It’s a long-standing tradition in Indian society to complain about the staleness of the big-budget Bollywood films, but that was only because of how difficult it was earlier to release a film outside of the nexus that ruled the scene. Thankfully, modern technological advancements have made it possible for full-length feature films to be made at a fraction of their previous cost. This has led to an explosion in the number of independent films being released and in the hopes of cinephiles across the country being raised significantly. These are the best independent films to come out of India so far:
Ship of Theseus (2012)
This film gave India a new poster-boy for independent cinema, and his name is Anand Gandhi. The auteur brought the famous Theseus’ paradox to life on screen and went on to pick up the Best Feature Film award at the 61stNational Film Awards.
In a movie-mad country like ours, Filmistaan hits all the right notes. The story of an aspiring actor, Sunny, who is kidnapped by a terrorist group and comes to realise that our neighbours across the border are more like us than we ever imagined when it comes to our shared love for Bollywood cinema, was a hit with all kinds of audiences. It even won a National Film Award and showed the country a vision of tolerance during difficult times.
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The Lunchbox (2013)
This film holds the rare distinction of being a massive commercial success, with reports placing it as 2014’s third highest grossing foreign film in the US. No surprise then that this bittersweet tale of loneliness and love went on to be nominated at the British Academy Film Awards, even though it was snubbed when India had to choose its submission to the Oscars that year.
Now available for streaming to an international audience, Court initially did the international festival circuit for a while before eventually making its way to Indian theatres. The understated yet powerful tale, which exposes the shortcomings of the Indian judicial system, went on to win the Best Feature Film award at the 62nd National Film Awards and was even India’s official submission to the 88th Annual Academy awards.
Kaakkaa Muttai (2014)
This is a refreshingly novel film about two children who dream of tasting a pizza one day. Their biggest setback? They live in a slum. The film draws attention to the vast class difference in India, while maintaining the light tone that helped it win the Best Children’s Film award at the National Film Awards.
What can we say about Masaan that hasn’t been said before? Neeraj Ghaywan’s directorial debut has garnered praise from every corner of the world for his sensitive and haunting treatment of Varun Grover’s outstanding screenplay, much of which unfurls in the cremation grounds and around the Ganga.
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Another hidden gem from the south, Thithi is a Kannada film which took a rather unique approach to casting – its entire cast was made up of non-professional actors from the Mandya district in Karnataka. The end result is a thoroughly enjoyable and convincingly authentic family drama about three generations of a family that isn’t without its quirks.
Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016)
This pathbreaking film about the struggles of everyday Indian women to find themselves, and the freedom they so badly crave, has done its time on the international film circuit. Its Indian release was delayed by the CBFC’s refusal to issue a certificate for its release. In an odd twist of fate, the hype around this incident led to an influx of audiences on opening weekend, and positive word-of-mouth ensured that the film got the audience it deserved.
A Death in the Gunj (2016)
Konkana Sen Sharma’s directorial debut showed off all that she has learned about the art of making remarkable films during her storied acting career. Set in the hill town of McCluskieganj in Jharkhand, which used to be a stronghold of the Anglo-Indian community, the story plots the inevitable course of the titular death of one character. This film also features a now-deceased Om Puri, who brings his signature style to an audience that will surely miss him.
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