What does it say about 2023 that the best title was a show on a streaming platform? While the big-budget extravaganzas designed to pack the cinema halls are back, thoughtful projects are finding it tougher to pass the box office test.

The year’s hits gained in length but rarely ventured beyond conventional crowd-pleasing. At least in the case of Hindi cinema, official and unofficial censorship drastically eroded the list of movies that spoke to the times. A rash of Bro Code productions (some of which featured lavish beheadings) hoovered up crores in earnings but vanished from the brain soon after they had ended (except for the “vote wisely” message in Jawan).

There were outliers, many of them beyond the Hindi sphere. Some movies and shows demanded attention simply because of the acting. Here, in alphabetical order, are 2023’s most endearing and enduring films, fiction series and performances.

The movies: Sweating and striving

12th Fail
Just like you can never stop trying to crack a highly competitive examination, you can never be too old to make movies. 12th Fail is a high watermark for 71-year-old Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who directs the saga of a United Public Service Commission examination aspirant with the same youthful derring-do that characterises the film’s hero. Vikrant Massey is marvellous as the striver who refuses to let failure or temptation crimp his horizons.

Where to watch: Disney+ Hotstar.

Also read:

‘12th Fail’ is about ‘never giving up’, says director Vidhu Vinod Chopra

Vikrant Massey on the road to ‘12th Fail’: ‘If you don’t back yourself, nobody else will’

12th Fail.

Ashish Bende’s finely balanced black comedy takes a scalpel to the coming-of-age drama. Written by Paresh Mokashi, the Marathi-language Aatmapamphlet follows the adventures and misadventures of a love-struck Dalit boy in a country that is steadily hurtling towards open intolerance. The performances are superb, the humour scathing, the staging confident.

Where to watch: ZEE5, Apple TV+.

Sudhir Mishra’s Afwaah, written by him, Nisarg Mehta and Shiva Bajpai, addresses a hot-button topic that Hindi cinema is too afraid to tackle anymore: the role of social media in fanning communal hatred. An opportunistic politician (Sumeet Vyas) adopts the Hindutva playbook to score points, scarring his fiancee (Bhumi Pednekar) and a visiting corporate leader (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) in the process. Vyas plays the politician conviction, while TJ Bhanu is memorable a policewoman who learns to get ahead by playing the system.

Where to watch: Netflix.

Except for a false note in the final scene, SU Arun Kumar’s absorbing Tamil drama stays steadily on course. Siddharth movingly plays Eeswaran, the devoted uncle of the bespectacled, precocious and adorable Sundari. When Sundari is trapped by a rapist-murderer, Eeswaran is faced with a moral conundrum.

The film goes beyond the usual vigilante narrative: Malayalam actor Nimisha Sajayan, in her Tamil debut, has a thought-provoking scene in which she articulates the victimhood forced upon victims of sexual abuse.

Where to watch: Disney+ Hotstar.


Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga
Ajay Singh’s thriller, written by Siraj Ahmed and Amar Kaushik, sees Yami Gautam in exciting form as an airhostesses who agrees to help her boyfriend (Sunny Kaushal) smuggle diamonds on board a flight. And then the plane is hijacked… It’s a rare movie that maintains suspense all the way through.

Where to watch: Netflix.

A family from Kerala hits the road to fulfil an elderly member’s long-standing dream of travelling to Varanasi. What could have been a predictable ride is the stuff of caustic comedy and sharp observations on human nature.

Nithish Sahadev’s assured directorial debut, written along with Sanjo Joseph, has an excellent cast, including Basil Joseph, Jagadish and Manju Pillai. Basil Joseph is especially memorable as a dubbing artist for whom nothing ever seems to go right.

Where to watch: Disney+ Hotstar.

Kho Gaye Hum Kahan
Zoya Akhtar directed the unusually lifeless The Archies this year, but the better film about young lives was co-written and produced by her. Arjun Varain Singh’s Kho Gaye Hum Kahan captures with acuity, honesty and empathy the concerns of a generation steeped in social media.

The Hindi film portrays – without facile moralising – the schism between the real self and the projected image. The performances by Ananya Panday, Adarsh Gourav and Siddhant Chaturvedi are as believable as the traps into which they fall.

Where to watch: Netflix.

Teri Yeh Baatein, Kho Gaye Hum Kahaan.

Made in 2021, India’s official entry for the Oscars that year and finally available on a streaming platform – long and hard has been the journey of PS Vinothraj’s Koozhangal, a film that is about a long and hard journey too.

Vinothraj’s Tamil movie is set over a hot day, when a young boy is picked up by his bully of a father in order to fetch his mother. The boy and his father return home, trekking under an unforgiving sun across harsh terrain. The searing climax suggests that this has happened before, and will again. Rarely have image and ideas come together so clearly, especially in a debut feature.

Where to watch: Sony LIV.

Renowned Tamil comedian Vadivelu is a revelation and Fahadh Faasil hypnotically odious in Mari Selvaraj’s Maamannan.

Vadivelu plays the titular Dalit state legislator who has taken care never to forget his place among his upper-caste peers, which includes the proudly casteist Rathnavel (Faasil). Maamannan’s son Athiveeran (Udhayanidhi Stalin) upsets the balance, forcing the older man to come to terms with his caste identity.

Maamannan, like Selvaraj’s Pariyerum Perumal and Karnan, dexterously uses symbols and metaphors, including dogs, pigs, and chairs. Athiveeran’s moment of truth, stemming from Rathnavel’s refusal to invite Maamannan to sit alongside him, reveals the lived reality of caste like few other films have.

Where to watch: Netflix.

Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam
On a brain-meltingly warm afternoon, James gets off a bus returning from a pilgrimage and decisively walks into a neighbouring village. James believes that he is Sundaram, a Tamil man who had disappeared two years ago. His family and friends are bewildered; Sundaram’s clan doesn’t quite know how to react either.

Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Malayalam film is a beguiling magic realist drama with a towering lead performance by Mammootty. The year saw Mammootty continue to push himself, resulting in lovely turns as a police officer in Kannur Squad (on Prime Video) and a closeted gay man in Kaathal. Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam sees the veteran in top form, tackling the contours of S Hareesh’s script with the kind of dexterity that can only come with vast experience tinged with abiding curiosity.

Where to watch: Netflix.

Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam.

A brave and unorthodox film, given the times in which we live. Amit Rai’s OMG 2 invokes faith in the Hindu god Shiva to advocate sex education in schools. Akshay Kumar, on point for a change, plays a version of the dreadlocked deity who shows the way to Pankaj Tripathi’s father, who is battling his son’s school to impart sex education lessons.

Where to watch: Netflix.

Ponniyin Selvan: Part II
Mani Ratnam’s concluding chapter in his adaptation of the classic Kalki Krishnamurthy novel has swooning visuals, a lovely score by AR Rahman, and strong performances, especially by Vikram, Aishwarya Rai, Karthi and Trisha.

The epic saga of a conspiracy that threatens to shake the foundations of the Chola kingdom has a suite of sumptuous set-pieces. Take your pick: the back story of star-crossed lovers Nandini and Aditha Karikalan, the murder attempt on Arulmozhi (Jayam Ravi) at a Buddhist monastery, an erotic encounter between Vandiyathevan (Karthi) and Kundavai (Trisha).

Where to watch: Prime Video.

Por Thozhil
Vignesh Raja’s feature debut was among the year’s most engaging police procedurals. R Sarathkumar and Ashok Selvan play cops hunting for a serial killer – an exercise littered with false leads and twists. The film scores in its portrayal of the nitty-gritty of police work, apart from creating a suitably grisly visual palette.

Where to watch: Sony LIV.

Ponniyin Selvan: Part II.

Rajeev Ravi’s fifth Malayalam feature, adapted from a play by KM Chidambaram, has a literary quality that allows its subject matter to expand in fascinating ways. Thuramukham is based on the real-life travails of dock workers in Kochi’s Mattancherry harbour in the 1940s and 1950s. The attempt to form a union against cruel overlords who treat their employees like slaves is refracted through the differences between a pair of brothers.

One of the brothers is played by Nivin Pauly, who is mesmerising as the conflicted Moidu who must choose between selling out and doing what is right. Poornima Indrajith, as Moidu’s beleaguered mother, is wonderful too.

Where to watch: Sony LIV.

In Paresh Mokashi’s wicked Vaalvi, murder is best served pre-meditated – and bungled. The yarn about a married man trying to kill his wife with his lover’s assistance braids together heartless humour and fretfulness. Correctly pitched performances by Swwapnil Joshi, Shivani Surve, Anita Date-Kelkar and Subodh Bhave along with a darkly comic script result in one of 2023’s most entertaining films.

Where to watch: ZEE5.

Also read: ‘Vaalvi’ is a sleeper hit and nobody is more surprised than director Paresh Mokashi

Vidhuthalai Part 1
Tamil filmmaker Vetri Maaran’s blistering chronicle of rebellion begins with an extended bravura sequence of the aftermath of a bomb blast. From this spectacular opening, the film settles into the uncomfortably intimate encounters between a lowly policeman (Soori) and his higher-ups.

If the police are brutal in their treatment of villagers suspected of sheltering an underground rebel (Vijay Sethupathi), their handling of their subordinates reveals the very nature of state power. The second part, which will elaborate on Sethupathi’s character, will be released in 2024.

Where to watch: ZEE5.


The fiction shows: The fog of brilliance

Ashim Ahluwalia’s Class, adapted from the Spanish series Elite has fabulous production values and important conversations about privilege, religion, caste, sexuality, and the pressure to keep up appearances. A stunning cast of mostly newcomers enacts a show that is often explicit but intimate too.

Where to watch: Netflix.

Also read: Why Ashim Ahluwalia enrolled for ‘Class’: Unpredictable characters, urgent Indian realities

Guns & Gulaabs
The good ole times are back in Gulshan Devaiah’s flamboyant mullet and Rajkummar Rao’s adolescent sentimentalism. Raj & DK direct a formulaic story with wit and verve. Apart from Devaiah and Rao, Guns & Gulaabs has fine turns by Adarsh Gourav and Dulquer Salmaan as men stuck in moments they can’t get out of.

Where to watch: Netflix.

Also read: Adarsh Gourav hopes he doesn’t ‘get bored of acting’ – we hope so too

This beautifully designed, imaginative alt-history of Hindi cinema sets the quest for stardom against the backdrop of a newly independent country trying to find its feet. Created by Vikramaditya Motwane and Soumik Sen and written by Atul Sabharwal, Jubilee celebrates the unruly energies of filmmaking in the 1940s and 1950s while also supplying notes of caution. For every new beginning, there must be a “The End”, aptly captured by the dirge-like song Sare Ke Sare Akele that concludes the series.

Where to watch: Prime Video.

Also read: Web series ‘Jubilee’ is a ‘tribute to ambition’ of early Hindi film stars


Kohrra was by far the best show on a streaming platform – and one of the best things to watch in 2023. The Hindi/Punjabi show, written by Gunjit Chopra and Diggi Sisodia and directed by Randeep Jha, traces an investigation into a murder, which evolves into an interrogation on questionable personal choices and knotty personal ties. Suvinder Vicky, Barun Sobti, Harleen Sethi and Saurav Khurana are the key players in a series that embraces the complicated nature of emotions.

Where to watch: Netflix.

Also read:

Meet Suvinder Vicky, the rumpled heart of ‘Kohrra’

Kumari Srimathi
The redoubtable Nithya Menen leads an entertaining show about inheritance and a woman’s entrepreneurial dreams. The Telugu show, created by Srinivas Avasarala and directed by Gomtesh Upadhye, also stars Prem Sagar in a touchingly comic role.

Menen’s character finds it easier to set up the Taj Mahal cocktail bar than to navigate the treacherous terrain of family ties. Several shows went into second and third seasons – here is one where we actually want to know what happens next.

Where to watch: Prime Video.

The Mirror, Lust Stories 2
Konkona Sensharma’s contribution to the second Lust Stories anthology is all about looking, feeling, and indirectly experiencing. It’s also the only episode worth watching.

Amruta Subhash and Shrikant Yadav are terrific as a couple who use their employer’s house as a love pad – unaware that she is secretly watching them. The screenplay, by Sensharma and Pooja Tolani, is immensely alive to the uncontrollable impulses unleashed by sexual desire, the income gap between voyeur and the viewed, and the false assumptions made about pleasure.

Where to watch: Netflix.

Kumari Srimathi.

Lalagunda Bommaigal, Modern Love Chennai
Like Lust Stories 2, a single episode in the Tamil-language anthology series Modern Love Chennai eclipses the other contributions. In Lalagunda Bommaigal, written and directed by Rajumurugan, a bakery owner’s daughter falls for a chaat seller, leading to needless finger-wagging and a lesson or two in the vagaries of the heart.

Where to watch: Prime Video.

The Railway Men
Shiv Rawail’s limited-episode show finds the grace notes in the horrors of the Bhopal gas leak tragedy in 1984. The Railway Men boasts of solid performances by Kay Kay Menon and Divyenndu, realistic production design by Rajat Poddar, and an engrossing account of heroism in trying circumstances.

Where to watch: Netflix.

Also read: How a busy station was created from scratch for ‘The Railway Men’

Trial By Fire
Created by Prashant Nair and Kevin Luperchlo and directed by Nair and Randeep Jha, Trial By Fire revisits the entirely avoidable deaths at Uphaar Cinema in Delhi in 1997. The Hindi-language show reveals in painful but necessary detail the legal battles fought by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who lost their children in the fire. Rajshri Deshpande is awe-inspiring as Neelam, who overcomes personal trauma to become part of efforts to prosecute the cinema’s owners.

Where to watch: Netflix.

Trial By Fire.

The performances: Hearts and knaves

After teasing his fans with guest appearances over the past few years, Shah Rukh Khan made a pulse-racing comeback in January as an action hero in Siddharth Anand’s Pathaan. Khan’s appetite for destruction, which continued in the less memorable Jawan a few months later, was made palatable by his trademark coolness, subversive cheekiness, and hug-me warmth.

Also read: ‘Jawan’ is being called a ‘mass movie’ – but what does this term really mean?

Kareena Kapoor Khan was the flame that lit the dark corners of Sujoy Ghosh’s Jaane Jaan (Netflix). Ghosh’s official adaptation of Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X conjured up for its heroine a different character arc, giving Kapoor Khan the opportunity to play a vulnerable, conflicted woman.

Jhoome Jo Pathaan, Pathaan.

Kedar Shinde’s superhit Baipan Bhari Deva had six amazing actors playing sisters who grudgingly reunite for a religious function. Let’s name them: Rohini Hattangadi, Vandana Gupte, Suchitra Bandekar, Sukanya Kulkarni Mone, and Deepa Parab Chaudhari.

Also read:

‘Baipan Bhari Deva’ is a monster hit. Will it change Marathi cinema for good?

Vijay Maurya’s Mast Mein Rehne Ka (Prime Video) could have been better, but Jackie Shroff has never been better. One of cinema’s coolest cats aced the role of a retired – and retiring – gent who develops feelings for a feisty woman he meets in a police station. Shroff is clearly up for better roles than he is being offered at the moment.

Navdeep Singh’s Shehar Lakhot (Prime Video) didn’t have too much going for it, but Chandan Roy Sanyal appears not have noticed. Sanyal, a consummate professional whatever the quality of the material, was a scene-stealer as a serial pervert with a sense of wicked humour.

Shantit Kranti Season 2 (Sony LIV) is already in diminishing returns mode. It’s time to find Lalit Prabhakar, Abhay Mahajan and Alok Rajwade, three of the finest man-boys to have graced the screen, something more fulfilling to do.

Baipan Bhari Deva title track.

Vicky Kaushal has the rangy charm, disarming smile, and serious manner that needs proper channelling. Elements of Kaushal’s talents were on display in Zara Hatke Zara Bachke, The Great Indian Family and Sam Bahadur. Now for a film that showcases him better.

Dahaad (Prime Video), by Reema Kagti and Ruchika Oberoi, is inspired by a serial murderer who fed cyanide to his victims. In the Hindi-language show, Vijay Varma makes for a dangerously seductive killer, whose neat appearance and mild-mannered ways conceals raging misogyny. Not for the first time do we find ourselves keenly following the villain.

Also read: What connects a decades-old children’s poem about fish with the serial killer in ‘Dahaad’

Vishal Bhardwaj had a busy 2023 with Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley (Sony LIV) and Khufiya (Netflix), but the end products didn’t match his industry. That said, Tabu lingered in memory, delivering a winning satin-and-steel performance as an espionage agent getting more deeply involved than she should in a mole hunt.

Manoj Bajpayee had a bunch of releases (Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai, Joram), but his most subtle work was in Rahul V Chittella’s ensemble film Gulmohar (Disney+ Hotstar). Bajpayee powerfully played a businessman who has a identity crisis when his family house is about to be torn down and his mother (Sharmila Tagore) spills out her secrets.


Abhay Pannu’s Rocket Boys 2 (Sony LIV) wasn’t as smooth or involving as its predecessor. But Jim Sarbh was in great shape as Homi Bhabha, the dapper nuclear scientist who fuelled India’s nuclear programme while leading an unconventional life beyond the laboratory.

Sikandar Kher turned a corner in 2020 with the first season of Ram Madhvani’s Aarya (Disney+ Hotstar). By 2023, Kher refined his role in Aarya’s third season as the loyal Daulat, who encourages Sushmita Sen’s heroine to embrace her inner tigress. Kher was also the best thing about the light-hearted Tooth Pari (Netflix), playing a besotted police inspector shining his torch on Kolkata’s hidden vampire universe.

Also read: The advice that turned Sikandar Kher’s career: ‘Get on the train, even if it’s in the last bogie’

Prasath Murugesan’s Tamil series Mathagam (Disney+ Hotstar) had a superb gallery of rogues, led by K Manikandan’s cool-headed, ruthless and lovelorn Padalam Sekar. Played by Manikandan with a ferocity unmatched by some of the writing, this character survived the show’s strange love for stretching out its plot.

K Manikandan in Mathagam. Courtesy Screen Scene/Disney+ Hotstar.

Shahana Goswami was so good in Nandita Das’s Zwigato that she nearly overshadowed the film’s main character. Kapil Sharma was nicely cast as a delivery agent trying to make sense of the exploitative gig economy. Goswami provided the warm smiles and a layer of poignancy.

Also read: Nandita Das’s ‘Zwigato’ makes a case for swiping for empathy

The Night Manager (Disney+ Hotstar) was released in two batches over the year (this trend will hopefully die out). This meant a double dose of Tilottama Shome, wonderful as the intrepid handler of Aditya Roy Kapur’s undercover agent. Shome also had tremendous fun as a vampire tawaif in Tooth Pari and a voyeur in Lust Stories 2.

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