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Rewind 2019: The 10 best actresses of the year in Hindi cinema

This year Hindi cinema gave us some more fabulous female characters, adding laurels to the filmographies of the artistes who played these roles. We count down the actresses who moved us, wowed us, and left us wanting more.

Sonal Pandya

A scientist, a police inspector, a medical student, a businesswoman. These were just a few of the powerful roles enacted by actresses in 2019. As the parts for women continue to expand in Hindi cinema, so do their performances.

Taapsee Pannu and Alia Bhatt return yet again to the top ten while new entrants Maanvi Gagroo and Geetika Vidya Ohlyan break through. Meanwhile, fan favourite Vidya Balan is back with another fine performance.

These actresses continue to carry the banner for strong female roles in Hindi cinema. And while the debate of who could be included or excluded will continue, here is a list of those who could not be ignored in 2019.

10. Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Aditi Chaudhary in The Sky Is Pink

Shonali Bose’s The Sky Is Pink is the story of the Chaudhary family which managed life’s ups and downs after the diagnosis of daughter Aisha with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who also co-produced the film, played Aditi Chaudhary, a strong, unwavering mother who gives her all to make sure Aisha gets the best care possible and her every need is met.

But there are some things even the micro-managing Aditi cannot control. As Aisha’s end draws end and the family gathers in her room to spend their last precious moments with her, Chopra’s Aditi keeps delaying her goodbye to her daughter, as Aisha has been a large part of her identity since she was born.

Chopra turned in a nuanced, mature performance as she displayed the struggles of a wife and mother who is eventually overwhelmed caring for her ailing daughter.

Read: The Sky Is Pink review

9. Radhika Madan as Supriya aka Supri in Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota

A lot of colourful characters inhabit the universe of Vasan Bala’s Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota. Radhika Madan’s Supri is more than just the female lead of the action comedy. When she meets childhood friend Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani) as a young adult, their reunion is awkward, to say the least. The two friends are poles apart, both emotionally and in their respective lives.

But there is something about a righteous fight when they get together to avenge the honour of Karate Master Mani (Gulshan Devaiah), and the sparks fly yet again. Supri may be petite, but she can give back just as well as anyone else. With her scarf aiding in fights, Supri takes on the goons in more than one fluid motion. Madan’s performance, which relied a lot on the physical, was refreshing. Supri is certainly no damsel in distress.

Read: The Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota review

8. Rasika Dugal as Ishrat Ali in Hamid

In the National award-winning film Hamid, Rasika Dugal’s quiet but layered performance deserves more notice. The young actor Talha Arshad Reshi is both affecting and expressive, and yet how can one ignore Dugal’s Ishrat in her unbearable grief? A year after her husband’s disappearance, Ishrat has withdrawn into herself, almost neglecting her son and his woes.

She continues to make the rounds of the police station with a file on her husband, hoping against hope that he will return home one day. As both mother and son accept the unacceptable about their beloved father and husband, respectively, it allows them to share their love and grief over him. When Ishrat’s eventual breakdown happens on-screen, we can’t help but shed tears as well.

Read: The Hamid review

7. Saloni Batra as Kalpana Ummaut in Soni

As Kalpana Ummaut, a senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, Saloni Batra’s character carries a load of emotions and worries. She is a wife and daughter-in-law who faces family problems at home and, as senior to Geetika Vidya Ohlyan’s Soni, is a wonderful mentor and counsellor for the young hot-headed inspector.

Unlike many of her peers, Kalpana plays by the book, even arresting a politician’s son despite censure from his father. Batra’s performance is both even and assertive. She tackles problems firmly and speaks with her charges in a soft but caring manner. Set in Delhi, where crimes against women are aplenty, Batra deftly shows how the policewomen take on sexism and patriarchy on a daily basis.

Read: The Soni review

6. Taapsee Pannu as Naina Sethi in Badla

A murder charge, a high-priced lawyer and a cagey client. The scene is set for Sujoy Ghosh’s Badla in which successful businesswoman Naina Sethi, played by Taapsee Pannu, tussles with Amitabh Bachchan’s Badal Gupta as they prepare a defence for her. Initially distrustful, Naina begins to open up to Badal, making some shocking revelations.

Pannu’s Naina, who stands accused of murdering her lover, is masterful as we uncover her hidden layers. She is unapologetic about her actions and her position in society affords her a certain hubris in thinking her money can buy her freedom. In the original Spanish film The Invisible Guest (2016), the lead roles of the accused and the lawyer were gender-swapped. Like Vidya Balan in Mission Mangal, Pannu is the real ‘hero’ of the film.

Read: The Badla review

5. Kangana Ranaut as  Bobby Batliwala Grewal in Judgementall Hai Kya

With a name like Bobby Batliwala Grewal, Kangana Ranaut steps on to the screen with a character that is as unique as the name. With a tragic past, the orphan Bobby has grown up to be distrustful of men and is cynical of the world around her. When Keshav (Rajkummar Rao) and Reema (Amyra Dastur) move in next door, she becomes entangled in their lives and becomes more paranoid. After Reema's death in a fire, she is convinced that Keshav is responsible.

Her eccentric behaviour, complete with stints in an asylum, don't do her any favours and no charges are brought against Keshav. However, when Bobby encounters him again in London, she feels compelled to unmask his motives yet again.

Ranaut creates a sympathetic portrayal of a woman battling mental health issues. She brings alive Bobby's paranoias and hallucinations and how they affect her everyday life. Even with a shaky script, Ranaut and her character's contradictions shine through.

Read: The Judgementall Hai Kya review

4. Maanvi Gagroo as Apsara Batra in Ujda Chaman

Hindi professor Chaman Kohli (Sunny Singh) and Maanvi Gagroo's Apsara Batra meet through online dating. The balding Chaman comes with preconceived notions about beauty and initially rejects the accepting Apsara.

Gagroo brings the mature, more sensible presence in the comedic film with her character who is like the girl-next-door. Like Chaman, she knows what it's like to be bullied for one's outward appearance. It helps that Apsara's is the better written character in Ujda Chaman. The actress easily outshines her co-star Sunny Singh and leaves an impact as the sweet but practical Apsara.

Read: The Ujda Chaman review

Special mentions: Rani Mukerji as Shivani Shivaji Roy in Mardaani 2, Bhumi Pednekar as Indumati Tomar in Sonchiriya and Sanya Malhotra as Miloni Shah in Photograph

3. Geetika Vidya Ohlyan as Soni in Soni

In contrast to Saloni Batra’s Kalpana, who is cool as ice, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan’s title character Soni is all fire. The two women have a wonderful relationship as senior and junior officers, respectively, on the police force. Ohlyan plays Soni as a woman on the edge. Dealing with a stressful job, mostly on the night shift, Soni is constantly pushed to her limits.

But Ohlyan shows another side to the impulsive Soni. Her instincts when dealing with the public are usually correct, and she has to contend with an aimless ex-husband who keeps appearing and disappearing in her life. Internally, she is also processing a tough personal decision. Ohlyan displays her strife, inwards and outwards, with depth.

Read: The Soni review

2. Alia Bhatt as Safeena Firdausi in Gully Boy

With every film, Alia Bhatt makes a small dent in the nepotism debate. Yes, she may have entered the industry because she happens to have famous parents, but since making her debut in Student Of The Year (2012), Bhatt has proved herself with her performances.

As medical student Safeena, Bhatt is possessive of boyfriend Murad (Ranveer Singh). Coming from a conservative Muslim household, Safeena is repressed at home but explosive the minute she steps outside. Safeena’s hot temper, combined with her jealousy over Skye (Kalki Koechlin), gets the better of her, leading to a breakup between Murad and her.

Bhatt plays Safeena as Murad’s fiercest champion and their separation in the second half hits both hard. As Safeena, the young actress battles for her ambitions and desires in an oppressive world that doesn’t understand her limitless dreams.

Read: The Gully Boy review

1. Vidya Balan as Tara Shinde in Mission Mangal

Vidya Balan shows us time and again why she is the best actress of her generation in Hindi cinema. With a knack of picking roles that show off both strength and vulnerability, Vidya creates characters to remember.

In Mission Mangal, she is project director Tara Shinde on ISRO’s Mars mission who guides the fictionalized Mars mission to eventual victory. With a role written better than that of hero Akshay Kumar, Tara Shinde brings balance to the film.

Managing a large team of inexperienced scientists, Shinde navigates through their weaknesses and talents. At home, she handles her household and family with a deftness born out of years of experience. Moreover, she brings real empathy and warmth to her character, allowing us to relate to her overachieving ways. Vidya gives her ordinary scientist an extraordinary makeover and that's worth examining.

Read: The Mission Mangal review

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Year in review