Vaani Kapoor, Parineeti Chopra grab their shot at redemption, child artiste Rachel Saanchita Gupta is the surprise packet this year, while Vidya Balan finds strength in a restrained but gritty role.
By Mayur Lookhar
A thriving, free woman is a sign of a progressive society. Female artistes have found their voice over the years. 2021 shines for the diversity of performances by female artistes. Vidya Balan didn’t roar yet had a powerful impact in Sherni. Few struggling artistes redeemed themselves with intriguing characters, while a young child artiste dared us to dream. Queen Kangana Ranaut made noise in Thalaivi  but it wasn’t enough to be in this list.
We picked ten artistes but the list is down to nine. You’ll know the reason below. Without further ado, we give you the most impressive performances by female artistes this year.
9 Sawan Rupowali and Tanya Abrol – Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui
Days of introducing loud Punjabi characters to create humour doesn’t amuse Bollywood audiences any more. We presume even the present generation Punjabis don’t appreciate the stereotyping of their people. Unheralded artistes Sawan Rupowali and Tanya Abrol played siblings Meet and Preet Munjal, the elder sisters of Manvinder [Ayushmann Khurrana]. It would be unfair to set them apart in this list for Meet and Preet shine as a team. Though Preet has a heavy tone but it’s the character that amuses you. More than any elder siblings, the duo act like Helicopter parents to their 32-year-old brother. As the youngest among six siblings, that includes four sisters, this writer empathizes with poor Manvinder. Preet and Meet have a certain intimidating factor around them. They are nagging too. You are not amused by their antics, but the brilliant tag team effort by Rupowali and Abrol deserves praise.
8 Nushrratt Bharuccha – Chhorii
Long criticized for encouraging Luv Ranjan’s misogynistic films, Nushrratt Bharuccha found her atonement in Vishal Furia’s Chhorii. They say a child gives birth to a mother. Sakshi [Bharuccha] unearthed the mother in her from the moment she got pregnant. Bharuccha has her limitations but she braved to get out of her comfort zone and made sincere attempt at pulling off this intense character. Hopefully, with Chhorii, she has firmly buried the ghost of misogyny.
7 Mita Vashisht – Chhorii
A film titled Chhorii had to have a competent female cast. Mita Vashisht is a seasoned pro who perhaps isn’t celebrated enough in the industry. She was very compelling as Bhanno Devi. She is loving and compassionate to begin with, but as the film proceeds, we get to see the true colour of Bhanno Devi. Vashisht aces the Haryanvi accent brings that intimidating factor around her character. While we might have seen similar characters on TV before, but very few play evil as convincingly as Vashisht.
6 Amy Maghera – Skater Girl
Skater Girl introduced us to few budding talents. British actress Amy Maghera [formerly Amrit Maghera] was one of them. Born in England to a British-Scottish father and an Indian mother, Maghera is naturally proficient in English, but she has a fair command over Hindi too. She has fine screen presence, but more importantly, Maghera carries this ingrained sincerity about her that made her apt to play the compassionate, caring Jessica in Skater Girl. Jessica works her way around smartly in the remote Rajasthan village to bring about a positive change in the lives of Prerna and other kids. Maghera charms us with her natural beauty, simplicity and above all her humility melts your heart.
5 Rachel Saanchita Gupta – Skater Girl
Ah its not’s an exaggerated statement, but sometimes people are born to play a certain character. Just one look at Rachel Saanchita Gupta is enough to suggest why director Manjari Makijany chose her to play Prerna in Skater Girl. She has this divine humble look about her that you develop an instant liking for the child artiste. With a name like Prerna, her character ought to be inspiring. But the lowborn needed some morale boosting from her guardian angel Jessica [Amy Maghera]. Gupta exhibited Prerna’s vulnerability nicely. You like for her innocence, purity and her resolve as she battles patriarchy and caste discrimination. One scene sticks to mind that tells a lot about Prerna. Jessica asks the girl about whether caste system still exists. The girl simply says, “People [upper castes] don’t say now, but it still exists.”. Gupta gives the Dalit teen a voice, not raging but earning respect through her humility and free spirit. Dare to dream like Prerna.
4 Sarika Singh – Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi
We were blown away by her talent in Kaamyaab . Unheralded actor Sarika Singh returned to cast a spell on us as Dhaani in Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi. The film shed light on changing relationships in a material world. While her brothers and elder sister are more concerned about who will repay their dead father Ramprasad’s [Naseeruddin Shah] debt, Dhaani was more concerned about the wellbeing of her mother who will soon have to live alone. Sarika Singh is a bit like Moushumi Chatterjee, who never needed to act or use glycerin to sob. The tears just come naturally for these artistes. With all due respect to Chatterjee, but Sarika brings much more to the table than just tears. Sarika Singh’s emotionally gripping act has you pull out your handkerchief again. In an industry obsessed with gorgeous bodies, Sarika Singh reminds us that talent has more substance than beauty.
3 Vaani Kapoor – Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui
Having failed to impress in her first three films, and few uninspiring guest appearances in War  and Bellbottom , it is only fair that critics questioned Vaani Kapoor’s place in Bollywood. The YRF discovery was found lacking in her earlier films. It took a Kapoor to show another Kapoor the right path, the right role. After the dismal early performances, one was surprised as to why a director of the caliber of Abhishek Kapoor would cast the struggling Vaani in his film Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui .
We went into the theatre expecting nothing but came out pleasantly surprised with Vaani’s stellar show in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui. Having endured body shaming, Vaani knows that hurt very well. Vaani emoted the pain of her character Maanvi Brar, a trans woman. Here’s a character who despite the gender change, knows well that it will be hard to find respect in this society. Especially in a society that has attached a fixed definition to beauty.
Not many actresses would have braved to face the humiliation that Maanvi faces in the film. Maanvi is particularly hurt by Manvinder [Ayushmann Khurrana], the man who she is in love with. First, she endures the insult, but when the anger turns into public shaming, Maanvi doesn’t hold herself back, bringing out the feisty tigress in her. It is not just her character, but we felt this was rebirth for Vaani Kapoor as an actor. She shows great maturity, sensitivity and brings a certain integrity for people like Maanvi. After this fine show, none should question her place in Bollywood anymore.
2 Parineeti Chopra – Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar
Like Vaani Kapoor, Parineeti Chopra, too, had question marks overs her talent. The struggle has been a longer one for her. The doubting Thomases increasing with every failure. The Parineeti that floored us in Ishaqzaade  had started to look a distant memory. Chopra needed a good film up her sleeves badly. She had three releases this year. One was poor [The Girl on the Train], but the other two gave her a shot at redemption. While there are many going gaga over Chopra’s show in and as Saina, we felt that she found her true calling in director Dibakar Banerjee’s Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar.
First, we were flummoxed that she is not Pinky but Sandeep in the film. Then we were pleasantly surprised by her competent show. Sandeep Kaur Walia [Chopra] is looking to escape from her woes but through the course of her running, she realizes the devastation that her greed has caused to innocents. But there is redemption to be done on the personal front too. Unfortunately, karma comes to bite her there. The shift in her character arc is more driven by the troubles in her life. At the end though, Sandeep braves to side with her heart. Chopra holds her composure through the thick and thin, putting up a brave front to confront evil, goes cold when fate deals her a cruel blow but emerges stronger to set things right. Parineeti Chopra simply left us stunned as Sandeep Kaur Walia.
1 Vidya Balan – Sherni
This woman taking the top spot is never a surprise. Vidya Balan is number one actress not because of the talent she possesses, but because she never needed to tell the world that she is the best in the business. In fact, she has never chased any non-existent rankings or gloat about her performances. She is an artiste who is simply out to do her work quietly and leave the rest to fate.
Known for playing stronger characters, Vidya Vincent [Balan] was definitely not one. The forest officer has the desire to set things right, but is held back by bureaucracy and corruption. Strong willed, but yet meek and helpless. Like her character, we felt her frustrations. Balan was least bothered about her non-glam look yet she reveled in Vincent’s apathy and the strong desire to do what is right right for nature.
Amit Masurkar’s Sherni brought out a new Vidya in Vidya Balan. She couldn’t take the monkey business head on, but Balan shines for her controlled aggression in this man v/s wild battle. Despite the hurdles, the sherni [lioness] in Balan comes through this film. Her character chooses to not start a family yet Balan brings her maternal instincts to the fore. Though a restrained, unassuming character, Balan infuses grit and steel into Vidya Vincent. Not all superheroes come in cape. Not all are blessed with superpowers. Vidya Vincent simply has a strong heart. That is enough to please mother nature. Balan taking the number one spot here was a forgone conclusion.