From social dramas to murder mysteries: Bollywood’s best films of 2020, and a few special mentions

Bollywood is the biggest revenue generator for India’s entertainment industry besides being a source of recreation for the masses and the classes. Here are some of the year’s top films.

Earlier on YS Weekender, we wrote about the best desi OTT shows of 2020

While web shows kept us engaged and entertained in an unprecedented year, nothing beats the charm of Bollywood. It is, after all, the heart, soul, and cash cow of India's entertainment industry. 

About 110 Hindi films spanning across theatres and digital platforms released in 2020, as per industry estimates. That is one-third or one-fourth of Bollywood’s average annual film count. 

But, despite the drop in numbers, films tackling a wide variety of subjects made their way to our screens. From social and sports dramas to romances and thrillers to historical and mythological potboilers — it was a lavish spread. 

We list our top five films of 2020, with a few special mentions. No list is exhaustive, and this one is also merely representative. Pardon us if we left out your favourites. 


Taapsee Pannu in a still from Thappad

For many cine-goers, Thappad happens to be the last film they caught in theatres before the world came crashing down. The Anubhav Sinha-directorial is a resounding slap (literally) on the face of India’s deep-rooted patriarchy, and has rightfully been one of 2020's most talked about films. 

Thappad is as much a social commentary as the private story of a marriage that is seemingly perfect on the surface, but crumbles when the wife decides to look inward. Taapsee Pannu is terrific as the woman whose world turns upside down when her sophisticated husband slaps her at a social gathering. 

That singular incident of domestic abuse becomes the pivot for the film to explore and unravel the perils and prejudices — some casual, others serious — of a misogynistic society that tells its women to tolerate (“Thoda bardaasht karna seekhna chahiye auraton ko”) and move on (“Shit happens, hota hai”). 

But Thappad’s victim is unrelenting, taking legal recourse because “just a slap, par nahi maar sakta”. Don’t be surprised if it sweeps the Bollywood film awards in 2021.   


Tillotama Shome and Vivek Gomber in Sir

Sir, a film that was released at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, opened in India post the lockdown and went on to run successfully. The film’s title is prefixed with ‘Is Love Enough?’ and that is the question it seeks to answer. 

A delicately observed romance between a wealthy businessman (a quietly convincing Vivek Gomber, last seen in A Suitable Boy) and his live-in maid (Tillotama Shome in possibly her career-best performance), Sir explores the social and emotional contours of an unequal match in the bustling metropolis of Mumbai, which many consider to be among India’s more liberal cities. 

Yet, the class-defying bond between the protagonists is subject to unkind judgements even from friends. The lovers are acutely aware of what they’re up against, often concealing more than revealing themselves. Nonetheless, in the deafening loneliness of the big city, they can’t help being drawn to each other. 

Sir is a deeply nuanced and affecting film that compels you to take a hard look at your own class biases that often end up clouding your worldview.   


Unpaused official poster

Unpaused is an Amazon Prime Video original that dropped a few weeks ago, rounding off what has been a hugely successful year for the OTT platform. 

A charming anthology of five stories, Unpaused chronicles the lives of people during the lockdown. The young and restless, the old and dependent, the rich and lonely, the haves and have-nots, the migrant and local — each one finds representation in this tightly-knit and superbly-acted film. 

Unpaused is an ode to human existence in times of a once-in-a-century pandemic. There’s stress, anxiety, grief, suffering, love, hope, companionship, and unexpected kindness — emotions we have all experienced through the year. 

It’s a perfect year-end watch, with some standout performances to boot for. The best stories would arguably be Chaand Mubarak and Rat-A-Tat starring powerhouse performers Ratna Pathak Shah and Lilette Dubey, respectively.

Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl

Jahnvi Kapoor and Pankaj Tripathi in Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl

Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is the biopic of India’s first woman pilot in combat. She was a part of the first batch of female recruits in the Indian Air Force (IAF) and flew helicopter missions during the 1999 Kargil War. 

The film traces her extraordinary journey from the sleepy lanes of Lucknow to the IAF base camp — a bit of a boy’s locker room until then — and celebrates a woman’s ambition and pursuit of excellence instead of stigmatising it.

There are several things to like in the film: a) the earnest act by Jahnvi Kapoor (who plays Gunjan). She does well for the most part and excels in some; b) a flawless performance by Pankaj Tripathi (who plays Gunjan’s feminist father and the wind beneath her wings). He also gets to mouth the film’s best line (“plane ladka udaaye ya ladki, dono ko pilot hi kehte hai”); c) riveting combat scenes without any high-pitched jingoism; and d) spectacular aerial cinematography 

But Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl leaves the most profound impression in its portrayal of a father-daughter relationship, and how it enables a young woman to carve out her space in a man’s world. This is one film you wished you could’ve watched on the big screen just to be able to fully experience the rousing climax. 

Raat Akeli Hai

Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte in Raat Akeli Hai

Crime thrillers have become regular fare on online streaming platforms, but none as delicious and satiating as Netflix’s Raat Akeli Hai. The gripping murder mystery tracks a small-town cop (played by a pitch-perfect Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who’s investigating the death of a high-profile patriarch in Kanpur. 

Raat Akeli Hai is dark, literally and metaphorically, as the raat in the title suggests. But there’s little graphic violence or foul language as is the norm for crime thrillers of late. Instead, it keeps the viewer engaged by crafting a copybook whodunit that is elevated by strong performances by Nawaz, Radhika Apte, and an ensemble cast. 

Shot on real locations across the badlands of UP, Raat Akeli Hai has more than what meets the eye. Even though the film is a police procedural, the twists, turns, and consistent intrigue it builds is a hat-tip to sleuth dramas of yore. ‘Jung khaya hai hamara dil’ says one character. But their minds are razor-sharp still.

Raat Akeli Hai recently bagged the ‘Best Web Original Film’ and ‘Best Actor in a Web Original’ honours at the inaugural Filmfare OTT Awards.

Special mentions: Angrezi Medium & Dil Bechara

In any other year, Angrezi Medium and Dil Bechara may not have found a place in the list of top films. Not to say that these are unwatchable. But there were better works this year. Yet, these will go down in Bollywood history as the last works of Irrfan Khan and Sushant Singh Rajput — two actors who departed this year.

Angrezi Medium is Irrfan Khan's last work

Angrezi Medium was the last theatrical release (March 12) before India went into a lockdown. It was pulled out of halls and re-released digitally on Disney+ Hotstar. 

A sequel to the hit 2017 film Hindi Medium, it tells the story of a mithaiwala (played by Irrfan) who goes out of his way to fulfil his motherless daughter’s dream of a foreign education. The film may be tedious in parts, but Irrfan is fabulous as the doting father.

Ably supporting him is Kareena Kapoor Khan, who plays an anxious cop with mother issues. The two aren’t paired romantically, but you wished they were, particularly during a standout hospital scene. 

Dil Bechara released after Sushant Singh Rajput's demise

Dil Bechara, on the other hand, is the official remake of John Green’s bestselling young adult novel The Fault In Our Stars. Disney+ Hotstar acquired the digital rights of the film after SSR's tragic demise.

Set in Jamshedpur, it is the poignant story of two terminally ill patients who meet at a support group and fall in love.

Kizzie and Mannie (played by an endearing Sushant) refuse to be bound by their cruel fate, instead choosing to live every moment doubly and happily. 

Poignant in parts, mostly due to its resemblance to real events, Dil Bechara is undone by the sloppy editing and inferior production quality. But, watch out for Mannie’s speech in the end. It’s almost surreal how meta that is. 

Edited by Teja Lele