There is no question that 2022 was a fantastic year for Indian cinema.
Yes, I’m emphasising the phrase ‘Indian cinema’ because audiences had the opportunity to witness cinematic juggernauts emerging from different corners of the country. From SS Rajamouli’s epic Telugu action drama film ‘RRR’ to Rishab Shetty’s Kannada magnum opus ‘Kantara’ and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’, Indians with access to streaming services and multiplexes bore witness to stunning variety of stories, people and cultures.
Besides these films, however, there were a plethora of others from around the country that caught my attention. Here, I recommend 11 such OTT films of 2022.
Director Gautam Ramachandran’s legal drama ‘Gargi’ starring Sai Pallavi is a deeply layered and jarring exploration of justice, gender, family and society without trying to be one. Sai Pallavi delivers her best performance on screen as the lead character Gargi — a school teacher whose father, a security guard, is accused of assaulting a child alongside four other men. This is one of those films that leaves you in a state of contemplation long after it’s done.
(Language: Tamil; Sony Liv)
Satyajit Ray set the benchmark for how filmmakers can portray village life in India. Not only did he make us identify with the characters of his film but also invested them with dignity and humanity. This is what director M Manikandan also achieves in ‘Kadaisi Vivasayi’.
It tells the story of an ageing farmer Mayandi, played by the non-professional actor Nallandi, who is the last farmer left in his village. Besides his deep ties to the land, this magnificent film also explores Mayandi’s empathetic relationship with Ramaiah, played by Vijay Sethupathi, who the other villagers believe has gone crazy following the death of his lover.
(Language: Tamil; Sony Liv)
Jana Gana Mana
Watching Dijo Jose Antony’s legal thriller, you think you know what’s happening until you don’t. The basic premise of the film revolves around the brutal murder of a strong and socially-conscious college professor, the aggressive student protest that it spawns and the remarkable legal journey this case takes. Although the film does feel a tad preachy, the pace of storytelling and the excellent cast of actors don’t let you feel its 165-minute run time.
(Language: Malayalam; Netflix)
Even if Pan Nalin’s coming-of-age film wasn’t sold to you as India’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the 95th Academy Awards, it’s worth investing 110 minutes of your time. The film tells the story of nine-year-old Samay’s obsession with cinema. From Chalala, a village in Saurashtra, Samay — played by Bhavin Rabari develops an intense relationship with cinema with help from a local projectionist Fazal — played by Bhavesh Shrimali. Such is his love for cinema that he decides to become a filmmaker but remains unaware of the difficulties that await him.
(Translated ‘Last Film Show’; Language: Gujarati; Netflix)
Nna Thaan Case Kodu
For months, a friend of mine constantly recommended this film written and directed by Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval. It wasn’t until very recently that I sat down to watch this hilarious and insightful satire film. It now ranks among the best films I’ve seen all year. Set in Kasargod, its basic premise revolves around an ex-thief Rajeevan — played by the masterful Kunchacko Boban, who is falsely accused of theft by a local MLA and decides to challenge him in a court of law. In this journey to seek justice, however, he must overcome a series of hurdles.
(Translated as ‘Sue Me’; Language: Malayalam; Disney Hotstar)
Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu
Gautam Vasudev Menon’s neo-noir gangster film has some of the familiar features of past films in this genre. The story of Muthu’s (played by Simbu) coming-of-age in Mumbai as a feared gangster, after leaving a troubled life back home in rural Tamil Nadu, is reminiscent of ‘Nayakan’.
Like many gangster films, it also deals with the question of how this life of crime and violence is inescapable except through death and prison. But the answer it leaves behind is very different from gangster films of the past. What also stands out about this film is Simbu’s performance as Muthu, who always looks like a ‘fish out of water’ until he is faced with violence and certain death, and Menon’s elegant work behind the camera, particularly those stylized long takes.
(Translated as ‘Scorched Forest’; Part 1: The Kindling; Language: Tamil; Amazon Prime)
What more can you ask of a film about zombies in Dombivli which lies on the outskirts of Mumbai? It has everything and more. Directed by Aditya Sarpotdar, the film revolves around Sudhir — played by Amey Wagh, an engineer who moves into a high-rise apartment with his wife Seema — played by Vaidehi Parashurami, who is six months into her pregnancy.
But life in this apartment isn’t really what Sudhir envisions. They suffer from acute water shortage, and soon enough, their bubble is further burst by a zombie outbreak in the nearby Janata Nagar slum. The film has humour, horror, action sequences and a love story, while also presenting a strong critique of the growing class divide in the city, gentrification and greed.
(Language: Marathi; Zee 5)
Written and directed by Rahul Sadasivan, Bhoothakaalam ranks among the best Indian horror films that I’ve seen in recent times. What’s particularly great about this film is that it doesn’t rely heavily on visual effects and does the job with a small cast.
The film revolves around the troubled relationship between Asha (played by Revathy) and her son Vinu (played by Shane Nigam). Without offering any spoilers, one can only state that this nerve-racking horror film presents one of the most spine-tingling conclusions to a film in recent memory.
(Translated as ‘Past’; Language: Malayalam; Sony Liv)
Written and directed by Kiranraj K, this is a film with a lot of heart. The emotionally charged film centres on the relationship between Dharma — played by Rakshit Shetty, a factory worker who spends most of his time fighting, drinking and watching Charlie Chaplin shows on TV, and a stray labrador dog who he later names Charlie. As their bond grows, Dharma and Charlie embark on a journey to the higher climes of North India to fulfil the latter’s long-harboured wish to play in the snow. After all, whenever Charlie sees snow on TV, she gets excited.
(Language: Kannada; Voot Select)
This political thriller directed by Kamal KM pulls no punches. It’s based on a true story of how a group of men, who called themselves ‘Ayyankali Pada’, took the collector and the larger Palakkad collectorate hostage in 1996 over the controversial piece of legislation. This film also gives us a taste of the circumstances surrounding the lives of Adivasis subjugated by the state machinery. Despite its clear socio-political message, it has the feel of a heist thriller. The film possesses real technical quality from the staging and editing to the performances on screen.
(Translated as ‘Army’; Language: Malayalam; Amazon Prime)
Monica, O My Darling
From the very beginning, you’re hooked on the story and there are no parts that drag on longer than they should. Starring Rajkummar Rao and Huma Qureshi, and directed by Vasan Bala, it’s a humdinger of a murder mystery marked by humour and song. It’s one of those films you can play on a free afternoon or evening and lose track of time. What gives the film further oomph is the wonderful background score composed by Achint Thakkar of ‘Scam: 1992’ fame.
(Language: Hindi; Netflix)
(Edited by Pranita Bhat)
(Images courtesy Wikimedia Commons, IMDB)