In terms of content and imagination, Indian movies are breaking barriers for a long long time. Be it Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam or others, they have continuously churned out some terrific movies and this year was no exception. If we have had Lijo Jose Pellisery's Jallikattu that has been acclaimed worldwide, we also got Super Deluxe from Thiagarajan Kumararaja while a Gujarati movie Hellaro bagged the best movie award at this year's National Awards. And then there are movies like Kumbalangi Nights or Ishq that takes on the prevalent notion of toxic masculinity. Such variety of subjects and treatments made 2019 a year worth remembering in terms of cinematic output.
So, here's a list of non-Hindi Indian language films (other than the ones I’ve mentioned) that you shouldn't miss:
1. Gang Leader (Telugu)
While Jersey was critically and commercially a success, Nani also gave us Gang Leader, a light-hearted but emotional roller-coaster where we see him as an author who plagiarises his stories from Hollywood blockbusters but suddenly finds himself helping out a group of women seeking revenge. The premise is as absurd as possible, but when you have your heart at the right place, where exactly can it go wrong?
2. Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya (Telugu)
Riding high on a spirited script, Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya is quirky and funny. More than that, it is extremely intelligent and yet has an infectious self-deprecating humour, some clever writing, and occasional tributes that add to the narrative. Led by the charming Naveen Polishetty, who plays the titular character, it is about a detective who gets embroiled in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse after an abandoned body is discovered. Agent Sai definitely heralds the beginning of a new chapter in Telugu cinema.
3. Brochevarevarura (Telugu)
This superb Telugu flick can be considered a spiritual sequel of Lokesh Kanagaraj's hit Tamil film Maanagaram. While Maanagaram was a groovy thriller, Brochevarevarura is a whacky narrative featuring three loveable losers, one damsel in distress and one writer/director trying his luck in the industry. As the movie progresses, nothing seems forced or misplaced in the narrative. Tropes are used and reused and at times completely tweaked to elevate the mood. It can be safe to say that with movies like Brochevarevarura the new age Telugu cinema is indeed on a roll.
4. Kaithi (Tamil)
Lokesh Kanagaraj's sophomore venture establishes himself as one of the hottest properties in Tamil cinema. A drug bust that goes horribly wrong for all parties involved leads to a spectacular chain of events that promises to engulf one and all over a single night. Karthi plays Dilli, gets trapped here and has to survive this carnage. Kaithi gives you the ultimate adrenaline rush and yet is bound to leave you emotional as class meets mass.
5. Asuran (Tamil)
Vetrimaaran's bloody saga walks the same path like last year's Pariyerum Perumal but even in its scepticism it offers hope and yet is much bloodier, much more violent. Dhanush plays Sivasami, who owns a small stretch of land eyed by the cruel landowner Narasimhan. Refusal to sell and other events lead to tragic consequences that destroy Sivasami's family and the reticent middle-aged man has to turn to his past to protect what is left of his family. Dhanush and Manju Warrier, playing his wife, give solid performances in this unforgettable outing.
6. To Let (Tamil)
Made way back in 2017 but finally getting a theatrical release in 2019, To Let is an exquisite emotional drama about a couple - an assistant director and his wife, along with their five-year-old son, looking for a new house after their landlady wants them out so that she can rent it out to IT professionals. As India's economy booms, its impact is faced by the ones who cannot claim a share in this progress. Deeply moving and yet refusing to sympathise, Chezhiyan's bittersweet drama is all about the high price of dreams and its follies.
7. Peranbu (Tamil)
Directed by Ram, it's about a father-daughter relationship, where the latter suffers from cerebral palsy. It's also about a man's journey as he tries to understand his immediate surroundings as well as his life. Peranbu is not merely a treatise on self-discovery; rather it's a meditation on the frugalities of life. Mammootty is phenomenal as Amudhavan, and probably gives one of the finest performances in his career as he captures the strength and weaknesses of the character with perfection.
8. Mahalaya (Bengali)
When two gentle titans clash because of circumstances, the result can be dazzling. Soumik Sen's Mahalaya mixes history with nostalgia as it takes us back to the time when Birendra Krishna Bhadra (Subhasish Mukhopadhyay) was dropped by Akashvani from their annual Mahisasurmardini programme. Uttam Kumar (Jisshu Sengupta) was brought in as a replacement but public outrage forces Akashvani to bring back Bhadra. Terrific writing complemented by the brilliant performances of the leads, make Mahalaya one of the finest Bengali movies to come out of the industry in a long long time.
9. Dhunki (Gujarati)
Directed by Anish Shah, Dhunki is definitely one of the surprises of the year. Nikunj (Pratik Gandhi), QA by profession leaves his job and finds his true calling as a chef. He is joined by Shreya (Deeksha Joshi), another colleague and together they begin a food delivery start-up. But things don't fall in place and soon they are struggling to survive. Dhunki has no fairytale to offer; rather its realism is the UPS here. And that's how it emerges triumphant.
10. Kavaludaari (Kannada)
Hemanth Rao's Kavaludaari is a taut-thriller that's also philosophical in its approach, focusing equally on human greed and compassion. A traffic police (Rishi), who dreams of becoming a cop, somehow finds himself in the midst of an age-old murder mystery that has a lot of skeletons than his closet can handle. His only help is an alcoholic journalist (Achyutha Kumar) and a recluse cop (Ananth Nag). He is efficient and wants to prove himself but more than that he is strongly motivated by a sense of justice. As it reaches a fitting end, it becomes a fascinating tale of vengeance and finally redemption.
11. Gantumoote (Kannada)
Roopa Rao's Gantumoote first surprises you and then makes you yearn for all the time that you have lost. Narrated by Meera (a superb Teju Belawadi) its part coming-of-age drama and also gives a fitting tribute to cinema that knowingly or unknowingly becomes our friend, philosopher and guide. We see Meera growing up, falling in love, having some terrible experiences. There's also heartache, there are tears and yet nothing prepares you for the tragic ending. Gaantumoote is cinema at its finest and the marks the arrival of several new talents.
12. Lucifer (Malayalam)
Lucifer is an ode to Mohanlal. It's thunderous. It's glorious. Watch it if you're a Mohanlal fan. Watch it even if you're not. Mohanlal plays the enigmatic Stephen Nedumpally who has to save not only his near and dear ones from the antagonists but also his home state Kerala. And he is omniscient throughout the movie. He is there even when he is not on-screen. All the characters focus on him and him only. And yet, you don't mind this at all for director Prithviraj Sukumaran ensures that this tribute is filled with the rich fragrance of Lalettanism.
13. Unda (Malayalam)
A unit from Kerala police goes to the Maoist infested area of Chattishgarh for election duty. Led by the calm and philosophic, SI Mani (a phenomenal Mammootty), they are more worried about their survival. And why not? They don't have any equipments or any other support but have to rely on each other as they face an invisible enemy. Director Khalid Rahman smartly highlights the general apathy of the system against the very tool they use to repress and suppress common people. Unda, while it doesn't offer any hope, gives the audience some terrific acting and some brilliant writing.
14. Thanneer Mathan Dinangal (Malayalam)
This little gem of a movie will remind you of Basu Chatterjee's Choti Si Baat (1975). In Thaneer, we find Jaison (Mathew Anthony) in love with his classmate Keerthi and in conflict with his teacher Ravi (Vineeth Sreenivasan). A sweet, simple and evocative tale, it shines because it doesn't try too hard. The conflict between Jaison and Ravi takes the centre stage, but everything remains structured, the story moves flawlessly towards a fitting conclusion. Director Girish A.D. has indeed set the bar high for coming-of age stories in Indian cinema.
15. Virus (Malayalam)
Directed by Aashiq Abu, Virus defies the very definition of a saga. An ensemble cast comes together in this chronicle about the deadly Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala and how it was finally stopped through sacrifices and struggles. And in this carnage, there are stories of compassion and love that are linked flawlessly in the narrative, giving it a tremendous humane touch.