This week I am highlighting a genre of Bollywood movie that is relatively unknown outside Indian cinema: the crime drama.
The past few years especially have seen a plethora of high quality, well-acted, well-scripted films about ordinary people dealing with the heartache and mystery surrounding some of society’s most terrifying crimes. A common thread through all of these is family loyalty and the fear that a community can feel when it’s veneer of safety is wiped away.
All of the movies I will be discussing here are on Netflix and I would say to you, “Run, do not walk” to catch them before they disappear into the Netflix abyss.
Guys. This movie amazed me. It is one of the most thoughtful, insightful, suspenseful, and critical movies I have ever seen. It begins with the kidnapping of a prominent national politician’s son and the chaos that ensues. Not only is the father of the missing boy a politician, he is the Home Minister charged with national defense. If his son is not safe, then whose is? We come to learn that the boy has been taken by a man named Nirmal, played by one of Indian cinema’s finest actors, Irrfan Khan. Nirmal leads the investigative team led by Nachiket Verma (Jimmy Shergill) on an incredible hunt with societal implications that cut to the quick. At points you want to cry, at others you are biting your nails, and a few times you feel the urge to cheer.
Without spoiling anything, I will say that Nirmal’s backstory and motivations are what make the movie and are what I found most profound. This is not a kidnapping, race against time film just for the sake of some kind of adrenaline rush. It unfolds with much humanity and, yes, some adrenaline. Irrfan Kkan shows once again why he is such a highly respected actor. Catch Madaari on Netflix now.
I had seen this movie so many times on my Netflix suggestions and kept skipping it in favor of more flashy sounding stories. But I was so wrong not to give this a watch earlier. Te3n (meaning three in Hindi), follows an elderly man (Amitabh Bachchan) as he searches for the person who kidnapped and murdered his granddaughter eight years earlier. Everyone else has given up on finding the culprit, including Martin Das, the police officer on the case that became a priest in the intervening years (Nawazzuddin Siddiqui). But when an eerily similar case emerges officer Sarita Sarkar (Vidya Balan) asks Martin for his help as they follow this mysterious predator around Calcutta.
This movie, like Madaari, unfolds with heart wrenching depictions of the experience of losing a child to tragedy. But it also has the pace and suspense of the best mysteries and a twist that I for one did not see coming. Without spoiling anything, this movie has a more satisfying ending than some of the others I will discuss this week. If you are interested in a realistic depiction of middle class Indians dealing with incredible circumstances, if you want to use your brain and your heart, this is a Bollywood movie for you.
To what lengths would you go to protect your family, your daughter? In Drishyam, Vijay Salgoankar (Ajay Devgn) must answer that exact question when his wife and daughter are caught up in the accidental death of the police chief’s (Tabu) teenage son.
Vijay is not an educated man, dropping out of school at fourth grade. He is obsessed with films and uses information from them to help his neighbors. The local police are…not the most trustworthy bunch, particularly an office named Gaitonde who hates Vijay and looks for ways to trouble him.
The family’s strife begins when Vijay’s daughter Anju attends a school sponsored sleep-away camp. While there, a boy that harasses the female students takes video of her showering without her knowledge. He later uses this video to blackmail and attempt to rape her. I don’t want to spoil too much, but in the ensuing struggle between the boy and Anju and her mother he is accidentally killed. Unfortunately, he is the son of Inspector Meera Deshmukh, an officer known for using brutal methods to extract confessions.
Drishyam, like many of the other films on this list, follows the intersection of corruption and ordinary people’s need for justice. No one in the family once suggests that Anju turn this boy in to the police and tell them what he did. Although he would likely be punished, her reputation would suffer as well. Also, in the short term he is determined to use the footage to force either Anju or her mother into an assault. After the boy’s death, entirely in self defense, Vijay has to cover up the crime and protect his family. How he goes about this and whether the crime will be discovered leave the viewer in much suspense. For me, the injustice of the whole event and the helplessness that Anju felt to defend herself infuriated me. Sadly, this is the reality that many women face.
Once again, this movie centers on family and the importance of defending and disciplining children. “Drishyam” means “visuals” or “appearances” and in this movie things are not quite what they seem at first glance. It’s been on Netflix for a while so catch it while you can!
A pregnant woman arrives at the airport in Calcutta alone and immediately asks a taxi driver to take her to the police station. Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) is looking for her husband, who has not returned any of her calls for days while on a business assignment in the city. A policeman helps her retrace his steps but at no point can anyone remember seeing or knowing her husband. But the search gets Mrs. Bagchi and the policeman Rana caught up in the search for a mysterious man that the government is after as well. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who has managed to be in every movie on this list plays a gruff federal agent that tries to put Mrs. Bagchi off her search, but nothing will stop her from finding him, the father of her unborn child.
I really can’t say more than that without risking spoiling some of this movie’s many twists. I love that the suspense and danger always feel real, but there is also a loveliness and humor brought to the film by Vidya Balan and the kind hearted Rana. I am always on the hunt for movies with strong female leads and this movie tops the list. Vidya Balan’s Mrs. Baghchi is funny, sharp, and insanely tough. I want sequels to this movie that just follow her kicking butt and taking names all over India. My favorite detail about Kahaani is that it takes place during Calcutta’s favorite festival, the Durga Puja. Th goddess Durga defends the world from evil and her influence in the story is strong. There are so many reasons to watch Kahaani. It’s got suspense, drama, humor, a strong female lead, and an awesome setting. Best yet, it’s on Netflix!
Note: I just discovered that there is a Kahaani 2!
I mean it well when I say that Talvar might be the least satisfying of the movies listed here. The film is based on the true story of a double homicide that took place in Noida in 2008. A teenage girl and the family servant were murdered in one night. As you might expect, the search for the killer takes many twists and turns. When the girl’s body is discovered, it is assumed that the missing servant is to blame. But when his body is discovered on the terrace, no one has a clue who the culprit may be. The investigation is crippled by inept police work at the beginning and insatiable curiosity in the media. The case is eventually passed on to a national investigative team, led by Irrffan Khan’s character. We see the crime take place through the eyes of the different people involved, a list that grows as it is discovered that more people may have been there that night.
Because this movie is based on real life, the end has to follow the reality of what occurred and I personally felt crushed by the ending, having formed my own opinions as the movie went on. Ultimately, though, you feel devastated for the victims. This movie is filled with really high quality performances and a peak into the pitfalls of the Indian justice system, something that Americans may find quite familiar. Check out Talvar on Netflix today!
More to come all week here at My Indipen!!