What a year! When historians of the future write about the entertainment business, 2020 will be a watershed, like the advent of sound or television or streaming — an event that changed the DNA of the business. Only some 90 Hindi films were released this year — against an annual average of about 400. And even of those 90, just a few made it to the theatres while most have seen only an OTT release.
Covid-19 has cost the Indian film industry an estimated Rs 10,000 crore. The year saw other losses too, of the incalculable kind, in the deaths of Irrfan and Rishi Kapoor, the tragedy of Sushant Singh Rajput and its aftermath. Yet, even in this dismal year, there have been sparks of joy. Here are some of the things that made me happy:
Diljit Dosanjh: There were few things on the internet this year funnier than Diljit fighting with Alexa. He speaks in his Punjabified English to the device, which refuses to comply. Their quarrel cheered me up for days. Diljit also created, in lockdown, a best-selling music album called G.O.A.T. And he went where even the mightiest Bollywood stars fear to tread, standing up for a cause he believes in. With the farmers’ protest, Diljit took a frontline position, drumming up support and getting into a Twitter spat with Kangana Ranaut that had us all scrambling to decode his fast and furious Punjabi tweets. We need more heroes like this one.
The emergence of the actor-star: The one positive effect of the pandemic has been the denting of Bollywood’s deeply entrenched star system. Without the pressure of opening-day figures, truly talented artists have had the opportunity to shine. It’s been heartening to watch wonderful actors such as Pratik Gandhi, Jaideep Ahlawat, Divyenndu Sharma, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Tripti Dimri and so many others get the spotlight. I hope this continues even when we are all congregating in theatres again.
Mahesh Narayanan and Fahadh Faasil:The director and actor-producer put their collective imagination and might into creating C U Soon, a film shot within the most stringent restrictions of the pandemic, which played out entirely on a set of screens (phone screens, computer screens, CCTV screens, Google Maps screens). I went in expecting something clever and gimmicky but Mahesh, who was also writer, editor and virtual cinematographer on the project, created a surprisingly emotional narrative with a standout performance by Darshana Rajendran. The film proved that genuine artists can flourish under the harshest limitations. And then, the show doesn’t just go on. It goes on with aplomb.
Streaming platforms: I am a theatre loyalist, but this year I discovered the beauty of long-form narratives. Shows like Scam 1992, Paatal Lok, Panchayat and Aarya showcased the richness of acting, writing and craft that the industry is capable of. These stories sustained us.
Rajkummar Rao as Aalu in Ludo: Aalu is a man so besotted with his school friend Pinky that even after she marries and has a baby, he goes to her house every day, just for a glimpse of her from afar. He is an Amitabh Bachchan fan, but because Pinky loves Mithun Chakraborty, Aalu grows his hair out and goes about looking like an extra from Disco Dancer. When Pinky eventually meets him, Aalu is so overcome that he runs to another room and weeps. There is such sweetness and untainted devotion in Aalu that we have no option but to fall in love with him. Rajkummar is excellent and Pritam’s song, Hardum Humdum, the cherry on the cake.
Pankaj Tripathi: It doesn’t matter who Pankaj Tripathi is playing — the don Sattu Bhaiya in Ludo or the wonderfully supportive father in Gunjan Saxena or the murderous Kaleen Bhaiya in Mirzapur — he is guaranteed to be a delight. His unhurried manner and his ability to steal the scene without appearing to do so are remarkable. He lights up the frame, and what more could one want from an actor.
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