Rewind 2019: The outstanding performances by an actor in Bollywood

Ranveer Singh to Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana to Akshay Kumar, Bollywood saw fine acts by both the young and the old in 2019

By Mayur Lookhar

Gone are the days when box-office success often determined which way the popular awards went.  The advent of social media has meant that award organisers can’t escape criticism if they indulge in any bias. That’s not to say all awards are given fairly, but lately, it’s been observed that the main categories are fairly adjudicated and voted.

Yours truly has no deep pockets to throw lavish awards do, all we can do is sit back and marvel at the memorable performance of the year. 2019 was arguably another giant stride in the career of Ayushmann Khurrana. While he continued to excel as the ordinary man dogged by common man’s woes, Khurrana also showed a different shade to him in a serious role.  While the younger stars grew in confidence, some old horses, too, proved why they are masters of their craft.

Please note the length of the character, protagonist/antagonist is immaterial. All, we looked for is an actor playing his part to the T. Without further ado, let’s look back at the finest performances by male artistes in 2019.   

10 Amitabh Bachchan – Badla

The gender reversal perhaps didn’t appease those who’d seen the original Spanish film Contratiempo [2016], but Amitabh Bachchan wouldn’t really complain as the fate of Naina Sethi [Taapsee Pannu] and the film per se, depended upon how well the veteran portrayed the legal eagle Badal Gupta.

Save for the gender reversal, director Sujoy Ghosh didn’t tinker much with the original Spanish screenplay.  Badal Gupta is a highly intelligent, probing individual. His methods irk even his client Naina.  Bachchan’s natural confidence, his command over English and Hindi came to the fore here.  His assertive body language, sharp wit is enough to win anyone’s confidence quickly.

 Pannu and the other actors were a bit off colour, and it’s a safe bet that if it wasn’t for the commanding show by Bachchan, Badla perhaps couldn’t have enjoyed the same success.

9 Annu Kapoor – Dream girl

Veteran actor Annu Kapoor is finally getting his due. That’s come on the back of some remarkable performances over the last decade.  7 Khoon Maaf [2011], Vicky Donor [2012] spring to mind immediately.   Not quite a dream role, but Dream Girl [2019] saw Kapoor reunite with Ayushmann Khurrana after Vicky Donor. The veteran played Jagjeet Singh, the innocent, debt-ridden father of Karam [Khurrana]

If there is one actor who is good with accents, it is Kapoor.  And there’s not one but two accents from Uttar Pradesh that Kapoor masters (Braj and Urdu) in Dream Girl.  Jagjeet Singh starts off as a simple widower but later on, he, too, loses his heart to the sensual tone of Pooja, unaware that Pooja is actually his son Karam. Dream Girl stood out for its intelligent humour, rib tickling dialogues.  Kapoor shared a chunk of this humour, flooring the audience with his innocence and dialogue delivery.  The overnight transition from a Brahmin to a Muslim, the change in accent, is simply mind boggling.  Kapoor evokes guffaws each time he comes onto the screen. 

8 Gulshan Devaiah – Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota

Gulshan Devaiah was cast in a double role in Vasan Bala’s out-of-the-box action comedy Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota.  Everything happens for a reason. Little did Devaiah imagine that the road accident that required a surgery to his leg, would come in handy for one of the roles. 

They were twins, but Karate Mani and Jimmy were poles apart. One a one-legged karate master, the other a psychotic goon whose only purpose in life is to make his brother suffer for eternity.

The two had different tones and mannerism.  For all his strength, Mani came across as a petrified soul, keen to avoid any unnecessary confrontation.   It’s the constant worried look and tone that made Karate Mani such a likable character. Jimmy was the complete opposite. Cocky, power drunk but also blessed with a dark sense of humour. The makers promoted Jimmy as a cliched Bollywood villain, but Jimmy was a refreshing character. 

The two contrasting characters presented a huge challenge, but Devaiah pulled it off with aplomb. Devaiah stunned all with his new found martial arts skills, that too on one leg. Take a bow, master Devaiah.

7 Vijay Raaz – Dream Girl

Dream Girl was loaded with brilliant actors.  If Annu Kapoor wasn’t enough, there was Vijay Raaz having you ROFL [Rolling on the floor laughing].  It’s hard to recollect any actor playing a dim wit Haryanvi cop, and a poor shayar (poet) in one character.  Rajpal KIrar [Raaz] carried the Haryanvi swag, but at home he’s a henpecked husband.  The frustrated constable finally has someone who can listen to his poor shayaris [poems].  He makes a mockery of Urdu with his Haryanvi accented tallafuz (pronunciation). So, the shayar comes out as sayar.  Correct him and Kirar says in a quizzical manner “Hain!  Do alag alag hove hain” (Oh, there are two pronunciations)

Raaz’s exemplary grip over the Haryanvi accent, his flawless dialogue delivery, comic timing and the impeccable body language simply floored the viewers.

6 Vicky Kaushal – Uri: The Surgical Strike

How life can change in a space of two years.  Vicky Kaushal achieved a new career high with the gigantic success of Uri: The Surgical Strike [2019].   Director Aditya Dhar’s action, patriotic film was devoid of jingoism. It has turned a new leaf in the way patriotic, war films ought to be told.  Kaushal bulked up, but the role also required a certain sensitivity that only Kaushal could exhibit.  Major Vihaan Shergill [Kaushal] gave you the goose bumps with his aggro, but it was the humane, emotional qualities as a son, brother, uncle that made you salute Shergill.  Kaushal is one actor who lives and breathes every character.  His sheer intensity grips your soul.  A National award may be debated, but there is no denying Kaushal gave one of the finest performances of 2019 and his career.

5 Ayushmann Khurrana – Article 15/ Bala

A modern champion at playing slice of life characters, Ayushmann Khurrana showed a different shade to him in Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15.  The righteous Ayan Ranjan [Khurrana] is gentle but a no-nonsense cop who is determined to get to the bottom of the alleged rape and murder of two Dalit girls in a remote Uttar Pradesh village.  

The talented Khurrana regales in his maiden noir film with a matured, understated act.  The bushy moustache perhaps adds years to his character, but it’s the maturity of Khurrana that helps him pull off this character with elan.  For large parts, Ayan Ranjan carries a bewildered look but it’s his steely resolve that helps him sees through things.

Khurrana in and as Bala

Article 15 wasn’t the lone tour de force from Khurrana. The actor gave a hair-raising performance in the slice-of-life comedy Bala.   The Kanpur-based Bala [Khurrana] is struggling to cope with his premature balding.    The prosthetic could have been neater, but Khurrana delivered another powerful performance.  It would have been so easy for Bala to be burdened by his insecurity and carry a morose look. Director Amar Kaushik and his writer Niren Bhatt though add few extra shades to Bala that make him an endearing character. While he’s played hinterland characters before, Bala is perhaps Khurrana’s most commanding performance as a small town folk.

4 Akshay Kumar – Good Newwz

Comedy is given step motherly treatment at awards do but not in this list.   And Akshay Kumar has earned his stripes here. Good Newwz has Akshay Kumar in a refreshing and a genuine comedy that doesn’t reek of sexist or regressive content.

Gone are the days where Bollywood heroes took pride in playing the macho man, the alpha male. Like many of his contemporaries, Kumar has embraced the imperfection of his characters beautifully. “If women can do it, then men, too, can fake their moans,” confesses Varun Batra [Kumar]. While’ he cares for his wife, but the frustration also leads to tense moments between the couple. These moments expose the (unintentional) insensitivity, the imperfection of Varun Batra. Kumar’s a natural when it comes to comedy, action, but he’s seldom convinced you while enacting emotional scenes. However, the actor turns a new leaf as he displays the anger, frustration of Varun with conviction. He has you ROFL, but he also makes you shed a tear or two.  It is perhaps Kumar’s finest show since Special 26 [2013].

  3 Vijay Varma – Gully Boy

Gully Boy begins with the visual of a man standing still [camera facing his back] and then he scampers through the quaint Mumbai gully (street). No that’s not Ranveer Singh but it turns out to be Vijay Varma. If Singh was the heart and soul of Gully Boy, then Varma perhaps was its backbone.   Moeen Arif [Varma] is a classic creation of a poor, unjust society. He epitomized the vulnerable poor who falls easily to crime. Moeen steals, he uses little kids to sell drugs. Gully Boy is not empathetic to Moeen. He gets what he deserves, and he, too, knew that his fate was sealed the moment he took the darker paths. Mooen bhai, though, shows us the dark truth that faces millions of slum kids. Punish me, but who will feed these kids? Will the society look after them after I am gone?  The privileged sure have no answers.  Varma blew your mind away with his intensity. He makes you despise but also feel for Mooen.  Let’s just say, Varma was born to play Mooen. 

2  Akshaye Khanna – Section 375

Despite being the late Vinod Khanna’s son, Akshaye Khanna has been like an outsider in Bollywood. He’s done few films, and very few with legacy studios.  He doesn’t hobnob with the top producers, grace Bollywood parties, nor is he is media savvy. Off the camera, he may be perceived as boring. All through his seesaw career, Khanna has shown promise but often let down by the choice of films.  Since Mom [2017], Khanna has served a reminder that he shouldn’t be written off any anytime soon.

The talent of Khanna came out in full force in Ajay Bahl’s critically acclaimed gripping court room drama Section 375 [2019]. Khanna led the charge with a confident and intelligent show.

Advocate Tarun Saluja [Khanna] is no manipulative monster. More than justice, he’s a great believer in hard facts. Justice is to be meted out by the judges. For Saluja, it’s simple – every accused has a constitutional right to get legal aid. Tarun Saluja is a rare and wise phenomenon in Indian courtroom dramas. Khanna helps Saluja gain respect. His research on law pertaining to rape is admirable.  The measured, matured act is arguably Khanna’s most defining role.

1 Ranveer Singh – Gully Boy

Year by year this man has taken giant strides, eradicating the minor flaws to achieve perfection in his craft.  He announced himself on the big stage with Bajirao Mastani [2015]. Padmaavat [2018] was Singh staking claim for the throne.  The coronation was complete though not as any royal, but as the Gully Boy [2019] from the slums of Mumbai. Singh lived and breathed Murad Ahmed, the street rapper.  He did the unthinkable by throwing down the gauntlet to all his contemporaries.  Here’s a Bollywood actor who dared to learn rap rather than lip sync.  He showed a brief glimpse of it [rap] in Ladies vs Ricky Bahl [2011].  Rapper Divine screamed it out loud, nobody but only Ranveer Singh could have played the gully boy.  And Singh charmed you with his rap.

 He overcome the difficult part with relative ease, but Singh the actor gave a tour de force here. Anger, pain, innocence, romance, adrenaline rush, Singh made you experience these emotions along with him. Geez, he made you experience a whole life in those 154 minutes.   Genius is a word that’s often used loosely, but watching Singh in Gully Boy left one to say, “Quite please, genius at work’.  Forget the words, just give the man his crown.

Special mention

Manoj Bajpayee – The Family Man

India is still finding its feet in the digital space. Most content, web series/films still lack quality, but Amazon Prime Video’s The Family Man (season 1) will go down as the web series that set the benchmark for Indian digital content.  Manoj Bajpayee’s genius lies in his simplicity. Actors tend to complicate things for themselves by not letting their natural ability flow. Bajpayee is a champion at pulling out the most difficult roles with consummate ease.  If The Family Man was released as a franchise film, then secret agent Srikanth Tiwari (Bajpayee) would have given the toughest fight to Murad Ahmed for the best actor’s crown.  Bajpayee’s commanding, yet sensitive portrayal of the secret agent and a family man deserves a special mention. 

Note: This list has been compiled based on the many films that this author had seen in 2019.  Kindly apologise if any hidden gem may have missed our eyes.  If any, please feel free to mention in the comment section.

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