The Indie cinema in India is advancing, proliferating, going places, here and abroad. Last year it nudged spaces occupied by commercial cinema. In 2018 it seems to have come out in the open, claiming its ground. Even production houses are backing indie projects with its more topical, visceral, life-connected stories. Here are the dozen most exciting, talked about films to look forward to as we enter the New Year …

Nandita Das’ ‘Manto’

Actor-filmmaker Nandita Das’ accomplished debut film ‘Firaaq’ (2008) premiered at the 33rd Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and travelled widely thereafter, winning accolades and awards. The film portrayed the emotional journey of people caught in the cross fire of the 2002 riots that unsettled Gujarat. Almost 10 years later, Das is ready with her second directorial venture, far wider and more ambitious in its scale. The film is ‘Manto’, a journey through the 4 tumultuous years (1946-50) of the writer Saadat Hasan Manto, set in Bombay and Lahore. Scripted by Das, it stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rasika Dugal, Tahir Bhasin and a host of other accomplished actors. The main producers are HP Studios, Viacom 18, Filmstoc and Nandita Das Initiatives. The first glimpses of ‘Manto’ were unveiled at the 70th Cannes Film Festival by HP Studios. The film is approximately 115 minutes long and in Urdu/Hindi.

Leena Yadav’s ‘Rajma Chawal’ (Rice and Beans)

Leena Yadav, director of the highly acclaimed, path breaking ‘Parched’ recently completed the shoot of her new Hindi feature film in Delhi. Titled ‘Rajma Chawal’, it revolves around a father-son and their generational divide, taking in the conflicts between the old and the new in today’s world, and the discordance between real communication and the internet. The title refers to the commonplace and favourite comfort food of the country’s daily diet. The film stars the mercurial and highly selective actor Rishi Kapoor in the lead with Anirudh Tanwar playing his son. It is shot by Donald McAlpine, the Oscar nominated, Australian cinematographer of the film ‘Moulin Rouge’. The approximately 120 minute long film will be ready by mid-March, 2018.

Onir’s ‘Kuch Bheege Alfaaz’ (Rain Soaked Words)

Produced by Saregama’s production wing, Yoodlee Films, Onir's next is a Hindi language film featuring Zain Khan Durrani and Geetanjali Thapa. At its epicentre is a 10 pm radio programme on an episodic series of unrequited love stories hosted by RJ Alfaz who, despite his tremendous following, prefers staying detached and anonymous. Among his many fans is the boisterous Archana, a girl working at a creative agency which designs branded memes. Although a victim of the skin ailment of leukoderma, she lives life to the fullest. They talk, for the first time, over a misplaced call that Archana intends for her latest blind date, which triggers a bonding between the unlikely couple. She is in denial of her present and he hiding a secret past. The 110-minute film is awaiting its international world premiere.

Sudhir Mishra’s ‘Daasdev’

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's classic novel has lured filmmakers down the years with its timeless tale of torrid and doomed love. It comes to our screens again in a new take by leading Mumbai filmmaker, Sudhir Mishra. However, this version is not for those who expect a faithful rendition of the famed novel. Director Mishra transposes it to modern times and the politics of hinterland India as it details how power gets into the way of true love. In this adaptation, Paro is a modern, spunky, interesting woman who fights with the weapons she has and in the end, confronts Dev. As for Chandni, Mishra claims that she is as close to the original Chandramukhi of the novel as she can get in this day and age. Presented by Storm Pictures and produced by Saptarishi Cinevision. Richa Chadha stars as Paro, Aditi Rao Hydari as Chandni and Rahul Bhat as Dev. ‘Daasdev’ is set to release nationally on February 16, 2018.

Samit Kakkad’s Ascharya F#*kit

Samit Kakkad’s promising debut film 'Aayna Ka Bayna' (Delinquent Dancers) travelled to 18 international film festivals. He now presents his latest venture, produced by leading music company Saregama’s production arm, Yoodlee Films. Intertwining desire and greed in several lives – that of a Bollywood star, his chauffeur, a prostitute and her pimp, and culminating in an unlikely love story. It exposes the truth that underlies the dazzling veneer of Mumbai’s glitzy film industry. The film, says Kakkad, pays homage to two diverse and exemplary artistes, one from the East, author Saadat Hassan Manto, and from the West, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. ‘Ascharya F#*kit’ stars Priyanka Bose, seen in Garth Davis’ Oscar-nominated ‘Lion’(2016). Other lead actors in the film are Vaibhav Raaj Gupta, Ankit Raaj and Santosh Juvekar. Priyanka Bose also led the cast of Kakkad’s previous well-received film ‘Half Ticket’ (2016), which has represented India at 20 international film festivals.

Biju Kumar’s ‘Painting Life’

Prolific filmmaker from Kerala, Dr Biju Kumar, switches from his usual Malayalam to English in his latest film. It centres on a film crew arriving in a tiny neglected tribal Himalayan village in Sikkim. At its helm is a big Bollywood filmmaker ready to shoot a song and dance sequence for his upcoming blockbuster. A torrential downpour and landslide isolates them from the outside world. They are trapped with no basic amenities or means of communication, totally at the mercy of the forces of nature. Produced by Silicon Media and Blue Ocean Media, the film stars actors from different regions of the country — Prakash Bare (Bangalore), Geetanjali Thapa (Mumbai), Ritabhari Chakraborty (Kolkata), Shankar Ramakrishnan (Kerala), Ravi Singh (Mumbai), Purav Goswami (Assam), Phuntsok Ladakhi (Jammu), Noksha Saham (Arunachal), Kinzong Bhutia (Sikkim), Tensing Lepcha (Sikkim), Melwin (Delhi), Krishnan Balakrishnan (Kerala), Yancho Bhutia (Sikkim) and Arjun (Sikkim). The film is expected to be ready by March 2018

Lijo Jose Pellissery ‘Ee. Ma.Yau’ (RIP)

Kerala based director Pellissery follows up his acclaimed ‘Angamaly Diaries’ (2017) with ‘Ee.Ma.Yau’ (RIP), a title that is short form of ‘Eeso Mariyam Ouseppe’ – which stands for RIP. Unfolding a satirical saga that delves into matters of life and afterlife, the film journeys into a complex web of human relationships, customs, rituals, and beliefs that express and mark life as well as death. Set in Chellanam in Kochi and shot in 18 days, the story stems from the death of Vavachan Mesthiri, then turning to an ageing man who talks to himself and visits his home sporadically making his exact whereabouts uncertain. While dwelling on a sombre subject, the film’s tone is boisterous and rib tickingly funny. On a screenplay by PF Mathews and cinematography by Shyju Khalid, it is produced by George Kulangara under his banner RGK Cinemas.

Sange Dorjee’s ‘River Song’

Sange Dorjee has singlehandedly spot-lit his state of Arunachal Pradesh on Indian and international screens. He is the first from his state of Arunachal Pradesh to graduate from a film school, Kolkata’s Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Delhi University. The first film made in his region, was Dorjee's acclaimed debut feature, ‘Crossing Bridges’ (2013), in his own language of Sherdukpen. Dorjee now presents his second feature film ‘River Song’ (107 minutes, in the Shedukpen language and Hindi). The film observes the lone bachelor Tashi living in a defunct fuel station on the outskirts of a small town. The region is being inundated with water from the construction of a dam nearby. The danger this poses does not deter Tashi from staying on. He meets a married woman Eshna, who is overseeing the construction of the dam. Despite their differences, they begin to bond. Eshna and Tashi now need to decide their future course. The film is produced by Jar Pictures.

Atanu Ghosh’s ‘Mayurakshi’ (The Stream Within)

Filmmaker Atanu Ghosh’s five feature films starting from ‘Angshumaner Chhobi’ – 2009, have established him as a leading director. His latest film, ‘Mayurakshi’, 102-minute long and in Bengali, is a thoughtful study of fragile family ties, made more sensitive by its accomplished cast of Soumitra Chaterjee, Prosonjit Chatterjee and Indrani Halder. The film dwells on the ailing octogenarian Sushobhan, whose sedate, routine life in Kolkata is regulated by his agency care-giver and an old retainer. With dementia phasing out his immediate past, he tends to be silent, and also irritable and fretful. His son Aryanil faces life stolidly and without hope with failed marriages behind him. When the two encounter, their separate angst affects them both, causing shifts in their attitudes to life and to each other. Produced by Firdausal Hassan and Probal Halder for Friends Communication, the film released in Kolkata December end, 2017.

Kamakhya Narayan Singh’s ‘Oh Shit!’

This promising Hindi language debut feature deals with a dire problem that plagues Indian rural and even urban areas: the woeful lack of toilets. The result is that outdoor defecation is prevalent in the entire country. Budhni, a young Musahar girl, an untouchable from a tiny neglected tribal village in Bihar, begins to asks questions about her basic right to a toilet. Her journey to break caste barriers and fight for education and better sanitation spreads when she tops the district examinations: she requests nothing but a toilet for a prize. Familial circumstances take her to Delhi where her mission sparks a nationwide movement. While hinting at the State’s failed plans to clean up rural areas, the film urges more responsible and resourceful measures from the government. At its heart, this 91 minute film is about a girl asking for nothing more than what is every Indian citizen’s due. Its realism stems from the actors living the life of the locals for a month. Produced by Anjani Kumar Singh with Creative Producer Abhinandan Sekhri, it stars Devesh Ranjan, Saveree Gaur, Nalneesh Neel. ‘Oh Shit!’ awaits its international festival world premiere.

Kushal Srivastava’s ‘Vodka Diaries’

This close to two hours debut work is set in the misty town of Manali in Himachal Pradesh, and follows a mysterious woman who leads Assistant Commissioner of Police Ashwini Dixit (Menon) on a wild goose chase over a series of murders that occur over a single night. They seem connected with the night club, Vodka Diaries. The film stars Kay Kay Menon, Raima Sen, Mandira Bedi and is produced by Vishal Karkera, Vishal Raj, Kushal Srivastava, Atul Pupneja and Vivek Sudhindra Kulshrestha. Kushal Srivastava’s earlier work includes his 2007 short film ‘Kaafir’. ‘Vodka Diaires’, a K’Scope Entertainment Pvt Ltd and Vishal Raj Films production, releases in India on January 19, 2018.

Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee’s ‘Love and Lust’

Following the critical success of ‘Bombay Talkies’, which created far-reaching waves when it premiered at 2013 Cannes, the second in its wake as an anthology is now ready. It also links four separate shorts, directed by Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar respectively. Each episode connects with the theme of love and lust. Kashyap’s segment features Radhika Apte and Aakash Thosar; Banerjee’s stars Manisha Koirala and Sanjay Kapoor; Johar’s segment has Vicky Kaushal, Kiara Advani and Neha Dhupia; while Akhtar’s features Bhumi Pednekar, Neil Bhoopalam and Rasika Dugal. The film is produced by Ashi Dua in collaboration with Ronnie Screwvala.