This year was a year for characters. Alia Bhatt’s Sehmat, Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Manto, Taapsee Pannu’s Rumi – all of them so layered, so well written. I’d give a lot of credit where it’s due – to the writers of these characters. Of course, the actors portraying them have a huge part in adding almost all the nuance to the characters, and that is why these ten actors remain my favourite actors of the year that was, in no particular order…
Alia Bhatt – Raazi
You’ve got to trust Alia Bhatt for bringing the narratives of parallel cinema into mainstream ones. Sehmat Khan’s story is just that. Mainstream cinema deserves films like Raazi and films like Raazi, driven by content, need mainstream actors to act in them to make sure that these films reach out to the audience they deserve. Sehmat is one of the toughest written roles this year. Bhatt plays an Indian spy, married off in Pakistan to source information. Sehmat does to Bhatt’s career perhaps what Imtiaz Ali’s Veera did. Alia Bhatt is an actor who doesn’t have to establish herself anymore. By just deciding to play the lead in Highway, she had proved that she is a certain force to reckon with and Raazi just re-illuminates the same with even brilliant storytelling.
Ayushmann Khurrana – Andhadhun & Badhaai Ho
It took me a while to answer, when I asked myself, in which film did I like Ayushmann Khurrana more – Andhadhun or Badhaai Ho? And I perhaps don’t have an answer. If I was asked the same at gunpoint, I’d say Andhadhun, solely because I liked his Akash a tiny bit more than his Nakul (character wise). Both, were very well sketched characters, each living in their own sphere of consciousness. As a blind man in Andhadhun and as a trapped young boy in Badhaai Ho, Khurrana delivers to the T. When I say trapped, I mean in societal norms, in the good and the bad, the right and wrong. Khurrana is an actor you don’t really doubt the capabilities of. Time and again he has proved that he is an actor worth watching out for. Of course he had a few misses here and there in his career but after this year, they wouldn’t really matter anymore.
Mrunal Thakur – Love Sonia
In an interview, Freida Pinto had said that Mrunal Thakur is the future, and indeed she was so correct. Sonia is a very difficult part of play. Actors, who’ve been acting for a while now, may find it tough to express as Sonia would, walk and talk as Sonia would, look as Sonia would. But Thakur makes it all seem so easy, so natural. Director Tabrez Noorani plays with a risky script but because his gun is on Mrunal’s shoulder, it’s a perfect shot. As an actor, Thakur is so nuanced, that at various points you think that she’s a veteran in the acting business. With Love Sonia, Thakur gives us a kind of debut performance that we, perhaps, haven’t seen in a long long time. Thakur’s Sonia is the most broken character we have seen in the longest time, in one of the most painful films in the recent years. When you watch Noorani’s masterpiece, you realise how much pain there is in the world and how without knowing any bit of this pain, Thakur portrays Sonia as if she’s been through what Sonia perhaps felt, experienced. Her performance is that real and engaging.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui – Manto
Undoubtedly, Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s portrayal of Manto is my favourite performance of the year. This isn’t supposed to be a ranked list, but let’s just admit it that Siddiqui’s thirst to tell the story of this man is beyond what we’ve seen this year. Credit – where it’s due – to Nandita Das. As a biopic of the exceptional Sadat Hassan Manto, the film could’ve gone horribly wrong at the hands of an amateur director. Manto’s literature on the Partition of India, prostitution and many other social stigmas stirred a revolution in his times. A biopic on this man needed to be nothing less than a revolution. And Nandita Das made sure it was. Manto was a man with too much conflict, mostly internal. To portray this in times of war, when there is so much conflict around oneself, Das needed an expert, she needed someone who would shed off everything he had of himself and become Manto, accept his problems, and most importantly, become his conflict. She needed someone who could make her audience believe that socio-economic-political struggles don’t necessarily need to be fought against at the forefront, but that works of art have the power to do so too. Because Manto is a man who is against so many atrocities, but he never starts a revolution, he never goes into the battlefield. That too, becomes a part of his conflict. And Nawazuddin Siddiqui is just that person. To become Manto, he forgets who he is, where he comes from, where he’s headed and everything else. He becomes this man as I’ve seen no one become someone else.
Rasika Dugal – Manto
I remember meeting Rasika Dugal when she was preparing for Manto. I was at her house, for an interview with a colleague and she had shown us, with so much passion, the volumes of Manto’s works that director Nandita Das had given her. And at that moment, in Dugal’s eyes, I could see Safia. Dugal was dressed in western casuals, but I could see her becoming this messiah of Manto’s life, with her round spectacles, just like Safia Manto’s pictures in the books I had read. And it’s not just the looks, but Dugal gets everything right. Safia is the anti-Manto. She’s not against her husband but Safia is most of the things that Manto is not. And to be able to pull off this complexity is commendable. And the brilliance of Rasika Dugal is not just that, but the fact that I didn’t see the woman I spoke to about cinema all those months ago even a bit in Safia. That is real talent. And talent also is in the fact that just one dialogue of hers made me fall in love with Safia, the dialogue being, “Ghalib sunane se masle hal nahi hote sa’saab”.
Taapsee Pannu – Manmarziyaan
When you watch Manmarziyaan on screen and notice Taapsee Pannu’s Rumi, you’re immediately reminded of Kareena Kapoor Khan’s Geet and her famous dialogue, “Jab koi pyaar mei hota hai toh sahi galat nahi hota.” Rumi is a hockey player, she’s hot headed, and very instinctive. Bandi aisi hai ki Kashmir mei, when it’s very very cold, she goes out for a run, with earphones on. And Taapsee Pannu gives her everything to this character. From the look to the expressions to the dialect, there isn’t one thing about her skill that makes you doubt for a second that there could’ve been a better Rumi. It’s almost like she’s lived this character in real life, she’s that natural. I’d give a lot of credit to Kanika Dhillon for writing Rumi the way she is and to Pannu for shaping her. Together, the creative forces of Dhillon and Pannu give us not only my favourite performance of the actress but also her most memorable character. Remember how Pannu had proved that she’s a name to look out for with Minal in Pink? With Rumi she does it again, and with such greater maturity. Perhaps why this performance of her has been the best of all her films is because she seemed to connect and relate to Rumi as she did to no other. Even while Pannu was promoting the film, you could see Rumi in her eyes, you could see the mad passion she had to tell her story, to bring this character to her fans, whom she loves immensely.
Tabu – Andhadhun
Andhadhun is about a blind man who falls prey to unimaginable circumstances, due to many reasons, and these circumstances put him in danger, always. It is tough to play a blind man, but Ayushmann Khurrana literally nailed that role. But what’s as tough is to stand by him, and act as if it’s nobody’s business. That was Tabu in Andhadhun. Here she stood, knowing that her co-actor is playing the role of a blind man, that she can’t talk to him by looking directly into his eyes, that she needs to emote double the amount through her eyes, for herself and on his behalf too. Tabu plays Simi, a very well drawn, flawed character and how! Tabu has always been a phenomenal actress. She earlier charmed us with her roles in films like The Namesake and Chandni Bar and off late, she’s been a superlative of phenomenal. With pathbreaking performances in films like Fitoor, Haider and Andhadhun, to just name a few, Tabu has proved that if there is one thing that sustains, it has to be talent, and of course the passion that drives it.
Varun Dhawan – October
With films like Badlapur and recently October, Varun Dhawan has tried to push his envelope and prove himself as an actor worth his meat, especially with October. His Dan, a young man, tired of his life, who brings purpose to it viz a viz a dying girl. Like Dan, Dhawan’s ambitions are also to prove – that he is worth the pay check he demands, that he is worth carrying a heavy Shoojit Sircar film almost on himself, and that he can switch between playing a clownish character in the many David Dhawan films and a serious ones written as parallel cinema but made for the mainstream foreground. I’ll be honest, I haven’t been a fan of Dhawan’s school of acting but after October, I am. I’ve always admired his acting chops, but never thought, in my wildest dreams, that he could pull off, with such ease, a character like Dan.
Vicky Kaushal – Manmarziyaan
Like last year belonged to Rajkummar Rao with a series of films, 2018 sure was a revelation of Vicky Kaushal, with films like Netflix’s Love Per Square Foot, Sanju, Raazi, and his finest, Manmarziyaan. Anurag Kashyap and Kanika Dhillon’s Vicky, needed an actor who was willing to take the risk of being both, boisterous as well as loveable, and coincidentally, both so that people could understand Rumi’s love and passion for him. And Kaushal brings just that. In a film where the female protagonist takes the centre stage, Kaushal makes this character his best performance till date. While I did have thoughts about which film was he better in, Manmarziyaan or Sanju, I decided to settle with the former because Kaushal left a longer impression of himself on me in the skin of this unfocused Punjabi boy, who loves, but with a pinch of salt.
Vineet Kumar Singh – Mukkabaaz
It’s tough to believe that Vineet Kumar Singh made his debut as a leading man this year in Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz – her performance is that nuanced and layered. Mukkabaaz was the first film to release this year and I had thought, rather assumed, that oh this is going to be a fantastic year, with such a kickstart. Singh plays a boxer in the film, but that’s not all to his Shravan. Shravan fights the ills and odds of the society to win over his love, to even express his love. And Singh gives Shravan everything he could ever have and adds so much more to Kashyap’s rendition of Shravan.