Fresh ideas, inspiring true stories, socially relevant dramas, and even a quality remake. Bollywood was blessed with a variety of content this year.
By Mayur Lookhar
A largely Covid-19 free year meant that 2022 was flooded with films. The poor theatrical business notwithstanding, Hindi cinema still produced quite a few noteworthy films. Of course, OTT releases made some impression too. As always, the medium is immaterial. Merit is the sole criteria for appreciation. But the plethora of OTTs has made it near impossible for an individual to catch all releases. It is very likely that we may have missed a few. But we assure you that we’ve viewed a large number of Hindi films – both theatrical and OTT.
Our picks are never determined by box-office. So, despite its commercial success, a Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2  doesn’t make the cut. The number of stars in a review, too, don’t decide our choice. Each film is rated as a standalone. A film may have got more stars, yet failed to make it to this list. Factors like larger cause, impactful story have an edge.
Without further ado, we bring you Beyond Bollywood’s list of finest Hindi films of 2022
11 Aye Zindagi – Anirban Bose [Writer, director]
The common factor to Aye Zindagi and Salaam Venky is Revathy. The seasoned actor starred in the former, and directed the latter. She even had a tiny but a pivotal role in Salaam Venky. Both films got three stars from us. Both films batted for similar social cause. Salaam Venky chiefly harped on euthanasia, which can invariably save lives courtesy organ donation. What helped Aye Zindagi pip Salaam Venky is the leading cast. Of course, Revathy leading Aye Zindagi was a big boon. Director Dr. Anirban Bose took a two-year break to learn filmmaking. As a doctor himself, it was natural for him to depict the struggles of a liver cirrhosis patient more realistically. Aye Zindagi though was much more than an awareness programme. It explored the intricate patient and donor’s kin equation. Barely marketed, the strong plot and the socially relevant message made us embrace Aye Zindagi.
10 Jalsa – Suresh Triveni [director], Prajwal Chandrashekhar [Story, screenplay]
Former adman Suresh Triveni impressed in his debut film Tumhari Sulu . It was forgone conclusion that he would have Vidya Balan headline his second feature too. But this was in a totally different, privileged, and a slightly cocky avatar. A unique title and an equally unique story that led us to think whether a servant’s loyalty is akin to modern day slavery? The conflict and the forgiving nature is hard to imagine in real life, but vengeance only leads to more despair. Gripping story, Triveni’s astute direction, and the impressive performance of his leading cast, especially Shefali Shah made it hard to miss this Jalsa.
9 The Kashmir Files – Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri [writer, director]
Slammed by left-leaning critics, including an Israeli Jewish jury head at International Film Festival of India, this film was not rated highly by us either. If no misrepresentation, it certainly missed one or two important aspects, yet Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files makes it to our list. Why? Because it achieved what Vidhu Vinod Chopra missed i.e., tell a hard-hitting story on the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990. No great production values, but what turned The Kashmir Files into a nation-wide rage is the barbaric nature of atrocities committed against the Kashmiri Pandits by radical Islamists. The many surviving members of the displaced community were left in tears in theatres. Agnihotri himself comforted quite a few. Gone are the days when one brushed such wounds under the carpet. The Kashmir Files was a much-needed catharsis for the aggrieved Kashmiri Pandits. A few inclusive aspects, and a slightly better production values would have made The Kashmir Files an even better experience. The tragic nature of the reality is such that it would be a crime to ignore the film.
8 Drishyam 2 – Abhishek Pathak, Aamil Keeyan Khan [adapted screenplay]
In a year where the audience was fed up with remakes, director, producer Abhishek Pathak’s Drishyam 2 did more than just stemming the rot. Maybe a big call, but Drishyam 2 felt better than the original Malayalam film of the same title. Original writer Jeetu Joseph’s story was adapted into a fine screenplay by the unheralded screenwriter Aamil Keeyan Khan. The plot, scenes mirror the original. What makes Drishyam 2 better is the performances. Akshaye Khanna joined the franchise and he left everyone floored with his sheer intense act. Its phenomenal box office success also proved that no external factors, but only content decides a film’s fate. Most remakes tend to be copies, but Drishyam 2 is a fine adaptation.
7 Kaun Pravin Tambe? – Jayprad Desai [writer-director]
Not just remakes, the other big put off for Hindi audiences is sports biopics/ dramas. If 83 , a film on India’s maiden One-Day International World Cup triumph, tanked, what were the odds of a film doing well that itself questions who is Pravin Tambe?
Confined to an OTT release, writer-director Jayprad Desai’s Kaun Pravin Tambe (Who Pravin Tambe?) is the story of a cricketer who bloomed late [40s] in his career. He didn’t even play for India, but what is it that left audiences in tears? It was simply the many trials and tribulations that struck a chord with millions of individuals who seldom achieve their big dreams. A virtuoso performance by lead actor Shreyas Talpade went a long way in driving this film. He wasn’t alone as Anjali Patil, Ashish Vidyarthi and others played their part to perfection. The film was a tribute to an individual’s resilience. It underlined the many frustrations, both professional and personal, that an individual has to go through to achieve his/her dreams.
6 Darlings – Jasmeet K. Reen [writer-director]
Another OTT release that could have found an audience in theatres. Nevertheless, Netflix got this choice right. First-time writer-director Jasmeet K. Reen turned domestic abuse in a Muslim household into a fine feminist dark comedy where the wife reluctantly joins her mother and a neighbor in taking action. Its highly engaging and entertaining screenplay, innocent act by Alia Bhatt melted our hearts. It takes a stand against domestic violence, but not a emotional one. The film shines for its overall tone, with Alia and Shefali delighting us with their desi English. Like the additional ‘s’ in its title, this one is hard to miss.
5. Doctor G – Anubhuti Kashyap [writer-director]
A film that we couldn’t catch in theatres. The word of mouth wasn’t strong either. We waited for the digital release. Two hours later, we wonder what is it that critics and audiences didn’t like? Surely, Doctor G explained itself well. A man in a female’s world was merely the top layer, but beneath it, writer-director Anubhuti Kashyap questioned unethical social and medical practices pertaining to abortion. In a nation where doctors are equated to a God, Doctor G subtly urged the medical fraternity to dissuade illegal abortions. It would be wrong to dismiss Doctor G as another feminist tale by Ayushmann Khurrana. The film simply urges society to save humanity.
The layered plot also covered other social sub-texts, all rolled into one fine, taut screenplay. Another impressive performance by Khurrana, but he wasn’t alone as each and every member of the cast played their role to the T. Sheeba Chadha, Rakul Preet, Shefali Shah were damn good, and so, too this young talent Ayesha Kaduskar.
It’s not about male or female, one needs to have the human touch to enjoy and understand Doctor G.
4 Siya – Manish Mundra [Director], Haider Rizvi, Samah [writer]
For an audience that was moved by the atrocities against Kashmiri Pandits in The Kashmir Files, it befuddles us as to why the same audience doesn’t turn out to watch Siya in large numbers? Loosely based on the rape, murder of a Dalit girl in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, writer Haider Rizvi and director Manish Mundra’s aptly titled Siya  harped on the struggle of a humble woman to get justice against her powerful rapists. The case/conflict speaks for itself, but it is the intensity of the screenplay, the gripping performances, and the grim reality that left us numb. Mundra’s simple approach to story-telling, astute direction, and his able cast helped to deliver a poignant tale.
3 Qala – Anvitaa Dutt [writer-director]
Despite its flaws, lyricist Anvitaa Dutt showed promise as a filmmaker in Bulbbul . Two years later, she lived up to that promise delivering a stunning film in Qala. A period fiction drama that explores a toxic relationship between a mother and her daughter, subtly raising a conversation on mental health. It also questions self-consuming art. Meenal Agarwal’s production design helped Dutt create a surreal world with Pradeep Diwan weaving magic with his lens. It’s hard to recollect many such visual masterpieces from Hindi cinema. The visual storytelling is backed by intense acts from Tripti Dimri, Swastika Mukherjee, and an impressive debut by late Irrfan Khan’s son Babil. Netflix has a rare Indian jewel in its crown. Qala lives up to its name as a piece of art.
2 Gehraiyaan – Shakun Bata [director], Ayesha Devitre Dhillon [Story]
A film that polarized the nation. The moral police dismissed it as a voyeuristic drama from Dharma Productions. The early voices of praise perhaps came from the left-leaning critics. Producer Karan Johar even organized a special interaction with select journalists. Honestly, it looked like a PR exercise and that dissuaded this humble scribe from catching the film early.
We have a duty to our readers to give an honest perspective on the finest films of the year. It would be unfair to dismiss Gehraiyaan without watching it. We thought that if it is bad, we’ll switch off the TV. 20 minutes passed by, and we found it intriguing. More minutes went by, and soon we were sucked into the depths of writer Ayesha Devitre Dhillon’s Gehraiyaan.
We haven’t seen Woody Allen’s Match Point . The Hindi film is said to be partly inspired by it. Adaptation or not, as hard as we tried, we were lost into Gehraiyaan. Brilliantly written, and efficiently directed by Shakun Batra whose cast didn’t let him down wee bit. Deepika Padukone, Ananya Panday were a revelation. Siddharth Chaturvedi only enhanced his reputation. We also saw stellar acts by veteran Naseeruddin Shah, Rajat Kapoor. All the criticism of Gehraiyaan being an elite film were totally unjustified. Here is a film that is a fine examination of human character, greed. Rich or poor is immaterial as the human greed laid bare. We could relate to each principal character in its greed, need, lust, and sheer desperation. Which was the last Hindi film to evoke such a reaction? None. One needs to get rid of their moral high ground, class conflict to truly reach the bottom of Gehraiyaan.
1 Jhund – Nagraj Manjule [writer-director]
“What is Bharat?” A slum kid asks Vijay Borade [Amitabh Bachchan], who doesn’t have an answer. Neither did many viewers, especially the ultra-nationalists. Borrowing an infamous quote from actor, stand-up comedian Veer Das, this truly fits his ‘one India, two India theory’.
Writer-director Nagraj Manjule’s Jhund is inspired by an unheralded football coach Vijay Borade, who transformed a bunch of no-hopers, social outcast into competitive, civil footballers. Jhund underlines the true value of sports which is to provide a level playing field for all. It’s up to an individual how s/he uses the field to earn RESPECT. The Nagraj Manjule directorial touches upon the caste, social divide, but it is not looking to make any big point. Its goal is simple – it is entirely upto an individual to live his/her life with dignity. The caste barriers will remain for eternity, but you are a lowborn only if you have accepted that in your mind.
Jhund is set in a Nagpur slum, but the film is not any Slumdog Millionaire . It’s highly entertaining, engaging in its tone. Amitabh Bachchan played this soft-spoken, humble coach who is determined to see this herd (jhund) find their way in civil society. No deep pockets, but Jhund is rich in resilience, production values, and sincere in its humanity. A dozen of its rooted cast came like uncut diamonds, while the veteran Bachchan showed why he commands global respect.
Purely for its larger social cause, Jhund is our pick for the best Hindi film of the year. Such a shame that society didn’t embrace Jhund like they did The Kashmir Files. We’re reminded about a famous quote from the late Balasaheb Thackeray at his first political rally, “If you didn’t turn up today, then it is entirely your loss”.
For us, Jhund is an absolute winner, and the finest Hindi film of the year.