Top 10 Performers of 2019

While 2019 was not the most promising year for Hindi Cinema, let us admit there were a few films and characters that we purely genius. Ranveer Singh’s Murad, Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ Aditi, Yami Gautam’s Pari. 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…

Ranveer Singh Gully Boy

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Murad is confused. He doesn’t know where to go, or even what options are available to him. He doesn’t even know what an opportunity means. So later, when he gets them, he holds hard to them, crosses his heart and hopes to die and gives everything his best shot. Like Safeena, he too, is subjected to believe in a certain kind of reality. He is subjected to accept his fate, whatever it is. He is born in the slums and shall die there. He needs to get a real job, he needs to get his mother out of the miserable life she leads, he needs to educate himself, he needs to pay attention to his girlfriend of nine years, he needs to morally police his friends against a drug business and support them when they fall to the ground, and most importantly, he needs to give meaning to his life. And not for a single second did I not see Murad. Singh accepts the skin of Murad, like he perhaps embraces his clothes, his sense of fashion – with a certain confidence and naturalness unknown to humankind. Singh is Murad. He is the Gully Boy roaming in the streets of Dharavi, dreaming that one day a star will fall on the earth and that will be his. And as Murad, Singh delivers what no one could possibly have, even in a different role. This is his career best performance too, and my favourite in a long, long time.

Kangana Ranaut – Judgementall Hai Kya

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It’s a given that Kanika Dhillon is one of the finest writers we have, when it comes to writing women characters. Merge that with Kangana Ranaut’s finesse as an actor, and voila, we get Bobby. The question that arose in my head, while I was praising Dhillon after the film, was would Bobby be Bobby had it not been for Kangana Ranaut? Perhaps not. When you watch the film, you tend to believe that Dhillon wrote this part only and only for Ranaut and that she wouldn’t have taken no for an answer. This isn’t the first time Ranaut is playing an eccentric character, if I may call Bobby that. She’s done it in Gangster, in Fashion. But Bobby is different. Shonali (Fashion) was a scared soul, she knew there will come a day when a Meghna Mathur would replace her. Bobby knows she’s one of a kind and is very secure about her position in her own life, also because she doesn’t have friends. When someone asks her if she has friends, in the most normal way, she says, “zaroorat nahi hai”. Ranaut doesn’t play Bobby as a loud character. Instead, she gets into her skin and plays her subtly, which is an art in itself, which Ranaut has seemed to master over the years.

Alia BhattGully Boy

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Alia Bhatt as Safeena gives her career best performance in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy. Bhatt is known to pull off a crying scene in most of her films with such ease. But here, she’s not crying, and when she is, she is faking it and she tells us that she, indeed, faking it. Safeena is frivolous, not because she is a cuckoo at times but because she has been a part of the repression for longer than she could hold her angst inside her. So she sprouts wherever and whenever she can. Alia abandons all she has – her glamorous image, her sense of individuality, of freedom – and dives into the nerves of Safeena to play her.

Priyanka Chopra Jonas & Farhan AkhtarThe Sky Is Pink

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When I talk about Shonali Bose’s The Sky Is Pink, I find it tough to talk about either Priyanka Chopra Jonas or Farhan Akhtar as two separate entities. Though, both of them performed in their individual space and capacity, but they sold Aditi and Niren to us. It wasn’t a story about either of them, but rather what they do and what their life is about, together. Both Chopra Jonas and Akhtar do not look like fresh college graduates, and they know that, but when they’re on screen, you buy them as young adults in love, because they make it so believable. When Priyanka Chopra Jonas is running around in Niren’s Chandni Chowk home, you see the playfulness in her. When she steps into his London home, when she’s around fifty, you see the aching mother, and that is the true testament of an actor. The same for Akhtar. He plays along while being a young man in love, scared of and fighting for this woman, and when he’s an older man, a father of two, he switches to being responsible and direct in his manner. This is his finest work yet.

Chopra Jonas and Akhtar are playing aching parents here, and every single day is like a continuous horror film for them. Will our daughter die today is a constant, looming question that they deal with every living second of their lives. To express what Aditi and Niren felt would’ve been heartbreaking, because to watch it unfold on screen definitely was. And the finesse of Akhtar and Chopra Jonas just makes it more so. Though I do have something to add about Chopra Jonas. What makes her so good in this film is the fact that like Aisha’s real life mother, she gives Aisha more than she does to Aditi or anyone else. In a heartbreaking scene, Aditi says, “Aisha ke sivaye kisi aur ke lie kuch karna hi nahi aata,” and that seemed to be the one line description Bose gave to Chopra Jonas before they made this wonderful film. 

Ayushmann Khurrana – Article 15

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Ayushmann 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. In Article 15, he gives his career best performance. He makes Ayaan what he is. He’s everything Ayaan demands him to be – vulnerable, strong, sensitive, hot headed, emotional, smart, and of course, good looking.

Taapsee PannuBadla & Game Over

Over the years, with her choice of films, Taapsee Pannu has proved that there indeed are very few actors who can do what she can. As Naina Sethi, she is supposed to maintain a straight face while she engages in conversations, moves about town, attends business meeting and plays with her daughter. Naina is not boisterous as Rumi (Manmarziyaan), neither is she a patriot like Aarti (Mulk). She’s stubborn, has a head of her own and will not succumb to things just because she’s supposed to. And Taapsee Pannu is all of this and so much more. As I pointed out, what stuns me the most is how this woman can keep such a straight face an emote so much at the same time. In a thriller, this can go terribly wrong, but with Pannu, it doesn’t. She makes sure that her straight face emotions are intentional and it doesn’t look like she’s giving away too much.

In Game Over, Taapsee plays Swapna – a woman, obsessed with video games and is currently on a wheel chair. It’s a psychological thriller and much like Badla, Pannu holds her ground. Of course I watched the film in Hindi, because I don’t understand Tamil or Telugu, but Pannu overcomes the barriers of language to prove that in arts, the only language there is, is performance.

Yami Gautam – Bala

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We didn’t need Bala to recognise Yami Gautam’s true potential. Her debut, Vicky Donor, was more than enough. But sometimes, things work the tough way, and that’s perhaps what happened with Yami Gautam. While Bala boasts of a strong star cast (Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar and Gautam), it was Yami’s Pari that stayed with me, and perhaps most of us. Pari is naive, she’s unknown to the real problems of the world, and yet, she’s correct. In the film, Yami Gautam plays a TikTok star who knows nothing beyond her beauty. In a shattering scene in Bala, Pari explains to Bala why looking a certain way is all she knows and cares about. She says, “jab main school mein thi toh 45% marks aate the, phir bhi ladke mere aage peeche ghoomte the, kyuki main achi dikhti thi… aaj main hoarding par hoon kyuki main achi dikhti hoon… acha dikhne ke alawa mujhe kuch aata hi nahi hai, Bala.” In just one scene, with just one monologue, Gautam shows what a gifted, innocent performer she is. Gautam was to Bala what perhaps Deepika Padukone was to Shoojit Sircar’s Piku. 

Geetika Vidya Ohlyan & Saloni Batra – Soni

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When we talk of Soni, we need to talk about both Geetika Vidya Ohlyan & Saloni Batra together, because they make their characters, Soni and Kalpana, exist in solidarity, in togetherness. Ivan Ayr’s debut film is nothing short of genius. Soni deals with the casual sexism at play at the workplace, even in police forces. Kalpana is an IPS Officer and yet, it her husband who thinks is incharge of her life. Subtly, but he does. Soni is her subordinate, who is divorced and yet, is reminded again and again that the problems in her life are occurring because she is alone, because Naveen left her, or rather because she left him. Even in the workplace, they’re both often asked to take the backseat, when they very much can lead a revolution. While the writing of this film is groundbreaking, it is the performances that make Soni what it is. Both Ohlyan and Batra leave the skins of themselves and become these women as if there is no tomorrow. In each ongoing scene, they’re better than their own self in the previous scene and you can literally see the talent on screen. I won’t say one is better than the other, because they’re not. Both the actors are so secure in their craft that they allow each other to shine, and to evolve and that is the greatest testament of an actor.

Special Mentions

Katrina Kaif – Bharat

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Let’s call a spade a spade, Bharat is not a film that most of us will remember a couple of years down the line. Many of us have already forgotten it. But I need to give it to Katrina Kaif, for doing what she did in the film. My favourite part about the film has to be Katrina Kaif. This was her year. First in Zero and now in Bharat, Kaif shines as if the world is her oyster. As Kumud she’s stern and elegant and beautifully poised. She expresses not just with her face but with her body and most importantly, with her eyes. Kaif’s Madam Sir will be a character I will remember for a long long time. It’s not just written well, but also very well portrayed. Usually when I have to write something for Katrina Kaif, I begin by saying something like “Katrina Kaif looks stunning…” but this is a first when I am mentioning her looks after her acting capabilities.

Sayani GuptaArticle 15

Sayani Gupta

While Ayushmann Khurrana did a fabulous job in Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15, it was Sayani Gupta and her Gaura who I was rooting for. Gupta is given less dialogues – she plays a Dalit woman who isn’t typically allowed to speak in front of Brahmins. So, all the weight lies on her eyes and oh boy, she delivers and how! I would’ve really loved to know more about Gaura – where she comes from, what’s going on in her head and everything else, but maybe some other day, in some other film.

Sobhita Dhulipala – Made In Heaven

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I really tried keeping this list a film centric list, but when I decided to have Taapsee Pannu on it, I thought to myself, if language isn’t that big a barrier, why is medium? Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti’s Made In Heaven released earlier this year, and by now, most of us know what a genius show it was. In it, Sobhita Dhulipala’s Tara hails from West Delhi. At first, she is an assistant, then she becomes a woman with a mission, then an entrepreneur and finally, a woman with her heart. We’re shown, by a way of flashbacks, that all Tara has ever wanted is to step into a fuller, elaborate life. And, by hook or crook, that’s what she does. A very well written character, Tara is complex. She’s not your girl next door. I wish I could see more of what went into making Tara the woman she is, but I am not complaining, especially because of what Dhulipala has done with her. She holds Tara with both her hands, crosses her heart and performs as if it’s her final act. She gives Tara the substance and lustre a character of that level required.

Arjun Mathur – Made In Heaven

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Like Sobhita Dhulipala, Arjun Mathur is a brilliant find! Mathur has worked with Zoya Akhtar before (in Luck By Chance) and even in a short film directed by Mira Nair. So, technically, he’s not a “find” but Karan Mehra sure is his first leading character in the mainstream narrative. And he gives Karan all he can, and much more. Karan is a gay man living in India, a country that does not forgive anything it considers “unlawful” or “untraditional” or one of the stupid excuses we have been making against homosexuality. He dives into Karan and brings every nuance of his to the table. Whether it’s in the scenes where he’s the happiest, or when in once scene, when he’s in a car and crying his heart out, Mathur makes Karan as real as possible. He gives Karan the edge he required, becomes a true friend of his character, holding his hand and walking him through and giving him a shoulder to cry on when needed. By playing Karan with such finesse, he proves that Arjun Mathur will be a name to reckon with and is certainly someone, who can single handedly hold an entire feature film on his shoulders.

Zaira Wasim – The Sky Is Pink

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One of my favourite films from 2019 has to be Shonali Bose’s The Sky Is Pink, and much of the credit falls on the performances by the lead actors. Like Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Farhan Akhtar, Zaira Wasim fits in naturally in the film and in her character. She’s too gifted a performer. Like her parents (in the film), she too has to display a variety of emotions and she makes each expression of hers, each dialogue of hers so convincing. In a shattering scene, she asks her parents, “iska matlab main marne wali hoon?” and even though there is less talk after this point (in the scene), her eyes are all things scared, and cautious and conscious at the same time, maybe even more. It’s a little sad that Wasim chose to retire and we’ll probably not get to see her on celluloid again, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that she’s a gem, and I really hope that someday, if she has found her answers, she makes a return to films. 

Also, we saw great performances by Siddhant Chaturvedi (Gully Boy), Vicky Kaushal (Uri: The Surgical Strike), Sanya Malhotra and Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Photograph) and Athiya Shetty (Motichoor Chaknachoor) but it’s impossible for us to list them all in a top 10 list. 

About the writer

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