It’s that time of the year to look back and ruminate on how Bollywood has performed so far. From documentaries to rom-coms to satires to dramas to blockbusters, we saw a lot. Here’s our list of films that we think beautifully balanced commerce and content.  

NOTE: The list isn’t based solely on box office collections. The writer took into account interesting films that got lost in the crowd too.

With more than 100 films between January and June 2014, Hindi cine-goers were clearly spoilt for choice. A cursory glance at the list of released movies, and you can tell that the audience – from the single-screen whistle-blowing janta to the uber-cool multiplex goers – was happy to get what they wanted.  Some films raked in lots of moolah at the box office, some stories were out-of-the-box, some scripts entertained and some were experimental. Obviously, we aren’t complaining.

2014 kicked off on a positive note. The first eagerly awaited film was Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya. Unlike the original (Ishqiya), it was a subtle, sophisticated and swishy tale about Khalujaan and Babban (the two conmen who lose their minds when they fall in love). And it was the romanticism, Nawabi lifestyle and shayaris that made the Naseeruddin Shah-Madhuri Dixit-Nene-Arshad Warsi-Huma Qureshi-starrer a delight to watch. Sadly, it didn’t make record-breaking box office collections, but it was a film that a real cinephile did and will savour.

However the film that set the cash registers ringing was Tulsi Kumar’s Yaariyan, which released on the same day as Dedh Ishqiya. It wasn’t extraordinary in terms of content, but the ‘Paani paanisong, an engaging youth-based plot and a low-budget made it a hit among the pretty-handsome-young-audience. It is 2014’s first commercial success. After a decent start, there was a line-up of interesting low and medium-budget movies, of which Ashim Ahulwalia’s experimental and edgy Miss Lovely got everyone talking. It wasn’t a film for the popcorn-popping audience, ‘coz it brought alive the gritty and dark side of C-grade filmmaking. But it was a movie that received rave reviews from the multiplex audience.

Then came 2014’s first big-budget release – Salman Khan’s Jai Ho. The film’s story seemed inspired by the superstar’s bighearted personality (SK’s character’s mission was to promote three acts of kindness by each individual) received a mixed response. Thus, compared to his earlier films, Jai Ho collected lesser crores at the box office, but it didn’t bother the trade pundits. They were glad to have the year’s first 100-crore film.

In the following weeks a varied range of movies released. There was the light-hearted rom-com Hasee Toh Phasee that struck a chord with viewers across the spectrum, followed by Gulabi Gang – a documentary about the real-life pink sari-clad women – which broke the steady stream of fictional content on-screen. But during those days the most outstanding and moving film was Imtiaz Ali’s Highway. The Stockholm Syndrome-inspired story altered people’s perception about Ali and Alia Bhatt. It was nothing either the filmmaker or the young actress had ever done in the past. They moved out of their glamorous and gleeful zones and sensitively touched upon an ugly reality with Highway. The film didn’t appeal to everyone, but it made enough moolah for the producer to celebrate.

Given the hype around women’s rights in March, two powerful women-oriented films, Gulaab Gang and Queen hit the big screen. Kangna Ranaut’s solo honeymoon is 2014’s dark horse that shocked and rocked everyone, whereas Gulaab Gang was a powerful film. For the first time we saw a story that pitted two strong female characters against each other. The Madhuri Dixit-Nene and Juhi Chawla Western wasn’t a commercial success, though it was exciting to watch the real-life arch rivals in the same frame. A slew of insipid rom-coms, comedies and thrillers followed, but it was the sequel of sex-horror flick Ragini MMS, starring Sunny Leone, which made the cash registers at cinema halls jingle, again. Around the same time there were two movies that were liked by film buffs who yearned for something beyond the usual Bollywood masala. Rajat Kapoor’s Ankhon Dekhi was a delightful, subtle comedy etched with fine performances, whereas Nagesh Kukunoor’s Lakshmi was a heart-wrenching drama based on human trafficking. Both were well-made films, but not many saw it as it got lost in the crowd.

In the coming weeks, a variety of refreshing stories unfolded on-screen. Hardcore entertainers, David Dhawan’s Main Tera Hero and Dharma Productions’ 2 States, and two children-related films, Bhootnath Returns and Hawa Hawaii, kept Bollywood’s box office in a healthy and flourishing state. It was out-of-the-box and low-budget scripts like Jal, Dekh Tamasha Dekh, Kya Dilli Kya Lahore, Mastram, Manjunath, Yeh Hai Bakrapur and Filmistaan that offered the audience more than the usual. Another documentary that made it to the theatres was Nisha Pahuja’s The World Before Her. It was ready for over a year and won awards across many international film festivals, but it took Anurag Kashyap to ensure that the poignant award-winning docu reached out to the people it was about. Among the exciting mix of movies, one film that was loved by the multiplex audience was Hansal Mehta’s City Lights, a story that dwelled on the hardships faced by a small town family that moves to a big city.

Closer to end of June, the tide turned to tried and tested stories; it was movies like Heropanti, Holiday and Ek Villain that emerged box office winners. And in true filmi spirit, the half-year ended with a bang. However we are yet to have the Ghajini, Ek Tha Tiger, Chennai Express kinda blockbuster of the year that will raise the box office barometer to higher scales. Will it be Salman Khan’s Kick, Ajay Devgn’s Singham Returns, Akshay Kumar’s It’s Entertainment, Hrithik Roshan’s Bang Bang, Shahrukh Khan’s Happy New Year, Aamir Khan’s P.K. or rising superstar Ranbir Kapoor’s Bombay Velvet? We don’t know. We do know though that now comes a phase of back-to-back dhamakedar dramas and masala movies to match the festive mood the country slowly moves in to. So, let the celebrations begin…

– Rachana Parekh

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