As an Indian film buff, the thought of having never seen Hindi film noir troubled me.
The first noir film I watched was Sunset Boulevard. The dark and broken nature of the characters and the style of writing noir forced me to watch similar movies. I dove headfirst into watching noir movies after that.
When I was done with the American noir films, I started looking into Hindi film noir. At first, I assumed there wasn’t a single noir film in Hindi. The instinct was natural as I had never watched a Hindi film which felt as dark and hopeless as Chinatown or The Third Man.
Of course, I was wrong.
Indian cinema likes to return diamonds to their place of birth – underground. Hindi film noir is a treasure trove of some gems and some passably good movies. Not all noir films can be great.
Yet, there is enough in Hindi film noir to keep a film buff entertained for a few days. These movies will surprise you a little, especially their tone and vibe.
Now, I list down ten Hindi noir films you should see. These films are not in any particular order. You don’t need to read too much into films in the list appearing first or last.
Manorama Six Feet Under
One of my most favorite Hindi films, Manorama Six Feet Under is a neo-noir thriller set in the dusty desert town in Rajasthan called Lakhot. The empty landscape may remind you of the alienation in Fargo, but the storyline of this Hindi noir film is inspired from Chinatown.
The film follows a part-time novelist and full-time engineer trying to uncover the mystery behind the murder of an affluent woman. You can watch it here on YouTube for free right now.
You should give this movie a try even if you’ve watched Chinatown. The emptiness of the plain Rajasthan desert blends well with corrupt politicians and apathetic cops.
Like every good noir film, you will meet a pure evil figure at the end of this Hindi movie. Abhay Deol is wonderful in the film and doesn’t make you think about Jack Nicholson. I guess there is no better compliment I can pay him.
Gurgaon is not an unknown gem. It came out in 2016 and made for a very good viewing. However, many of you reading this may not have realized you watched a noir when watching Gurgaon.
Here’s a trailer if you haven’t watched it.
There are many elements which make Gurgaon a noir. The protagonist and antagonist, Preet and Nikki, feel like outsiders within their own family. Their reaction to being outcasts is very different. While Preet grows quiet after becoming out of sync with her family, Nikki lashes out in other ways.
As a city, Gurgaon is a great setting for the story. The high rises and fancy houses in the millennium city all glitter in the night, but they’re hollow on the inside. Gurgaon tells a similar story and tells it well.
The movie is available for streaming on Netflix
Johnny Gaddar is probably another movie film buffs have seen. The sleeper hit from 2007 won a lot of love at the time for its gritty nature. The film begins with a black-and-white scene of a sedan driving through a rainy night in Mumbai. With a legend like Dharmendra in the cast along with gems like Vinay Pathak and Ashwini Kalsekar, the film leaves a lasting impression.
The director, Sriram Raghavan, has since gone on to direct other great movies like Badlapur and Andhadun.
Monsoon Shootout went unnoticed in 2017. However, it is closer to a traditional noir than other Hindi films on the list. Starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui most notably, the film follows Adi, a rookie cop who ends up chasing wanted-gangster Shiva on the first day of his job. This chase ends up sending him to the throes of the corrupt and decadent system in Mumbai. You can watch the film on YouTube and Hotstar. Here’s the YT link –
One of the notable qualities of Monsoon Shootout is how it puts a price on morality. New to the rusty and broken system, Adi must learn the price he must pay for his morality and idealism.
Generally, great noir fiction involves characters compromising on their morals to get what they want their way. Watching Adi bend his ways to find his way through a broken system is engaging.
As far as Hindi film noir is concerned, Monsoon Shootout is a good place to start. This one is a gem all film buffs must add to their list.
Charlie Kay Chaakar Mein
Charlie Kay Chaakar Mein follows ACP Sanket Pujari and his rookie partner investigating multiple homicides. The ACP is played by Naseeruddin Shah, so there is power in the performances of the actors in the film.
The film received mixed reviews after its release and isn’t available on any streaming platform right now. If you’re writing a noir film in Hindi and need a reference point, the movie can serve as a good source of education.
To watch the film, you’ll have to buy a DVD. You can wait for a few months for the Hindi noir film to become available on a streaming platform.
Like many other Hindi noir movies, Charlie Kay Chaakar Mein went under the radar. While the movie leaves a lot to be desired, it is well worth a watch. The story is engaging enough to keep viewers busy for the run time. The performances of the actors, besides grizzled veteran Shah, are decent and give enough justice to the plot.
If you watch the 2005 Hindi noir Chocolate, you will wonder why no one ever told you to watch the film earlier. However, if you’ve seen The Usual Suspects before, you won’t like the film very much. Chocolate is a rip-off of the Kevin Spacey classic.
The cast of Chocolate is loaded. Irfan Khan is in the lead along with other incredible talents like Anil Kapoor, Arshad Warsi, Sunil Shetty, and Emraan Hashmi.
The film is currently not available on any streaming platform. If you really want to see this film, you should really just watch The Usual Suspects. The classic from Christopher McQuarrie is one of the best films of all time, period.
There are parts of Chocolate that do justice to its tantalizing plot. Director Vivek Agnihotri, while usually in the news for political reasons these days, is a talented director. His recent film, The Tashkent Files, was also an interesting movie that discussed the mysterious events surrounding the death of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.
You should watch Chocolate for its last-minute twist and gripping plot. The only problem with the film is that it is a copy. It would otherwise be celebrated by Indian film buffs today as a fine Hindi noir movie.
BA Pass may not be as mysterious or gripping as some other Hindi noir films on this list, but it remains one of the most popular entries on the list.
The plot of a film revolves around a young student who has an affair with a middle-aged married woman. The woman then pimps the boy out as a gigolo to other middle-aged women. The continuous cycle of prostitution takes a mental toll on the young man as he slowly unravels.
Even though BA Pass is not a mystery thriller like other films on this list, it still captures the deathly chasms within a city like Delhi. One of the main characteristics of every noir film is the presence of an outsider. New to Delhi and its ruthless nature, the young man and his naivety are perfect for a dark noir.
The film received rave reviews from the critics at the time. While it has cult popularity largely because of its erotic nature, the performances and plot are brilliant and well-crafted respectively.
The leading actress, Shilpa Shukla, won a Filmfare for her role in the film. BA Pass is currently available for viewing on Netflix.
Fair warning, I am a big fan of Bhavesh Joshi. My praise for this film may seem a little too much to some readers. If you haven’t watched the film, go watch it on Netflix.
Many people don’t categorize Bhavesh Joshi as Hindi film noir. Part of the reason behind this is that the movie was always presented as India’s superhero film.
In reality, Bhavesh Joshi isn’t a superhero film.
It’s a story about a group of people who decide to bring change to an inherently corrupt and broken system. The superhero tag is more about theatricality than any real substance.
At the heart of the story is a plot to disrupt the water supply of Mumbai to make money. Our protagonists try to stop these corrupt forces at play.
The water supply story is reminiscent of Chinatown. Many noir classics in the past actually don’t tackle grandiose problems, but little issues like water supply to build up larger conspiracies.
Even though Bhavesh Joshi lacks some elements popular in writing noir such as a femme fatale, it still captures the dark brooding nature of the city.
The one complaint one could have about Bhavesh Joshi is its length. The first half is very slow, a major reason why the film didn’t do as well as it should. However, the second half is a good representation of what the future of Hindi film noir could be.
The film also tackles the question about superheroes, the obsession of people with these characters. I thought it was an interesting parallel with the rise of Bhavesh Joshi the character as a formidable vigilante.
Every good noir film should have an ending that feels earned. While I felt the story missed a trick by not killing the protagonist, the ending still has some great points. When the protagonist in the film ends up walking away from his love interest and lets her believe he’s dead, he makes a real sacrifice. From being an untrained outsider, the protagonist becomes the dreaded symbol of justice.
Like Chocolate, you will like Zinda until you watch the original film from which it is copied. Starring John Araham, Sanjay Dutt, and Lara Dutta, Zinda is a rip-off of Oldboy, a classic Korean movie.
The plot kicks off when Sanjay Dutt is abducted and kept imprisoned for a period of fourteen years. During his years in captivity, he’s never told why he is kept under lockdown. When he gets out, he decides to find the man who locked him up and finally kill him
The plot is simplified for Indian audiences and isn’t quite as raw as its Korean counterpart. The violence in Zinda was a notch above what Indian audiences are generally used to.
Zinda is a good watch, but it’s not worth it if you’ve already watched Oldboy.
You can watch the movie here. Click on the play button here –
The final Hindi noir film on the list, No Smoking is a cult classic for many reasons. Many people watched No Smoking for the first time, found it weird, watched it again, and somehow fell in love with it. It is a deep dive into the nature of addiction and psychological manipulation.
Critics panned the Anurag Kashyap film at the time, calling it an “extremely arrogant piece of work”.
However, the film has managed to develop cult status now. The film is inspired from Stephen Kings Quitters, Inc. The main problem plaguing No Smoking at its time of release was that people didn’t understand it well. In later years, it gained a lot of praise in film festivals and received awards as well.
No Smoking was early for its time and a clear example of critics misjudging a movie.
Hindi Film Noir – Final Words
This entire piece explores ten popular Hindi film noirs you should watch. If you’re someone interested in noir as a style of storytelling and you live in India, you should watch these films.
There are other examples of Hindi film noir as well. This list merely points to some of the more recent additions to Indian noir. Filmmakers like Vijay Anand wrote several noir films during their time. We will later dedicate separate articles on many of their works.
(Featured Image Credit: Wikipedia)