2023 was a peculiar year for mainstream Bollywood actresses. Among the popular names, Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, and Shraddha Kapoor saw themselves shining in big-ticket films that didn’t require major acting chops. Nayanthara’s much-awaited Bollywood debut just about passed muster whereas Kareena Kapoor Khan fared very well in her only release although the screenplay gave the men more scope to shine. Among other significant names, Vidya Balan, Kangana Ranaut, and Kriti Sanon had a disappointing year with average performances in unremarkable films.
That said, there was no dearth of big surprises and splendid performances. Below are the 10 best Bollywood Actresses of 2023, ranked in reverse order:
10. Alaya F (Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat)
Who is the most promising female actor among Bollywood’s Gen-Z lot? Alaya F. Who is the most underused female actor among Bollywood’s Gen-Z lot? Also, Alaya F. Watch Anurag Kashyap’s significantly overlooked Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat and you will know.
9. Shahana Goswami (Zwigato)
Nandita Das’s film offered Shahana Goswami a canvas to display her versatility once again. Set in Bhubaneshwar, Zwigato saw her play a family woman dabbling with financial woes and domestic responsibilities. It was a rooted performance and the chemistry she shared with Kapil Sharma felt life-like.
8. Sharmila Tagore (Gulmohar)
The veteran actor surprised one and all with a bold and empathetic turn as an elderly queer woman in Rahul V. Chittella’s beautiful dysfunctional family drama. The actor retained her trademark grace even as she gets under the skin of an unusual matriarch in a film that covers a string of other themes.
7. Bhumi Pednekar (Afwaah)
With three stellar performances in 2023, Bhumi Pednekar proved once again that she cannot go wrong in interpreting her screen characters. Sudhir Mishra’s Afwaah saw the actor in top form as it put together a shocking story on the calamities one ought to expect in the digital era.
6. Ananya Panday (Kho Gaye Hùm Kahan)
The actor, until recently, seemed to be suffering from the ‘Vidya Balan Syndrome’ from the mid-2000s. After a rather promising debut, Panday took a detour to do a string of films that she hoped to catapult her into the top league. They didn’t. These films also didn’t let her catch a break from the offline chatter surrounding the much-abused term – nepotism. In Arjun Varain Singh’s film, the actor was extremely easy on the eyes as she unleashed her histrionic abilities in full force.
5. Tabu (Khufiya)
Tabu rarely goes wrong. Even when a film happens to be ghastly (remember Toh Baat Pakki?), the actor is always the redeeming factor in it. Vishal. Bhardwaj’s Khufiya is a well-written espionage film where the actor flexed her acting muscles yet again to pull off an understated and highly memorable part.
4. Taapsee Pannu (Dunki)
Playing the Punjabi firebrand with great authority, Taapsee Pannu was a delight in Rajkumar Hirani’s immigration drama. She struck an interesting balance as she displayed naivety, ambition, and vulnerability in a part that filled the film’s orbit with great beauty.
3. Wamiqa Gabbi (Khufiya)
Before Khufiya, Wamiqa Gabbi struck me as ‘the good actor who looks a bit like Vidya Sinha’. I would no longer associate her with the resemblance as she delivered a powerhouse act in the film which is easily her best so far. The actor’s poise and vulnerability rested wonderfully in Vishal Bhardwaj’s deft directorial hands.
2. Rani Mukerji (Mrs. Chatterjee vs Norway)
Acing the leading part in Ashima Chhibber’s film to perfection, Rani Mukerji’s towering presence was no less than that of a Bengal tigress. As an actor who always understood the assignment, she has an extraordinary understanding of the film’s grammar. The temperament she displayed in the film was in synergy with its mood – which explains her portrayal of a loud, confused, deranged-looking Indian mother who tried out bizarre ways to reunite with her children in a faraway European country. Mukerji’s motherly instincts blended naturally with her effortless body language in a highly physical performance.
1. Shefali Shah (Three of Us)
Meet an actor who lets me (and every film lover) discover a new facet of hers with each passing year. The version of Shefali Shah you see in Delhi Crime 2 is a far cry from what she was in The Last Lear. In Avinash Arun’s nostalgia-driven Three Of Us, the actor lets us swim through an ocean of emotions. It was a calm film and the actor gave it all the quietude it demands. In the process, she gifted mainstream Bollywood actors yet another reference point on how to convey volumes of emotions with a slight twitch of the eyebrow and a mild, telling glance. What a performance!
Special Mentions: Kiara Advani (Satyaprem Ki Katha), Kareena Kapoor Khan (Jaane Jaan), Bhumi Pednekar (Thank You for Coming), Sanya Malhotra (Kathal), Sara Ali Khan (Zara Hatke Zara Bachke) and leading cast of Dhak Dhak.
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