By Deboshree Banerjee
Not all movies get the recognition they deserve at first glance, and as a result, there is a treasure trove of content with stunning visuals, writing and acting that gets overlooked by moviegoers every day. In fact, celebrated classics like Mera Naam Joker (1970), Agneepath (1990) and initially even Sholay (1975) bombed at the box office. Since it’s always a disappointment when a great film slips under the radar of movie audiences, Masala has compiled a list of criminally underappreciated movies that you can watch to treat yourself to some quality cinema!
Brilliantly directed by Deepa Mehta, Water is set in 1938 in the holy city of Varanasi. It daringly explores the consequences of societal oppression by telling the story of three women in an ashram – Chuiya (Sarala Kariyawasam), a young eight-year-old widow and the newest addition in the group, Kalyani (Lisa Ray), who was forced as a teenager into prostitution for household funds by the ashram leader, and Shakuntala (Seema Biswas), a deeply religious woman who is conflicted about her fate. The movie takes a drastic turn when Kalyani falls in love with Narayan (John Abraham), a man from a higher caste and a devoted follower of Mahatma Gandhi. She buys into her dream of a happy marriage and a new life despite the circumstances, and plans her escape with him. The film successfully questioned age-old traditions that are damaging to an individual’s mental and emotional health, and as a result was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 79th Academy Awards.
Perhaps one of the best films of Shah Rukh Khan’s career, Swades is a drama based on real events, which narrates the story of Mohan Bhargava (Shah Rukh Khan), an NRI scientist working as a project manager at NASA. He travels to his homeland to find his childhood nanny and persuade her to return to America with him. Instead, he becomes deeply invested in the life of a village called Charanpur. The film, now a cult classic, covers issues like education, poverty, and women’s empowerment. However, because it’s nearly three hours long (it’s written and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, so what did you expect?), and is unlike the regular masala potboilers of Bollywood, it didn’t amass much love from the audience at the time of its release.
Black Friday (2007)
Another critically acclaimed gem that deserves a second chance is Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday. Based on the book Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts (2002) by Hussain Zaidi, this stellar docudrama follows the investigation of the horrifying serial bomb blasts in 1993, which tore Mumbai apart, leaving 257 dead and 1,400 injured. As a result, top cop Rakesh Maria, played by Kay Kay Menon, is bent on apprehending the culprits responsible for plunging the city into chaos. The story is told through the perspectives of the police, conspirators, victims and middlemen. Masterfully recreating the complex patterns of poverty, politics and corruption which led to the tragic event, the film is especially admired for not taking sides. As a result, you have a layered story with no heroes, only varying shades of villains.
Despite winning seven awards at the 56th Filmfare Awards, Udaan remains a tragically underrated movie. Low on cost but high on content, this coming-of-age drama narrates the story of Rohan (Rajat Barmecha), a 17-year-old who is expelled from his high-profile boarding school when he is caught watching adult films off-campus with his friends. Having lost his mother at a young age, he unwillingly has to move in with his abusive father, and in the process, discovers the existence of his six-year-old half-brother. As he refuses to bow down to his father’s wishes to abandon his career aspirations, the film portrays Rohan’s journey of finding the guts for glory. But beware, because this introspective drama pulls no punches when laying out the harshness of today’s reality.
Tagged as a “masterpiece” by critics and film buffs alike, Masaan follows two seemingly separate story arcs that effortlessly weave together towards the end. The first story involves a father-daughter duo who are being blackmailed for money by a corrupt police officer who recorded the daughter, Devi, (Richa Chadda), having sex with her boyfriend in a hotel room. Out of fear, the boyfriend commits suicide, while Devi and her father are tormented by the police. The second story focuses on a young couple, Deepak and Shalu (Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathi), who are extremely in love but belong to different castes, resulting in ugly societal conflicts. Regardless, they decide to stick together, but life eventually gets in the way. The characters’ unwavering determination to move forward is infectious and the film’s extraordinary writing and stellar acting, topped with an exceptional musical score, makes Masaan a testament to the rising power of the indie movie industry.
Manorama Six Feet Under (2007)
Set in a town called Lakhot in Rajasthan, Manorama Six Feet Under is a fantastic addition to the neo-noir thriller genre. The film follows the story of Satyaveer (Abhay Deol), a middle-class engineer who gets suspended for allegedly accepting a bribe. While unemployed and miserable, he is approached by Manorama Rathore (Sarika Thakur), the wife of the town Irrigation Minister, who offers him money to keep tabs on her husband because she suspects he is having an extra-marital affair. However, things take an interesting turn when the woman is discovered dead and the case is dismissed as a suicide. Unsettled by the ruling, Satyaveer cannot resist investigating the case himself. His life takes a dark turn as he ventures into a world of double crossing, false identities and blackmail.