2016 will probably be remembered infamously as the year when some of the best performances in Hindi movies went unrewarded by a couple of movie award events. Unfortunately ‘best’ performances are usually measured by box office collections and lobbying power (dancing, appearing, presenting at an awards event).
This year Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan rose above their expected roles (romantic hero/charming he-man), Aamir Khan stood on the sidelines and cheered his onscreen daughters, Sushant Singh channeled MS Dhoni, Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh distilled the tried and tested, Sonam Kapoor elevated her standing as Neerja Bhanot, and a slew of new talent grabbed a foothold on the Bollywood ladder.
But there was so much more to performances in 2016. This is also the year when the supporting cast stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the heavyweight star on whose fan following and marketability box office collections pivoted. When contemporary themes over shone glamour and heroism and when true stories touched our hearts.
Here, then, is my list of 10 performers or performances that broke out (of a mould or an expectation), set new standards in excellence (for themselves and for the audience) or made a memorable impact.
Siddhant Behl in Jugni
Siddhant Behl, who was also associate writer of Jugni, made quite an impression in his debut film. Behl embraced the role of Mastana, the lippy, rough-around-the-edges singer from Punjab, without inhibition. Director Shefali Bhushan’s musical followed two characters on their intertwining journeys which ended in different destinations.
Manoj Bajpyee and Rajkummar Rao in Aligarh
Sitting solitary in a rusty chair in a cramped apartment, stooped shoulders leaning over a glass of whiskey with only Lata Mangeshkar’s voice for company, as the aging Professor Siras, Manoj Bajpayee painted a heartbreaking picture of loneliness, and conflict in Aligarh.
Bajpayee’s performance is unarguably one of the best of the year and a new benchmark in his career, which had until now been defined by his Bhikhu Mhatre in Satya.
Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh, based on Apurva Asrani’s script, also etched the character of journalist Deepu, brought alive with youthful energy by Rajkummar Rao. Rao’s interpretation of Deepu, who finds his pursuit of a story converting into a fight for human rights and the development of a beautiful friendship, is unaffected by sexuality. Rao sets the bar of an example of a truly generous actor in a film that dealt with issues of privacy, choice, love and freedom with sagacity.
Swara Bhaskar in Nil Battey Sannata
Swara Bhaskar broke out of the overdone character of a fast-talking best-friend (Tanu Weds Manu) to play the strong single parent Chanda in Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Nil Battey Sannata. Chanda finds a novel way to motivate her daughter to improve her Maths grade, in the process improving her own economic situation. Bhaskar found fine suppirt from Ria Shukla as her daughter and Pankaj Tripathi as the school principal and Math teacher.
Randeep Hooda in Sarbjit
Randeep Hooda had three releases this year, each in a different genre, but with one thing in common. Whether in Laal Rang (in which Hooda relished his role as Shankar, the thug with a redemptive edge) or Sarbjit (the farmer incarcerated on espionage charges) or the otherwise unpalatable Do Lafzon Ki Kahaani (as the MMA fighter), Hooda played each part with undiluted commitment, transforming physically too when required.
Radhika Apte in Phobia
Radhika Apte delivered a physically challenging and emotionally exhausting performance as Mahek in Pavan Kripalani psychological thriller Phobia. One of Apte’s best performances so far and one of the finest performances of the year. Apte surprises with both her work choices and her constancy.
Alia Bhatt in Udta Punjab
Alia Bhatt surprised me as the girl-with-no-name in Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab. Bhatt got deep into the skin of the Haryanvi girl with a hockey stick whose dreams are derailed by a terrifying bite of reality. Scenes of her entrapment in the room as she hitches all her dreams on a faraway billboard, but fights back for survival, are evocative. And it was a relief to see Bhatt step out of the comfort zone of well-styled urban woman with angst to play an earthy and gritty role.
Anant Vidhaat Sharma in Sultan
The world may remember Sultan as Salman Khan’s film but it was the solid supportive friend Govind standing next to him who sparkled. Theatre actor Anant Vidhaat Sharma (also seen in Gunday and Mardaani) was delightful as Sultan’s best friend.
Amruta Subhash in Island City
Amruta Subhash is fabulous in the middle story, ‘The Ghost in The Machine’, in Ruchika Oberoi’s episodic Island City. Subhash played the wife torn between duty (to her invalid husband) and her own guilty pleasures at the possibility of being free of an oppressive marriage. Oberoi’s film also explored themes of loneliness, solitude and fatalism.
My final pick is a category – child actors.
We were lucky to see lovely performances by a host of young actors starting with Hetal Gadda and Krish Chhabria as Pari and Chotu in Nagesh Kukunoor’s fable-like Dhanak. Director Soumendra Padhi’s Budhia Singh: Born to Run is the story of a child with incredible talent, and the child actors were lead by the remarkable Mayur Patole as Budhia. Ajay Devgn got one thing right in Shivaay – British child actor Abigail Eames. As the speech-impaired Gaura, Eames was the soul of the film. And finally Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar in Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal – they made you laugh, cry and cheer as they fought battles in and out of the mud pit.
Disclaimer: This is a subjective list based on the Hindi language films the writer watched in 2016. The list appears in chronology of the release date of the film.