It’s easy to get type-cast in Bollywood. Since cinema lovers in India like to deal in absolutes, they like to relate to an actor in a certain role and only envision them like that. So Nirupa Roy was always the mother, Iftekhar was always the policeman. A K Hangal was inevitably the wise, old man in the village. However, times are changing and it is only fascinating to see today’s actors scratch deeper than the surface and make meaty roles out of them.

Here are 16 such performances which changed the audience’s perception about an actor.

1. Varun Dhawan in Badlapur

Having made his debut in Karan Johar’s Student of the Year and then following it up by acting in his father’s Main Tera Hero, no one imagined Varun Dhawan in a Sriram Raghavan movie. And he not only starred in it, but Dhawan went toe to toe with arguably the country’s best actor today, Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Kudos!


2. Shah Rukh Khan in Chak De India!

Badshah of Bollywood, King Khan, Shah Rukh earned a lot of his fame with his roles as the ideal son and lover. In spite of Swades some of his detractors were convinced he couldn’t act to save his life. That’s when Shimit Amin’s movie came and SRK’s performance as Kabir Khan didn’t have a false note. Sadly, we haven’t seen him in this form except for maybe Maneesh Sharma’s Fan.


3. Hrithik Roshan in Guzaarish

Carrying the failure of his international project Kites, Hrithik followed it up with his career’s only role which isn’t dripping with vanity. The character is that of a quadriplegic magician who wishes to euthanise himself. Now, only if he was in the hands of a director other than Bhansali.


4. Alia Bhatt in Udta Punjab

Quickly becoming the face of the urban youth who comedian Zakir Khan mentions in his sketches, Bhatt turned the table on her ‘image’ by playing a Bihari immigrant worker in Udta Punjab. Circumstances cause her to become a heroin addict, and Bhatt showed inexplicable maturity in channeling the powerlessness of her kind.


5. Shahid Kapoor in Haider

Before he played Tommy Singh, Shahid Kapoor’s acting career peaked in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider. Playing the Kashmiri version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Kapoor finally (and much to the relief of most) lived up to the rich lineage of his father Pankaj Kapur. Especially that monologue in the market area.


6. Deepika Padukone in Piku

Becoming the umpteenth model to transition from modelling to acting, Padukone had to face the usual ‘plastic’ criticism in her initial films. However, a few workshops with Imtiaz Ali, Homi Adajania meant she could finally carry a film by herself. In Shoojit Sircar’s Piku, Deepika brought the everyday urban, working woman to life as she takes care of her aging father and looks for love at the same time.


7. Saif Ali Khan in Omkara

Chhote Nawab of Bollywood, educated in London, Saif was never going to fit into the mould of the 90s Bollywood hero. We saw him struggle, and then discovered his maturity around the turn of the millennium. And then he went on to play one of the most iconic villains in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara. Langda Tyagi will remain Saif’s Everest.


8. Manoj Bajpayee in Aligarh

Known for playing fiercely masculine roles in movies like Satya, Shool and the legendary Sardar Khan in Gangs of Wasseypur, Bajpayee did the unthinkable by playing the part of a homosexual man. In Aligarh, Bajpayee plays the part of Ramchandra Siras, who gets fired from his job as a teacher for his sexuality. He brilliantly captured the claustrophobia of the environment. which drove his character to his unfortunate fate.


9. Abhishek Bachchan in Yuva

Making his debut as Amitabh Bachchan’s son and after a string of unsuccessful films, Abhishek Bachchan finally made a name for himself as Lallan Singh in Mani Ratnam’s Yuva. Playing a mercurial henchman on the streets of Kolkata, Bachchan is the highlight of the movie which has actors like Om Puri, Ajay Devgn, Vijay Raaz and Vivek Oberoi.

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10. Rani Mukherji in Black

Quite possibly the highlight of Rani Mukherji’s decade and a half-long career, she shined in the role of Michelle Mcnelley which was closely modelled on the biographical film on American author Helen Keller. Bhansali might have once again gone a little overboard with the sentimentality, but he also gave Rani Mukherji her best role.


11. Amitabh Bachchan in Paa

Turning the tables on the wrong side of 60s the veteran actor played a 13-year old Auro, who is diagnosed with Progeria. Balki managed to extract the most un-Amitabh Bachchan performance from the superstar. The film also saw Abhishek Bachchan play father to his real-life father.


12. Vidya Balan in Dirty Picture

Having begun as the middle class Bengali daughter in Parineeta, Balan faced an identity crisis competing with her contemporaries trying to look a certain way. And then came Milan Luthria’s Dirty Picture where she unabashedly played the role of a starlet based on Silk Smitha. She brought back the sexy from a different time, which wasn’t skinny jeans.


13. Kareena Kapoor in Chameli

Coming from the first family of Bollywood, Kareena Kapoor really proved her mettle when she took on Sudhir Mishra’s Chameli. In this role of a prostitute, the makers didn’t shy away from the ugly side of the Pretty Woman profession and Kareena Kapoor played the title role unflinchingly.


14. Ranbir Kapoor in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year

Another Kapoor product, Ranbir sent everyone in a tizzy when he signed Shimit Amin’s Rocket Singh. And unlike any other Bollywood film, the leading man here is a Sardar. Ranbir played the character with an infectious optimism, never going for the low-hanging fruits.


15. Priyanka Chopra in Barfi

Beauty queen and one of the most glamorous actresses in the country, Chopra once again proved her mettle as an actress when she played an autistic character. Short, curly hair and with hardly any dialogue to communicate with her deaf/mute lover (played by Ranbir Kapoor), she did some of her most exciting work of her career in this movie.


16. Rishi Kapoor in Kapoor & Sons/Agneepath

 Always perceived as the well-meaning, always smiling leading man in the good old days, Rishi Kapoor started a new innings as a character-actor in Ekta Kapoor’s Kuchh Toh Hai. Since then, the kind of roles he has accomplished is mind-blowing for any actor. Especially his outing as Rauf Lala in the Agneepath remake, and then last year when he played the head of the Kapoor family in Shakun Batra’s Kapoor & Sons. Both superbly nuanced performances. 


Now, that is exciting for us movie-goers. More of this please.