Ranveer Singh in Gully Boy to Shefali Shah in Delhi Crime, best performances by Indian actors in 2019

Devansh Sharma

Dec 26, 2019 14:59:17 IST

Like every year, 2019 also witnessed some memorable performances on screen, whether big or small. The roles ranged from a gully rapper to a mother who lost her teenaged child, and from a police officer investigating a gruesome rape case to a homemaker who is wantonly taking marriage therapy.

Below are this writer's list of 10 best performances from this year, from five theatrical releases and five streaming shows. At the end of the article are some honourary mentions, and all the potential performances that this writer has not watched yet.

Theatrical releases

Ranveer Singh - Gully Boy

Zoya Akhtar's coming-of-age musical may have not made the cut for the Best International Film category for the 92nd Academy Awards, but it will be remembered both for its evocative music and lived-in performances. While it boasted of a host of powerhouse performances by Alia Bhatt, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Vijay Varma, Vijay Raaz, and Amruta Subhash, the biggest piece of the cake must go to the titular character Murad, played by Ranveer Singh.

 Ranveer Singh in Gully Boy to Shefali Shah in Delhi Crime, best performances by Indian actors in 2019

Less than two months after he played an all-out massey cop in Rohit Shetty's action comedy Simmba, Ranveer camouflaged himself into the role of a low-key rapper on the verge of a volcanic eruption of talent. From the quieter parts (taking his restrained act ahead from Zoya's past directorial Dil Dhadakne Do) to letting his hair down in the rap performances (he sung most of the main songs himself), Ranveer displayed tremendous range as an actor. He completely owned every fraction of the long graph his character undergoes in the film inspired from the lives of Divine and Naezy, from a slum dweller always told to avoid dreams to a successful rap artist who actually achieves his dream.

In a recent interview to News18, Ranveer credits the nuance in his performance to his upbringing in the outskirts of Bandra West in Mumbai, where he enjoyed equal exposure to slum dwellers in Bandra East and the posh localities of Bandra West. His performance in Gully Boy was truly a fine blend of the sensibilities of the classes and the masses.

Sanya Malhotra - Photograph

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Miloni, the character played by Sanya in Ritesh Batra's slice-of-life film Photograph, was a rare introverted leading lady, who remained in her reserved self throughout the film. Her transformation in the film was gradual and internal, unlike the sudden and external metamorphosis of Deepika Padukone's Naina in Ayan Mukerji's 2013 romantic comedy Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.

(Also read: Sanya Malhotra's character in Photograph must set a precedent for layered 'introverts' in Bollywood)

It was a pleasant surprise to see Sanya in that form, particularly because her first two films (Photograph was her third) had her play aggressive characters in Nitesh Tiwari's 2016 sports biopic Dangal and Vishal Bhardwaj's 2018 comedy Pataakha. However, Sanya confessed she is an introvert in real life as well, and thus, may have been more at home with Miloni in Photograph. Her immensely restrained portrayal shows just that.

Gulshan Devaiah - Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota

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After delivering solid performances for years, Gulshan Devaiah finally got his due in a double role of polar-opposite twins in Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota. He lived Jimmy, a "cliched psychotic villain,' as vicariously as Mani, 'a cliched drunkard.' Out of the entire cast of Vasan Bala's action comedy, Gulshan was the most in tune with the kitschy tone of the film, having worked earlier with the filmmaker in his yet-unreleased film Peddlers.

(Also read: Gulshan on finding Duryodhana in each character, and playing each villain differently)

In an exclusive interview to Firstpost, Gulshan revealed he derived a lot of character traits from a wide range of celebrities, from Pankaj Tripathi to Swiss karateka Andy Hug. Also, while he played Jimmy like a World Wrestling Entertainment villain from the Attitude Era, he breathed life (not so much at that) into Mani by embodying the pain of being a one-legged self-victimised man. More than figuring out the differences between the two brothers, he chose to trace their similarity. "It was very critical to find Mani first. Since Jimmy was just the opposite so it was easier to crack him with Mani figured out. Mani made sense to me when I realised he suffers more in his imagination. Jimmy also romanticised the idea of pain. He used one incident to justify everything he did," Gulshan said in the interview.

Ayushmann Khurrana - Article 15

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It was a year filled with a plethora of cops ⁠— Simmba, Rani Mukerji's Shivani Shivaji Roy in Mardaani 2, Salman Khan's Chulbul Panday in Prabhu Deva's Dabangg 3, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan and Saloni Batra in Netflix film Soni, and Shefali Shah and Rasika Dugal in Netflix show Delhi Crime. But Ayushmann Khurrana's depiction of a foreign land-returned cop in the hinterlands, Ayan Ranjan, in Anubhav Sinha's social drama Article 15, was a perfect blend of the cinematic glorification of a police officer and the relatively more accurate portrayal on the streaming platforms.

(Also read — Ayushmann Khurrana on Article 15 success: Every once in a while, I'll venture out of the romantic comedy)

Ayushmann had never played a role like Article 15 before. His filmography did not suggest he was familiar with the tone of a hard-hitting social drama, coming from slice-of-life comedies like Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Savdhaan. He did switch gears with Sriram Raghavan's Andhadhun last year but even that fell under the umbrella of a black comedy as well. Article 15 was, however, somewhere on the long road between Chulbul Panday in Dabangg and Om Puri in Ardh Satya. Ayushmann hit that sweet spot bang on, and that too in his maiden attempt at a serious social drama.

Priyanka Chopra Jonas - The Sky Is Pink

The last time one saw Priyanka in an Indian film was Prakash Jha's Jai Gangajal back in 2015. Since then, she has enjoyed a celebrity life in the US while doing a TV show in Quantico, making music overseas with giants like Pitbull, and appearing in a couple of Hollywood films. One could have assumed her sensibility as an Indian actress would have taken a beating by now. But she proved her naysayers wrong by delivering an extremely controlled performance as Aditi Chaudhary in Shonali Bose's family drama The Sky Is Pink.

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Priyanka enjoyed the crutch of a well-written, well-etched character with a sumptuous graph as the mother of a girl battling pulmonary fibrosis. From the spring in her step as a carefree 20-year-old to a protective mother of a sensitive Zaira Wasim to a 50-year-old woman struggling to come to terms with the death of her teenaged daughter, every stage of Aditi's life was played to perfection by Priyanka. The change in her costumes, hair, and makeup would have remained cosmetic had they not been backed by her emotionally charged performances across the 30 years of her character's life.

Streaming Releases

Shefali Shah - Delhi Crime

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Shefali as ACP Vartika Chaturvedi in Richie Mehta's Netflix Original show Delhi Crime was unarguably the best performance by any Indian actor across streaming platforms and theatres this year. From the exasperation of investigating the high-profile Nirbhaya rape case in New Delhi in 2012 to rage against armchair protesters, Shefali proved her face is a canvas for a diverse mood scale.

(Also read: Shefali Shah on playing different shades of an 'everywoman', and using silence as her weapon of choice)

In an exclusive interview to Firstpost, she claimed she feels she has cracked a character when she knows she sounds right in the capacity of that person. As a rather solitary woman at the top of the police force, Shefali tiptoed on the fine line between proving gender is merely a social construct and battling the challenges a woman in power has to undergo in a man's world like the police. Now, that sounds about right.

Sobhita Dhulipala - Made in Heaven

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Right from the first episode of Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti's Amazon Prime Video India Original show, one knows Sobhita's character of wedding planner Tara knows how to get her way out of a tricky situation. But her aspirations to be where she wants to be come in direct conflict with who she is inherently as a simple person.

(Also read: Sobhita Dhulipala on pursuing Geethu Mohandas for a role in Moothon, Bard of Blood, and her upcoming projects)

This dichotomy was brought to the fore smartly by Sobhita, who, just like Shefali, thrives in silences. She absolutely relished the quietude writers Zoya and Reema blessed her character with, and made the audience root for a messy protagonist like her. This would have possibly been impossible in a conventional Hindi theatrical release but as Sobhita said in an exclusive interview to Firstpost, "I see myself as a narrator of many stories. Medium or language is inconsequential to my interests, and I gravitate towards taking risks."

Manoj Bajpayee - The Family Man

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Bajpayee's portrait of an aam aadmi rose beyond his quest for roti, kapda aur makaan when he switched to his covert role of an Indian intelligence spy in Raj and DK's Amazon Prime Video India Original show. Bajpayee was as helpless as the father of two school-going children in Mumbai and the husband of Priyamani's character as he was empowered as the top espionage agent who was given the task to crack down a massive terrorist attack attempt.

(Also read: How Amazon Prime's The Family Man rises above cliched middle class issues like roti, kapda aur makaan)

Bajpayee displayed a great deal of vulnerability as 'the family man' but was at his A-game as a spy on field. This complete contrast allowed the veteran actor to receive the due he was owed by both the industry and the audience since he made his debut in Shekhar Kapur's 1994 dacoit drama Bandit Queen.

Dhruv Sehgal - Little Things season 3

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Dhruv Sehgal took his act from season 2 of Netflix India Original Little Things several notches higher in the third instalment this year. Why season 3 was a step up from the previous ones was because Dhruv Sehgal, the writer complemented Dhruv Sehgal, the actor. His character was given various chinks in the armour, which allowed the actor in Dhruv to explore a different side of his character's personality.

(Also read: Writer-actor Dhruv Sehgal on his struggle to hold on to the Little Things that ground and shape his life)

In a new environment (since his character moves to Bengaluru from Mumbai to pursue a research project), Dhruv got the chance to lend new shades and a sense of organic growth to his character. He was equally in love with the 'little things' in his life but did not refrain from going beyond them, and thinking big for himself.

Mini Mathur - Mind the Malhotras

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The last entry in this list might come as a surprise but Mini deserves all the credit for pulling off an extremely hilarious act in a rare acting sojourn. She is a popular TV face as the host of many reality shows like Indian Idol, but to play the parallel lead in an Amazon Prime Video India Original show comes with its fair share of challenges. But right from the first scene till the very last one, Mini owned her character of Shefali, a middle-aged woman who embraced all signs of ageing, and yet floated above them, along with an impeccable comic timing.

Honourary mentions

Vicky Kaushal in Uri: The Surgical Strike, Kangana Ranaut in Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi and Judgementall Hai Kya, Bhumi Pednekar in Sonchiriya, Sonakshi Sinha in Kalank, Vidya Balan in Mission Mangal, Farhan Akhtar in The Sky Is Pink, Kareena Kapoor Khan in Good Newwzand Rani Mukerji in Mardaani 2.

Films missed

Thackeray, Kabir Singh, Section 375, Bala, Dabangg 3.

All images from YouTube.

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Updated Date: Dec 26, 2019 17:34:30 IST