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By They make us laugh. They make us cry. They make us think. They make us hope. Through their films a t2 report card on the best from the best of Bollywood filmmakers in recent years. DO YOU AGREE/ DISAGREE WITH OUR LIST? TELL T2@ABPMAIL.COM
  • Published 12.01.11

karan johar


An hour into Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna one question was on everyone’s lips — “Is this really a Karan Johar film?” In his coming-of-age film, KJo plunged deep into the before and after of extramarital relationships, trading candyfloss and college romance for domesticity and heartbreak. Sensitive but not overly sentimental, KANK looked at love and loyalty, duplicity and deception without taking sides. If Karan the filmmaker excelled, then the cast — from Bachchans Sr and Jr to Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukerji and Preity Zinta — turned in performances that stayed with us.

My name is khan (Better)

Not many could have dealt so sincerely with the story of an Asperger Syndrome-afflicted Muslim man in post-9/11 America. Underlining the fact that no one in the Bolly business does emotional drama quite like him, the 38-year-old filmmaker tugged unabashedly at the audience’s heartstrings. A superlative performance from best buddy Shah Rukh — and Kajol’s eyes — took care of the rest (which included some OTT parts and some boring bits).



When a 26-year-old came up with a layered love story on debut, everyone just had to sit up and take notice. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai hopped, skipped and jumped from a bubblegum romance to a mature love story, moving effortlessly from fun college corridors to sombre shaadi mandaps. Bollywood went designer and suddenly everyone wanted to be like Rahul, Tina and Anjali. Karan overdid the melodrama and rona-dhona for the most part, but the oven-fresh script and the Kajol-Shah Rukh dream team made this the cult movie for a generation.



BLACK (Good)

The obvious inspiration was Arthur Penn’s The Miracle Worker, but Bhansali coloured the story of a full-of-spunk blind and deaf girl and her relationship with her teacher with a sensitivity rarely seen in Bollywood. Shot in dark monochromatic tones and high on drama and intensity, Black became a topic of conversation — from college canteens to corridors of governance. Rani Mukerji as Michelle McNally and Amitabh Bachchan as Debraj Sahai turned in award-winning acts. There were flaws, but the overall impact was undeniable.


His first film proved that Bhansali had a special gift in the depiction of the differently abled. Remember that pre-climax scene in which Nana Patekar’s deaf and mute Joseph desperately tries to revive his coma-stricken daughter Annie, played by Manisha Koirala? Even though it left the box office cold, the heartwarming Bhansali film announced his arrival and gave us an I-am-on-top-of-the-world anthem: Aaj main oopar.




So much about this film was magical — from the stirring performances to the soulful music. Bhansali married visual splendour and raw human emotions in this tale of love and sacrifice. Travelling from the forts of Rajasthan to the piazzas of Italy, the auteur in Bhansali came to the fore with Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Even today every TV rerun of this Salman-Aishwarya-Ajay romance is lapped up.


Mani Ratnam

Guru (Good)

Not many were sure how this Dhirubhai Ambani-inspired biopic would turn out — that too with Abhishek Bachchan in the lead — but Mani being Mani managed to pull it off. The inspiring tale with enough for the masses and the critics had a lot to engage the eye and the ear. Ratnam’s absorbing screenplay (and Rahman’s score) ensured that Guru rose above the usual rags-to-riches story. Knockout performances from Abhishek and Aishwarya, with Mithun Chakraborty, R. Madhavan and Vidya Balan pitching in perfectly, raised the bar. And then there was the smokin’ hot Mallika Sherawat in Maiyya maiyya.

Bombay (Better)

Romance born in adverse circumstances is Mani Ratnam’s forte and the maestro hasn’t done it better than in this 1995 film of a Hindu-Muslim love story threatened by riots. Subtle and sensitive, Bombay saw him juxtapose the freshness and excitement of young love with deep-rooted prejudices and chilling violence. And who else could have pulled off the lovemaking scene between Manisha Koirala and Arvind Swamy with Humma humma playing in the background? Pure magic.



A young bride pulling out all the stops to rescue her husband from the clutches of Kashmiri militants made for a compelling tale of love in the time of terror. Mani brought a freshness to romance and a humaneness to dread, making Roja a fascinating watch. And A.R. Rahman was born.


Rajkumar Hirani

Munna Bhai MBBS (good)

The film that made maamu cool and jaadoo ki jhappi the new namaste. Fresh and funny, engaging and inspiring, Munna Bhai MBBS merged masala with message to give us a film that sparked a new wave in Bollywood. Sanjay Dutt became everyone’s favourite Munna, Arshad Warsi the irresistible Circuit and Raju Hirani the man who makes us cry and laugh at the movies.

3 idiots (Better)

Q: What do you call a man whose films find favour with cine-goers and critics alike?

A: Rajkumar Hirani.

Fresh from two back-to-back blockbusters, expectations were sky-high from Raju Hirani’s 3 Idiots. And trust him to take things to a whole new stratosphere. From slamming the education system to championing heart over head, 3 Idiots was a fun-and-funda watch that brought in repeat crowds from nine to 90. Aamir-Sharman-Madhavan rocked it, Kareena did just fine, Omi aced it, but Boman was way too predictable for our liking. The box-office verdict? The biggest Bolly film ever.

Lage Raho Munna Bhai (best)

Only someone with the genius of Rajkumar Hirani could have churned out a sequel that made an even greater impact than the first film. All heart, Lage Raho Munna Bhai — much like the first film — meshed entertainment with message. Combining humour, drama and emotions, Hirani made Lage Raho... a film that made us feel good about ourselves. Gandhigiri became a youth mantra and Munna-Circuit the jodi no. 1 of modern Bollywood.



Farhan Akhtar

Lakshya (good)

Many films have been made on the aimlessness of youth, but this offered a fresh perspective, from the dance floor to the war zone. Farhan the filmmaker expertly traced the metamorphosis of a youth with no goal into a soldier fighting for national pride. Hrithik Roshan was a revelation and Preity Zinta was spot-on. What worked against Lakshya? The three-hours-plus watch.


Don (Better)

It isn’t easy remaking yesterday’s cult hit featuring yesterday’s superstar with today’s superstar. But the much-anticipated 2006 film with Shah Rukh doing an Amitabh Bachchan managed to arrest attention and even spring a surprise or three. Racy and edgy, Farhan packed in enough twists and turns to make Don a GenX favourite. SRK’s laugh, junglee billi, the diabolical ending... we can’t wait for Don 2!

Dil Chahta Hai (best)

Seldom has a film made a place in our hearts like this one. Even 10 years after it hit the screen, every Dil Chahta Hai scene is fresh, every dialogue fun to repeat. Real yet stylised, Farhan’s directorial debut about the coming-of-age of Akash, Sameer and Sid was, is, will be a classic. New-age Bollywood was born from this one.

Imtiaz Ali

Socha Na Tha (good)

The raja of romance entered with an oven-fresh love story that gave a novel twist to the traditional boy-meets-girl theme. Simple and sweet, Socha Na Tha was all heart, no pretence. And though Imtiaz’s lack of finesse and maturity was evident at places, endearing performances from Ayesha Takia and Abhay Deol, and an infectious youthful energy made Socha Na Tha a feel-good watch.




Love Aaj Kal (Better)

Imtiaz skillfully juxtaposed love past and present in this Saif Ali Khan-Deepika Padukone romance. Love Aaj Kal was peppered with flesh-and-blood characters with their own sets of insecurities and quirks. It stumbled at times but Imtiaz impressed with a heartwarming concoction of genuine charm, crisp dialogues, modern love, old-world romance... and Rishi Kapoor.


Jab We Met (best)

To him goes the credit of making the most-loved Bollywood romance of our time. Jab We Met fought shy of cliche and melodrama, giving us a love story that brimmed with youthful exuberance and genuine feel-good moments. Every young girl wanted to be Kareena Kapoor’s Geet to Shahid Kapur’s Aditya as Jab We Met connected with every young heart in (or wanting to be in) love. Overnight, Imtiaz Ali went from a nobody to the go-to man for ishq-vishq, pyaar-vyaar.

Vishal Bhardwaj

Kaminey (Good)

The music man-turned-filmmaker took a wonderfully twisted plot and paced it frenetically around a bunch of madcap, oddball characters in this dark underworld tale of two chalk-and-cheese brothers. An innovative film with surprises galore, Vishal kept the viewer on his toes, with Shahid and Shahid ruling the show. The one hitch? Kaminey just got too confusing too often, specially at the end. But then there was Dhan te nan!


Omkara (Better)

Dark and brooding, Vishal set his desi Othello in the UP heartland, peopling the compelling narrative with hot-headed and cold-blooded characters. A strong undercurrent of irony — a Vishal trademark — ran through Omkara, making it a full-blown treatise on the politics of the human heart. If Vishal the filmmaker excelled, Vishal the music composer gave us the blockbuster Beedi jalaile. And the deliciously wicked Langda Tyagi (Saif Ali Khan).

Maqbool (best)

In Maqbool, Vishal set Shakespeare’s Macbeth in a different time and space, transporting it into the murky Mumbai underworld. The genius filmmaker made Maqbool into a visual gallery that was an intelligent blend of dark, tragic overtones and comic, satirical undertones. Vishal combined compelling performances from the lead cast — Irrfan, Tabu and Pankaj Kapur — watertight editing, edge-of-the-seat screenplay and evocative camerawork to come up with a film that redefined contemporary offbeat Bollywood cinema.



Ram Gopal Varma

Sarkar (Good)

Ram Gopal Varma revisited and rehashed The Godfather in this Bachchan-Bachchan underworld saga. Dark and brooding, Sarkar stood out for Amitabh Bachchan’s gloriously underplayed Subhash Nagre, Varma’s confident handling of the narrative and Abhishek’s smouldering eyes. The background score jarred, the camera angles threw one off balance, but the film made quite an impact.



Company (Better)

No Indian filmmaker has his hand as firmly on the pulse of the underworld as RGV does. In Company, Varma provided a macro view of bitter rivalries in the international crime ring in a lavish, larger-than-life crime story inspired by the real life friends-turned-foes story of Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan. Grim, stark and hard-hitting, Company had an urgency in its narrative that sucked the viewer immediately into the action. Ajay Devgn sparkled in a role tailor-made for him while Vivek Oberoi made an assured debut. With Company, Varma firmly established his credentials and became a filmmaker to reckon with.

Satya (best)

An explicit depiction of the underworld, their modus operandi and their mindset. Technically brilliant and with a sound script, Satya was a trendsetter. It hit the screen like a bullet and few remained unmoved or unprovoked by it. Varma made Satya daring and sleek, taking more than a peek into the murky and gritty underbelly of crime in big bad Mumbai. South star Chakravarty shone as Satya but Manoj Bajpai’s Bhiku Mhatre made things happen.


Rakeysh Mehra

Aks (good)

The adman-turned-filmmaker debuted with a desi Face/Off casting Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Bajpai in this complex tale of good and evil. Though it did not find many takers, Aks’s dark narrative and unique screenplay broke new ground. Mehra made his characters multi-dimensional, his film edge-of-the-seat. And yes, Raveena Tandon sizzled like never before!

Delhi-6 (Better)

A pleasing tapestry of tender moments and of diverse yet identifiable characters in bustling Delhi, Rakeysh Mehra’s third film stood out for its simplicity. Accused of being boring, Delhi-6 at least had its heart in the right place. Mehra brought out the best in his ensemble cast, with each contributing to the uncommon narrative. The real heroes of Delhi-6? A.R Rahman’s music and Binod Pradhan’s picture-perfect Chandni Chowk frames.

Rang De Basanti (best)

The movie that became a movement. In Rang De Basanti, Mehra had a unique story to tell, skillfully merging the past with the present. A film that broke the mould and inspired a generation, Rang De Basanti’s engaging plot had real characters and poignant situations. Patriotic yet playful, evocative yet entertaining, this film kept friendship first and made fighting for a cause fashionable again.

Madhur Bhandarkar

Page 3 (good)

The first of his inspired-by-current-events trilogy, Madhur Bhandarkar infused Page 3 with a life of its own. Looking at the morbid underbelly of the glitzy glamour world, Bhandarkar got real. The sets were tacky and the treatment often immature (a reporter’s “stop press” cry, for example), but Page 3 — marked by a winning act from Konkona Sensharma — was an honest attempt.





Fashion (Better)

Priyanka Chopra swept the awards for her portrayal of Meghna Mathur, a small-town girl who rises to the top of the fashion world. From wardrobe malfunction to the perils of drug overdose, Madhur kept Fashion as current and compelling as he could. The film entertained and yet was moving enough to leave the viewer thoughtful.


Chandni Bar (best)

One of Bhandarkar’s earliest films and undoubtedly his best. A ringside view of the gritty and grimy Mumbai underworld and the murky life of bar dancers, Chandni Bar was a special effort. With its raw emotions, slice-of-life characters and a career-best performance from Tabu, Chandni Bar will take some beating. For Madhur and most others.

Aditya Chopra

Mohabbatein (good)

Made five years after Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, multiple love stories formed the core of Aditya Chopra’s second film. This oft-repeated tale of forbidden love dragged on far longer than was necessary, but was rescued by powerful performances from Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. Mohabbatein established Aditya as a storyteller and highlighted his command over romance. Jatin-Lalit’s music was a plus.

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (Better)

Aditya Chopra overturned Shah Rukh Khan’s larger-than-life image, making him a common man in small-town India in this tale of unrequited love. Slice-of-life moments and earnest performances made Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi a good watch, proving that when it comes to “love-shove” few do it better than the reclusive Chopra scion.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (best)

The romance that defined an entire generation. The endearing love story saw the first-time filmmaker exhibit a maturity not seen in Bollywood in a long time. A film that taught us to revel in love and fight for love, DDLJ gave us the evergreen Shah Rukh-Kajol jodi and firmly made a place in every heart, young and old. Fifteen years after it first hit theatres, it remains a favourite romance for so many — and still plays at Mumbai’s Maratha Mandir to packed houses.

Shimit Amin

Ab Tak Chhappan (good)

Not many eyebrows were raised when Ram Gopal Varma’s long-time protege chose to debut with a gritty cop drama. Realistic and stark, Ab Tak Chhappan told the story of an encounter specialist who, along with his trusted men, eliminated unwanted elements who would otherwise slip through the legal loopholes. Edgy and no-holds-barred, Shimit shunned cliche and gave us a documentary-style film that was both original as well as unsentimental, with Nana Patekar turning in a pitch-perfect performance.


Rocket Singh (Better)

Shimit joined forces with ace writer Jaideep Sahni to come up with the story of an enterprising young man fighting the odds to make a name for himself. Restrained drama, believable characters and a non-Bolly feel — Rocket Singh was largely a case study on the dynamics of sales and marketing — made us sit up and take notice. Ranbir Kapoor as the diligent Harpreet stole the show with Shimit proving his mettle in slice-of-life storytelling.


Chak De! India (best)

Who would have imagined that a Bollywood film on a women’s hockey team would gain cult status, inspiring a nation collectively and individually? Shimit and Jaideep Sahni came up with a classic underdog story that touched a chord. Shah Rukh Khan’s bearded turn as a back-from-the-dead coach impressed with Shimit bringing rare conviction to familiar characters and situations in this patriotic heartwarmer. Chak De! India is today an anthem.