Perhaps it is a good sign of the state of our current Indian Cinema that it was hard to choose just 5 must-watch progressive Indian Movies on Amazon Prime Video. Cinema has always been a thought-provoking medium capable of inducing societal changes. Ranging from the issues of fundamentals rights, sexual abuse, casteism, and sexism, prevalent in our society, here is a list of must-watch Indian movies that have pushed the bar in terms of progressive narration and overall cinematic brilliance.
1. The Great Indian Kitchen Story (2021)
Not many movies in the recent years of Indian Cinema have come close to showcasing a progressive narrative as much as director Jeo Baby’s The great Indian Kitchen. This film, a gem from the Malayalam movie industry, clearly depicts the implicit sexism hidden in the folds of a normal middle-class Indian family.
The story follows the tale of a newly married educated and progressive dancer (Nimisha Sajayan), married to a teacher (Suraj Venjaramood) in a very traditional, patriarchal family. The life of the woman slowly transforms from marriage-bliss to a frustrated and oppressed existence of neverending household chores. How she breaks the shackles of sexism and moves forward with her desires and dreams form the rest of the story.
Stellar performances of the cast especially by Nimisha Sajayan, Suraj Venjaramood, and T. Suresh Babu (the woman’s father-in-law) make one feel as though we are peeking into the lives of a middle-class Indian household.
This movie will make everyone watching deeply uncomfortable and it is meant to do so on purpose. The success of the film lies in the fact that nowhere is the sexism outright. Regardless to say, this highly subtle movie, tackling the subject of everyday sexism that has been fed into us for generations, is a must-watch.
2. Newton (2017)
If ever there is a movie that drives home the point that democracy is not only for the privileged and the rich but it exists especially for the uneducated and the poor, it is Amit Masurkar’s brilliant directorial Newton.
Nutan “Newton” Kumar (Rajkummar Rao), is a rule-obsessed government clerk who is sent on election duty to a Naxal-controlled town in the interior jungles of Chhattisgarh. Assistant Commandant Aatma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi), of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) security forces, is deployed for the protection of the tribals against insurgent attacks. The juxtaposition of Newton who is adamant about making the villagers understand the voting process before they cast the votes and Aatma Singh who is tired of the infighting and wants to finish the voting process albeit in any manner whatsoever encompasses the cinematic brilliance of the film.
The extraordinary performance of the entire ensemble especially the stalwart, Pankaj Tripathi, and the incomparable, Rajkumar Rao make this entire movie, a joy to watch from start to finish. Casting a vote is the fundamental right of every citizen of this country, and the insistence of the lead character to make this right, a reality, is the simple brilliance of this film. Critics ratings and accolades aside, the movie that makes us embrace our fundamental right, which many of the privileged continue to take for granted, is a worthy addition to the list of progressive Indian movies.
3. Section 375 (2019)
Sexual offenses, consent, and what constitutes rape is a murky chapter in our Indian Constitution. Section 375, released in 2019, makes an effort to bring these issues to the attention of the general public.
The movie follows a courtroom battle between the former master and apprentice lawyers, Tarun Saluja (played by a nuanced Akshaye Khanna) and Hiral Gandhi (played by the ever-brilliant Richa Chadda), pitted against each other. Tarun, a cold-headed lawyer who firmly believes that he’s in the business of law, not justice, represents the rape accused film director, Rohan Khurana (Rahul Bhat). Hiral, who is of the exact opposite temperament, is of the belief that justice needs to prevail above all, represents the victim Anjali Dangle (Meera Chopra), a former assistant costume designer. Definition of sexual assault, the definition of consent, and intent of the victim and the perpetrator form the crux of the story, all while the provisions of Section 365 of the Indian Constitution are under heavy scrutiny.
Indian film industries have seen plenty of courtroom dramas before, but what makes this movie stand out is that it makes the intent of the victim shady on purpose. This is done, no doubt, to emphasize the fact that any sexual act done without the consent of the individual must be punished irrespective of the good or bad nature of the victim.
As a movie that brings the flaws of our constitution to the forefront, this deserves a spot in the list of must-watch progressive Indian movies.
4. C U Soon (2020)
A first-of-its-kind movie shot amid a world newly reeling under the influence of a Pandemic was always going to be an experiment. Having the thespian Fahad Faazil helming the production as well as playing a major role in the movie has done wonders to the OTT released film as a whole. Director Mahesh Narayanan, described the film as a small exercise featuring iPhone rather than a fully-fledged feature film. Despite the difficulties faced, to its credit, the film turned out to have an important story to tell.
Jimmy (Roshan Mathews) who lives in the UAE is in a relationship with Anumol (Darshana Rajendran), a woman he has never met in real life but only is in contact via social media. Despite the dangers and uncertainties of online dating, he proposes to her and introduces her to his mother (Maala Parvathi) and cousin Kevin (Fahadh Faasil). The story then takes a turn when Anu mysteriously disappears and a search for her ensues with the help of his cousin. Solving the disappearance of Anu and helping Jimmy find out answers regarding her mysterious past is the whole story.
This film sheds light on the dangers faced by Indian women especially of rural origin, who are lured abroad on the pretext of earning substantial amounts of money. The progressive turn it takes, in the end, cannot help but make one feel a sense of optimism on the nature of men in our current society. A new cinematic experience, the climate it is shot in and a prevalent social issue elevates the status of this must-watch movie.
5. Asuran (2019)
Just when we thought that the director Vetri Maatan cannot 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 at the backdrop of yet another important social issue of Casteism, plaguing the interiors of Tamil Nadu, has made a film that is breathtaking in every frame. Manju Warrier has returned with a force rightfully propelling her to the very top of the craft.
The entire film follows an arc of revenge and the consequent folly that unfolds. The story taking place in Thekoor is of Sivasaami(Dhanush), his sons Chidambaram(Ken Karunas) and Murugesan(Teejay Arunasalam) and his wife Pachaiyamma(Manju Warrier), living in an oppressed casteist world and of the actions each member of the family takes to tackle Casteism with varying tragic results.
Depicting the reality of rural TN has always been Vetri Maaran’s forte and this movie is another feather on his cap. The movie rightfully heightens the importance of Education and the role it plays in bringing about progression in Society. Any must-watch movies, let alone Indian movies are woefully incomplete without having Asuran on its list.