Indian Movies: Perhaps it’s a good sign of the state of our current Indian cinema that it was difficult to pick just 5 progressive Indian movies to watch on Amazon Prime Video. Cinema has always been a thought-provoking medium capable of bringing about social change. Ranging from the issues of fundamental rights, sexual abuse, casteism and sexism, which are common in our society, here is a list of Indian films to watch that have raised the bar in terms of progressive narration and overall cinematic brilliance.
1. The Great Indian Kitchen Story (2021)
Not many films in recent years of Indian cinema have come close to a progressive story as well as director Jeo Baby’s The Great Indian Kitchen. A gem of the Malayalam film industry, this film clearly captures the implicit sexism hidden in the folds of a normal middle-class Indian family.
The story follows the story of a newly married, educated and progressive dancer (Nimisha Sajayan), married to a teacher (Suraj Venjaramood) in a very traditional patriarchal family. The woman’s life slowly changes from marital bliss to a frustrated and oppressed existence of endless household chores. How she breaks the shackles of sexism and gets on with her desires and dreams makes up the rest of the story.
Fantastic performances from the cast, most notably by Nimisha Sajayan, Suraj Venjaramood and T Suresh Babu (the woman’s father-in-law), make us feel like we are taking a peek into the life of a middle-class Indian household.
This movie will make anyone watching it very uncomfortable and it is meant to be done on purpose. The success of the film lies in the fact that nowhere is sexism outright. Regardless, this very subtle film, which addresses the topic of everyday sexism that has been introduced to us for generations, is a must-watch.
2. Newton (2017)
If there is ever a film that makes it clear that democracy is not just for the privileged and the rich, but especially for the uneducated and the poor, it is the brilliant director Newton of Amit Masurkar.
Nutan “Newton” Kumar (Rajkummar Rao), is a rules-obsessed government employee sent on electoral duty to a Naxal-controlled town in the inner forests of Chhattisgarh. Assistant Commander Aatma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi), of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) security forces, is deployed to protect the tribes from insurgent attacks. The juxtaposition of Newton, who is adamant about making the villagers understand the voting process before casting the votes, and Aatma Singh, who is tired of the infighting and wants to end the voting process, albeit in any way, includes the cinematic brilliance of the movie.
The extraordinary performance of the entire ensemble, especially the stalwart, Pankaj Tripathi, and the incomparable, Rajkumar Rao, make this entire film a joy to watch from start to finish. Casting a vote is the fundamental right of every citizen of this country, and the protagonist’s urge to realize this right is the simple genius of this film. Critics’ ratings and accolades aside, the film that makes us embrace our fundamental right that many of the privileged still take for granted is a worthy addition to the list of progressive Indian films.
3. Section 375 (2019)
Sexual crimes, consent and what rape entails is a dark chapter in our Indian constitution. Released in 2019, Section 375 seeks to bring these issues to the attention of the general public.
The film follows a courtroom battle between former master and apprentice lawyers, Tarun Saluja (played by a nuanced Akshaye Khanna) and Hiral Gandhi (played by the ever-brilliant Richa Chadda), who compete against each other. Tarun, a cold-blooded lawyer firmly convinced that he is concerned with law and not justice, represents the rape-accused film director, Rohan Khurana (Rahul Bhat). Hiral, who has the exact opposite temperament, believes that justice should prevail above all else, represents the victim Anjali Dangle (Meera Chopra), a former assistant costume designer. Definition of sexual assault, the definition of consent and intention of the victim and the perpetrator are at the heart of the story while the provisions of Section 365 of the Indian Constitution are heavily scrutinized.
The Indian film industry has seen many courtroom dramas, but what sets this film apart is that it deliberately obscures the victim’s intent. This is no doubt done to emphasize the fact that any sexual act done without the consent of the individual should be punished, regardless of the good or bad nature of the victim.
As a film that highlights the flaws of our constitution, it deserves a spot in the must-see progressive Indian movies list.
4. CU Soon (2020)
A film shot for the first time in the midst of a world newly shaken under the influence of a pandemic would always be an experiment. Having the thespian Fahad Faazil both directing production and starring in the movie has worked wonders for the OTT released movie as a whole. Director Mahesh Narayanan described the film as a little exercise with the iPhone rather than a full-fledged feature film. Despite the difficulties it faced, the film turned out to tell an important story.
Jimmy (Roshan Mathews), who lives in the UAE, is in a relationship with Anumol (Darshana Rajendran), a woman he never met in real life, but only gets in touch through social media. Despite the dangers and uncertainties of online dating, he proposes and introduces her to his mother (Maala Parvathi) and cousin Kevin (Fahadh Faasil). The story takes a turn when Anu mysteriously disappears and follows a search for her with the help of his cousin. Solving Anu’s disappearance and helping Jimmy find answers about her mysterious past is the whole story.
This film sheds light on the dangers faced by Indian women, especially of rural descent, who are lured abroad on the pretext of earning significant sums. The gradual turn it eventually takes cannot help but give a feeling of optimism about the nature of man in our current society. A new cinematic experience, the climate in which it was shot and a prevailing social problem raise the status of this must-watch film.
Just when we thought director Vetri Maatan couldn’t possibly surpass the previous heights of his cinematic mastery, he came out with the release of Asuran. The well-known combination of the brilliant Dhanush and Vetri Maaran, this time set against yet another major social issue of casteism that plagues the interior of Tamil Nadu, has created a film that is breathtaking in every frame. Manju Warrier has returned with a force that has rightly propelled her to the top of the craft.
The entire film follows an arc of revenge and the resulting folly that unfolds. The story set in Thekoor is about Sivasaami (Dhanush), his sons Chidambaram (Ken Karunas) and Murugesan (Teejay Arunasalam) and his wife Pachaiyamma (Manju Warrier), who live in an oppressed caste world and the actions of each member of the family. to tackle casteism with varying tragic results.
Depicting the reality of rural TN has always been the strength of Vetri Maaran and this film is another feather in its cap. The film rightly emphasizes the importance of education and the role it plays in bringing about progress in society. All the movies you have to watch let alone Indian movies are woefully incomplete without Asuran on the list.