Three unconventional Indian films to watch this winter break

Branch out of your comfort zone during your next Netflix binge

These unconventional Indian films should be at the top of your holiday watch list.
Credit: 
Screenshots from Netflix

The winter break is within sight, and with it comes ample time to catch up on streaming TV shows and movies. This year, mix up your watch list by adding some Indian films to the roster.

Recently, Indian producers have released some great films that turn convention on its head. While I’m not immune to flashy action movies, this list includes three films that show what Indian cinema is capable of.

Uyare

(Malayalam, on Netflix)

Uyare loosely means “higher” in Malayalam. The lead character in this film, Pallavi (Parvathy Thiruvothu, one of my favourite actresses), takes the title literally as she pursues her dream of becoming a commercial pilot.

Trouble comes in the form of her long-distance boyfriend, Govind (Asif Ali), who manipulates Pallavi into molding her life around his desires. She’s smart and aware of what he’s doing, but feels obligated to stay with him due to their shared past.

When Govind puts Pallavi’s dreams of flight on hold, we see how support from family, friends, and even strangers can give survivors of intimate partner violence the confidence to rise above what happened to them and chase their dreams. 

It’s an intense watch at times, but a necessary and inspiring one.

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga

(Hindi, on Netflix)

The hero sees a girl and falls in love at first sight. This magical phenomenon is a staple in romance films, and Ek Ladki is no different. It’s even named after a song in one of Hindi film icon Anil Kapoor’s movies from the 90s, an era when some of Bollywood’s most quoted romance films were released. What makes this movie different, however, is what happens after Sahil (Rajkummar Rao) and Sweety (Sonam Kapoor) first meet. 

Sahil loves Sweety instantly and tracks her down to her small hometown. Her family is a collection of stereotypes: she’s a meek heroine who immediately reciprocates the hero’s love, her older brother is Islamophobic, and her father (Anil Kapoor, actress Kapoor’s real-life father) only serves as comedic relief.

But as the movie goes on, all is not as it seems. While Sahil continues to be the storyteller, we realize the story isn’t about him: it’s about Sweety. The emotional payoff of each character’s arc makes this rom-com a must-watch.

The characters are written authentically and that can be attributed to the fact that Ek Ladki is directed and written by two women, the latter of whom is trans. Despite the film’s comedy genre, the difficulties Sweety experiences aren’t played for laughs, but they don’t turn her into someone to be pitied, either. It’s a feel-good movie that genuinely feels good. 

And it goes to show that sometimes, it’s the heroine that falls in love at first sight.

Bigil

(Tamil, in theaters)

Commercial films have one primary goal: to entertain. Consequently, this movie’s plot is straightforward—the good guys win the fight. What makes a blockbuster stand out is emotional depth and a cohesive message. Bigil has both, and that’s why it makes this list. 

Michael, played by Kollywood (Tamil cinema) star ‘Thalapathy’ Vijay, is a gangster who fights for justice in his poor community. When his friend is hospitalized, he’s suddenly made the coach of his friend’s soccer team. The women on the team question his authority—how can a criminal coach a state-level soccer team?

The answer is surprising: Michael was a state-level soccer player until tragedy pulled him into the cycle of crime. In the saddest fight sequence I’ve ever seen, Michael goes from being an inspiration for his community to becoming yet another murderer.

Michael doesn’t tell the players any of this. By ensuring the character leaves this plot detail out, the film steps around the male saviour complex. While Michael helps them overcome obstacles, the actions the female players take are theirs and theirs alone. Vijay allows his star power to be sidelined—literally—in critical scenes where he’d usually be the focus. Seeing unconditional male allyship in a blockbuster film is a pleasant change. 

Even when one of Michael’s players needs permission from her husband to re-enter the sport, Bigil only makes a sobering point: in a patriarchal society, women need men’s support. They need a whole community’s support. But this applies to Michael, too. If he’d had what he’d enabled the women to have—societal support—he would’ve been a team leader, not a gang leader. It’s this message, wrapped in a fun package, that makes Bigil worth watching.

In the end, the good guys win the fight—but this time, the good guys are girls.

 

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