[VoxSpace Selects] Year End Round Up 2019 : Best Indian Filmmakers And What Makes Them Outstanding

Directors Who Carved A Niche…

This year, we witnessed numerous talents who surpassed our expectations and came out with spectacular films. This article’s primary intent is to appreciate the amazing directors who gave us memorable films that left us with enormous hopes and promises for the upcoming years. Films like Kumbalangi Nights, Super Deluxe, Jersey and Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota found an audience, and broke clichés that had confined artists’ minds over the last couple of years. This year also included stereotypical stories told using extraordinary techniques and unique narratives which made them stand out distinctly. The following list is purely based on technical brilliance and creative storytelling employed by the filmmakers which were beyond ordinary :

Aditya Dhar (Uri: The Surgical Strike)

Originally, Aditya Dhar intended to do a film titled Raat Baakhi with Fawad Khan and Katrina Kaif playing the leads, but due to political circumstances, the film got shelved. This eventually led to the birth of Uri: The Surgical Strike, based on the surgical attack carried out by Indian Army. These events inspired Aditya to turn this knockdown into an adrenaline pumped action drama. Uri is a well-designed film that stands out for its Hollywood-esque stunt design and iconic soundtrack that redefined the action genre in Indian films. It was truly exciting to watch un-exaggerated action sequences that give you the adrenaline rush and not glorify them with excessively slow motion closeups. The screenplay is air-tight and almost flawless, which is surprising for a debutant. The amount of professional technique and precision with which it is made, remains remarkable.

Thiagarajan Kumararaja (Super Deluxe)

Magical realism, cycle of karma and the brilliant hyperlink narrative that connects various stories, on a single day – constitute the brilliant mosaic that is Super Deluxe. Kumararaja weaves different themes on a sophisticated template that stands out from the typical storytelling template and leaves you astounded. Both his films, Aaranya Kaandam and Super Deluxe push the boundaries of visual storytelling and persuade you to invest yourselves completely as an audience with the onscreen absurdist unfolding. With Aaranya Kaandam having a tragical run at theatres; it did not stop it from becoming a cult classic among film enthusiasts and auteur cinema lovers around the country. Eventually, when the intricately designed poster of Super Deluxe was released with its stellar cast being the face of it, word spread like wildfire and Super Deluxe became one of the most anticipated films of the year, 2019.

Despite an 8-year hiatus, Kumararaja has procured a fan base of his own and has since become a beacon of hope for Tamizh cinema enthusiasts. He came to be regarded as a “new wave director” amongst the likes of Vetrimaaran, Puskhar-Gayatri, Mysskin, Ram, Nalan Kumarasamy, etc. He’s also a talented writer, having been credited for films like Oram Po, Va (Lyricist) and Seethakathi (Lyricist). He was also a script consultant on Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Yennai Arindhaal.

Gowtam Tinnanuri (Jersey)

Malli Raava, a romantic comedy that marked Gowtam’s directorial debut, was a breezy film that passed unnoticed by many. But with Jersey, Gowtam and actor Nani knocked it out of the park. It was a game-changer in the way sports films were made and had a compelling emotional storyline that made it an overall entertainer. Jersey traces the emotional journey of a father-cum-cricketer who attempts to make a comeback to the Indian cricket scene.

The physical obstacles and turmoil witnessed by the family forms the crux of the film. It is a tear-jerking roller-coaster ride that leaves you craving for more. The film stands out for its brilliant performances by Nani and Shraddha Srinath. Definitely, the background score by Anirudh Ravichander is heart-warming. Gowtam’s style of filmmaking is very simplistic yet intricate who knows exactly how to tug his viewers’ heartstrings.

Ashwin Saravanan (Game Over)

Ashwin Saravanan, came out with Game Over, this year starring Taapsee Pannu in the lead role, which finally does not mock the horror genre but respects it for what it is, unlike the several Indian “horror-thriller” movies. Intelligently written and executed, Ashwin Saravanan understands the grammar behind telling a visually compelling horror/thriller story. A tight screenplay, similar to Maya (starring Nayanthara), and the perfectly crafted cinematography and sound design give you goose-bumps and adrenaline rush, and an equal amount of excitement.

This decade saw a drastic rise with horror becoming synonymous with comedy, which is also tragic, but Game Over hits the right notes and follows the classic thriller-horror genre checklist and does not deviate from its storyline, not an inch. The score and editing are slick and thrilling, adding a sophisticated layer to this engaging film. The film works across cultures and has a pan-Indian outlook. Even when you mute the film and watch, you are bound to feel a chill down your spine for sure. That’s exactly where Ashwin Saravanan stands out as a creative director and respects your investment as an audience completely.

Vivek Athreya (Brochevarevarura)

A software professional turned filmmaker, Vivek Athreya made his directorial debut with Mental Madhilo, in 2017. His second film, Brochevarevarura, a refreshing crime-comedy released this year which redefined the entertainment capabilities of screenplay writing. Having been hugely influenced by legendary writer-directors K. Vishwanath and Mani Ratnam, the female characters and picturizations are very interesting and nuanced in both of Athreya’s films.

The delicate manner with which he deals with his characters, giving them shades of vulnerability and a humane touch, makes them relatable and enjoyable at the same time. The soundtrack and songs in his film stand out for their layered structures and chaste Telugu lyrics, which have a breezy feel to it. He has a grip over the visual grammar and editing nuances which he learnt during his short-film days. His regard and respect for the art and language is evident in his filmmaking process.

Madhu C Narayanan (Kumbalangi Nights)

The beauty of Kumbalangi Nights lies in the poignancy the director employs, to narrate a fragile and delicate story. The simplicity and nerve-wrecking twist in the climax is a sensational way of storytelling. The film also worked across cultures as it appealed to the overlooked issue that’s plaguing humans – mental health.

The characters are setup in sophisticated layers and the screenplay is paced like a leisure Sunday you have at your disposal. The director portrays the beauty in his world with pride, before he reveals the darkness hidden within. The screenplay and location elevate the story to a whole new scale and the film fulfills you beyond expectations on various levels. Kudos to the director’s courage for making a spectacular debut!

Vetrimaaran (Asuran)

Over the last decade, Vetrimaaran has built a substantial reputation for his unique and raw style of filmmaking. With Asuran, Vetrimaaran and Dhanush collaborated for the 4th time and delivered a rural-centric drama that depicted the class divide in the grass root level. The film has garnered a cult status among viewers and critics for its poignant storytelling and note-worthy performances by Dhanush, Manju Warrier et al. Vetrimaaran brings out the core talent of an artist and places it in a deeply rooted cultural setup which makes for an interesting watch. Asuran, is also the first Vetrimaaran film to have crossed the 100-crore mark; an achievement that is a testament to his talent and artistry.

Lokesh Kanagaraj (Kaithi)

Making his debut with the Sundeep Kishan-Regina Cassandra starrer Maanagaram, Lokesh Kanagaraj has gathered a whole new fan base with his second film, Kaithi helmed by star-actor Karthi as its lead role. With his debut being a hyperlink drama, Kaithi explores the tale of a convict who escapes the prison and is chased by forces beyond the justice system. A commercial director’s true worth is revealed when he signs on a star and manages to captivate the audience with both, performances and storytelling. It is a difficult formula to crack and Lokesh Kanagaraj has passed this challenge with flying colours. The story does not compromise for the star but surprisingly, they complement each other for the ultimate phenomenon- cinema. With Ilayathalapathy Vijay and Vijay Sethupathi playing the lead roles, Lokesh Kanagaraj’s potential will be entirely explored in his next film. He is one of the finest mainstream directors to look out for from the current generation.

Zoya Akhtar (Gully Boy/Made in Heaven)

Zoya Akhtar has donned several hats in the film business and has grown steadily to now become a household name. She has associated with films like Dil Chahta Hai, Lakshya, Lust Stories, Luck by Chance, Talaash in different roles like casting director, executive producer and screenplay writer. Zoya Akhtar is undoubtedly, the filmmaker of the year who’s churned out the best content, both theatrically and on OTT platforms. Gully Boy brought out the subtle aesthetics hidden in actors Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, and introduced the immensely talented Siddhant Chaturvedi to us. Zoya Akhtar also aced the director’s hat with the Amazon Prime Original Made In Heaven starring Sobhitha Dhulipala and Arjun Mathur in the lead roles.

With Made In Heaven and Gully Boy, Zoya Akhtar perfectly zones into the mindset of the youth of an evolving country like ours. She understands the fears, goals, limitations, and aspirations of the youth in India, and indulges them in it while never really preaching to them about their follies. That is for them to figure out. This is especially true with Made In Heaven, where we are privy to various kinds of relationships, but we are never asked to judge them. We are in fact urged to examine them and understand them. Thus the show explores the sublime undertones with sharp yet exquisite style only Zoya Akhtar can offer to a magnum-opus character-oriented story.

Vasan Bala (Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota)

If you have been following the indie cinema scene in India for some time, there is one name that keeps popping up, Vasan Bala. He has been a long-time collaborator of Anurag Kashyap, as a writer and as an assistant director. I have been looking forward to his breakthrough film for a very long time. He has worked on all kinds of content from short films to music videos to Advertisements. He even made his directorial debut with a small production called Peddlers in 2015. It made rounds in the film festival circuits with rave reviews, but never really got a proper release. He was then supposed to make the Raman Raghav movie as a sequel of sorts to Bombay Velvet, but because of the failure of the latter, it had to be shelved.

Finally, this year, he made his debut with Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota and the film made a huge splash again in the film festival circuit. It won the People’s Choice Award: Midnight Madness at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival and deservedly so. The film is a love letter and homage to all the films and entertainment, that he loved as a kid and probably still does. The film tells the story of a boy with a strange condition which makes him immune to pain. With this film, Vasan Bala shows that he has the chops to make a brilliantly mounted action movie. The film also shows his knack for staging visually interesting set pieces and also get brilliant performances from his cast. Hence, he cements his spot in this list of exemplary filmmakers.

Aashiq Abu (Virus)

Aashiq Abu is prolific filmmaker from the Malayalam film industry. He made his directional debut with Daddy Cool starring Mammootty. Over the next decade he would go on to make some of the most interesting and eclectic list of films in Malayalam industry or for that matter all of India. He has done everything from romance to comedy to gangster films to thrillers. He is best known for his collaboration with screenwriters Syam Pushkaran and Dileesh Nair. His work with them on films like Salt N’ Pepper, 22 Female Kottayam, and Mayaanadhi is credited to have brought on the new wave of Malayalam cinema. With his latest film Virus, he takes his style to new heights.

Virus, is an investigative medical thriller that is set in the backdrop of the 2018’s Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala. The plot is set in Kozhikode and follows the various stages of the epidemic from identification to its total eradication. This film is a masterclass in giving exposition in the most organic way possible. While there are multiple emotional stories to be told here, the film never becomes exploitative or melodramatic with its tragic parts. With the help of master cinematographer Rajeev Ravi, Mr. Abu creates a precise and clinical look at the value in helping each other in even in the smallest of ways. The film serves as a rallying cry to show humanity to each other and co-exist in this beautiful world.

Swaroop RSJ (Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya)

This year we got to see some of the amazing talents that Telugu Film Industry possesses. One name which immediately comes to mind is Swaroop RSJ. Swaroop made an impressive debut this year with his super hit film Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, which also marked the debut of a brilliant actor Naveen Polishetty. With Agent, Swaroop not only managed to impress the audience but also left a mark with his incredible talent and passionate work among the critics. By taking a huge risk of combining two genres and thus making a comic-thriller which is quite simple to watch and understand and yet thrilling, Swaroop has shown the kind of understanding he carries when it comes to film-making.

Swaroop, who also wrote the story and screenplay of the film, along with Naveen, manages to infuse a set of true incidents, in a fictional setup fluidly and in an entertaining manner. The kind of understanding he has of film making, makes it quite apparent that he is here to create his own legacy and shine like a star for years to come.

Raghav Subbu (Kota Factory)

TVF’s Kota Factory, a series about students trying to get into IIT, became an instant hit when it released earlier this year. Raghav Subbu, who has previously directed TVF’s F.A.T.H.E.R.S and Truth or Dare With Dad, helmed Kota Factory, India’s first black and white series. On paper, Kota Factory has an amazing story, but it was quite imperative to transfer the same emotions on to the visual medium and hence elevate the source material. Raghav Subbu does an incredible job in getting the intricacies of Kota’s world and its behavior and stays true to the emotions without being inorganic at any point.

There are many scenes in Kota Factory, which will communicate with you without any dialogues being said by the characters. Raghav creates scenes and moments that will make you an integral part of Kota Factory and hence allow you to experience and understand the various emotions the characters are going through. Raghav Subbu’s hunger towards telling a good story is quite visible and he is a talent that we need to look out for going forward.

Richie Mehta (Delhi Crime)

Richie Mehta is a Canadian film director and writer, who works predominantly in Indian cinema. His first feature film, Amal, was released in 2008 and was nominated for Best Motion Picture and Best Director at the 29th Genie Awards. He followed that up with another festival hit, Siddharth in 2013, which tells the story of a man from Delhi who goes out to find his missing son and hopes that whoever took him returns him unharmed.

But 2019 is the year that his work got wide acclaim that it deserves for his latest venture, Netflix’s Delhi Crime. Delhi Crime is a mini-series that dramatizes the 2012 Delhi Gang Rape and the subsequent chaos that occurred in Delhi during the time, from the point of view of the police department. The problem with dealing with such a subject is that it needs a great amount of sensitivity to make it seem non-exploitative. Fortunately, Mr. Mehta was up for the job and manages to pull that off tactfully. He brings a sense of understanding and closure to a movement that shook that country and for that, he earns the spot on this list.

Lijo Jose Pellissery (Jallikattu)

As far as allegorical tales go, Jallikattu is perhaps the best depiction of masochistic greed and egoistic empathy onscreen, both of which plague the country in the present day and age. A creature-thriller which works as a vehicle to comment about the sudden-changing socio-political landscape of a self-sufficient village, is a narrative achievement on par with movies like Spielberg’s Jaws or Bong Jo Hoo’s The Host. Lijo Jose Pelliserry, the highly acclaimed director of multiple national award winning features like ‘Ee.Ma.Yau’ and ‘Angamaly Diaries’ brings about a foreboding sense of human despair to this film, via its tunnel vision of catching a wild beast, that it serves simultaneously as a fictional folklore and knee-jerking reality piece.

Lijo Jose Pelliserry expertly constructs a habitable village right from the first montage of flashy split-second visuals, and then lazily roams about the muddy lanes veining the villages, whilst introducing characters who populate it. And thus within no time, he establishes a thorough understanding of the world in which Jallikattu takes place without ever resorting to incohesive pauses or distractive flash backs, serving an important lesson to rookie filmmakers about structuring their movie in an entertaining yet informative manner.

Jallikattu is as much a profound tale, as it is a technically brilliant achievement. With acutely choreographed animatrics at play, an inherent urgency to the story further amplified by radically interesting choir symphonies, sharp photography work and overall range of well-etched characters, Lijo Jose Pelliserry delivers a movie worthy of listing in cinematic study curriculum across the world.

Bhaskar Hazarika (Aamis)

This year’s indie darling, Aamis can be termed as a ‘culinary thriller’ aptly because of the thematic touched within its narrative. However, that would be underselling it. Bhaskar Hazarika’s Aamis is an urban mythology which serves as a deeply intricate character study of a food obsessed gynecologist Doctor Nirmali (played by Lima Das) and her friendship with an overtly curious grad student Sumon (played by Arghadeep Baruah). The movie which is set in the fog-covered city of Guwahati, slowly introduces the characters and their caging limitations in accepting their own whims, whilst also exploring the soaring freedom of finding someone with shared interests. Bhaskar Hazarika unfolds the story of Nirmali-Sumon with surgically measured reveals, that the viewer is left only wondering the enigmatic prepositions at play, while never preparing for the horrifying turn the story intends to take.

Bhaskar’s expertise lies in not what he apparently tells, but in the disturbing implications of what he seeks silence for. Post setting up the friendship between these unlikely protagonists, Bhaskar then throws them into unfamiliar territories with the ruthlessness of a detached divinity. He allows the characters to fight with their demons, peel their skin away with their wild addictions, and achieve a certain catharsis which would not abide by moral codes frame existing in the society, but seems entirely plausible to these two worn out souls. Thus, Bhaskar Hazarika makes Aamis an important lesson for character development and plot pathos, showcasing the importance of author-backed roles in modern cinema.

Prateek Vats (Eeb Allay Ooo!)

Another indie masterpiece in this list, Eeb Allay Ooo!, went onto to win the coveted ‘India Gold’ at this year’s Mumbai International Film Festival. The film, an allegorical tale of the religion colored politics apparent in the country today, takes a region-specific occupation to talk about a nationally significant issue. Prateek Vats exudes tremendous understanding of the story material he has set out to talk about, right from the first frame when he introduces the protagonist, Anjani (Shardul Bharadwaj) being trained in emanating scare-calls to shoo away monkeys and langurs away from significant landmarks in Delhi. Prateek Vats dissects the class-divide inherent to the population by showcasing the hypocritical bureaucracy at play when it comes to employment of urban migrants, opportunities to the low-class and of course the hand-over jobs to the downtrodden.

Prateek Vats assuredly tells the story with absolute lack of vanity and standpoints. The film detaches itself from taking any sides, socio-politically speaking, but gives enough dots to connect for a keen observer. Thus, Prateek Vats expertly infuses the thumb rule of solid story telling – ‘Show, Don’t Tell’. In Anjani he finds a vulnerable optimistic inventive leading man, who is bogged down by a chaotic world around him, only to turn him into a cynical fellow finding solace in disappearing behind kohl applied black masquerade. In a world where Monkey infestation becomes reasonable chaos, Prateek Vats implicates humanity as senseless and unruly, much worse than their evolutionary counterparts. And so, Prateek weaves a story which is deeply personal and yet detachedly mythical, thus forcing you to derive meaning out of its abstractness and seek solace in its symbology.

Here’s wishing that these fantastic set of filmmakers continue to enthrall for all years to come..!!