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December 29, 2018

The Cultural Moments That Defined 2018

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

From a new wave of films to a new era of inclusivity and courage, it’s been a landmark year in many ways

The last year has been filled with myriad reel and real happenings, many highs and some lows, memorable happenings and unforgettable events. It saw a few big-budget movies bite the dust and some unexpected flicks make it big at the box office. There was enough and more across different genres – what with the plethora of films, web series and plays that rolled out through the year – to keep us interested. There were some historic achievements, landmark movements and defining judgements as well. We present our pick of the highlights of 2018.

Small-budget films created a big splash: In a year when several blockbusters (Padmaavat, Simmba, Thugs of Hindostan, Zero and more) jostled for attention on the marquee with varying degrees of success, the relatively small-budget movies captured the imagination of audiences. Amar Kaushik’s Stree, based on the folk legend Nale Ba that revolves around a female spirit, set in Chanderi, saw creditable performances from its leads, Shraddha Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao. Another film that was a surprise hit was Amit Sharma’s Badhaai Ho. Sriram Raghavan’s crime thriller, Andhadhun, had us sitting on the edge of the seats with a plot that surprised. It gave its protagonists Tabu and Ayushmann Khuranna ample scope to showcase their acting chops. And Meghna Gulzar’s spy drama Raazi, based on the novel Calling Sehmat, proved that the success of the director and her leads – Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal – was no flash in the pan.

The impact of independent cinema: The year also saw the release of Mantothe biopic about Saadat Hasan Manto, directed by Nandita Das, with Nawazuddin Siddiqui playing the titular role. Das worked closely with people who knew him to ensure that the movie was as true to the writer’s life as possible. Rima Das’ Village Rockstars won accolades and awards – in fact it grabbed four National Film Awards – for Best Feature Film, Best Editing, Best Audiography and Best Child Artist. A self-funded venture, the breakthrough film was extremely well-received amongst the cultural cognoscenti. And Bulbul Can Singby the same director, was a coming-of-age drama about a teenage girl who hails from a village in Assam. She is trying to figure out who she really is as she battles her way through the vicissitudes of life. Tabrez Noorani’s Love Sonia spotlighted the social issue of human trafficking, focussing an age-old issue by taking a hard look at the trade.

Sex and sensuality: Even as the magic of the mainstream masala movies seduced us, some strong characters impinged on our consciousness from the big-budget films – breaking away from gender stereotypes, as in a welcome development they portrayed sexual nuances with sensitivity and subtlety. For instance, Jim Sarbh in Padmaavat as Malik Kafur, Khilji’s ‘begum’ slave and confidant, amply proved his mettle in a complex role which was in stark contrast to the usual stereotypical portrayals of homosexual characters. Swara Bhaskar in Veere Di Wedding showed how girls can have unabashed, unashamed fun emphasising that masturbation need not be pushed into a dark corner of a woman’s world. The 60-plus Neena Gupta played a mother of two grown up boys in Badhaai Ho. The homely tale gave her the due spotlight as she assayed the award-winning role of a middle-aged woman who gets pregnant for a third time, showing audiences that enjoying sex is not confined only to the young. And Kubra Sait, as the transgender Cuckoo in Sacred Games, emerged a winner, standing proud and tall for herself in scenes that could have been utterly daunting at a different time. On a lighter note was Lust Stories – the four shorts directed by Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar – that interpreted unadulterated lust in the world of women in their individual ways. In the Indian context, it was entertaining to watch the spotlight thrown on a hitherto pushed-under-the-blanket topic, female sexual satisfaction.

Band, baaja, baraats: 2018 was the year of extravagant weddings that grabbed worldwide attention. Starry nuptials lit up the firmament, particularly in the last two months of the year, when the much-talked-about dos of Deepika Padukone-Ranveer Singh and Priyanka Chopra-Nick Jonas that spanned continents and kept the paparazzi and the social media busy. Sparking an article in The Cut entitled “Is Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’s Love for Real?” was pulled down for having racist overtones and an apology was issued. Through it all, our desigirl maintained her dignity and refused to give it undue importance.

Earlier on in the year, Sonam Kapoor tied the knot with Anand Ahuja and Neha Dhupia wed Angad Bedi. And just as 2018 was drawing to a close Kapil Sharma celebrated his wedding with Ginni Chatrath. But last (not chronologically) and definitely not the least the Isha AmbaniAnand Piramal wedding was the one that pulled out all the stops. As celebrities zipped from one function to another, through all the band-baaja-baraat frenzy, the online hits multiplied and the wishes poured in.

The year of the star kids: Taimur Ali Khan, the youngest of them all, has a humungous following – on Instagram there are multiple handles dedicated to the tiny tot. And the paparazzi hound his every move, probably even more than that of his starry parents Kareena Kapoor Khan and Saif Ali Khan. Ananya Panday who will be seen in Student Of The Year scheduled for a May release next year, has even before her debut amassed a following of 933K on Instagram. The ones seen on the silver screen were Jahnvi Kapoor, (Dhadak) and Sara Ali Khan (Simmba and Kedarnath).

Calling all copy cats: Copiers, beware! Imitation is no longer considered a form of flattery – and even if it is unintentional it becomes the butt of barbs. In India, Diet Sabya emerged last year and is busy calling out celebrities and designers from the entertainment and fashion industry for making or using copies. In the span of less than a year, the account – whose ownership is a tightly-held secret – has gained a following of 131K. Who is behind it? The world waits with bated breath to know.

Woman power in different domains: It was a great year for women in sports. India’s iconic boxing legend Mary Kom added a historic feather to her cap by winning her record sixth World Championship Gold medal. Hima Das sprinted to a win to grab the silver in the 400m at the Asian Games – breaking the national record twice in two days in her spirited attempt. Dutee Chand also played a role in India’s success on the tracks, when she put her troubled gender issue behind her to win the silver in 100m. India’s ace shuttler PV Sindhu showed fans that she is a smash hit by defeating Japanese player Nozomu Okuhara to become the first Indian to win the BWF World Tour Finals and clinch the World Tour title. On a more personal note, Saina Nehwaltied the knot with baddie player Parupalli Kashyap and Sania Mirza became proud mother to a baby boy Izhaan Mirza-Malik.

Books written by actors saw the light of day last year. After two earlier works, Twinkle Khanna released her first full-fledged novel Pyjamas Are Forgiving in October, which has made her the highest selling female author, while Manisha Koirala’s work (with Neelam Kumar) Healed – based on her battle against cancer – has just hit the market.

And in November, the culinary world saw the rise of a new star when Gaa Restaurant in Bangkok (which opened less than two years ago), led by the 30-year-old executive chef Garima Arora, was awarded its first Michelin star by Michelin Guide Thailand. This made Arora the first Indian female chef to be so honoured.

The #MeToo movement in India: It sent more than a ripple through the entertainment industry and in fact seemed to shake it to its very roots. The #MeToo movement was kickstarted in India by actor Tanushree Dutta, when she accused her senior co-star Nana Patekar of unduly harassing her during the shooting of Horn Ok Please ten years ago. Her voice gave the impetus and the courage to many more women to call out the men from various industries who had harassed them. It is hoped that this movement that has gained momentum in our country discourages any more incidents of the like – and encourages victims to break their silence and speak out.

In this context, the play Lucrece, the Indian adaptation of a Shakespearean poem – The Rape of Lucrece that was written in 1594 – gained an additional degree of poignancy. Under Paul Goodwin’s directorial baton, actor Kalki Koechlin gave a masterful performance as a rape survivor. The play was rendered modern in its appeal by looking at the repercussions of such an assault and giving voice to the survivor.

A new dawn for inclusivity: India’s LGBTQ community had ample cause to celebrate as changes ushered in the promise of a more liberal era here. The decriminalisation of homosexuality by the landmark Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was hailed. And in November 2018, a huge crowd took to the streets of the capital for the Delhi Queer Pride.

There were several developments that were an indication of the changing ethos in the country. The Lalit Group, under the guidance of its executive director Keshav Suri, became the first major hotel chain in India to extend the benefits of health insurance coverage to its LGBTQIA+ members. The Indian Psychiatric Society observed in a statement, “There is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be altered by any treatment and that any such attempts may, in fact, lead to low self-esteem and stigmatisation of the person.” The world of dating was redefined as Tinder introduced 23 new gender options for Indians to pick from and the Delta App, India’s first homegrown queer dating application, saw the light of day.

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