The marker of a great film is usually a scene that stays with you for a long time, sometimes forever. And what if the scene is visceral, gut wrenching and the kind that makes you feel queasy every time you watch it? A scene that makes you think hard, leaves you completely stunned and is a bold comment on the times we live in and the truths we ignore?
While such craftsmanship and gut is rarely manifested in Hindi films, there have been occasions when even the hardest cynics have been pleasantly surprised.
Here are eight scenes this writer felt were remarkable and stunning, all from Hindi films since 2000. Do you have a favourite?
1. Ek Hasina Thi - The climax
Sriram Raghavan’s Bollywood debut is a gold standard for revenge thrillers in India. Set around the wronged protagonist (Urmila Matondkar) plotting against her unfaithful, deceptive partner (Saif Ali Khan), who tricks her into going to prison for a crime she didn’t even commit, very few people might have guessed how she would exact her revenge.
Death? Naah, that’s too easy a way to let him off. Doing some of her career’s best work in the early 2000s, Matondkar transforms from being an ingénue to a femme fatale in the matter of seconds. Chaining him to a boulder inside a secluded cave in the middle of nowhere, she doesn’t end his misery by shooting him. Instead, she leaves him in the company of rats. It’s an eerily shot climax, where the torch left by Matondkar’s character slowly dims, and Saif Ali Khan’s cocky threats eventually morph into desperate screams. Raghavan allows the audience’s imagination to do the heavy lifting for this scene, and that’s why its horror is still fresh even after all these years.
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2. Haider - The chowk scene
Shakespeare’s ‘to be or not to be’ being turned into ‘hum hai ke hum nahi’ for a ’90s Kashmir-setting, has to genuinely be one of the most inspired adaptation choices in Bollywood history. The frenzy in Vishal Bhardwaj’s film peaks around the time when the protagonist, Haider (Shahid Kapoor), literally takes the centre-stage at a chowk in Srinagar, and gives an impassioned speech, rhyming AFSPA with chutzpah.
Delivering arguably his career’s best scene, Kapoor looks possessed through the whole monologue. There are even shades of his father, the great Pankaj Kapur (who starred in Bhardwaj’s other Shakespeare adaptation, Maqbool), the way he says “Awaaz aa rahi hai? Hello... hello... hello”.
It was obviously going to be a tough task to condense the tortured political history of Kashmir into a three-minute monologue, but what’s genuinely palpable in the scene is the Kashmiri youth’s rage. Kapoor uses no half-measures while fully immersing himself in his character’s outburst . Few very HIndi films have been able to articulate deep-seated rage through dark humour the way this scene in Haider does.
3. Black Friday - Badshah Khan’s interrogation scene
Anurag Kashyap’s finest film till date featured an ensemble of excellent actors essaying the many characters listed in Hussain Zaidi’s book on the ’93 Bombay bomb blasts. However, the closest a character comes to becoming the ‘protagonist’ in this ensemble is Badshah Khan (played by Aditya Srivastava). Having been left to rot after taking part in the bomb blasts, Khan eventually surrenders to the Mumbai police leading to arguably the greatest scene in the film.
Badshah Khan meets ACP Rakesh Maria (Kay Kay Menon) and they address the elephant in the room. Why did he do it? “For my qoum, Allah was with us”, Khan tells Maria. However, it’s only a matter of time before Maria disabuses Khan of his notion, instead telling him how Allah was with the law enforcement agencies this time. And then he delivers the punchline of the scene - “dharm ke naam pe chutiya bann gaye tum sab.” Kashyap’s first release as director, nearly all of Black Friday was lit with simmering rage, which spilled over in this scene.
4. Love, Sex Aur Dhokha - The honour killing scene
Dibakar Banerjee’s first story in Love, Sex Aur Dhokha, is a twist on the 90s romance. Poor boy falls in love with the rich girl, but the rich girl’s father is obviously against this relationship. So, the poor boy and rich girl elope and get married. But being kids, whose imagination is obviously coloured by Hindi films from a particular era, they long for the father’s acceptance.
They reach out to him, and are told to come home. It’s while they are on their way, filled with joy and optimism, their car gets intercepted by a gang seemingly led by the girl’s elder brother. The boy and girl are dragged from the car, and they’re hacked to death. Banerjee’s shocking twist works because of the way he sets up this subversion of a 90s romance. Both Anshuman Jha and Nushrat Barucha are pitch-perfect casting as the filmy, wide-eyed young lovers, unaware of the harsh realities of the world. Atul Mongia, who plays the character of Barucha’s brother, is a masterclass in acting in the scene. Mongia’s eyes in the handycam’s night-vision, that makes the scene disturbingly memorable.
5. Ugly - The long-ish FIR scene
A father looking for his missing daughter, goes to the local police station to file an FIR. What transpires at the police station is the stuff nightmares are made of. The law enforcement focuses on the most inane details of the FIR. What’s the difference between an actor’s official name and his screen name? Why did he leave his daughter alone in the car? Why did he divorce his wife, which resulted in weekly visitation rights like this? Everything is spoken about, except for the case at hand.
The single biggest reason why the scene pops like it does, is the absolutely effortless Girish Kulkarni. Playing the part of a laid back, ill-tempered Mumbai cop, Kulkarni is nearly faultless in the scene. So are the other actors in the scene - Rahul Bhat and Vineet Kumar Singh, who wear the faces of the public’s patience and frustration. The scene comes across as hilarious, and casts a long shadow on the law enforcement’s apathy towards civilians. It’s a mentally exhausting scene, that wears people out with its deliberate inconclusiveness.
6. Titli - The fracture scene
Kanu Behl’s film, where the sound of people gargling and retching is used as a background score, we probably should have expected a scene like this. And yet, nothing prepares us for a character’s hand getting clobbered with a hammer, only so she doesn’t have to sign certain paperwork.
The success of such a scene lies in its debutante director’s willingness to go all the way and the spectacular work of Shashank Arora and Shivani Raghuvanshi in the scene. Hindi cinema has often worked towards making violence palatable, like the infamous dhishkyaoon sound for revolvers, but it’s probably through scenes like these in Kanu Behl’s Titli that the audience comes close to realising the real-word ramification of the violence being unleashed by the characters, making us shifty about our sympathies for them. Essentially about being caged in a noxious family, Titli never pulls its punches and always strives to be authentic to its setting.
7. Badlapur – Raghu’s mind games with Kanchan and Harman
What does it do to a man, harbouring the anger for his wife and son’s untimely death and letting it fester over a decade? Sriram Raghavan investigates this in a twisted scene where Raghu (Varun Dhawan) confronts the partner, Harman (Vinay Pathak) of his wife and son’s murderer, Liaq (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Meeting Harman and his wife, Kanchan (Radhika Apte) for lunch, Raghu coerces her to lead him to the bedroom upstairs.
Asking her to strip for him, Raghu makes Kanchan scream and moan and repeatedly say his name, to give the impression to Harman (sitting outside) that he’s having sex with his wife. It’s a harrowing scene that’s injected with a certain amount of levity when Kanchan steps out and tries to tell Harman that ‘nothing actually happened’, while he can only cry in resignation. Dhawan, Pathak and Apte’s performances are all beautifully calibrated in this.
8. Talvar - CBI’s Team 1 vs Team 2 scene
Probably Hindi cinema’s first post-truth film, Meghna Gulzar’s film ends with a darkly funny CBI meeting, where two investigative teams present their conclusions. While the first team suggested that the evidence was compromised but the prime suspects would be the clinic’s staff, the second team is hell-bent on giving credence to the theories surrounding the parents being responsible for the murder of their teenage daughter.
Based on the Arushi Talwar case, and written like a tight procedural by Vishal Bhardwaj, the final 20 minutes of Talvar hint as a trailer for the current polarisation, where one side is forced to withstand the preposterous theories of the ‘other side’ under the pretext of civilised discourse.
The scene gives us a peek into how broken the justice machinery is, and how sometimes these law enforcement agencies go around chasing their own tails while coming up with theories based on their own biases, morals and judgement. They see what they want to see, fully ignoring what the evidence might suggest. It only helps that the scene has some fantastic actors including the late Irrfan, Prakash Belawadi, Shishir Sharma, Sohum Shah and Atul Kumar among others, playing out Rashomon-like instances to bust holes in the parents’ modus operandi, as suggested by the second team.