2020 proved why there is no substitute for experience as seasoned artistes like Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Mishra, Nawazuddin Siddiqui rule the roost in the Hindi film industry
By Mayur Lookhar
At first, we pondered whether in a year of pandemic, will there be enough performances to merit this list, but as we pressed the rewind button, compiling the Best Actor list in 2020 proved to be an arduous task. There was over a dozen impressive performances. The hardest part was to leave out some marquee names. While he was much loved for his villainous act in Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior , we couldn’t accommodate Saif Ali Khan here. The better characters, performances were hard to ignore.
2020 was a year where proven artistes and veterans charmed us in different avatars. It’s not their fame, but their passion to get better with each performance that makes these artistes stand out from the rest. Experience really matters, and that’s evident from our compilation of the best actors of 2020.
Without further ado, let’s revisit the fine performances by male artistes this year.
12 Pankaj Tripathi – Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl
In a year, where lovers of noir [rather PR machinery] raved about his profanity in Mirzapur 2 and Ludo, Pankaj Tripathi also played a sensitive, matured father in Sharan Sharma’s Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl. We’ve seen him play the don, desi Corleone many times before, but we take our hats to Tripathi as Colonel Anup Saxena in the Gunjan Saxena biopic. While he has played a father in few rom coms before, but never before do we recollect Tripathi stepping into a shoe of a matured, classy gentleman. Col Saxena’s mild mannerism, positive calm approach to most things in life was instrumental in his daughter Gunjan realising her dream. The father-daughter relationship was the highlight of this biopic. Anup Saxena’s liberal, moderate attitude wasn’t mirrored by his wife and son Anshuman [Angad Bedi]. That explains why he didn’t share the same vibe with his son vis-à-vis his obedient daughter. Tripathi’s serene approach made you say, wish I had a dad like him.
11 Anil Kapoor – AK vs AK
Despite a Slumdog Millionaire  and a poor cameo in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol , it’s perhaps fair to say that the international fame hasn’t really brought a surge in Kapoor’s desi career. Blame it on the bad scripts that the actor kept choosing. His critics were quick to label him passe, well past by his sell-by date. Though evergreen, but even the most ardent Anil Kapoor fan didn’t have much expectations from the veteran. But how often does one rise when there are no expectations. Anil Kapoor played himself in Vikramaditya Motwane’s dark thriller AK vs Ak. The other AK being Anurag Kashyap. A unique concept where the two men didn’t shy away from image bashing. How many veterans in the industry would smile at the thought of being shown as washed-up egoistic star? We did see Kapoor break into ‘My Name Is Lakhan’ [popular song from Ram-Lakhan (1980)] dance, but there was no usual melodrama. We haven’t seen this intensity from Kapoor since My Wife’s Murder . He was as natural as anyone could be. At 64, and still evergreen, AK vs AK is a firm reminder that the best of Anil Kapoor is yet to come.
10 Gajraj Rao – Lootcase
A late bloomer, Gajraj Rao hasn’t let the guard down since his new found fame with Badhaai Ho . Rajesh Krishnan’s Lootcase  had him playing a conniving but also a jovial corrupt politician MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) Patil. A street-smart politician, Patil [Rao] isn’t one to really hyperventilate when things don’t go as per plan. Though annoyed, he keeps his emotions in check. He won’t blast you, but he will carefully pass down his gentle threat, all with a smiling face. I take my hat off to Rao’s master politician avatar. Badhaai ho (congratulations), sir. You have our vote.
9 Chandrachoor Rai – Kadakh
We don’t run a separate list for supporting actor for we believe the length is immaterial to judge one’s performance. It’s not the time spent, but what you do in that time that matters the most. A lead actor can ruin your two-three hours with a shoddy performance. While many a time, the supporting cast impresses more than the leads. Unheralded actor Chandrachoor Rai made the most of his brief appearance in Rajat Kapoor’s Kadakh.
A crestfallen Raghav [Rai] walks into the home of Sunil [Ranvir Shorey] after learning that the latter is having an affair with his wife. In an ideal world, meeting of two such men be volatile and perhaps even fatal. The depressed Raghav doesn’t confront, but he simply wants to talk to Sunil, who is expectedly quiet and numb in this conversation. Raghav is gentle to begin with but after few minutes, the emotions begin to choke him. What follows next is a bizarre occurrence. In that brief conversation, Rai aces the despondent look, volcanic expression to the T. Jeez, when was the last time one described one as perfect in despair. That sullen face, that turmoil within, neither Raghav nor the viewers would forget in a long time.
8 Manoj Bajpayee – Bhonsle
Acting is not just talking, but silence is a powerful too. Melancholia would talk more about a person than when s/he is talking. As a retired cop Bhonsle, Manoj Bajpayee has this grim silence on his face for the best part of the film. And it’s through this silence, that Bhonsle’s life come to light. He barely spoke a word in Marathi, but this character was all about emoting the internal turmoil of the breathing lifeless being. It is here that Bajpayee made you empathise, feel for Bhonsle. The seasoned pro revelled in the loneliness, desolation of Bhonsle.
7 Pavail Gulati – Thappad
At 33, you can’t really call him young, but the handsome man left you stunned with an exemplary display in Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad. It wasn’t his first film, but potentially a career-changing one. Pavail Gulati played the pampered, immature Vikram Sabharwal, husband to Amrita [Taapsee Pannu]. It was just one slap that saw him drift away from his wife, and life in general. Through the course of this divorce battle, Vikram exposes his immaturity, his impetuosity and chauvinism. Gulati was very convincing in his portrayal of this flawed character. Vikram Sabharwal can make you cringe, but there in lies the success of Gulati, who comes with a champion performance. Anubhav Sinha definitely didn’t err in picking Gulati as his Vikram Sabharwal.
6 Nawazuddin Siddiqui – Raat Akeli Hai
His earlier attempts at playing a cop have largely ended up in a caricature – Kahaani , Raees . So, seeing him don the khaki for Raat Akeli Hai  made us apprehensive. Blame it on the image he’s built for himself playing a cocky don, goon over the years.
Jatil Yadav [Siddiqui] was righteous, but he carried the stubbornness of a Ganesh Gaitonde with him here. It’s this feisty attitude that makes the powerful suspects despise him, and earns the wrath of his seniors, colleague. However, Jatil Yadav stands like a rock all through the adversity. Siddiqui had a familiar swag, but he didn’t let that corrupt his judgment in the Honey Trehan directorial. Though a tough as nails cop, Jatil Yadav shows his vulnerability in his relationship with Radha [Radhika Apte], and also while dealing with his mother. The bachelorette is tired of his mother’s ‘when will you get married’ taunts. All along, we’ve seen women fall for the fairness cream, but Trehan and Siddiqui make a refreshing point with Jatil Yadav taking to the fairness creams to get rid off, if not his shiny dark skin tone, but the usual color barbs. Siddiqui was perhaps getting monotonous with gangster roles, but Raat Akeli Hai’s timely intervention has helped Siddiqui discover a refreshing shade to him.
5 Kumud Mishra – Thappad
A pivotal figure in many successful films since 2016, Kumud Mishra is in the form of his life, delivering one strong performance after another. And Anubhav Sinha is no mood to let go off him. After impressing as the noble justice in Mulk, and the meek Dalit constable in Article 15 , Sinha cast Mishra in a paternal role in Thappad.
Sachin Sandhu [Mishra] is a liberal, matured man who has married off his daughter Amrita [Taapsee Pannu] in a rich household. Sandhu backs Amrita’s decision to seek divorce from her husband. That doesn’t go do well with his wife Sandhya [Ratna Pathak Shah], but the wise old head refuses to budge. Mishra shows great maturity at handling his daughter’s personal crisis. In a real world, parents would plunge into despair seeing their daughter’s world fall apart, but Sachin keeps his chin up, and ensures that his daughter too doesn’t feel miserable. He draws his wisdom from Hindi literature, reciting famous poems when the chips are down. Mishra deals with the different relationships in a sound way. The seasoned actor shines in this authoritative yet comforting character. Mishra’s like a fine wine, getting better with age and every role.
4 Ranvir Shorey – Kadakh and Lootcase
He’s been around for a while, but it’s fair to say that Ranvir Shorey doesn’t always get the praise that he deserves. What does a true artiste do in such a situation? Leave the reaction to the audience, and simply better each performance. Shorey gave not one but two virtuoso performance – one in the dark comedy Kadakh, the other in the sitcom Lootcase.
Kadakh literally had him walking on tight rope trying to conceal the dark secret lying in his home. Sunil [Shorey] had to put on his poker face while dealing with his pretentious friends and few uninvited relatives. Shorey rightly cut a forlorn figure through the Diwali party eve. The pressure cooker like situation tested his nerves, and eventually it blows off on his face. Sunil is not shameless, but neither is he quite repentant as he threatens to take everyone down with him, if they don’t cooperate. Shorey regales in Sunil’s turbulent hour.
Sunil was a kadakh act, but Shorey had you in splits with Lootcase. Corrupt cop Kolte [Shorey] is hired to retrieve the missing cash and a contentious file belonging to MLA Patil [Gajraj Rao]. The encounter specialist has his way of doing things, that naturally go against the laws. Unfortunately, for Kolte, this hunt for suitcase comes with its own challenges. Principal among them is bumping into goofy characters who get onto to his nerves. Shorey’s apathy is amusing to watch. The Punjabi gets the Marathi-accented Hindi right and never drops his intensity. 2020 will always be a special year for Shorey.
THE BIG THREE
And this is where the tough part begins. There was not much to separate between the three performances. And so, it only made our task extremely difficult. Truth be told, each of this performance can qualify to the best. Well, after much deliberations, we jotted down our big three as follows –
3 Amitabh Bachchan – Gulabo Sitabo
The mighty veteran simply continues to amaze us. Having played a sprightly 105-year-old in Umesh Shukla’s 105 Not Out , Bachchan once again sported the silver fox look, and added a prosthetic nose to look the part for a 70 plus greedy miser in Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo. Mirza [Bachchan] was married off Fatima Begum] Farrukh Jaffar] who is 17 years older than him. That was a marriage of convenience as Begum and Mirza both were keen to get hold of the former’s ancestral property. Now in a dilapidated state, the stingy ghar jamai [a man who moved in to his wife’s place after marriage] wants to evict the long staying tenants, and sell off the property, even though he has no legal rights.
Bachchan Mirza’s is a stingy, frustrated old man and all consumed by greed. The body has aged, but not his greed as he conjures silly tricks to oust the tenant and trick his ripe old wife. A rare film where the two main leads [Bachchan and Khurrana] wouldn’t really qualify as protagonist. Though not reticent but Bachchan’s Mirza is largely into himself in the first half of the film. There are little words spoken, but the veteran comes to life in the latter half of the film. The dirty tricks often boomerang on Mirza, as Bachchan ups the intensity of his performance, and also Mirza’s greed. It’s simply amusing to watch as you don’t feel an ounce of sympathy for Mirza. The veteran simply revelled in Mirza’s greed.
2 Sanjay Mishra – Kaamyaab
Not as old or experienced as Bachchan, but seasoned actor Sanjay Mishra has been on roll in the last decade. Director Hardik Mehta’s Kaamyaab (successful) had him play a forlorn actor, who earned his few pounds by playing a sidekick in many films in his 40-year career. He is keen to do that record 500 film, but he’s no legend who’d still command a role. The fresh attempts open his eyes to the present-day cinema, also showing him a mirror to where he stands today and what he has missed out in his obsession with work. Sanjay Mishra’s champion effort was a tribute to the many supporting artistes, who never got their dues in a star-struck industry. As Sudheer, [not the 70s, 80s sidekick], Mishra charmed you with his wit. He moved you with his intensity, emotionally gripping performance. You laughed with Sudheer, and he made you cry with him too. Seldom does an actor get to emote various emotions in a single film. And he did it with aplomb. To this selfish world, Sudheer may be a loser, but Babulal Chandola [Sudheer’s real name] emerged as a winner for all struggling but sincere souls. Take a bow, Mishra ji.
1 Ayushmann Khurrana – Gulabo Sitabo
Now this one would perhaps surprise many. No, we are not indulging in any fanfare, nor are we star stuck. Ayushmann Khurrana is the most successful, most consistent performer today. He’s had many a successful film over the last three years, but not many performances that would blow your mind away. Often his stories were the strongest point of his films. Khurrana was brilliant in Bala , and he reached a level higher with Gulabo Sitabo. While he’s played an Uttar Pradesh- based character before, but never had we seen Khurrana in a truly rustic, and impoverished avatar. Baankey’s [Khurrana] clothes’ look more like rags, with the miller having a frail, weak look about him. Mirza’s tenant is in debt, but he’s vowed to stick to the property like a glue. He has no rights whatsoever, but the greedy Baankey wants Mirza to adopt him as his son and gift Begum Fatima’s property to him. Drenched in Lucknawi culture, Baankey speaks with a slight lisp. And not once does Khurrana lose grip on the accent or the lisp. He wasn’t cordial not just to Mirza, but Baankey is not really adorned by his family either. Though in a familiar region, but Khurrana found himself in all together new territory with this character. While Bachchan is Bachchan, we were left stunned by Khurrana’s outstanding show as the snooty Baankey. Perhaps, not many agree with us, but this flawless effort by Khurrana catapults him into the number one slot.
Hindi film producers have indeed taken to the Over-The-Top networks big time, especially in this pandemic period. The web series and the films have been launched by the dozens. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to catch onto most of them. However, the incredible act of Jaideep Ahlawat in Paatak Lok  and rookie actor Pratik Gandhi in Harshad Mehta’s Scam 1992  deserve top praise.