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

Broken-hearted toxic lovers, large-hearted dacoits, slumdog rappers, manipulative liars... the characters portrayed by actors this year might have been flawed, but they were fascinating.

The Cinestaan Team

Konstantin Stanislavski, the author of 'An Actor Prepares' and the father of the method of acting called, well, method acting, wrote, 'Create your own method. Don't depend slavishly on mine. Make up something that will work for you! But keep breaking traditions, I beg you.'

If 2019 showed us one thing, it was that leading actors in Hindi cinema are no longer shying away from complex, flawed human characters. From the vilest and most hated to the heartbreakingly vulnerable and wonderfully eccentric, the year showed us some fantastic characters being given form and colour by some of Hindi cinema's better actors.

Whether it was the growing stardom of Ranveer Singh, the greying craft of Manoj Bajpayee, the rampant sexuality of Shahid Kapoor or the courage of Ayushmann Khurrana, the actors explored their characters to such an extent that it left an impact on the audience. Good or bad, they could not be ignored.

So, here then is our list of the 10 best performances by an actor in Hindi cinema.

10. Vishal Jethwa as Sunny in Mardaani 2

Mardaani 2 produced another fantastic villain to go with that of the 2014 original. Vishal Jethwa, who played the vile killer pitted against Rani Mukerji's Shivani Roy, is easily the find of the year. In the video on the making of the film, the actress herself picked him out, saying, "He will be someone who will be spoken about the most after the film." Mukerji was not wrong.

The audacity and disguises of the actor playing an evil rapist hunting down women in the town of Kota was chilling. Where the first film had Tahir Raj Bhasin playing a more urbane killer, Jethwa's character was raw, wild, angry and unhinged. To capture these elements in his first film, in the face of a powerful performer like Mukerji, was quite a challenge, but Jethwa left the seasoned actress behind. That was quite an accomplishment.

9. Annu Kapoor as Jagjit Singh in Dream Girl

You just cannot keep Annu Kapoor down. Over three decades, Kapoor has grown to become one of the most familiar faces for Hindi film audiences. From Sridevi's boss in Mr India (1987) to the over-friendly doctor in Vicky Donor (2012), the actor moulds himself like a chameleon into his roles. In Dream Girl, he teamed up again with his Vicky Donor co-star Ayushmann Khurrana to rollicking effect.

While the first film saw Kapoor fade away after a splendid first half, this zinging comedy had him take centre stage. With impeccable comic timing, always surprised, and witty as hell, the actor was at his best throughout. Even with proven performers like Vijay Raaz, Khurrana and Abhishek Banerjee around, Kapoor stole the show. As the crackling father who spins from grumpy to flirty to absolutely bonkers, Kapoor's act alone was worth the price of admission.

8. Akshay Kumar as Havildar Ishar Singh in Kesari

From Pad Man (2018) to Mission Mangal (2019), Akshay Kumar has made it a habit of playing everyday heroes. In Anurag Singh's Kesari, however, the actor went back in time to play the ferocious Havildar Ishar Singh. In a film that was more emotional ballad than history lesson, Akshay Kumar's presence and performance brought gravitas and rootedness. Whether in his appearance or his dialogue delivery, the actor brought an authenticity to the character of a headstrong, independent leader holding fort with his men.

With a little-known story and a cast filled with unfamiliar faces, Kesari banked on the star power of Akshay Kumar, who delivered. Though director Anurag Singh was careful not to shine the spotlight too hard on his central figure, Akshay Kumar thrived in the moments he got. Whether in the face-off with the enemy, the casual dialogue delivery, or the emotional undercurrent running through his role, the actor managed to pull the crowd over to his side. 

7. Rajkummar Rao as Keshav in Judgementall Hai Kya

With new performers emerging, there was a chance that Rajkummar Rao might have been left out of the list this year. The actor has had a quiet 2019, but then someone of his calibre can only be kept quiet thus far and no further.

Rajkummar Rao's performance in Judgementall Hai Kya! was fabulous and stood apart quite simply for his chameleonic ability, playing male lead Keshav with mischievous duplicity. Having played soft, sober, idealistic characters before, the actor seized on the leeway to play an amoral, lying charmer who is difficult to pin down. It helped that the Rashomon-esque structure of the story keeps the audience guessing till the end.

What made Rajkummar Rao's performance all the more effective was that the actor was up against another fabulous performer in Kangana Ranaut. Despite her off-screen theatrics, there is no doubt Ranaut's talent on screen is unmatched. Rajkummar Rao's performance was what made this jugalbandi all the more sparkling. 

6. Ayushmann Khurrana as Ayan Ranjan in Article 15

Then there is Ayushmann Khurrana. The National award-winning actor is going through a purple patch that must be the envy of many of his colleagues and rivals. His choice of Article 15, a stark, realistic, uneasy piece of work amidst all his light-hearted success, was, therefore, all the more praiseworthy. This was a role few actors would have chosen; or having chosen it they would then have proceeded to overplay it with their sense of 'heroism'. But Khurrana played it in a nuanced manner, almost with a naivete that defines Ayan Ranjan's misplaced sense of idealism.

Khurrana's transformation into determined hero in the film is subtle and points to the honed nature of Khurrana's craft. It is almost surreal that people protesting across India today are holding up the same Constitution and referring to the same Article 15.

The film's context was always bound to raise questions and divide opinions, but there is no doubt about the courage, conviction, and quality of performance delivered by Khurrana. He did the job as leading man, carrying a complicated film while facing the audience head-on, and reminding it of the casteism still rampant in the countryside.

5. Manoj Pahwa as Brahm Datt in Article 15

The next member on our list is also a villain. While idealistic heroes seem likeable and easy to 'get', there is something complex and difficult to reach about the evil in human nature, particularly when that evil is neither exaggerated nor faked but real as can be.

In Anubhav Sinha's Article 15, Manoj Pahwa was transformed from the likeable, jolly good uncle that he is best known for to a narcissistic, bigoted man who corrupts the system as much as the system corrupts him.

The actor was a key part of Sinha's Mulk (2018), where he delivered a moving performance as a man targeted by a bigoted system. Here, in Article 15, he was transformed so subtlely into evil personified that it was hard to believe. The little ticks, the slight movements and gestures, and the final explosion defined Pahwa's performance as one that put Khurrana's idealistic hero in the shade. Perhaps because evil seems more real than idealism today. 

4. Gulshan Devaiah as Jimmy/Mani in Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota

A double role as a one-legged karate master Mani and his evil twin Jimmy might sound like something straight out of a Manmohan Desai potboiler, and impossible in 2019, but Vasan Bala's Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota offered Gulshan Devaiah just such an opportunity. While the actor might not be cut from the same cloth as Desai's villains, there is no doubt about his ability or his craft. In Vasan Bala's irreverent film littered with inside jokes, Gulshan Devaiah's performance kept switching from subtle and serious to zany, outlandish and funny, and back. The actor's switching between the characters was so seamless that they felt like two different people.

Speaking about the role (s), the actor said, "It’s mostly very technical and a lot of actors don’t enjoy technical acting, but I love it. It’s about hitting the right marks. You have to be up for it." Well, he was more than up for it with a performance that was among the year's best.

Special Mentions

Abhimanyu Dassani as Surya in Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota


Tahir Raj Bhasin as Derek in Chhichhore


Vicky Kaushal as Major Vihan Singh Shergill in Uri:The Surgical Strike


3. Shahid Kapoor in the title role in Kabir Singh

Love him or hate him, there is no question that Shahid Kapoor would have caught your attention as Kabir Singh this year. A tragic hero for some, a symbol of toxic masculinity for others, Kabir Singh proved to be the ex-boyfriend everyone loved to hate.

The character was abominable, but the performance was magnetic. Kapoor's transformation from lovable chocolate boy into a deplorable man who is losing all his bearings was spellbinding. And audiences have always loved bad boys. From Shah Rukh Khan in Darr (1993) to Ranveer Singh in Padmaavat (2018), there is a long list in this hall of fame.

Where Kapoor stood out was in his ability to convince the audience of the authenticity of his performance. From critics to peers, many were left questioning his thoughts upon taking up such a character in a country already plagued by toxic patriarchy and sexual harassment. Yet, Kapoor's character was but a portrayal of Devdas gone wild. There were flaws galore in the film, including in the character itself, but few, if any, in the performance.

2. Manoj Bajpayee as Man Singh in Sonchiriya

The old warhorse was at it again. Over the past two years, the rise of the likes of Ayushmann Khurrana and Rajkummar Rao had raised questions about Bajpayee's reduced presence. But the veteran proved once again why he remains one of India's finest. Abhishek Chaubey's Sonchiriya saw Bajpayee take on the role of the legendary dacoit Man Singh. While his screen time was limited, the actor's presence and gravitas overpowered everything else while he was on screen. Chaubey described the character as 'the soul of the film' in a BTS video, and Bajpayee gave it form.

Incidentally, the actor had played the character before in Shekhar Kapur's Bandit Queen (1994). This time, it was a performance that needed no second introduction.

1. Ranveer Singh as Murad in Gully Boy

Following on his appearance as the hulking, evil-personified Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat (2018), Ranveer Singh's transformation into Murad seems even more mind-bending. The character is a polar opposite of Khilji — shy, introverted, vulnerable, and repressed. In fact, it is the opposite of Ranveer Singh's own colourful and boisterous personality. But that is the quality of the man's craft. In Murad, Ranveer Singh was so inexplicably vulnerable that you could easily understand his girlfriend Safeena's possessiveness. Watch out for the moments where the rap transforms his personality from the weak, bullied Murad into the phenomenon of Gully Boy.

The actor also managed to transform his own craft by adding the very difficult skill of rapping to it. While there is always Autotune, it was the actor's dedication to deliver the rap verses himself that brought a raw authenticity and an emotional heft to the poetry in the film. With Gully Boy, Ranveer Singh yet again proved his ability to transform himself completely into a character, and with box-office success.

Related topics

Year in review