With more and more films landing on OTT channels, Bollywood actors in 2021 saw themselves adapting to the nitty-gritty of the new broadcasting media. Among others, I observed more close-ups and fewer long shots – a phenomenon that would greatly benefit actors who possess the ability to milk pure drama out of still frames.
Listed are the best actors from Hindi-language films, ranked in descending order:
10. Vikrant Massey (Haseen Dillruba)
Vikrant Massey’s Rishu is not the regular hero that we would see in Bollywood films. He would barely hold an argument against the street Lotharios, let alone beat up a man who broke his trust. Rishu is a stock male lead in cinema but Massey plays the insecure man with reasonable fervor. Be it with the tattoo on his wrist, the homeopathic experiments to ignite his sex drive, or a hopeless urge to take revenge, Rishu’s inconsistent ways were amongst the brightest spots in Vinil Mathews’ film.
9. Farhan Akhtar (Toofan)
In a rather predictable sports drama, Farhan Akhtar delivers a physically and emotionally intense act. Essaying a rare Muslim lead in a Hindi film, Akhtar – besides nailing it as a boxer – gets the cultural and social sides of the character very well. The actor’s transformation from a thug to a passionate boxer is admirable, as it also makes us wish if the film didn’t look so dated.
8. Arvind Swami (Thalaivii)
Bringing to life the legendary MGR, Arvind Swami was flawless in Thalaivii. Even as the universe around him oscillated between loud and far-fetched notes, the actor held ground all through. So much so that the A. L. Vijay-directed film felt more like an MGR biopic rather than Jalayalithaa’s.
7. Arjun Kapoor (Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar)
As a suspended cop named Pinky in Dibakar Banerjee’s film, Arjun Kapoor sprung a mega surprise. With Banerjee avoiding too many close-ups and using Kapoor’s buff physicality to great benefit, it is near-impossible to imagine a different actor playing the part that Kapoor did. The actor’s proven chemistry with Parineeti Chopra only added to the impact.
6. Ayushmann Khurrana (Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui)
Ayushmann Khurrana takes it easy this time as the film places him in a familiar atmosphere (the actor hails from Chandigarh). Unlike several of his severely tell-tale slice-of-life films, he is allowed to process his emotions in silence in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui. Be it his episodes of stress-eating or the agitation he feels when someone calls Manvi a despicable name, the evolution is subtle yet convincing.
5. Dhanush (Atrangi Re)
Although Aanand L. Rai’s film is not exactly one that would remain etched in my memory, however, Dhanush’s affecting performance certainly is. For a performer of his caliber, the film might not have warranted major heavy lighting but the actor does pull the film up even during some of its most bizarre twists.
4. Ranveer Singh (83)
Playing Kapil Dev, the ace cricketer who clinched the 1983 World Cup for India, Ranveer Singh is unrecognizable – in a good way. He masterfully handles the mannerisms, speech, and stature of the legendary player without ever making the ‘mimicry’ offensive and inappropriate. Not to forget the classic knocks which he nails like a pro despite not having played the sport ever in his life.
3. Adarsh Gourav (The White Tiger)
An Indian co-production, The White Tiger was a story set in the heartlands. It spoke about privilege, religion, class, caste, and rampant illiteracy in the country. In the epicenter is Gourav’s protagonist Balram Halwai whose ascend to becoming the wealthy Ashok Sharma is caked with action and oodles of fine drama. The actor’s understated approach to his character is one of the major factors that renders The White Tiger a worthy adaptation of a celebrated literary piece.
2. Suvinder Vicky (Meel Patthar)
A lesser-known film on the list, Meel Patthar quietly landed on Netflix in May 2021. Directed by Ivan Ayr’s (of Soni fame), the film gives its leading man Suvinder Vicky the opportunity of a lifetime to deliver an intense and thoroughly moving act as Ghalib, a truck driver. The actor makes full use of his imposing physicality and vulnerable face as he delivers one of the year’s knockout leading acts.
1. Vicky Kaushal (Sardar Udham)
Vicky Kaushal gets an expansive canvas in Sardar Udham to bring a raw, angry, and wounded character to life. The actor delivers an award-worthy interpretation of the PTSD-affected Punjabi revolutionary who, incidentally, loved laddoos. The actor’s ability to hold the screen with sharp glances and organic agility that we rarely associate with Bollywood actors empowers him to carry the film firmly on his shoulders.
Worst Male Actor: John Abraham (Satyameva Jayate 2)