Together, they had a son whom the father favours over him. Having decided to take control of his destiny, he detaches himself from his stepfather and half brother. His sole attachment is his mother. However after his mother's demise and an unsuccessful attempt to mend wounds, Chulbul snaps all ties with his stepfather and half brother, but his detractors have their own vested interests and emerge as spokes in the wheels, putting one brother against the other. How he manages to piece back his family and destroy his detractors is what forms a hard-hitting, entertaining, emotional narrative here.

This is a 'fun' action flick. If you like those 70's Dhishoom Dhishoom films or Hollywood films to the likes of Shoot 'em Up or The Transporter, this will be right up your street. It has no qualms about being unrealistic & delivers an action-packed explosion that'll leave you smiling for hours after the show.

Enthiran - The Robot
Dr Vasi is a scientist on a mission to create an andro-humanoid robot to help the society. Speed one terra Hz, memory one zeta byte. He can dance, sing, fight, water and fire resistant. He can do all that a human can and more. He feeds on electricity. He takes instructions literally. Where a human can lie to save himself this andro-humanoid robot cannot. His name is Chitti. Since he cannot understand human emotions, he can not understand reasoning such as shame & guilt, he is incomplete to serve it's purpose in society, but when Dr. Vasi upgrades Chitti's processor and simulates human emotions, a whole whirlwind of repercussions await.

This is for those sci-fi nuts out there who have allowed that kid inside them to survive, the one that gets excited by the prospect of 'out there'. I'd describe it visually as a cross between I-Robot, Terminator and The Matrix Reloaded, with a much lower budget. The fact that it doesn't take itself seriously 'at all' works a charm for it. It feels like an adventurous cheesy 80's Sci-fi with the effects of the late 90's, but this strange time-warp, with it's sense of obscure humour seems to balance out perfectly.

Speaking to the festival director, this is one of the films that'll be screened at Sci-fi-London Film Festival in the summer, this is where I feel it'll finally be at home.

Jhootha Hi Sahi
When Siddharth starts getting calls in the middle of the night from people wanting to commit suicide, alarm bells start ringing. As it turns out a Samaritan suicide hotline had mistakenly handed out his phone number as the hot-line, this is soon rectified, but one call has already changed Siddharths life forever. What if you had a secret hotline to the heart of the girl you love? If you could read her deepest thoughts, know her every emotion and manipulate her every choice. And all you had to do was lie a little; well, not that little. This is the story of a simpleton battling this dilemma.

Simple, sweet & quirky. This one is a romcom but with an attached hook. When I first heard the plot I thought it sounded like a but of a gimmick, but they've utilised the idea well. Set entirely in London, it's also one of the few films I've seen that shows London as is, rather than creating an overblown character about it.

Allah Ke Banday
This film tells the tale of two 12 year old boys (Vijay and Yakub) who grow up in the slums of India. Wanting to make a name for themselves in the mafia world, they start delivering drugs and loot people with the help of their transvestite friend. Things go wrong when they are sent to a juvenile reformatory after being wrongly convicted for a murder. They learn life is much tougher in the reformatory than the world they came from. They are tortured by the warden and senior inmates. But instead of reforming they develop a more sinister plan in their quest for ultimate power. At 23, once released, they start a gang with teenage boys from the very slums they were raised. Unfortunate events force the two men to decide between future & redemption or living in their pasts.

If you though it takes a British director to show a gritty India, think again. The themes here are nothing new, from Angels with Dirty Faces, to Sleepers to even some Scarface, but the execution is fast-paced & engaging. It fits in sync with the impatient modern-day generation that would find Citizen Kane & even The Godfather a little slow for their tastes.

Band Baaja Baaraat
Shruti is a 20-something no-nonsense girl from a middle class Delhi household. Focused and determined with preplanned ambitions, her goals in life are well laid out by the time she reaches her final year of college. Bittoo, on the other hand, has no real aim in life besides not being dragged back to his village by his parents. A chance and inopportune meeting brings the two together on a tumultuous journey where they become partners in their very own wedding planning business. With the rule of not mixing business with pleasure stated sternly in the outset, it was only a matter of time before the bands, horns and revelry would drown out any trace of that the rule.

Most of the above films have been atypical to the Bollywood sterotype, this one on the other-hand is just that. Weddings, dance, romance, all that fluff, yet it manages to be authentic and fresh. How? you might ask. The answer to perfection as always is the writing. It's a very tightly written film. It is evident that they have really taken care to make it a story about the main pair & there are no scenes that fall into subplots that don't affect them. No time-wasting, from the very first frame. Yet, every small character from the guy that provides them catering to the cop that appears as their client, every single character is memorable. The only reason this hasn't made it big is that there isn't an established actor's name attached to it, but word-of-mouth has been good for it universally. Here's hoping that the 'Content is King' work ethos grows because of it.

So that's my 10 done. Some of the films I wish I had got a chance to see that I think potentially could have made it into the Top 10 are:

* Love, Sex aur Dhoka
* City of Gold
* Tere Bin Laden
* Udaan
* Khichdi
* Do Dooni Chaar

So, the next time you hear someone mention that Indian Cinema only does RomComs, do feel free to point them to this list. If you have any questions or queries about any of the films, drop me a comment & I'll happily elaborate.

Well, that's all folks. :)

If you'd like to see the other Top Ten lists from previous years, head over to the Stalker's Top Tens page.

There's still plenty of time to see your 2010 list online, here's the email link again, topten@filmstalker.co.uk, and the instructions are above.

Thanks Ram, great write-ups as always and a good insight into the best of Indian cinema this year. What do you think? Did you see any? Agree, disagree?



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