2021 is almost over and as we usher into a new year with a whole new bucket list of films and TV shows to watch and enjoy, it is necessary that we look back at the year 2021 and remember the very best films that entertained, enthralled, and inspired us in different ways.
This is my list of favorite films of 2021 in no specific order. As is the case with films and shows, it is a personal choice. I would also like to point out that this list is a follow-up to my list of honorable mentions of the year. If you haven’t read that, I urge you to take out some time and give it a read. So, with no further delay let us dwell on my list of favorite Indian films of 2021.
Marakkar Arabikadalinte Simham – Malayalam (Amazon Prime Videos)
Marakkar is a magnum opus that has been in the making since 1996. It won the National Award for Best Picture and has some of the biggest names of the South Indian film industry in its ensemble cast. While it could have been better, it had enough going in its favor to make it to my list of favorite films of the year. The visuals were spectacular. The story was interesting and focused. Mohanlal was in his elements and the film was competently directed by Priyadarshan. It is one of those rare Indian period pieces that concentrated more on the politics of the era and less on the gimmicks and cheap tropes to attract audiences.
Minnal Murali – Malayalam (Netflix)
More than being India’s first good superhero film in years, Minnal Murali is an emotionally and thematically rich rendering of a simple story with bravura performances from the ensemble cast. There is a belief that the protagonist of any superhero film can be only as good as its antagonist. Minnal Murali has both a great hero and an equally powerful and sometimes much more heart-breaking and towering antagonist. While Tovino Thomas wins you over with his simple charm and comic timing as the titular character, Guru Somasundaram as the antagonist Shibu will leave you confused about how to feel about him.
Mālik – Malayalam (Amazon Prime Videos)
A towering Fahadh Faasil soars as the titular character in a film that is poignant and powerful. Malik is not your usual rag to riches story of a man who lives a life of crime. The conflicts, the social implications of his actions, and the brooding drama that plays out between the different characters make this film memorable and haunting. The film uses several long takes that will leave viewers stunned because of its flawless execution and the impact that it generates in specific sequences owing to the breakless motion.
Nayattu – Malayalam (Netflix)
Nayattu tells the story of three police officers who go on the run after being framed for a crime by corrupt officials. Their breakneck run to remain free unfolds against the backdrop of dirty politics and flawed bureaucracy. As the three officers try to avoid being arrested, they are repeatedly shocked and broken by the stand that their department takes against them culminating in a thrilling and heart-breaking finale. Kunchacko Boban, Joju George, and Nimisha Sajayan turn in superlative performances in a film that is propelled by high drama and political undercurrents.
Joji – Malayalam (Amazon Prime Videos)
Fahadh Faasil delivers another knockout performance in one of the most intelligent and surreal recreations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Dileesh Pothan directs this film that also stars Malayalam film heavyweights like Baburaj, Unnimaya Prasad, and Shammi Thilakan. Joji has some of the most enthralling cinematography that I have seen this year and it would have been a far better experience if it hadn’t gone to Amazon Prime Videos directly but was released in theatres.
Jathi Ratnalu – Telugu (Amazon Prime Videos)
Jathi Ratnalu was a celebration of oddity, simplicity, and unadulterated naivety. Naveen Polishetty, Priyadarshi, Rahul Ramakrishna, Faria Abdullah, and every other cast member are so enthralling in their rendition of their respective characters that it is hard to take eyes off the screen when the film is playing out. If that was not enough, the film has some of the best and most infectious comedic moments that I have experienced in a film this year. Just the mannerisms of the actors made me laugh hard in certain sequences. The film also had a laid out and layered narrative that is sure keeps you hooked to the proceedings. This is a film for the entire family.
Shershaah – Hindi (Amazon Prime Videos)
Shershaah proved to be a biopic that was well-made, relevant, and heart-warming. Many including me were doubtful about how well Siddharth Malhotra was positioned to play Amar Shaheed Captain Vikram Batra, but he successfully put to rest all doubts and gave a terrific performance that I am sure will down to define his career. The action was ballistic and believable. The music of the film was so good that many are still listening to it on loop. Vishnu Vardhan’s direction was on point and definitive.
Drishyam 2 – Malayalam (Amazon Prime Videos)
Drishyam 2 proved to be a sequel that was better than its predecessor. That is one of the oddest things to happen in recent times. The film starts very slow and feels stretched and pointless up till the halfway mark. However, once George Kutty reveals his cards, it is bound to leave the audiences shocked and exasperated but with the knowledge of why the first half was played in a manner that it was. Mohanlal once again leads a cast of superb actors who envelop the audiences with their respective performances.
Jai Bhim – Tamil (Amazon Prime Videos)
Harrowing in its depiction of police brutality, Jai Bhim is a gruesome and unabashed requiem for the oppressed. Keeping aside its unnecessary propaganda, this is just a great film overall. Everything about it fell in place and that synergy is evident in the way in which the film purrs along effortlessly. Suriya, Lijomol Jose, Prakash Raj, K. Manikandan, and Tamizh turn in terrific performances that go down a long way into making the film even more effective.
Sardar Udham – Hindi (Amazon Prime Videos)
This is easily the best film of the year for me. The film chronicles the story of the assassination of the British Governor-General who was responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the ensuing trial of Sardar Udham Singh, who carried out the assassination. The film has an almost 30-minute-long portion in the end that documents the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and its aftermath in a manner that left me stunned, shocked, and choking. Vicky Kaushal’s performance is the best that I have seen from a leading man in Indian cinema this year. This was a film that deserved a theatrical release. Director Shoojit Sircar knocked it out of the park with this film.