Ayushmann Khurrana: Cinematic history will remember 2019 as Khurrana’s year. He knocked the ball out of the park, and then knocked the park out of its habitat by lending his unobtrusive sensitive presence to three films: Article 15, the masterpiece on inequality and injustice, the brilliant ballsy burlesque on baldness Bala, and the naughty mediation on gender bending Dream Girl. All hits, all proof of a talent that is fearless and without boundaries. Take a bow, Mr Khurrana. You are The Man.
Ranveer Singh: Playing Murad the rapper from Dharavi in Gully Boy Ranveer is a force of nature. Tightly squeezing into the kerchief-sized rooms of Dharavi, Murad simply wants to fly. His face lights up each time he meets the love of his life Saifina. The actor disappears into his character in every conceivable sense. When he speaks, he’s a hesitant chawl ka chokra trying to grope his way through the dark alleys of his unfathomable dreams. When he is with his ill-treated mother (Amruta Subhash, with a face that launches a thousand slips) he is that devoted son who just wants to kill his brutally self-serving father (Vijay Raaz, an actor who can never get it wrong).
Akshay Kumar: Is there any doubt that Akshay is today’s finest star-actor in Hindi cinema? In Kesari, the restrained passion, evident in his transformed body language and his propensity to state the truth without demure that he brings to Ishar Singh’s part is exemplary. I am sure if Ishar were alive he would have wanted to convey nationalistic valour with the same muted ruggedness as Akshay. As for Mission Mangal, kudos to Akshay for sharing the limelight with a slew of lovely ladies who only want to fly. Akshay is game.
Saif Ali Khan: I dare any actor to achieve the level of gruelling physical and emotional intensity that Saif has successfully negotiated in Laal Kaptaan. Saif’s character is haunted by demons that the naked eye cannot see. As one of his pithy lines goes, “What’s the worth of a wound visible to the eye?” At the vortex of the film’s implosive violence, Saif is the mysterious frighteningly forlorn Naga bandit played with virulent intensity by him. Khan, in a performance that will define his career, moves like a bloodthirsty spirit in the quest for revenge. The film didn’t work. But Saif’s performance will one day make Taimur proud.
Shahid Kapoor in Kabir Singh: Shahid Kapoor plays this toxic intoxicated drugged and arrogant creep with a furious flair for seething emotions. His Kabir simmers with discontent the bursts out as various body fluids. But the performance lacks the freshness and feral unpredictability of what Vijay Deverakonda brought to the character in the original Telugu version. Also, I felt the venomous emotions though expressed with a disturbing sincerity never quite reach Shahid’s eyes. Here is an actor in full control of his character’s uncontrollable emotions, not quite able to process those emotions to their fullest. A flawed but nonetheless remarkable performance.
Tapsee Pannnu: She had four releases — Badla, Game Over, Saand Ki Aankh and Mission Mangal, meeting varying degrees of success. What sets Taapse apart from her peers is her fearless eclectic selection of roles and her effortless character portrayals. There is no artifice even when she plays a backstabber faking her way in Badla; she does it without posturing. The naturalism is very refreshing in a country where all good actors ACT all the time. They just can’t stop themselves. Taapsee knows just how much of herself to give to every character. In 2019 her career went to another level. And be prepared; 2020 will be even better.
Yami Gautam in Bala: The real surprise in Bala is Yami Gautam who gives her character of a small town hottie the kind of authentic vigour and healthy ayurvedic sex appeal that I haven’t seen in any recent screen queen. Her UP accent and exaggerated selfie-induced emotional responses, and her expressions of sheer self-love are proof that this actress has finally found her bearings. In the sequence where she confesses to her superficiality and love for surface beauty, Yami is award-winning.
Vidya Balan in Mission Mangal: In an otherwise-overrated film, Vidya Balan as a wife and mother trying valiantly to balance a career with her domestic duties got it so right. She had done this role before (in Tumhari Sallu). But she still managed to make the matriarch in Mission Mangal a magnificent memorable mademoiselle. Why doesn’t Vidya do more work?
Alia Bhatt in Kalank, Gully Boy: Everyone kept speaking of her performance in Gully Boy, and of course Alia’s Safeena was a scene stealer in it. But the quiet grace and unspoken tragedy she brought to the role of Roop in Kalank was equally admirable, if not more so. Roop was the antithesis of Saifina. While one spoke through her silences, the other let it all out constantly. Passive and assertive, Alia played both with equal grace.
Bhumi Pednekar in Sonechiriya: While everyone raved over her performance in Saand Ki Aankh, it was in Abhishek Kapoor’s Sonechiriya that Pednekar was gut-wrenching in her portrayal of an underprivileged woman trying to protect a minor rape victim’s life from falling apart. It’s a character and performance of tremendous power and resonance. Alas, in this country we don’t pay that much attention to the silent performances. The awards all go to the loud aggressive performances where the actor ACTS ACTS and ACTS. Ooof.