LAST year may have been a bad one for Bollywood, but that didn’t stop it from being an interesting 12 months for films with a strong south Asian connection.
There were marvellous movies made across different languages and genres, which delighted audiences on multiple platforms, from streaming sites to cinemas and international festivals.
Eastern Eye looked back at 2022 to round up the top 20 films of the year, in no particular order, because all of them deserve to be seen.
Jogi: Diljit Dosanjh played the lead role in the hard-hitting Hindi-language drama set against the 1984 riots in New Delhi, when Sikhs were indiscriminately targeted after the assassination of then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her bodyguard from that community. He brilliantly portrayed a young man trying to prevent those around him from being murdered by vicious mobs. The emotionally intense Netflix film blended an important human story of survival and friendship with a thriller element.
KGF: Chapter 2: One of last year’s biggest block-busters took cinemas by storm like an unstoppable tidal wave. The Kannada-language period action film, which was also released in various dubbed languages including Hindi, saw lead star Yash play a man prone to violence and his ruthless rise to power. Everything, from the cinematography and eye-catching action to the performances, elevated this entertainer to great heights. There was raw power in one of the greatest sequels ever made in India.
Tora’s Husband: Award-winning Indian filmmaker Rima Das followed up her acclaimed films like Village Rockstars and Bulbul Can Sing with a documentary-style movie which premiered at big festivals around the world. The story of a man trying to keep his business afloat and marriage intact during the pandemic was a simple human drama, and a tribute to the resilience of men and women in an unprecedented situation that affected the world, and how they soldiered on.
Ali & Ava: The beautifully crafted cross-cultural romance was released in UK cinemas in March 2022, after making impressive waves on the international festival circuit in 2021. The Bradford-set story of a British Pakistani man on the verge of divorce getting involved in an unlikely romance with a white woman who has adult children was a marvellous multilayered love story with two endearing protagonists. The critically acclaimed movie also received award recognition, including a BAFTA Best Actor nomination for lead star Adeel Akhtar.
Ariyippu (Declaration): The 2022 Malayalam-language drama premiered at multiple high-profile international film festivals including in London and Locarno. The cleverly told story, set during the pandemic, revolved around a married couple working in dead-end factory jobs and dreaming of getting employment abroad, who had to deal with a compromising video of them being circulated. The slice-of-life movie from writer-director Mahesh Narayanan received well-deserved rave reviews, and had relatable characters struggling with a difficult situation.
Ponniyin Selvan 1: Ace director Mani Ratnam made a triumphant return with the Tamil-language historical action drama which was based on Kalki Krishnamurthy’s 1955 novel of the same name. The sprawling epic about the battle for a kingdom was a historical costume drama mounted on a lavish scale, with intrigue, action and high emotions. The blockbuster hit, filled with big-name actors, also had great music from AR Rahman and set itself up nicely for the hotly anticipated sequel.
Good Luck Jerry: The hugely entertaining Hindi remake of 2018 Tamil movie Kolamaavu Kokila premiered on streaming site Hotstar. Janhvi Kapoor took on the lead role in the quirky comedy-drama about a young woman who inadvertently becomes a drug smuggler to pay for her mother’s cancer treatment. The accomplished adaptation, mixing up humour with darker moments, had a lot of entertainment value. Unlike a lot of recent Bollywood films, it deserved a cinema release.
Vikram: The highest grossing Indian film at the UK box office was a triumphant big-screen return for legendary actor Kamal Haasan. He starred alongside Vijay Sethupathi and Fahadh Faasil in the Tamil action thriller, which was a spiritual successor to the 1986 film of the same name. The story of a black ops leader trying to solve a murder which leads to a much bigger conspiracy was loaded with action, drama, big performances and plenty of twists.
Moh: Last year was another terrific one for Punjabi cinema, and actress Sargun Mehta played a large part in that success due to her film choices like Moh. The romantic drama, described by one reviewer as pure poetry, was genuinely different from other Indian films released in recent years. The story of a young man who falls deeply in love with an older woman was a wonderful exploration of friendship and finding a special bond in an unlikely place. A special mention also goes to the Punjabi cinema queen’s romantic comedy Saunkan Saunkne.
All That Breathes: The best documentary film of 2022 won awards at multiple movie festivals around the world, including Sundance, Cannes and London. The visually captivating Hindi-language documentary, which received great acclaim and won awards, told the story of two brothers struggling to run a hospital at home for birds in New Delhi, and dealing with challenges that included extreme pollution and social unrest. Apart from telling a compelling
story, the film also shone a light on real problems that exist in sprawling cities like India’s capital.
Thallumaala: The hit Malayalam-language drama was one of 2022’s hidden commercial gems. The film with a non-linear narrative and divided into different chapters, charted the course of a fight escalating and how it affected the protagonist’s life. The unpredictable plot then twisted in other elements including friendship and romance. There was a strong musical element and colourful characters in a film that attempted a different kind of storytelling. There was also a great use of graphics.
Joyland: Pakistan’s official entry to the 2023 Academy Awards had a glittering international festival journey that included winning awards at Cannes and a triumphant UK premiere in London. The Lahore-set story revolved around a young man struggling to meet the high expectations of his family who falls in love with a transgender dancer. The taboo-busting drama, praised for its strong lead performances, has become the first film from the country to be shortlisted for an international feature Oscar.
Fakt Mahilao Maate: A great year for Gujarati cinema included Chhello Show being selected as India’s official entry for the 2023 Oscars. But unlike that film, Fakt Mahilao Maate had a strong commercial element and enough entertainment to appeal to all ages. The Indian answer to Hollywood film What Women Want tells the story of a young man who starts to hear what women are thinking. Amitabh Bachchan made his Gujarati-language debut with a cameo in the film. A special mention also goes to hit Gujarati comedy-drama Kehvatlal Parivar.
RRR: The global Indian blockbuster, which was released in multiple languages, was another massive success for ace director SS Rajamouli. The British Raj-set story of a man setting off on a rescue mission and teaming up with a police officer tasked to track him down, was a larger-than-life film spectacle loaded with thrilling moments. Ram Charan and NTR Jr were wonderful as the two warrior-like men who revolt against the British imperialists in India. It is no wonder that the film is campaigning at the 2023 Oscars in multiple categories.
Sita Ramam: The Telugu-language period romance had an old-world charm that has been missing from Indian cinema in recent years. The story, set across two eras in strife-torn circumstances, struck a chord with cross-generational audiences. The beautiful storytelling and engaging characters, played by Dulquer Salmaan, Rashmika Mandanna and Mrunal Thakur, made this visual treat a marvellous watch filled with feelings and emotions.
Rorschach: The multi-layered Malayalam-language movie combined a neo-noir element with genres including action, thriller, supernatural and psychological drama. The unpredictable story saw cinema legend Mammootty portraying a man looking for his missing wife, who might have ulterior motives and be on a different path altogether. The gripping thriller, powered by a strong central performance, was elevated further by sharp cinematography and
a surprising finale.
Kantara: The Kannada-language action thriller was the biggest sleeper hit of 2022; and in terms of budget versus profit, it was arguably the year’s biggest success. The film, set across different eras, weighed up myth, reality and superstition in an original way to tell a story that was filled with surprises. The colourful locations, a strong lead character, sharp camerawork and a brilliant background score added extra layers to a film that continued the impressive momentum of Kannada cinema.
Donkeyhead: The Canadian comedy-drama which delighted audiences on the festival circuit, premiered on Netflix to great acclaim. The story of siblings coming together after the death of their father, had a stand-out lead performance from Agam Darshi as the rebel who slowly starts to unravel. She also wrote and directed the award-winning film which explored complex family relationships while balancing them with humour and human emotions.
Monica O My Darling: The colourful comedy crime caper filled with grey-shaded characters revolved around three blackmailed men plotting to murder a seductress. But things took an unexpected turn, and this resulted in a deliciously dark, twist-laden story loaded with surprises. The solid Indian adaptation of 2011 Japanese movie Burûtasu No Shinzou premiered on Netflix and was powered by perfect performances from a talented cast, including Rajkummar Rao, Huma Qureshi and Radhika Apte.
The Legend Of Maula Jatt: There were bigger box-office successes and films that received more critical acclaim, but none were as big a gamechanger as this global blockbuster. The Punjabi-language drama about feuding tribal clans and one man’s mission to take revenge, became the highest-grossing Pakistani film of all time and raised the bar for an entire industry. The stunning star cast, led by Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan, Hamza Ali Abbasi and Humaima Malick, set the screen on fire with incendiary performances, in what was named Eastern Eye’s best movie of 2022.