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Best of Bollywood: Films that rocked throughout the year, was in public demand

Our 10 Hindi film winners of 2023

Priyanka Roy  Published 24.12.23, 06:09 AM


Shah Rukh Khan’s comeback vehicle — a blockbuster to challenge all blockbusters — makes it to this list not because it is an outstanding film. It does because more than a film, Pathaan was a party, an event, the first film that took back audiences to theatres in huge numbers in a post-pandemic world and, above all, a way to welcome a beloved superstar.


Yash Raj Films’ addition to its burgeoning spy universe didn’t throw up anything new, but SRK came in all guns blazing, spouted meta lines, meshed charm with charisma in the way only he can, and made us realise what we had been missing on our screens. Everyone went in expecting a jolly good time, and that’s what they got... in spadefuls. But the spectacle was balanced out by self-awareness (Pathaan and Tiger, played by Salman Khan, annihilating the enemy and then sharing painkillers) that enabled this Siddharth Anand actioner to rise above its cliched plot. Deepika Padukone and John Abraham lent ample support, but it was “our centre-forward, opening batsman, opening bowler, wicketkeeper and two slips” as he is described in the film, that made the Pathaan ride more than worthwhile.


Dysfunctional families always make for screen gold, but Gulmohar turned out to be much more. A simple film about complex relationships within a seemingly simple family found immediate resonance, with debutant director Rahul V. Chitella looking at a family — led by Sharmila Tagore as the matriarch — unravelling when they are forced to leave the home they have lived in for three decades. Bittersweet, vulnerable and sensitive, Gulmohar — powered by a strong ensemble cast, including Manoj Bajpayee and one which makes us want to see more of Sharmila Tagore on screen — was a watch punctuated by many heartwarming as well as heartbreaking moments.


A scathing and scary look at the rumour-mongering times we live in — where an Internet post can change a life, sometimes several, irretrievably — this Sudhir Mishra film was a succinct commentary on how social media is employed as a tool to generate false narratives and create social fissures for short-term political gains. The filmmaker — aided by stellar lead performances from Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Bhumi Pednekar — based this criminally underrated film on one night and made Afwaah both a commentary and a cautionary tale on how rumour mills are manipulated in the hinterland in the age of readily available data.

Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai

Predominantly riding on the shoulders of Manoj Bajpayee and gaining from it in more ways than one, Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai aka Bandaa was immensely watchable, functioning both as an engaging courtroom drama and a critique of what it means to speak truth to power in our society. Bajpayee excelled as the lawyer quietly — and then not as silently — taking on the Goliaths of the system. The film may have failed often, but Bajpayee did not, showing us, like the title, that it sometimes takes only one man (or woman) to make a film what it is.

Satyaprem Ki Katha

This may seem like an off-centre choice but Satyaprem Ki Katha, despite its narrative shortcomings, deserves a mention for addressing some pertinent issues and moving away from the tried-and-tested even while keeping its storytelling within a typical mainstream format. Starring Kartik Aaryan as the kind of buffoonish loser that we have seen him play countless times before, and his Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 co-star Kiara Advani functioning as the film’s silent strength, this Sameer Vidwans film sprung a pleasant surprise addressing topics like date rape, first-second-third base in a relationship and post-traumatic stress disorder in a commercial Bollywood film. Some of it worked, some didn’t, but Satyaprem Ki Katha deserved praise for even attempting to go where many others still don’t, especially within the milieu in which it was set.

Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani

Marking a return to form, Karan Johar used his latest film, even while making it vastly entertaining, to portray, discuss and dissect the complexities and nuances of relationships on an accessible, immensely watchable canvas. The director packed his film with the gloss and glitter he is known for and used his trademark elements of drama, laughter, tears, romance, conflict and resolution and married it to a format which effectively critiqued prevalent social ills like patriarchy, misogyny, gender bias, othering, body shaming, cancel culture, toxic masculinity and restrictive societal roles.

Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani stood out for its Rocky (Ranveer Singh) and Rani (Alia Bhatt), as well as for its strong supporting cast that included veterans like Dharmendra, Jaya Bachchan and Shabana Azmi and our very own Tota Roy Choudhury and Churni Ganguly. Generational romance, some retro gems of Hindi film music and a standout scene — one where Rocky and Rani’s dad (played by Tota) dance their hearts out in a gender-fluid Kathak act to the tune of the Devdas classic Dola re dola took this film up several notches.


Bollywood in 2023 was characterised by many a mainstream film attempting to bring taboo subjects to the forefront and start a conversation. OMG 2, the spiritual sequel to the 2012 film OMG, which had Akshay Kumar reprising his role of God, battled for sex education in schools, with a common man (it doesn’t spell more aam aadmi than Pankaj Tripathi) taking society at large to court after his son is expelled from school when a video of the young boy masturbating goes viral. Using humour as a narrative device, director Amit Rai scored in keeping bombast — often a given in Hindi films of this genre — to a minimum, with the film being aided by on-point acts from Akshay and Yami Gautam Dhar.


Jawan makes it to this list not because it is exemplary cinema. Much of it is a messy mishmash aimed directly at the masses. But the Atlee directorial, which marked Shah Rukh Khan’s second straight blockbuster of the year, entertained on many counts and also slipped in a surprise in the form of its hard-hitting social commentary cleverly garbed in commercial cinema. Above all, beyond all its masala madness, jaw-dropping action set pieces, massy songs, whistle-worthy cameos, razor-edged one-liners, thrilling twists and turns, stardom and fandom, Jawan turned out to be King Khan’s sometimes soft, sometimes sharp spike at a system which has, openly or otherwise, used him as target practice for many, many years.

Playing dual roles of father and son — and scoring more on the hotness meter as father than son — SRK pulled off a crowd-pleaser but did not forget to slip in scenes that made Jawan count. Like the one in which his character Azad put in an emotional plea to not vote based on class, caste or — wait for it! — religion, bringing back the anti-establishment hero in more ways than one, but all the while never forgetting to stretch out his arms and romance only in the way he can.

12th Fail

The sleeper success of the year arrived in the form of this Vidhu Vinod Chopra film, which proved to be both a poignant and powerful watch and easily one of the most moving films of 2023. 12th Fail, inspired by the real-life story of a man who worked his way up to becoming an IAS officer even after failing his Class 12 exams, kept things simple but managed to be a film with so much heart, even when its own heart was breaking. A winning mix of craft and compassion was what 12th Fail was all about, with Vikrant Massey being its beating heart. It scored in being palpably emotional and gently nudged us to look failure in the eye even as we coined our own #restart story.

Sam Bahadur

Vicky Kaushal towered above everyone — and everything else — as he slipped into the shoes of the indomitable Sam Manekshaw, India’s first Field Marshal and a man whose legendary status is undisputed. Even as Vicky, in what was a truly getting-into-the-skin performance, perfected Manekshaw’s walk and talk, this Meghna Gulzar biopic deserves a salute for encapsulating a tale of true valour, tinged without political prejudices, at a time when films showcasing military triumphs are manipulated into jingoistic narratives. Meghna excelled in focusing on Sam Bahadur as an intense character study of a man who was always armed to win but didn’t reduce it to merely a war film.

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