I missed too many well-regarded releases this year to produce a meaningful "Best of 2012" type list. Without Gangs of Wasseypur, Vicky Donor, and other acclaimed new films, what business do I have making such assertions?
But all Hindi movies, new or old, are new to me. And so anything I saw this past year can be part of my own personal best of 2012. And I have had a very good year indeed for Hindi movies. I am fortunate to have the filtering lens of history and the very good sense of many friends to guide my movie choices. So it is quite rare that I see movies I really hate, and about a quarter of all the Hindi movies I have ever seen make it into my Favorites category. Even so, there are a few films that stand out as my best filmi experiences of the year. Here they are, with links to my reviews of them.
- Kahaani (2012). A movie that makes many a best of 2012 list, I'm sure. This was the first movie I saw after returning from India, and it made me want to march right back to the airport and get on a plane to Calcutta. Kahaani had another effect on me as well - about halfway through, while Vidya Balan and her pregnant waddle filled the screen with irresistible presence, a thought struck me like a brick to the head: "I am in love with this woman." I was late to hop on the Vidya train, I know, but this is the movie that did it.
- Tere ghar ke samne (1963). My viewing experience in 2012 was shaped and colored by my first trip to India, which came very early in the year. I watched this film on the way home, hoping to extend the mood of my trip just a little longer, and was rewarded with its marvelous use of Qutub Minar in the brilliant song "Dil ka bhanwar kare pukar." This is also the movie that made me realize that Vijay Anand is quite possibly my favorite director of Hindi movies. There is not a flaw to be found in this beautiful piece of cinematic entertainment - I love everything about it.
- Kaala patthar (1979). The first "why did I wait so long to watch this" movie of my year. Of course I did not know at the time that this year would be Yash Chopra's last. When he died, I remembered him in the taut perfection of this movie and how it delivers everything that makes me love Hindi movies in one riveting package.
- Band baaja baaraat (2010). Part of 2012 for me was catching up on recent releases I'd missed while being occupied with other projects. So here on my best of 2012 list is a movie that made many best of 2010 lists. I will allow that my gushing over this movie may have been a little out of proportion to its eventual place in history. However, I have watched it three or four times this year and I have to say it still stands up. It's one I'll show to newcomers, as well.
- Ek Saal (1957), Mahal (1949), Kismet (1943). This is cheating a little, as none of these is really all the way to a favorite movie. But one of the themes of my 2012 viewing has been growing respect and love for Ashok Kumar, who has risen to become one of my all-time favorite actors. These aren't the only movies of his I saw this year - I also got to see his delightful avuncular avatar in movies like Chhoti si baat and Aradhana - but they are early, stardom-defining turns of his, that gave me a lot of insight into the man and his enduring appeal.
- Chhoti si baat (1975). Such a delightful confection that lands me squarely on the Amol Palekar train (in case there was any doubt after Golmaal).
- The Dirty Picture (2011). If Kahaani made me fall in love with Vidya Balan, what do I really need to say about The Dirty Picture? In that respect, the review speaks for itself.
- Delhi-6 (2009). This movie closed the feedback loop between my visit to India and my experience of Indian movies. As I said in the review, "watching Hindi movies has made India a fascination for me of limitless depth and life, and seeing India inperson has made Hindi movies breathe with a new vivacity."
- English Vinglish (2012). Another movie that makes many best of the year lists. There isn't much I can add to the mostly ebullient discourse about this touching, delightful movie, except that I can't wait to show it to my mother.
- Naya daur (1957). This movie did not exactly make a Dilip Kumar fan out of me, but there is much to love in it all the same. A clear antecedent of one of my all-time favorites, Lagaan, Naya daur offers grand allegorical themes, vibrant characters, and absolutely wonderful songs. A classic I have not seen many discuss, I am very glad to have learned about it in 2012.
- 7 khoon maaf (2011). This bizarre, intriguing movie snuck up on me, and by the time it was done I couldn't wait to watch it again. An unexpected keeper.
Honorable Mention: Tere naal love ho gaya (2012). Cute and harmless, this not a memorable movie by any objective standard. But I saw this movie in a cinema hall in Jaipur - the first and to date the only movie I've seen in a theater in India, and so it ranks easily among my best filmi experiences of 2012 and it will always be close to my heart. And to be fair to this little movie, I rewatched it recently (for mindless viewing while suffering a stomach flu) and found it held up to the rewatch - still cute and adequately entertaining, with more than a few legitimate laughs.
Thanks for reading. Here's to a filmi 2013 that is just as satisfying and enduring for me and you as well.