MUMBAI—There is a distinct link between commerce and art in cinema – excellence in the latter almost always leads to the former, with exceptions proving the rule.

And these exceptions have varied but valid (cliché now, actually!) reasons: poor marketing (possibly due to budgetary constrains), WRONG or misleading marketing (which includes titles that say nothing about a film, or also mislead), bad positioning of movies (certain phases in a year are a b-o. no-no down the years), the lack of face value, content that did not excite or relate, both of which today are also compounded by a lack of good music, and last but not least high ticket prices (why should a nuclear family spend Rs. 1200-plus on a small movie when they can get superstars for the same value?) and so on.

One or more of these reasons applied to every good film that missed the bus. A small additional point: it is the occupational hazard of every film critic that his views on any film may modify with subsequent viewings after the review is written, whether the film is watched by accident or design, a few days to a few months later. Or there are informed reasons.

Usually, the change is for the better, which is the good part, for example, a chance meeting with a filmmaker removed a serious lacuna I saw in his middle-of-the-road film and changed my view of it from mediocre to above-average.

So we move now to my best of 2018.

Topping the list is “Bahubali 2: The Conclusion,” which may not have been an original Hindi film but has shown Hindi cinema and its makers how to make films that are loved the way classic Hindi cinema was till we went deviant and split it into pan-Indian/metro-centric/small-town and interiors-centric/’plex-friendly and single-screen movies, and designed content for these artificial divisions.

A film that hugely lived up to its high expectations in all departments (the music was decent but a letdown only in comparison to that of the prequel), “Bahubali 2…” justified everything, including the multi-crore question of “Why did Katappa kill Bahubali?” The action, splendor, and visuals went beyond (naturally, since they could afford to risk higher budgets after the first part’s success), and the story involved all the right emotions. In short, the film was high also on repeat-value. And re-repeat value.

The rest of the films, all ORIGINAL Hindi films, will be discussed in no particular order.

I loved the craziness and the deliberate attempt to give audiences a great time with the perfect blend of classic Hindi entertainment with a connecting factor to GenY in Rohit Shetty’s screwball “Golmaal Again” and David Dhawan’s reboot of his own 1997 cult film in “Judwaa 2.” Unapologetically mass-friendly, both films were outright winners for me. Frankly, I am waiting to watch both them on television again.

“Jolly LLB 2,” “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha,” “Bareilly Ki Barfi,” “Badrinath Ki Dulhania” and “Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana” were all Uttar-Pradesh-based delights with biting, hard-hitting, subtle, incisive and direct (respectively) messages of social import. Packed in a superbly entertaining manner, they were wholesome entertainers, and “Bareilly…” and “Shaadi…,” in particular, were decidedly worth a repeat watch.

“Fukrey Returns” was a film that ranked for me with “Pyaar Ka PunchNama 2” in the way it took paradigm leaps from the mediocre original. So should we thank the writers who made identifiable characters in part 1 of both films, which inspired them and the directors to make these zingy follow-ups despite the limited success (mostly non-theatrical) of the early films? Or should we thank the young audience who loved the originals enough to send a vibe that inspired the sequels? For me, it was again a validation of the fact that the collective audience is the smartest entity.

“Naam Shabana” was all grit like a good thriller should be, even if the film went a shade awry in the climax to cater to the so-called masses. It made me want to know what would happen next, which is what a good thriller script is about. I loved Taapsee Pannu in it, and I liked the way the movie was split into the first part that was about the making of a spy, and part two, of her maiden adventure in the world of espionage.

On to the few films that I liked but soon grew out of – “Kaabil,” “Secret Superstar,” “Mubarakan,” “A Death In The Gunj,” “Raag Des” and “Aksar 2.” On face-value, why this happened seemed mysterious – but frankly, some films have a lingering quality. Others don’t.

“Baadshaho,” after (an incidental) repeat-watch on TV, was something I enjoyed, perhaps a little more than the first (review-writing) time. There was an X-factor about it that was not removed even by the incoherent end that was designed for a sequel, which will never happen now that the film has bombed.

Another film gripped me, but to a greater extent, was “The Ghazi Attack,” directed by Sankalp Reddy. While no authentic figures are available for its original Telugu version “Ghazi,” the Hindi version did not do well at all.

And so we come to the flops that I stand by resolutely as decidedly good or better films.

Ranking way above the rest was “Jagga Jasoos,” that ill-fated fresh film that I predict will have a good afterlife (that is, after some years!). Why did it flop? Well, the format was decidedly fresh (too new?) for Indian tastes (including the urban audience), and the negativity and high costs came in to wreck the film as definitely as the Indian navy destroyed the Ghazi! Anurag Basu, who has never offended the audience like the other and more-hyped Anurag, gave us a heartwarming Tintin-like comic on screen, but the audience did not care!

Two more films deserve mention: “Poster Boys” and “Chef.” The former was a surprise flop, for the audience when I watched it seemed to be enjoying it. “Chef,” the authorized remake of the Hollywood sleeper hit, had all the right things going for a slice-of-life film with a strong “feel-good” quotient, but T-Series just washed its hands off the project after it was ready and barely marketed it. A personal favorite, though I knew it had no chance, was the very real Rahul Bose directorial “Poorna,” a biopic of the 13-year-old Adivasi kid who climbed Mount Everest at that age.

The worst movies

Now, selecting the 10 most offensive films was an easy as falling off a log, as the proverb goes. I prefer not to waste space elucidating reasons for each, and to remain neutral (!!) prefer to list them in alphabetical order. Now, such movies are the real occupational hazards for film critics! Here goes: “Bank Chor,” “Guest Iin London,” “Half Girlfriend,” “Jab Harry Met Sejal,” “Julie 2,” “Maatr,” “Machine,”

“Raabta, ” “Rangoon” and “Simran.”

The Best Performances

Despite the calibers of the films, there were many performances that stood out. In the above list, I quite liked Saif Ali Khan in “Rangoon,” but he was leagues better in “Chef.” “Chef,” actually, was quite a showcase of standout performances, with PadmaPriya as Saif’s wife, Svar Kamble as his son, Ram Gopal Bajaj as his father (despite a very limited role) with even Chandan Roy Sanyal (as his friend) all being impressive to varying degrees.

Parvathy Thirovothu was impressive in “Qarib Qarib Singlle,” and Irrfan Khan was quite good, while among the overseas actors, the best were Saba Qamar in “Hindi Medium” and Sajjad Delafrooz in “Tiger Zinda Hai.” Anya Jain stood out in “Qaidi Band,” while Pankaj Tripathi was consistently good or better in “Bareilly Ki Barfi,” “Fukrey Returns” and “Newton.”

Kriti Kharbanda (“Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana”) and Kriti Sanon (“Bareilly Ki Barfi”) were both excellent, alongside their common co-star Rajkumaar Rao. Seema Pahwa (“Bareilly Ki Barfi”) was outstanding, as she was in a lesser role in “Shubh Mangal Saavdhan.”

Raj Arjun was scoundrel incarnate in “Secret Superstar,” while Neha Dhupia was perfect as a radio station head in “Tumhari Sulu.” Among the women in the offbeat “Lipstick Under My Burqa,” Ratna Pathak-Shah effortlessly outclassed the others. Sathyaraj (as Katappa) and Ramya Krishnan (as Sivagami) were fabulous in “Bahubali 2…,” and Anushka Shetty sparkled most among the leads in this epic.

Bringing “Judwaa 2” to life was Varun Dhawan, while “Golmaal Again” had Tabu and Prakash Raj in standout performances. Shreyas Talpade did a good job as well. Pallavi Sharda and Chunky Pandey stole the show in “Begum Jaan,” while Akshaye Khanna was the sole redeeming point of “Ittefaq.” Ileana D’Cruz (“Baadshaho”) and husband and wife Lalit Behl and Navnindra Behl were brilliant as aged friends in “Mukti Bhavan. “

Showing that he shines best with the Khans, after “Talaash” with Aanur Khan and “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” with Salman Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui was a super cop in “Raaes,” while Jacqueline Fernandez scored high in “Judwaa 2” and “A Gentleman: Sundar, Susheel, Risky,” as a desi heroine who was actually not from here. Taapsee Pannu in “Naama Shabana” and Kay Kay Menon and Rahul Singh in “The Ghazi Attack” were all magnificent.

New finds Mohit Marwah, and Mridula Murali (in a short role) were the best in “Raag Desh,” while “Jolly LLB2” had, besides Akshay Kumar, great performances from Sayani Gupta and Saurabh Shukla as Akshay Kumar’s victim and lawyer respectively. Shukla had won a National award for the same role in the earlier film.

Akshay Kumar (“Toilet…” and “Jolly LLB2”) and Bhumi Pednekar (“Toilet…” and “Shubh Mangal Saavdhan”) were two more leads players who cracked it perfectly.

But for me, the tallest lead performances came from Katrina Kaif and Ranbir Kapoor in “Jagga Jasoos,” which also saw a wonderful turn by Saswata Chaterjee as Jagga’s father.

Patterns seen in 2017

1) Parents avenging daughter’s rape in Raveena Tandon’s “Maatr,” “Sridevi’s “Mom” and Sanjay Dutt’s “Bhoomi” (married daughter).

2) Prisoners forming bands to escape from jail: “Qaidi Band,” “Lucknow Central.”

3) Sequels and a reboot the un-WRITTEN role for box-office returns: “Bahubali 2: The Conclusion,” “Tiger Zinda Hai,” “Golmaal Again” and “Judwaa 2” were the biggest grossing films along with “Fukrey Returns.” “Badrinath Ki Dulhania” was a sequel in spirit, and “Jolly LLB2” was another hit. “Naam Shabana” was a spinoff from “Baby.”

4) But this rule had prominent exceptions in “Sarkar 3,” “Aksar 2” and “Julie 2.”

5) Real stories, or those inspired by real people, were fairly common: “Raees,” “Daddy” and “Haseena Parkar,” “Poorna,” “Ek Thi Rani Aisi Bhi,” “Indu Sarkar,” “The Ghazi Attack” and “Lucknow Central” were such films. The first three, based on negative real-life characters, were rejected, though Shah Rukh Khan took “Raees” to past 100 crore.

6) Punjab was largely rejected (“Mubarakan,” “Guest Iin London,” “Patel Ki Punjabi Shaadi,” “Phillauri”) but U.P. was the flavor of the year as shown above. Nevertheless, U.P. also had exceptions like “Babumoshai Bandookbaaz” and “Mukti Bhavan” that flopped due to unwanted content.

7) Titles that confused or misled the audience and said nothing about the story and content (“Lucknow Central,” “Chef,” “Simran,” “Noor,” “A Gentleman,” “Firangi,” “Maatr, “A Gentleman: Sundar Susheel Risky”) were non-starters.

8) 30 (yes, that’s right!) re-created songs were heard in the year, and most did not do well. Among original numbers, not even 10 were hits!

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