My fave Bollywood performances of 2013

DhanushFrom ‘pleasantly surprised’ to ‘faith reaffirmed’ to ‘exceeding expectations’, I found a delightful range of reasons to like many a portrayals this year.

With its array of eclectic performances, 2013 not once ceased to amaze. And if there’s one place where unpredictability is most valued, it’s cinema.

Here it is then, Ten of My Favourite Performances This Year, in no particular order, evoking the afore-mentioned response of awe, affection or amazement.

Dhanush, Raanjhanaa
His is the sort of complicated, off-limits romantic aspiration that is bound to attract criticism. It takes an actor of immense likeability and emotional transparency to make his audiences feel sympathetic towards a character as pig-headed.

And Dhanush as Kundan, armed with an irresistible smile, kinetic energy and quiver full of dramatic impulses achieves this feat memorably in his first Hindi film.

Pankaj KapoorPankaj Kapoor, Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola
Bringing a character, as complex and curious as Mandola, to life is a challenge not every actor can accept or fulfill. But Pankaj Kapoor is not every actor. He is matchless.

As Harphool Singh Mandola aka Harry, he exhibits a chameleon’s personality switching between aloof to absurd within a matter of minutes in Vishal Bhardwaj’s whimsical albeit profound satire.

If the sober him breathes menace through his glowering eyes, the sloshed alter ego spews sense, slurs expletives in a manner so ineffably entertaining, even the prissiest is compelled to endorse.

Nimrat Kaur, The Lunchbox

Nimrat KaurMost of Ila’s sentences begin by calling out to the friendly neighbour upstairs (Bharti Achrekar), one that we never see but hear enough to know she cares, an attribute sorely amiss in the 30-something’s life as a neglected housewife in Mumbai.

Without even once resorting to melodrama, Nimrat Kaur’s affable Ila lends The Lunchbox a poignant mix of softness and sadness, which makes her spirit and creativity even more noteworthy.

What’s truly unique is how Nimrat is oblivious to the camera and not even looking into it most of the time, creating a singularly inhabited universe that documents her emotional privacy at its heartrending best.

Irrfan Khan, The Lunchbox
On rare, extremely rare occasions, the screen that separates us (viewers) from them (actors playing characters) momentarily vanishes.

Irrfan KhanDuring one such surreal moment of accessibility, I reached out to Saajan Fernandes and gave him a hug.  The part where he acknowledges, ‘I don’t know when I became old.’

It wasn’t out of pity but the inevitability of his straightforward words, the degree of loneliness it conveyed to ‘Dear Ila’ it hurt me more than I was prepared for and because Saajan’s soul belongs to Irrfan – a marvelously perceptive, pure and precise Irrfan.

Sonakshi Sinha, Lootera
The forehead has the last laugh.

Sonakshi SinhaOften at the receiving end of uncomplimentary jokes, Sonakshi Sinha (and her said feature) in Lootera leaves a lasting impression. The delicacy of her lovingly filmed, unfeigned charms and bubbling anxiety, which gradually grows into inescapable melancholy and cynicism are conveyed with restraint in her searching eyes, bashful lips and gently spoken words.

I cannot imagine anyone else as Pakhi. Rather, I do NOT want to imagine anyone else as Pakhi.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bombay Talkies
It’s not his everyman physicality that makes him relatable. It’s his grasp of the unique experiences that distinguish every man from another that makes him both—real and inspiring.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui displays this trait ever so meticulously as a struggling actor in the heartwarming Star—Dibakar Banerjee’s segment (based on Satyajit Ray’s short story Patol Babu, Film Star, Star) in the cinema anthology, Bombay Talkies.

In a film where tribute is the running theme, Siddiqui (as does Sadashiv Amrapurkar in an unforgettable appearance) pays one to cinema, its population of walk-on parts in less than half an hour through scenes that showcase his volume as an actor even when his voice is drowned by background score.

Konkona Sen SharmaKonkona Sen Sharma, Ek Thi Daayan
Playing wicked sounds fun to most actors but few are able to tune their urge for excessive. Konkona Sen Sharma, however, is a masterful actress even in a film that does nothing to deserve her.

I don’t know her technique but I cannot stop gushing (and trembling) over how she mysteriously transforms into this haunting face of evil on the strength of a creepy smile and chilling twinkle in her eyes with or without the pasty, daayan make-up.

Have felt differently about lizards and lifts ever since.

Neeraj Kabi, Ship Of Theseus

Ship of Theseus blew my mind. Ditto for Neeraj Kabi’s stunning transformation, which stand for his character’s principles in good stead.

Neeraj KabiThere’s tremendous disparity at play here. As a mild-mannered monk refusing to accept medicine in keeping with his humanitarian ideals, Kabi conveys a temperament reflecting composure and wit but his body violently revolts against its mind’s ideology.

Though he lost a staggering 17 kilos to look the part, Kabi’s diligence and deftness is much too overwhelming to rely on conspicuous attributes alone.

Deepika Padukone, Goliyon Ki Raasleela-Ram Leela

Well, well, well, who would have thought?

Top 10 Bollywood performances of 2013Deepika Padukone may not be a natural born talent but her obvious determination to improve is inspiring. And now, rewarding too.  The lady hit a jackpot year with every release turning into a humongous success. Between the bokwaas-muttering Meenamma (Chennai Express), scholar Naina (Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani) and Ram’s fiery better half Leela (Ram Leela), I am going with the last one.

Like the traditional Hindi film heroine, she aced on all conventional fronts but like the contemporary Hindi film heroine, she spoke her own mind that overpowered her petulant hero as well as the passionate reds embellishing the screen with a scorching sensuality and saucy attitude — serving her well even in the most outrageous scenes– of Bhansali’s grandly scaled post-interval fiasco.

Rajkummar Rao, Shahid
Doesn’t matter if he changes his name to Rajkumar Kohli, he’s still a great actor.  Part of his charm lies in the fact that he’s not a showy actor. There’s never any manipulation or attempt to get the audiences to ‘look.’ They just do.

A still from Shahid.As Shahid, based on the real life story of human rights activists and lawyer Shahid Azmi, he depicts the turbulent story of a young man, his extreme experiences with law on both sides of it.

Most actors would jump at the opportunity to flex their vocal chords in a courtroom premise but Rajkummar is instinctive, dignified and straight in his execution. He embraces the same restraint for Shahid’s more volatile moments.

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