Netflix's latest Hindi anthology, Ajeeb Daastaans, was a mixed bag of stories, with both hits and misses. But the segment that really stood out for me was Neeraj Ghaywan's Geeli Pucchi.
Starting off as a romantic tale of "forbidden" desires, Geeli Pucchi fast transforms into an edgy story where the climax leaves you thoroughly intrigued. Of course, Ghaywan's storytelling is ably supported by the leads, Konkona Sen Sharma and Aditi Rao Hydari.
But while Konkona is the queen of slipping into the skin of her characters, it was Aditi Rao Hydari's performance that left me thoroughly impressed. She managed the perfect balance between displaying an intrinsic coyness, misguided shame, and quiet indignation at her fate.
Then again, though Hindi-language cinema has not always been fair to her talent, this is certainly not the first time that she has flexed those acting muscles. Here's a look at some of her most brilliant performances over the years:
The winner of 3 National Film awards, this 2007 period drama marked Hydari's debut in movies (though it was not her first theatrical release). Hydari, who is a trained Bharatnatyam dancer, was perfectly cast as the movie's lead, and her refreshing screen presence won over both, the critics and the audience.
2. London, Paris, New York
Though Sringaram was a hit, Aditi was relegated to a series of pivotal but supporting roles in Hindi cinema (like in Delhi-6), before she starred as the lead in London, Paris, New York. While the film failed to make a mark commercially because of cliched storytelling, Aditi's performance was praised for rising above the script, and she further solidified her position as an actor with a charming screen presence.
3. Mama's Boys
Long before mainstream cinema woke up and recognized Aditi Rao Hydari's talent, she proved her acting chops in this delightful short film. An unexpected take on the classic Mahabharat story, Mama's Boys is not just an intelligent commentary about women owning their desires, but also a fine example of Hydari's ability to balance conflicting emotions with ease.
Despite a small role, even the towering presence of leads like Farhan Akhtar and Amitabh Bachchan could not overshadow Hydari's soulful performance in the film. Wazir established Hydari as an actor who could speak volumes through her expression alone, allowing her to take on more layered roles in the future.
5. Kaatru Veliyidai
Hydari delivered a powerful, nuanced performance in Mani Ratnam's romantic-war drama, proving yet again, that there was more to her than just being a 'pretty face'. Her scintillating act won her the SIIMA Award for Best Debut Tamil Actress and the Asiavision Award for Best Tamil Actress.
Fast at the heals of her success with Kaatru Veliyidai came Padmaavat. A film that had an equal number of controversies and brilliant performers also allowed Hydari to cast a long shadow, even in a brief role. Though the film favoured grandeur over storytelling, Hydari lit up every frame she was in and it was a delight to watch her on-screen.
A sweet, romantic tale, Sammohanam may have not offered much in terms of groundbreaking storytelling. But it did affirm Hydari's position as a dependable star with a natural ability to own each frame she appears in.
8. Sufiyum Sujatayum
Since it was an OTT release, the audience took time in warming up to this romantic drama. But once it reached the masses, the film, and Hydari's performance, were a hit. Though there were times when you wished the story had greater depth, the actors' performances were top-notch, brimming with emotions.
When it comes to thrillers, Indian filmmakers often fail to hit the mark but not with Psycho. A well-crafted thriller, the movie's limited shortcomings were easily eclipsed by the starcast's brilliant act. And Hydari, an expert at expressing innocence and vulnerability, was perfectly cast as the soft-spoken RJ Dagini.
One could argue that there is a slight monotony in Hydari's performances, with her propensity to be cast as characters who are usually portrayed as vulnerable. However, as her filmography shows, not only is she not shy of experimenting, but she also has the ability to nail complex roles, if only filmmakers were to take that chance.