While Bollywood cinema is perhaps one of the best-known entertainment industries in the world, South Asian countries have thriving national cinemas. Even within India, Bollywood tends to only cover Hindi-language cinema; in a country with 447 native languages, it seems only natural that other regional films, especially Telugu and Tamil films, exist outside the limelight. Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka also produce their fair share of films. Lollywood, the film industry in Pakistan, is actually in the list of top 20 film producing countries, by Cultural trip.
Whether the films come from Dhallywood, Bollywood or Lollywood, South Asian cinema is booming. As public spending on cultural industries increases, so does the presence of international film festival circuits. Given the region’s profound influences on world cinema – some of the greatest directors, like Satyajit Ray, have had prolific careers exclusively discussing unique South Asian contexts – one could even argue that the lack of discussion of these films is quite disappointing. That said, these are the best South Asian films of the 2010s.
7 Aynabaji / Mirror Game
Aynabaji was released in 2016, but it has now become one of the most beloved Bangladeshi movies in recent years. Bangladeshi actor Chanchal Chowdhury portrays a struggling actor willing to do anything for a quick buck. He couldn’t make it in the movie industry, so he chooses something much darker for his career: he impersonates powerful, wealthy people in prison so they can walk free, and he takes their square. But when he finally falls in love and decides to leave this life behind, it comes back to drag him deeper into the dark underbelly of contemporary Dhaka.
Nagarkirtan won four awards at the National Film Awards, one of the most important award ceremonies in Indian cinema. Riddi Sen is Porimal, an intersex woman from rural West Bengal. She runs away from home and starts a new life in a ghetto of people like her. There, she falls in love with a boy who works at a Chinese restaurant, but the pressure of a transphobic society continues to take a toll on her mental health and well-being. Although Nagarkirtan is in Indian Bengali, with its LGBTQ+ portrayal, it brings to the surface a major issue in contemporary Indian society: intersex, transgender and Hijra communities have historically existed in South Asia, but their histories are often buried.
The Pakistani love movie baji packs a bit of a punch with its universal themes. An aging Lollywood actress (Meera) discovers that she is quickly fading into the background and will soon be irrelevant to society. Unable to accept her situation as it is, she struggles to try to find more work, so she hires a salon girl (Amna Ilyas) to become her assistant. baji is a throwback to the golden years of Lollywood, as well as what it’s like to be an actor in Pakistan.
The Telugu Language Crime Drama Visaranai marked the international cinema circuit when it first appeared at the Venice Film Festival in 2015. Four Tamil workers living in Andhra Pradesh, a state in southern India, are accused of having committed a crime that they did not commit, which led the police to torture them. Their case drags on for months as the police continue to manipulate the facts and details of the crime, leading to a series of tragic and cruel events. Although violent, the film’s insight into police brutality in South India and the conditions faced by migrant workers is critical in today’s world.
Massaan takes place in the holy city of Varanasi, which is adjacent to the Ganges. Richa Chadda and Vicky Kaushal star as two young people living in the city, but their stories are separated until they are not. Chadda’s character is bribed by a local policeman after he is caught having sex with a student, thus getting his family into a situation they cannot afford. She dreams of leaving town and starting over. In the second story, a boy named Kaushal is born into a low-caste family working in the ghats, the cremation sites at the foot of the river. When he falls in love with a girl from a higher caste, the heartbreak takes on many different forms.
2 1: Nenokkadine
1: Nenokkadine came out to great international acclaim, cementing its status as one of the best Telugu films released in the decade, according to movie mate. Gauthem (Mahesh Babu) is a rock musician with schizophrenia and health issues; these lead him to have a series of hallucinations. The story revolves around his search for his parents, who he believes were murdered by a trio of men, but others, including a journalist, believe these are just symptoms of his hallucinations. 1: Nenokkadine switches between fact and fiction, forcing viewers to doubt what is really going on.
1 Ravine Boy
Released in 2019, Ravine Boy shows the power of rapping and storytelling in low-income communities around the world. He was inspired by the lives of two Indian street rappers who made it big despite being from the streets of Mumbai. Ravine BoyThe main character of Murad is an engineering student from a violent home in the slums of Mumbai. In order to cope with his situation, he turns to rapping and finds newfound popularity with his work. The film is a classic story about rising to the top, especially as Murad battles against people from more privileged backgrounds.
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