Movies are finally returning to theatres and the backlog of potential blockbusters is waiting for the viewers at the box office. 2021 allowed audiences to escape the confines of their homes and experience cinema on the big screen once again. That is why you see setting up a new collection record. This is why Allu Arjun’s is getting a grand start. This is why Ranveer Singh’s waited two years.

The audience’s renewed love story with the cinema didn’t dampen the spirit of their fling with the OTT services. Many riveting, comforting, and engaging stories not only made their way to our personal devices but also kept the entertainment going. Sidharth Malhotra’s stoked patriotic emotions and also gave us the song (which should be declared song of the pandemic). Or Sony Animation’s that unlocked another exciting level of storytelling. Vidya Balan’s not only commented on the trials and tribulations of forest conservation but also served as a metaphor for gender parity in modern society. Andrew Garfield’s told the heart-clenching story of musical theatre legend Johnathan Larson. Team experienced it all and has brought their favourites to help you make a watchlist.

One of the biggest challenges for a filmmaker is to authentically depict stories of real-life heroes and incidents on screen. Three such films in 2021 caught my attention and made me appreciate them for the way they told the stories and how the lead artists did justice to their parts.

Based on the life of the late Captain Vikram Batra, one of the heroes of the 1999 Kargil War, depicts not only the valour of the armed forces but also the sacrifices they willingly make to protect us. Actor Sidharth Malhotra plays the title role to perfection, bringing in the necessary sincerity and honesty to the part. It remains one of his best performances on screen. Though the film is about the war, it also has a beautiful love story as a parallel track with melodious music complementing it. Director Vishnuvardhan makes an impressive debut in the Hindi film industry with an emotional tale that keeps you hooked from start to end.

Kangana Ranaut plays J Jayalalithaa in this biopic of the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu. The movie shows her journey from being an actor to a politician of repute. Ranaut’s performance is one of the hallmarks of the film. She excels as a showbiz star, a lover, and a people’s leader, with a range of emotions and expressions. It doesn’t come as a surprise as the actor with four National Awards is known to take a challenge head-on and get into the skin of the character. She’s ably supported by Arvind Swamy, who plays Jayalalithaa’s mentor, MGR. The music, too, is catchy. And KV Vijayendra Prasad’s screenplay and AL Vijay’s direction make it a compelling watch.

This film is a poignant tale about one of the most painful tragedies in world history, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Vicky Kaushal is outstanding as revolutionary Udham Singh. The pain, poise, and pathos in his performance compel the viewers to reflect on the 1919 incident and the atrocities against Indians before gaining Independence. Director Shoojit Sircar makes an evocative film that relies on effective storytelling to show the journey of a young man who became an integral part of history with his bravery.

Even the people closest to us can be a mystery, and this is either revealed to us in time or not at all. This is what I love most about , directed by Sanu John Varghese. The Malayalam film, featuring Parvarhy Thiruvothu, Biju Menon, and Sharafudheen unfolds at its own pace. Shirley (Thiruvothu) and Roy (Shrafudheen), a young married couple, travel from Mumbai to Kerala to visit Shirley’s father Ittyavira (Menon), and then get stuck there due to the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown. In a story about secrets—and how the most good-natured and God-fearing people make decisions that go against everything they believe in and live by—the film is without high emotion or drama, unfolding amidst the humdrum events of daily life. That, along with the editing by Mahesh Narayan and measured performances by the three protagonists, makes the film engaging and relatable.

I find this Hindi film, directed by Dibakar Banerjee, very interesting. Right from its gender-bending names—Sandeep is played by Parineeti Chopra while Arjun Kapoor is Pinky—to the nuances of corruption, sexism, morality, and abuse of power explored by the narrative. The film about a cop and a banker on the run is chilling as it throws open observations about how women are disrespected, abused, and treated as inferior to men. Take, for instance, the scene where Neena Gupta, or ‘Aunty’, jokes about the time her husband Raghubir Yadav, or ‘Uncle’, had asked where she could possibly go if she left him. She speaks in jest, but her situation represents the reality of so many women in India, who, financially disenfranchised and dependent, have no choice but to be with their patriarchal husbands. The film is also about wanting to do right when everyone in the world seems to be doing wrong. It is gripping, tender (also a bit slow!), and easily one of the best Hindi films of the year.

To put it simply, this documentary makes it abundantly clear that technology, or algorithms—as we are wont to say for all technology today, is not a driving force or an agent with its own will. Its telos, what it can do, what it cannot do, all are determined by the humans who design them. The history of algorithms is as vexed from a socio-political perspective as is the history of humans themselves. The documentary focuses on some of the social researchers and technologists (such as Joy Buolamwini, Cathy O’Neil, Meredith Broussard) who have extensive hands-on experience trying to make algorithms, technologies such as facial recognition technology, and Big Tech more accountable and equitable, with varying degrees of success. Spoiler alert: you cannot fix technology without acknowledging that social biases have been built into the tech. Watch this instead of hate-watching its subpar peer,

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this hilarious, animated outing. Focusing on a teenager who is about to go to college, this movie is as much about family as it is a demonstration of my pet belief: most AI is stupid and barely functional. Disney+ came out with a similar offering recently—. While enjoyable, Disney+’s animated feature lacks the nuance and is a better watch.

It is a story about a young girl, Mary (McKenna Grace), a math genius far beyond her age, being enrolled in the first grade much against her will because she likes to be homeschooled by her uncle, Frank (Chris Evans). Evans, (obviously) was the big draw for me to watch the film, but Grace stole the show and turned out to be the star of the movie. Without getting into the plot of the movie, quite the tear-jerker, it explores the meaning of family, love—themes I like—and is also reflective of life without being too moralistic. Somewhere, the message you take with you is that every decision will involve a sacrifice. Overall, a sweet, feel-good movie that’s thought-provoking and has something for everyone in it.

It’s very easy most times to never see the work that goes on behind the scenes to maintain and conserve something that is enjoyed by many. To the casual tourist in a national park, it’s easy to go on a safari, hoping to catch a sight of the rare tiger and a few snaps for your social media, but who keeps thejungle and its inhabitants—man and beast—safe? In September this year, I spent a blissful week in Corbett. Thanks to the pandemic and the paucity of travellers, I spent my lunches and dinners talking to the resident head naturalist at the resort. I had many questions—How do you become a naturalist? Why? How is life in a national park? What about your family? I got all my questions answered, but I’ll keep them to myself.

Life in a national parkmay feel like a dream for the vacation hungry, but it isn’t all play. Tigers often walked right up to the property which is guarded by a solar electric fence that is activated at dark. On the safari, I met a forest guard who lived alone in a makeshift home, also surrounded by an electric fence, deep inside the forest. Coming face to face with a tiger was a weekly affair for him on his rounds (on foot!). Then some villagers have been lived in the forest for generations but as time goes on, it’s become dangerous to continue living inside. How do you convince them not to forage or work in fields when there’s a man-eater on the loose?

If you’re intrigued by the jungle life and would like to know what goes on behind the scenes, starring Vidya Balan as a female forest officer (an anomaly in an already complicated plot), is a great place to start. While nothing can replace the actual experience of the forest, the movie expertly details the complicated nuances of life—in the forest, and that of a government official(s) in a forest, and the efforts to protect both man and animal. It’s an intimate look that’s often left out of news reports.

 I was waiting for with incredibly high expectations, and the movie not only met those expectations but also delivered even more. I went for the film after a tiring day at work and it sure was the BEST end of the day. The screenplay was incredible with an apt mix of comedy, nostalgia, and emotions. The idea of bringing back various old Spider-Men was an incredible nostalgic touch. For me, the film not only became one of the best Marvel films, but it brought with it a plethora of possibilities for the extension of the Marvel universe. What touched my Marvel fan heart was to see how the quote ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’ came a full circle. Anything more said might just be too much.

The epic science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve is set in the far future and follows Paul Atreides as his family—the noble House Atreides—is thrust into a war for the deadly and inhospitable desert planet Arrakis. While at times it was hard for me to keep up with the plot (it gets quite dense and confusing at times), it is a visually stunning “space opera”—especially in the theatres. If you are a Timothée Chalamet fan, is a must-watch.

I love animated movies. I think most of my all-time favourites are mostly animated movies. So, was a no brainer when it came to picking my top movies this year. The film centres on Luca Paguro, a young sea monster with the ability to assume human form when on land. Throughout his childhood, he is told to stay away from land. But when his new best friend Alberto Scorfano comes along, he runs off to explore the town of Portorosso. It ends up becoming a life-changing summer adventure for Luca. It’s a beautiful, emotional story about friendship and acceptance. Makes you think about the tiny everyday human pleasures that we often take for granted. Probably not one of the best Disney Pixar movies ever, but if you love animated films, you’ll love this one for sure.

It is a fascinating portrait of the natural world in a year of lockdowns and quarantine. This 48-minute film, narrated by David Attenborough, shows how the planet was given a much-needed break. It features exclusive footage from five continents that shows you a silver lining of the Covid-19 pandemic. The BBC Natural History Unit compiled the film with footage of clear skies in polluted places like Los Angeles and China, of whales in Glacier Bay, of birdsongs in San Francisco, and of hippos walking to the gas station in South Africa and more. As the air pollution cleared in Jalandhar, India, the snowy peaks of the Himalayas were visible for the first time in three decades. It’s a must-watch documentary for nature lovers. And even if you aren’t a nature lover, you’ll love the cinematography. The film gives a good message about being kinder to the Earth after returning to normalcy. This documentary is available on Apple TV+.

Director Ramin Bahrani has adapted 2008 Man Booke Prize winner Arvind Adiga’s book of the same name. It is a story of a poor young man who, despite the class and caste struggle, escapes the clutches of poverty to become a successful entrepreneur.

The movie has several references that might make you rankle at the portrayal but are deeply imbibed in India’s class divide. Rajkummar Rao and Priyanka Chopra play a young educated upper-class elite couple who make progressive statements about opportunities, equality, and education, yet expect the age-old submissive obedience from their servant, played by Adarsh Gaurav. It is a poignant depiction of how a man’s worth in India is defined by their economic stature and how freedom can sometimes cost one their conscience.

Full disclaimer: I am not what you might call a musical theatre nerd, but I am a fan. A fan of actor Andrew Garfield ( was awesome even before you watched ). A fan of director Lin-Manuel Miranda (I can sing every song from ). A fan of playwright Johnathan Larson (I watched a bootleg recording of his play in 2007 and since then fell for the song ).

Netflix’s is a Lin-Manuel Miranda style adaptation of Larson’s original work/bipopic. Songs in the movie do not surprise a lifelong Bollywood film lover like me. We are not phased by how some of the biggest stars of Broadway—new and old—cameo in the song at the Moondance Diner because we have watched song from Shah Rukh Khan’s maybe a thousand times (just me? okay!). What tugs the heartstring is the passion with which Larson gave his all to create an exhilarating universe in his play, . The pressure of being somebody before you turn thirty takes a toll on his personal life—something so many of us can relate to. When the clouds finally disperse, he is only left with a vow to do better by his friends and permission from his soul to tell his story via his work.

Miranda’s music and direction pay a perfect tribute to the man who inspired him to become a musical playwright. Garfield as Larson is earnest and can make you cry. is my favourite movie of the year because it told me I can relate to Larson’s life story, even though he was a legend and I am just getting started.

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Spider-Man: No Way Home

Pushpa

83

Shershaah

Rata Lambiya

The Mitchells Vs The Machines

Sherni

Tick Tick… Boom!

Forbes India

KUNAL PURANDARE’S PICK

Shershaah

Shershaah

Sidharth Malhotra

Thalaivii

Ranaut’s performance

Sardar Udham

Vicky Kaushal

Shoojit Sircar

DIVYA SHEKHAR’S PICK

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