CE Year In Review 2023: For Bollywood it was SRK, machismo and a sprinkle of love

After three years of being crippled by Covid, Hindi cinema made a rousing comeback at the theatres
CE Year In Review 2023: For Bollywood it was SRK, machismo and a sprinkle of love

A shaggy and bloodied man is tied on a chair, matted hair covering his face. He is being held in a green-tinted warehouse, probably somewhere in the Middle-East. The man gets punched in the gut by a minion before the real boss comes in, looking at him curiously. “Pathaan?” he asks. The man whips back his long hair, blood-red eyes shine in a ray of light. “Zinda hain,” growls our hero. For the first time in 2023, the theatre erupted in hoots and whistles. Not only Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood was back.


After three years of being crippled by Covid, Hindi cinema made a rousing comeback at the theatres. The formula was a sizzling cocktail of machismo and nostalgia. The top grossers—Pathaan and Jawan—played heavily on the legend of its lead star. But it wasn’t just the Shah Rukh Khan factor that commanded the box office. Old school Bollywood, with its Pakistan-bashing patriotism and a hulking Sunny Deol, made for a surprise blockbuster with Gadar 2. Action or rather rage-y films gave a Midas touch to Hindi films. With themes of daddy issues and images of cigarette smoking and six-pack abs, male fantasies materialised on the big screen for big money. Resultantly, Animal was a monster at the box office. The Sandeep Reddy Vanga film also gave an action-blockbuster to its lead star, Ranbir Kapoor, after the disappointment of Shamshera. In 2022 it was The Kashmir Files, this year the vileness quota was filled by The Kerala Story. The message has been clear, leave the morality at the door, give me some blood, bombs and gore.

Not just guns but also roses

The signature Bollywood rom-com also underwent a modern resurgence this year. Case in question: Karan Johar’s Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani. In one of his most searching films, the director owned his aesthetics and questioned his long-standing ethics. The film lures in the audience with its pomp and show but leaves them with a warm, fuzzy feeling. In a year of strong, macho men, Ranveer Singh’s Rocky Randhawa was a hero unafraid of labelling himself as “fragile”. The Kartik Aaryan and Kiara Advani starrer Satyaprem Ki Katha, although didn’t find many takers in theatres, but was a poignant take on date rape and its repercussions. We found Vicky Kaushal and Sara Ali Khan’s Zara Hatke Zara Bachke to be too syrupy but the film did win some hearts with its innocence and middle-class sensibilities.

Drama therapy

2023 also offered nuanced storytelling in softer films. Avinash Arun’s Three of Us was an affecting ode to love, loss and memory. The film was also ably supported by the restrained and meditative performances of Jaideep Ahlawat, Shefali Shah and Swanand Kirkire. Another film which gently handled the theme of memory and relationships was the Kalki Koechlin and Deepti Naval starrer mother-daughter drama Goldfish. Rahul V. Chittela’s Gulmohar was a ruminative piece on the disintegration of a joint family and gave us a sweet performance by Sharmila Tagore. Amid the heart-renders, there was also the kinetic Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai, a rousing courtroom drama which posed some questions on blind faith. Devashish Makhija’s Joram gave a bleak view of the cost of development on the marginalised. A common thread tied the three films mentioned here, the powerful performance of Manoj Bajpayee.

Long-form in strong-form

The year opened with the heart-wrenching Netflix series Trial By Fire. A tale of two parents fighting for justice for their kids who lost their lives in the 1997 Uphaar Cinema Fire, was rightly more focussed on exploring the melancholy of its characters. No court win or compensation can mitigate the grief of losing your progeny. Vikramaditya Motwane’s Jubilee didn’t have a satisfactory conclusion but it weaved an enchanting world of old Bollywood and its dazzling charm. Randeep Jha and Sudip Sharma’s Kohrra portrayed a vicious cycle of patriarchy in the garb of a police procedural, while Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar’s Dahaad was pure cat-and-mouse fun. 2023 was also the year of two zany Raj & DK shows: Farzi and Guns & Gulaabs. Although fun and ticklish, the shows lacked the necessary punch-in-the-gut drama. A rare gem was Kaala Paani, a survival-thriller and an environmental caution tale merged into one. It has been some year for storytelling.

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