In what feels like the longest year ever, web series and movies on online streaming platforms have been a true saving grace. And here are some of the finest performances from the year, from Hindi-language shows and movies, that left us thoroughly impressed:
1. Tripti Dimri: Bulbbul
From Paoli Dam to Parambrata Chatterjee, the entire star cast left us impressed in this hard-hitting tale on the evils of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. But, in just her second film, Tripti Dimri was simply extraordinary in her layered performance of a woman reborn, literally, due to her circumstances.
2. Pratik Gandhi: Scam 1992
Pratik Gandhi brought to life the rise and fall of Harshad Mehta so effortlessly, that despite the fact that the two don’t look alike physically, it was hard to distinguish between Mehta’s persona in real-life and Gandhi’s performance on-screen. Goes without saying, the real scam is how long it took for the audience to notice Pratik Gandhi’s talent.
3. Sushmita Sen: Aarya
As a single mother turned gangster, Sushmita Sen delivered a comeback of a lifetime with her powerful performance in Aarya. By delivering a strikingly different yet relatable portrayal of a woman caught in a world of crime, Sushmita reminded the audience of her ability to rule the cinematic universe with just as much ease and grace as she ruled the universe of beauty pageants over two decades ago.
4. Jaideep Ahlawat: Paatal Lok
In an industry where ‘macho cops’ leading the hunt for gangsters are a dime a dozen, Ahlawat delivered a nuanced performance as Hathiram – a cop whose vulnerabilities and insecurities formed an intrinsic part of his personality. As a cop fighting institutionalized corruption and personal losses to bring justice, Ahlawat was a joy to watch on screen.
5. Abhishek Banerjee: Paatal Lok
The character that Jaideep Ahlawat admitted he’d have liked to portray, if not cast as Hathiram, Hathoda Tyagi was one scary motherfucker who offered a commentary on the far-reaching effects of India’s flawed caste system. And that’s what makes Abhishek Banerjee’s performance extra special. Because he expressed a gamut of emotions, ranging from hurt to anger, without even resorting to dialogues.
6. Divyendu Sharma: Mirzapur 2
As Munna bhaiya, Divyendu had already earned a loyal audience at the end of the first season itself, prompting people to finally look beyond his ‘punchnama‘ image. But with the second season, Munna bhaiya firmly lodged his place as one of the most interesting, memorable, and entertaining characters in the series. Which, considering the talent on display, says a lot about Divyendu’s acting chops.
7. Rasika Dugal: Mirzapur 2
Rasika Dugal is no stranger to powerful performances, but as Beena in Mirzapur, she literally owned the screen with every frame she was in. As Beena, she transforms from a woman caught in a web of her own ‘mistakes’ to one who expertly brings down the very family she is a part of, simply to secure her child’s future. And Rasika Dugal expertly nailed this transformation.
8. Jitendra Kumar: Panchayat
While Kota Factory made Jeetu bhaiya a fan favourite, Panchayat made Jitendra Kumar the poster child of frustrated millennials. As Abhishek Tripathi, he was flawless in his portrayal of a struggle most working millennials have experienced – being stuck in a job you hate. Apart from the brilliant writing, it was his natural screen presence that made every urban kid relate to a story set in a village.
9. Raghubir Yadav: Panchayat
The ‘chemical x’ that makes everything he is in better, Raghubir Yadav added another feather to his illustrious cap with his impeccable performance in Panchayat. His endearing portrayal of the pradhanpati left the audience reeling with joy, while once again reminding us of his genius.
10. Chandan Roy: Panchayat
While there is no doubt that Jitendra Kumar and Raghubir Yadav were delightful in their roles, Chandan Roy as Vikas was the show’s biggest surprise. As the mild-mannered, ever-smiling Vikas, who always has an innocuous observation to make, Chandan Roy easily delivered the most memorable performance on the show. Considering the massively talented star cast on-board, that says a lot.
11. Kay Kay Menon: Special Ops
Kay Kay Menon is yet another star who, in his 25-years-long career, has never delivered a false performance. As an agent leading an elite, secret task force, Menon imbued just the right sense of mystery, sense of authority, and unmissable swag in his performance, making it impossible to take your eyes away from him.
12. Yasra Rizvi: Churails
Easily one of the most relevant, entertaining masala thriller-dramas to have released this year, Churails expertly married an engrossing narrative with strong performances. While the entire star cast gave commendable performances, Yasra Rizvi stole the show with her portrayal of a badass, no-fucks-given failed wedding planner-turned-amateur detective Jugnu. Equally fierce and vulnerable, Jugnu was easily the crowd favourite and rightfully so.
13. Pankaj Tripathi: Ludo
Considering that Pankaj Tripathi is never anything but fabulous in his performances, it wasn’t easy picking just one of his roles from the year. But while he was warmth personified in Gunjan Saxena, it was still a shade of what we’d seen earlier. Contrastingly, Sattu from Ludo, showed a side of Pankaj Tripathi that we’d rarely, if ever, witnessed before. One of his most colourful characters to date, Sattu was a character that expertly played on Tripathi’s magnetic screen presence, making him an absolute delight to watch on-screen.
14. Arshad Warsi: Asur
It’s a real crime that Arshad Warsi has been relegated to smaller, unidimensional roles in mainstream cinema, when he is clearly capable of nailing characters far more complex. Like that of forensic expert Dhananjay Rajput, who ends up investigating the murder of his own wife at the hands of a serial killer. His restrained performance added a much-needed gravitas to the show.
15. Jimmy Sheirgill: Your Honor
It’s no secret that Bollywood has been grossly unfair to Jimmy Sheirgill’s talent and nothing proves that better than his nuanced performance in Your Honor. As a righteous judge forced to break the very law he is supposed to uphold, Jimmy expertly portrayed both, his fear for his son and anger at the situation. Relatable and honest, Your Honor is one of Jimmy’s finer acts to date.
16. Sumukhi Suresh: Pushpavalli
Before we had Joe Goldberg making us question our choices and existence on the internet, we had Pushpavalli shock us with how far could someone go in the name of love. And Sumukhi Suresh deserves complete credit for bringing to life a complex character and one of the rare female protagonists in Indian web series to have a negative character arc.
17. Lin Laishram: Axone
In its attempt to bring to life the widespread racism that people from North-East India suffer across India, especially in metro cities, Axone didn’t just deliver a humorous but insightful story but also allowed us to witness the talent of Lin Laishram. As Chanbi, she was the perfect mix of vulnerability and stoicism, ultimately becoming one of the movie’s most memorable characters.
18. Sanjay Mishra: Kaamyaab
Even though we’ve witnessed Sanjay Mishra’s finesse as an actor countless times before, his performance in Kaamyaab still left an indelible impact on the audience. Perhaps because of how seamlessly his stint with Bollywood gelled into the story, becoming a profound tale about the artists who support the industry but never receive the spotlight.
19. Konkona Sen Sharma: Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare
It’s truly a testament to her acting prowess that Konkona takes to every character as fish takes to water – with an enviable natural screen presence. While the story meandered between too many causes and too little time, Konkona appeared completely at ease in displaying a conflicted mother and housewife, who is not morally correct, but undeniably relatable in her search for personal freedom. Undoubtedly the highlight of the film.
20. Manoj Bajpayee: Bhonsle
In a film that focused on the permeating effects of hate and injustice in society, Manoj Bajpayee’s performance was a sheer revelation. Without overshadowing the story, Bajpayee delivered a masterclass in acting and added a gravitas to the film that allowed Bhonsle to become one of the most relevant films of the year.
21. Farrukh Jaffar: Gulabo Sitabo
It’s a rare feat to steal attention when sharing screen space with Ayushmann Khurrana and Amitabh Bachchan but Farrukh Jaffar did exactly that in the comedy-drama Gulabo Sitabo. Unexpectedly sarcastic and humorous, her screen presence cackled with so much infectious energy, that you wanted to cheer for Fatima Begum even before you knew of the card she was hiding up her sleeve.
22. Geetanjali Kulkarni: Taj Mahal 1989
A professor-turned-amateur detective, Geetanjali Kulkarni was a joy to watch in one of the rare Hindi originals that Netflix India got right. Her chemistry with Neeraj Kabi was one of the show’s real highlights, and her brilliant performance more than made up for the moments where the writing faltered.
23. Kulbhushan Kharbanda: Mirzapur 2
In a career spanning almost 5 decades, Kulbhushan Kharbanda’s characters have always left an impact and his role in Mirzapur 2 was no different. Unlike most elderly characters Hindi dramas showcase, Bauji was slyly cruel and his brand of evil was far stronger but subtler than most villains, allowing him to leave a lasting impression despite limited screen presence.
24. Vikas Kumar: Aarya
Vikas Kumar, as ACP Khan, expertly balanced the role of playing the show’s ‘bad guy’ who is actually on the right side of the law. It’s a tricky balance to achieve because morally, as a dogged cop looking to apprehend criminals, he is right. But since the story is from a criminal’s POV, we tend to paint him in a negative light. This is why Kumar’s impactful performance is all the more special. Also, how rare is it for a show to show a character as a double minority but not use it to add shock value or preach.
25. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub: A Simple Murder
From Murari in Raanjhana to Manish in A Simple Murder, Ayyub is an actor whose performances always leave you wanting more. A unique crime-comedy, A Simple Murder gave Ayyub the perfect platform to flex those acting muscles. As Manish, he proved that when it comes to delivering honest, relatable performances, then no matter the character or the genre, Ayyub is the man for it.
26. Kirti Kulhari: Criminal Justice S2
Kirti Kulhari delivered an emotionally rousing performance as Anuradha, a victim of marital rape and emotional abuse. Even in the midst of more layered characters, Kirti’s powerful performance tugged at your heartstrings, allowing you to not just root for her, but to also live through her pain and understand her trauma.
Truly memorable performances!