Bollywood in 2021 did not offer its female actors as much scope to exploit their potential as it did in the previous decade. While several of the anticipated films did not release (Gangubai Kathiawadi, Shabaash Mithu), a couple of them were disappointing (Thalaivii, Rashmi Rocket). Here’s a list of the year 1o best performances by Bollywood actresses:
10. Sara Ali Khan (Atrangi Re)
As a film, Atrangi Re boasted of a delightful first half which nosedives to a point of no return in the second. However, the lead female actor Sara Ali Khan makes an earnest attempt. Even though the strain that she undergoes by entering an unfamiliar territory is visible, one cannot deny the actor’s natural magnetism in front of the camera. Khan’s Rinku was endearing for most parts of the film and the climax was highly impactful.
9. Sanya Malhotra (Pagglait)
For an actor who rarely disappoints, Pagglait might have been a cakewalk for Sanya Malhotra. That said, the restraint with which she approaches the part of a widow who unearths certain secrets about her deceased husband was affecting. Malhotra balances herself very well without letting the character come off as insensitive or overly self-involved.
8. Mrunal Thakur (Toofan)
In a story that was not centered on her, Mrunal Thakur brightens up the screen every time she appears. As Dr. Ananya, not only does she share sparkling chemistry with the leading man (Farhan Akhtar), but also notches up an individually memorable performance. The song ‘Ananya’ is easily the film’s most beautiful element.
7. Rani Mukerji (Bunty Aur Babli 2)
In an utterly mediocre (and unnecessary) sequel to the 2005 charmer Bunty Aur Babli, Rani Mukerji presents a new and evolved version of Vimmi Trivedi née Saluja. Campy and charmingly loud, Mukerji is an absolute hoot from start to end. She is also the only actor in the enterprise who gets the pulse of Bunty Aur Babli 2 to a T (Saif Ali Khan tries) despite the screenplay lacking in sufficient meat.
6. Supriya Pathak (Ramprasad Ki Terhvi)
Throughout Ramprasad Ki Terhvi, Amma (Supriya Pathak) echoes to everyone about how her husband Ramprasad’s (Naseeruddin Shah) death took place. The description is vivid in each narration and not once does she repeat the tone. In Seema Pahwa’s nuanced directorial debut, Pathak delivers one of the year’s finest acts although one wishes she had more screen space amid the pandemonium that develops around her.
5. Kriti Sanon (Mimi)
The brightest spot in small-town drama Mimi is Kriti Sanon. You would literally witness the otherwise heavily urbanized girl transform into an agile small-town dancer. After a point, I didn’t bother how sketchy are her Bollywood dreams on paper as it was neat fun watching Mimi plan her way to squash the leading divas of showbiz.
4. Vidya Balan (Sherni)
In Sherni, Vidya Balan plays a solitary woman in a patriarchal arrangement. In a get-together, she sips her whiskey far away from the chaos of her colleagues. She wouldn’t express her annoyance towards her frivolous college sweetheart-turned-husband or her talkative mother-in-law (Ila Arun). The most vocal she gets perhaps is towards the end where she calls out her disgust towards a superior. “You are pathetic,” says she with conviction. Balan does her part very well and it prompts us why she should steer clear of cinema that wants her to play to the gallery.
3. Konkona Sensharma (Ajeeb Daastaans)
The singular factor that prevents Konkona Sensharma from topping this list is the fact that her character Bharti Mandal was a part of an anthology (‘Geeli Pucchi’ in Ajeeb Daastaans). In what must be one of the bravest occurrences in cinema in 2021, Sensharma’s characterization in the Neeraj Ghaywan-directed film was a strong blow in Bollywood’s famously casteist ways. To the actor’s credit, she makes it easy for us to glide into the world of oppression faced by Dalits in different walks of life.
2. Vaani Kapoor (Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui)
I had my apprehensions when the filmmaker (Abhishek Kapoor) cast Vaani Kapoor, a ciswoman, to essay the role of a trans-person in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui. Kapoor, however, dismantled all my doubts with a confident act that delves beautifully into the psyche of Maanvi who used to Manu at some point in her life. Kapoor is brilliant in emotional and revelatory scenes. Her chic persona adds to the narrative as it contrasts wonderfully with Ayushmann Khurrana’s grounded leading man and the same goes for their blazing chemistry.
1. Parineeti Chopra (Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar)
2021 was a mixed bag for Parineeti Chopra. However, the year’s most outstanding performance by a female actor is undoubtedly hers in Dibakar Banerjee’s quietly fiery Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar. Known for her penchant to perform through her eyes, Chopra has more close-ups and still frames in Banerjee’s film – all of which she nails like a seasoned performer. The actor is unbelievably good in a scene that follows an incident of sexual abuse. The icing on the cake is her comfortable camaraderie with the lead actor Arjun Kapoor.
Worst Female Actor: Janhvi Kapoor (Roohi)