No, there is no valid reason for me to blog on this. It does not make any sense. I know all that. But hey, what the hell, is this blog not supposed to be about what I want to write about?
Let me spell this out: despite its rich history of other genres, thrillers and horror movies have not been the forte of Bollywood. Of course, there have been efforts, serious efforts. For example, Yash Chopra made Ittefaq in his pre-chiffon-saree-amidst-smoke visuals — in other words, when he was one of the greatest directors around.
Ittefaq remains one of the finest thrillers in the history of the industry. While music stole the show in Teesri Manzil, Ittefaq had to ride only on the script and a criminally forgotten performance from Rajesh Khanna — for there was no song, while Nanda and Sujit Kumar did not really form an ensemble cast.
Samay featured a dynamic Sushmita Sen in a taut script. While some claim it was loosely based on Se7en, the stress should probably be on ‘loosely’, not ‘based’. There was also Kaun, made in 1999 — an era when Ram Gopal Verma was synonymous to quality movies: trust me, watching Kaun inside a dark theatre was not easy for me.
No, this is not about these movies, though this is a perfect time to mention Khamosh, Ek Haseena Thi, Kahaani, and Talaash. This is about a list of Bollywood thrillers and horror movies with English names. Bollywood directors possibly work under the concept that these genres are western concepts, and should hence be given English names. I cannot think of any other reason. Perhaps English names sound cool. I have really no clue.
1. Only full-length feature films are included. As a result, Anurag Kashyap’s Last Train to Mahakali misses out, as does Rajat Kapoor’s Private Detective (Two Plus Two Plus One). PS: Both are excellent movies, but were aired only on television.
2. Addresses do not count as movie names. As a result 13B and Plot No. 5 (and even Shanghai) miss out.
3. Official remakes (Pizza) are also ruled out.
4. Movies involving only names (Raman Raghav 2.0, Aamir) do not make the cut, either. Technically the former should make it (it also has a name), but, well, if you have seen it…
5. 100 Days has not been included because I did not feel like it.
I will not give away the plots because — obviously — these are thrillers. I will, however, list plot keywords.
Before I begin, I guess I owe the uninitiated a word or two about Plot No. 5, starring Uttam Kumar, Amol Palekar, and Amjad Khan. It seemed a riveting plot, but unfortunately the audio quality of none of the copies (they are basically copies of the same copy) I came across was good enough for a thriller. If you find one with decent audio, do let me know.
Now that pistol jail mein aa chuka hai, let us get cracking with the ones that missed out.
Blue Oranges (2008)
Rajit Kapur does an excellent job as a detective, but the script drags a bit.
Remaking The Usual Suspects was not easy: Chocolate falls reasonably short. However, if you can forget the original, it has its moments.
Table No. 21 (2013)
The script is fast-paced and the ending neat, but the movie is pulled by poor individual performances. Paresh Rawal cannot save you every time.
Reporter Raju (1962)
I am not sure whether this qualifies as a thriller, but what the heck, it features Feroz Khan, father of you-know-who.
Murder 2 (2011)
Murder 2 is not a sequel of Murder, but a remake of the Korean movie Chaser. More of a slasher than a thriller, it does a better job than expected. Emraan Hashmi puts up an honest show, but Prashant Narayanan easily steals the show.
The Pool (2007)
A surprisingly good movie: with commendable performances from Nana Patekar, Venkatesh Chavan, and Ayesha Mohan. The characters are surprisingly real, and we as delve deeper, they get better. The downside? It is probably not a thriller; borderline, maybe.
Via Darjeeling (2008)
Such a promising premise; such a great cast (Kay Kay Menon, Vinay Pathak, Sonali Kulkarni, Rajat Kapoor, Sandhya Mridul, Simone Singh); such ordinary execution. It hurts.
Race (2008) and Race 2 (2013)
If only Abbas-Mustan realised that “too many plot twists” is a thing! From ensemble cast to catchy (albeit copied) music to fruit-eating detectives, Race had it all, but they ruined it with overkills. As for Race 2, I typically sit through movies.
The main list
11. That Girl in Yellow Boots (2011)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Naseeruddin Shah
Plot keywords: Prostitution, quest
A girl’s quest for her father sounds simple, but things turn out to be more sinister as every layer is unfurled. I found it disturbing, and I am sure I was not the only one. It is not recommended if you get disturbed easily. There are “happy endings”, but…
Oh, and keep an eye out for those surprise cameos.
10. Special 26
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, Manoj Bajpayee, Jimmy Shergill, Divya Dutta, Tiku Talsania
Plot keywords: Gang, heist
Bollywood has had its share of heist movies, but most of them are loud and rarely make sense. Special 26 is sensible yet fast-paced: while the big guns are given the screen share they deserve, they are never given precedence over the script. There are several amazing twists, and some of the underrated names on the list pull off surprisingly good performances.
But… is a heist movie a thriller?
9. The Stoneman Murders (2009)
Director: Manish Gupta
Cast: Virendra Saxena, Arbaaz Khan, Kay Kay Menon
Plot keywords: Serial killings, The Stoneman
Do you remember Stoneman, the serial killer who went on a rampage in Calcutta in 1989? If you do not, here it is: ‘Stoneman’ smashed the heads of 13 pavement dwellers (on separate nights) with stone slabs and — here is the catch — never got caught. I remembered being scared, but little else. I never expected they would make a movie on this.
The movie is as fast-paced as thrillers are supposed to be. You do expect Kay Kay to do well, but Arbaaz surprised everyone by pulling off easily the greatest performance of his life (who would have thunk?). The characters, especially on the side of the law, all look three-dimensional, while the Mumbai nights pull off an impressive support act.
8. 404 (2011)
Director: Prawaal Raman
Cast: Imaad Shah, Nishikant Kamat, Tisca Chopra
Plot keywords: Hostel room, suicide, psychology, supernatural, atheism, hallucinations
A haunted hostel room and atheists make the perfect condiments for a B-grade movie. I cannot think of any other reason for 404 going through theatres with a near-anonymous stature. If you think about it afterwards you will realise that the script is hardly complicated, and yet it is executed so subtly that you will sit through it without realising that two hours have passed by.
7. Karthik Calling Karthik (2010)
Director: Vijay Lalwani
Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Deepika Padukone, Ram Kapoor
Plot keywords: Telephone calls, psychology, introvert
Just like millions of others in the world, Karthik feels trapped in a mediocre world until, well, the rest of the movie happens. While I am not a big fan of Farhan Akhtar’s acting skills (that voice, ugh, that voice), he pulls off possibly the greatest performance of his career. My biggest problem with this movie is the inexplicable underutilisation of Deepika: why not go for a lower-profile female lead in that case?
6. Being Cyrus (2005)
Director: Homi Adajania
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia, Saif Ali Khan, Boman Irani, Simone Singh
Plot keywords: Murder, gangs
Even if Being Cyrus had nothing in it, the stellar performances by each member of the ensemble cast — supported by dark, dry humour — would have made it successful. The tone of narration varies between the unassumingly smart and unapologetically sinister, setting up the tone for the climax beautifully. Saif deserves special mention for holding his self alongside Naseeruddin, Dimple, and Boman.
5. Ugly (2013)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Anshika Shrivastava, Ronit Roy, Rahul Bhat, Tejaswini Kolhapure, Siddhanth Kapoor
Plot keywords: Kidnapping, missing child, marital relationships, ambition
Do not believe if they tell you that Ugly is about a little girl who gets kidnapped. Ugly exposes the dark side of human psychology in a manner so gruesome that you cannot stand to watch the movie. At the same time, so brilliant is the script and so convincing are the performances that you cannot look away. At times I felt claustrophobic and nauseous — probably because I could identify the characters, most of them, around me; and in the end it gave me at least one sleepless night: yet another Anurag Kashyap movie.
4. Manorama Six Feet Under (2007)
Director: Navdeep Singh
Cast: Abhay Deol, Gul Panag, Raima Sen, Sarika, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Vinay Pathak
Plot keywords: Lies, murder, village, author, engineer
Despite being based on Chinatown, Manorama Six Feet Under keeps you hooked. I thought hard, but could not come up with a better compliment. Every single member of the cast fitted into their respective roles, each drier and yet more intriguing than the other. True to the spirit of the original, Manorama gets more and more sinister as it goes on…
3. A Wednesday! (2008)
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher, Jimmy Shergill
Plot keywords: Common man, hostages, terrorism, bomb blasts, telephone calls
This is the second Neeraj Pandey movie on the list. Fast-paced and near-real-time, A Wednesday! rarely offers a dull moment, but that is not its biggest USP. The problem is, it is impossible to describe why it is so revered without giving away the plotline. Let me put it this way: Naseeruddin and Anupam Kher have done justice to the brilliant script, while the script manages to remain unpredictable without being unconvincing. All in all, one of the best made in India.
2. No Smoking (2005)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: John Abraham, Paresh Rawal, Ayesha Takia, Ranbir Shorey
Plot keywords: Addiction, psychology, rehabilitation, surrealism
No, I have not read Quitters, Inc., the book on which this is based. I know I may not like No Smoking the day I read, for my experience says movies rarely live up to the books. It is also Kashyap’s greatest movie by a distance — of course, this is a personal opinion.
No Smoking is (I am trying my best to stay away from spoilers here) a journey of the soul. Even if the movie had fallen flat on its face, it would have been remembered as a remarkable effort. But No Smoking emerged a great success — albeit not commercially: I remember watching it in a near-empty multiplex and people walking out at random moments, never to return.
Kashyap made No Smoking years before his bigger hits. Exactly why John was cast for this movie is not very clear, but to be fair, he looked perfectly convincing. He could have had a more impressive career had he chosen his directors and scripts more wisely, you know.
1. Jewel Thief (1967)
Director: Vijay Anand
Cast: Dev Anand, Ashok Kumar, Vyjayanthimala, Tanuja
Plot keywords: Doppelgangers, mistaken identities, plots and subplots, and obviously jewel theft (s).
I know people for whom Jewel Thief is “the movie with songs on the B-side of Guide”. Even if one removes the English-name criterion, it is difficult to find a Bollywood thriller at par with Jewel Thief.
I do not even know where to begin. The scenery? SD Burman’s magic? The background score that never lets the pace drop? The performances? The script? The concepts? The many, many twists that leave you hanging despite its three-hour length?
I am itching to go on for hours, but how does one do that without giving plot points away?
Jewel Thief turns fifty this year. If you have not watched it, do. Yes, they used to make movies like that here.
The exclusion of Red Rose was deliberate. It was a poor effort by any standards, but hey, all that can be forgiven for this one song.