10 Unsung Movies in the Millennium

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Akshaye Khanna in Section 375. Photo: Publicity Photo

Every year, a movie or two (and rarely more) go unnoticed by the audience, regardless of whether it gets critical acclaim or not. With business becoming increasingly money-oriented and ruthless, and multiplexes even cancelling shows if a certain minimum tickets are not sold, such fates have more causes than a mere lack of connect with masses, badly-timed releases or a lack of face-value.

Here is looking at 10 such films in the millennium.

Makdee / 2002

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Composer Vishal Bhardwaj’s impressive directorial debut was an Enid Blyton-like adventure of a young girl’s confrontation with a witch in a haunted mansion. Besides an engaging narrative, the wholesome children’s film gave us Shweta Basu Prasad as a powerful child actress (she won the National Best Child Actor award) and an endearingly wicked turn from Shabana Azmi.

Jogger’s Park / 2003

A heartwarming saga about the offbeat relationship between a senior retired and upright judge (Victor Banerjee) and a vivacious model (played by Perizaad Zorabian), the film questioned outdated social mores in modern-day India. Directed by Anant Balani and written and produced by Subhash Ghai (who also wrote a song, Kabhi paa liya kabhi kho diya, in it), the film was a winner in the way it looked at a bold theme in a practical way.

Chupke Se… / 2003

Director Shona Urvashi once confessed, “Replace my lead artistes (Zulfi Syed and my sister Masumeh) with Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, and you would have had a Golden Jubilee!” The director confessed that the shoestring-budget film had no capital to promote it before release—after which, it was too late!

The romantic comedy featured Rati Agnihotri in a quirky, negative role and Om Puri in what is arguably one of his career-finest performances ever—as a shaayari-spouting don. Unlike most comedies, the laugh-graph was always on the ascent, with the humor reaching a crescendo in the hilarious climax.

Sankat City / 2009

Today, it is a ‘hit’ genre, but 13 years ago, dark comedy was rarely appreciated, with even a Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro getting its due decades later. Sriram Raghavan’s Johnny Gaddaar in 2007 thus had to make do only with critical appreciation, but director (late) Pankaj Advani’s Sankat City could not even get that. Though nominated in various categories at the Star-Screen, Stardust and Filmfare awards, it lost out there as well. Starring Kay Kay Menon, Anupam Kher, Rimi Sen and Chunky Pandey, the taut 120-minute thriller had repeat value too.

Lara Dutta and Vinay Pathka in Chalo Dilli. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

Chalo Dilli / 2011

Lara Dutta’s debut production remains one of the finest, if most underrated, road movies seen in Hindi cinema. Arshad Syed scripted this delightful comedy with messages about life, relationships, self-respect and humility. Lara herself played an arrogant and very successful businesswoman who finds herself in a mess created by someone else. She is forced to make a small-time and uneducated businessman (Vinay Pathak) her co-traveler, and misadventures galore follow. The climax, also featuring Akshay Kumar in a cameo as her affectionate husband, took the movie to another, rarely-accomplished emotional high.

404: Error Not Found / 2011

In the same year, Prawaal Raman spun a solid amalgam of the supernatural with the social aspect of ragging in a film minus face-value in terms of cast—Nishikant Kamat (the late director-actor) and newcomer Rajvvir Arora played the protagonists along with Naseeruddin Shah’s son Imaad Shah, who also doubled up as the music director. Scientific beliefs battled with superstition in this engrossing 120-minute thriller that was a worthy follow-up to Prawaal’s supernatural-anthology debut, Darna Mana Hai (2003).

Naman Jain in Chillar Party. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

Chillar Party  / 2011

In what turns out to be the best year for such film treasures, 2011 also saw Nitesh Dangal Tiwari and Vikas Queen Bahl collaborate as writers and directors on what is probably one of Hindi cinema’s rare, ideal children’s movies. Salman Khan came in as producer after the film was complete, and so did Ranbir Kapoor in a cameo. The film was a spirited and funny saga of kids and an adopted dog getting into a major confrontation with a residential complex.

Children in this movie were precisely what we rarely got to see in Hindi movies then—natural, naughty and never precociously irritating. The film even won three National awards, including for Best Children’s Film, and an international one as well, vying with films from other Asian countries in the same category.

Table No. 21 / 2013

A couple (Rajeev Khandelwal and Tina Desae) wins a sponsored holiday to an exotic overseas resort on their wedding anniversary. The hotel is owned by the charming Mr. Khan (Paresh Rawal), who invites them to a live game show with humongous prize money. But the two discover to their horror that the game is slowly getting horrific and bestial. A superb thriller with a truly relevant message, the film was directed by Aditya Datt.

Section 375 / 2019

Very few films are as unsung as this masterly social expose of Section 375 of the law. Akshaye Khanna was plain fantastic as the defense counsel in this stunning courtroom drama about a man accused of rape. The twist was a chiller and the film emerged as a brilliant document on how things are rarely what are seen at face-value. Ajay Bahl directed this quasi-masterpiece.

Kadakh / 2020A subtle dark comedy, Kadakh, out on OTT platform, SonyLIV, after a South Asian International Film Festival release a year earlier, told the story of a dysfunctional married couple (Rajat Kapur and Malti Multani), embroiled on the day of their lavish Diwali party in a (literally) bloody mess with a dead body in their home. The film’s grisly climax was the highlight of this Rajat Kapur-written and directed film.

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