This week, Jaane Jaan is arriving on Netflix. It marks the digital debut of Kareena Kapoor Khan, who was not long ago one of the top actresses of Bollywood. But the stylish diva is now taking it easy and slow. Jaane Jaan is a dark thriller in which she plays a suspect in an investigation.
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I figured this might be the right action to quickly compile a list of the best Hindi thriller movies streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Let me say again this is a whimsical, subjective list. Another day, my list may read differently. That is the beauty of these compilations. It just goes with the mood and the moment.
Best Hindi Thriller Movies
Karthik Calling Karthik (2010)
The intrigue in the title permeates the entire movie. This is not your typical run-of-the-mill suspense Bollywood flick. Instead, this is a well-thought moody thriller that keeps you hooked on with a mysterious caller. Its pace is unhurried, but the script doesn’t dawdle. Farhan Akhtar and Deepika Padukone, as colleagues in love, add an interesting layer to a movie about a man with psychological issues. The music and songs of Shankar-Ehasa-Loy is a major plus of this movie, which is directed by Vijay Lalwani.
Game Over (2019)
Another movie in the psychological horror genre that is both ambitious and unsettling in ways that you wouldn’t imagine. A woman has a disturbing past that leaves her petrified of the dark. That is, she is nyctophobic. Her condition, a result of a post-traumatic event, worsens every day closer to the New Year (when she had suffered the tragic assault). The film, directed by Ashwin Saravanan, carries a gaming trope and is the central conceit of the plot. It may be a bit patchy, but the parts that work are slick and superb. Taapse Pannu in the lead is excellent.
Andhadhun, based on a French short story, never loses, well, the sight of that first rule of a good suspense movie: Keep ’em guessing all through. The film does it till its last frame. The director, Sriram Raghavan, who is a confessed buff of Hindi movies of the 70s and of pulp (his Johnny Gaddar is a case in point), provides evidence of it in Andhadhun. The performances of Ayushmann Khurrana and Tabu elevate the film. Even though Radhika Apte is a bit hammy, the twisted tale keeps you engrossed. The music of Amit Trivedi, with its piano riffs, is delicious.
You can watch this riveting thriller just for Vidya Balan, who plays the vulnerable pregnant woman. You can watch this speedy suspense drama for Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays a hard-nosed IB agent. You can watch this emotional, edgy drama for Parambrata Chattopadhyay, who plays an earnest and affable Kolkata cop. You can watch it for the music (Songs: Vishal–Shekhar, and Score: Clinton Cerejo) and the camera of Satyajit Pande. Kolkata has never looked better on screen than in Kahaani. This Sujoy Ghosh helmed movie is a textbook on making engaging suspenseful stories without distraction or plot contrivances.
A Wednesday (2008)
Released just two years after the 2006 Mumbai train bombings, the film, directed by debutant Neeraj Pandey, immediately struck a chord with the public. The slick entertainer is about a common man’s frustration with the system that takes years to deal with captured terrorists. Naseeruddin Shah plays the ‘stupid common man’, who threatens the city with serial blasts. And Anupam Kher, as the beleaguered police commissioner, is nearly flawless. The two in a performance for ages have made the film a cult classic.
Article 15 (2019)
Caste and religion as they unspool in the Indian context is director Anubhav Sinha’s pet concern. His latter movies, Mulk and Bheed underscore that. But the trend started with Article 15. It talked about the caste dynamics in a village and the police force.
Recent critics are nitpicking that the whole issue in the film was approached through the eyes of an upper-caste hero character’s eyes. An upper caste man coming to the rescue of the so-called lower caste people would be a classic case of saviour syndrome, they said. But make no mistake, Article 15 is a solid thriller that seamlessly incorporates an edgy idea. Aysuhmann Khurrana, who is at home with these types of characters, is again first-rate as a conscientious cop.
Monica, Oh My Darling (2022)
Filled with knowing winks thrown the audience’s way, Monica, O My Darling, is a wacky, entertaining film packed with twists and turns that keep on giving until the final fadeout. Director Vasan Bala and screenwriter Yogesh Chandekar film this neo-noir comic thriller with whimsicality.
Rajkummar Rao is reliably solid, while Huma Qureshi and Sikandar Kher liven things up. Radhika Apte, as a quirky cop from south India, is a bit of a letdown. But with many pop culture references and infectious musical interludes, the film is a well-crafted whodunit and keeps you guessing and laughing.
Raat Akeli Hai (2020)
The patriarch of an influential family is murdered. The perpetrator, it is strongly suggested, is a loved one. Debutant director Honey Trehan fills the story with Agatha Christiesque fervour and a gaggle of relatives, housemaids, and dishonest politicians are among the suspects. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the cop who tries to crack the case. But his investigation is complicated at every step by the secretive family of the victim. He single-handedly makes the movie watchable.
Mardaani 2 (2019)
Gopi Puthran’s gritty, gripping thriller Mardaani 2 is a sequel to the 2014 box-office hit Mardaani. As in the first film, Rani Mukerji plays Shivani, the no-nonsense policewoman. She brings to the fore the anger and angst of the nation against heinous crimes perpetrated on hapless and helpless women. The film also delves into issues such as women’s safety, gender inequality, misogyny and toxic masculinity. Vishal Jethwa, as the raging criminal, is indeed scary. And he gives the film its dark edge.
Section 375 (2019)
This riveting courtroom drama is a brave film that makes you think and raises important questions on the flip side of the #metoo movement. The film is not misogynistic but one that brings in another perspective. Section 375 — the section in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that deals with rape and sexual attacks on women — captures the media pressure (both mainstream and social) surrounding high-profile cases.
Section 375 raises questions and explores the grey zones in such incidents. Directed by Ajay Bahl with Akshaye Khanna and Richa Chadha in pivotal roles of lawyers, the movie unobtrusively makes a point about how a law created to protect women can be misused for settling personal scores.
Those are my recommendations for the best Hindi thriller movies- have you seen them all? Let us know in the comments below if there’s one here that you don’t agree with or one that’s missing.
An engineer-turned-journalist, K Balakumar’s career began in print publications as a sports writer. That also opened doors for other journalistic avenues like films, music, finance, technology and politics, which nobody can escape in India. After 30 yrs in mainstream journalism, now a freelancer for various digital publications.