The quality of films has been declining so rapidly over the last few years that we have now come to the bottom-of-the-barrel state where we are grateful if we can say that a film is "not bad".
When was the last time we saw a great Hindi film? Can't remember? Okay... very good? Sarfarosh. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai if you go for pulp. Satya if you go for gore, Godmother, if you go for alternative cinema.
If 2000 started with the torturous Mela and Bulandi, it could only go downhill from there.
At the end of the year, if we have to admit that the most successful, and perhaps the best, mainstream film of the year was Rakesh Roshan's Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai, that's not saying much is it?
Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai was a lavishly mounted, glossy film with lovely music and quite entertaining, but hardly great cinema.
In fact, it was in a way depressing to see the ancient humshakal (lookalike) formula being used once again.
The best thing about Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai was that it introduced a bright new talent to Hindi cinema: Hrithik Roshan, a rare combination of looks and talent. No wonder the country went nuts over him.
Audiences didn't much go for Aziz Mirza's loony comedy, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, about media machinations, but again something good came out of it -- Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla and Mirza's production company Dreamz Unlimited, from which we can perhaps expect better films in future.
Unfortunately, Raj Kumar Santoshi's Pukar didn't get the audience appreciation it deserved. But the story of an army hero almost destroyed by the woman who loves him, had excellent performances by Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit, which will be ignored in the awards race because of the film's average performance at the BO.
Kamal Haasan's Hey! Ram was a meticulously recreated period epic about a man who wants to kill Mahatma Gandhi. The film turned out to be too long and self-indulgent, but you had to appreciate the effort that went into it.
A bit shorter and snappier paced and it could have been a perfect thriller, appealing to both thinking viewer and timepass seeker.
Priyadarshan's Hera Pheri did well just in Bombay and a few other territories, but the Hrishikesh Mukherjee-inspired remake of the Malayalam film, Ramji Rao Speaking, was hilarious.
There were the usual item song kind of irritants. But Paresh Rawal's inspired performance as the short-sighted, drunken garage owner more than covered up. Pity he will end up getting an award in the best comedian category, when he was the hero of Hera Pheri, coaxing good performances from the wooden Sunil Shetty and Akshay Kumar.
Kundan Shah's Kya Kehna, the soppy story of a teenage girl's (Preity Zinta) fight to keep the child of a man who ditches her (Saif Ali Khan) was a surprise hit, though its message seemed outdated in today's times.
Still, the fact that a heroine-oriented film without a major starcast made money is heartening, simply because you hope the copycats will follow suit.
Mansoor Khan's Josh, an updated version of Westside Story relocated in Goa, had a certain youthful zing to it, and wonderful performances by Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Sharad Kapoor.
J P Dutta's severely flawed Refugee will be remembered for introducing Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor, and the huge publicity blitz it was greeted with, only to get a chilly BO reception.
Khalid Mohamed's debut film Fiza had a lot of script problems, but a thought-provoking story idea, terrific performances from Karisma Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan and Jaya Bachchan, plus Anu Malik's pleasing music made it one of the better films of the year.
The Diwali clash of titans Aditya Chopra's Mohabbatein and Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Mission Kashmir was a bit of a damp squib, since both films were very disappointing.
But they did quite well commercially, perhaps because the jaded audiences went for gloss instead of solid content. And who can blame them?
At the end of the year, comes Anil Devgan's 30-crore, special-effects laden Raju Chacha, which again made you wonder why producers (in this case, actor Ajay Devgan), will spend so much on the look of a film and pay no attention to the script.
The just-about-okay category would, perhaps, include Raj Kanwar's Badal about a terrorist (Bobby Deol) who has a change of heart, Guddu Dhanoa's Bicchoo about the relationship between a hitman (Bobby Deol) and an orphan (Rani Mukherjee) -- the former borrowed from Devil's Own, the latter from Leon.
Dharmesh Darshan's Dhadkan was saved by its music, Harry Baweja's Deewane by a few interesting moments of intensity drummed up by Ajay Devgan, Ramgopal Varma's Jungle by its topical story about a Veerappan-like bandit.
In the just-about-bearable category would fall Satish Kaushik's Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai thanks to the ever-dependable Anil Kapoor, Raj Kanwar's Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega (While You Were Sleeping) mainly because of Rani Mukherjee's perky performance in the second half.
Yogesh Ishwar's Aaghaaz and Mahesh Manjrekar's Kurukshetra because of the directors' earnestness, and K Muralimohan Rao's Kahin Pyar Na Ho Jaaye, due to Salman Khan and Jackie Shroff's ad libbing.
The absolute duds would be Raj Kanwar's Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke, Sanjay Gupta's Khauff and Jung, A Muthu's Tera Jadoo Chal Gayaa, Rakesh Roshan's Karobaar, Kundan Shah's Hum To Mohabbat Karega, N Chandra's Shikari,
Hansal Mehta's Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar, Akashdeep's Ghaath and Sunhil Sippy's stylish but pointless Snip, Padam Kumar's Champion, T K Rajeev Kumar's Raja Ko Rani Se Pyar Ho Gaya, Neeraj Vora's Khiladi 420.
It was also clear that substandard work by David Dhawan (Dulhan Hum Le Jaayenge, Kunwara, Chal Mere Bhai) and his clones (Hadh Kar Di Aapne, Joru Ka Ghulam, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Rehta Hai) is not going to work.
In the non-commercial category were bio-pics Uddham Singh and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar which won awards but were not expected to do well at the box-office.
That films like Mahesh Manjrekar's Nidaan and Astitva, Santosh Sivan's Halo, Amol Palekar's Kairi, M F Husain's Gaja Gamini (though this doesn't fall into any genre!) are still popping up makes you feel good, because there are people who are funding and distributing small offbeat efforts.
More power to them.
One hopes sanity, imagination and creativity will return to Hindi cinema in 2001.
That filmmakers are able to combine technical polish with fresh content. That the writer is given the rightful place, which Salim-Javed had once wrested from filmmakers.
That filmmakers spend money wisely and well -- not just on pampering stars, building huge sets and shooting at exotic locations.
That audiences learn to be more discriminating and demand the respect their intelligence and money deserves.
That at the end of 2001, we are able to come up with at least 10 excellent films not just a handful of "not bad" ones to include in the top charts. That we have real reasons to put them there, and not lame excuses.
E-mail Deepa Gahlot