Rewind 2021: Top performances by male artistes in Bollywood

Ranveer Singh’s heroics on and off the field as Kapil Dev, Vicky Kaushal’s mind-numbing show as Sardar Udham. Saif Ali Khan’s s rib tickling new age tantric avtaar to an evil but brilliant act by an unheralded actor, we revisit the top performances by male artistes in Bollywood in 2021.

By Mayur Lookhar

Another year goes by in a fizz. As we welcome 2022, we look back at the fine performances by male artistes in 2021.  Whilst couple of reigning stars among the gen-next lived true to form, a couple of veteran artistes showed us why age is simply a number. A British actor left his mark in his maiden Hindi film. Similarly, a popular name from the south impressed in his Bollywood debut.  Here’s the best from our male artistes in Bollywood in the year gone by.

10 Jaaved Jaaferi – Bhoot Police

He’s been around for ages, yet Jaaved Jaaferi has been a bit of enigma in his film career. He got a new lease of life in the last two decades, largely shining in comic roles. Most of his characters are over the top, but it requires skill to play them convincingly. From Salaam Namaste [2007] to Singh is Kinng [2008] to Dhamaal franchise, Jaaferi has amused us with his goofy characters.

Not a Bhoot Police, but Inspector Chedilal went chasing ghost busting brothers Vibhooti [Saif Ali Khan] and Chiraunji [Arjun Kapoor] to seek retribution for the most hilarious crime, if any.  Upon arrest, Vibhooti jokingly termed it as animal husbandry.  For the record, years ago, Vibhooti’s tantric father had advised Chedilal Sr to get his young son married to a goat to ward off the bad omen in his stars. For seven years, Chedi applied sindoor [vermilion] to the forehead of the goat.  The emotional but rib-tickling admission by Chedilal had both Vibhooti and us laughing out loudly. The real LOL disclosure would come in the climax with Chedi blurting, rather bleating out the truth.  And the audience is rolling on the floor laughing. This performance surely fits the GOAT billing.

9 Paran Bandopadhyay  – Bob Biswas

We were unimpressed with Abhishek Bachchan as Bob Biswas, and the film as a whole. But there was one man who gained immense respect. Octogenarian Paran Bandopadhyay had made his debut at the ripe age of 61.  Two decades later, he appears in his maiden Hindi film.  He played Kali da, a chemist who sells guns in paper bags and provides safe lockers for underworld men.

An ace hitman in his hey days, the veteran is a respected figure in the underworld more so for his impeccable integrity.  That made him untouchable in Bengal’s underworld.

For an 81-year-old, Bandopadhyay perhaps showed more grit, energy, and maturity than the film’s lead. Father, mentor-like, impeccable integrity, how can one not take a bow to Kali da. The veteran’s intense, humble show at 81 is truly inspiring.  We hope the late bloomer can provide us few more gems in the coming years.

8 Jiiva – 83

Tamil actor Jiiva appeared in his maiden Hindi film playing the jovial former India opening batsman Krishnamachari Srikkanth. Like Srikkanth, he turned out to be the joker in 83.  He aced Srikkanth’s idiosyncrasies, mannerism, but comic timing is an individual gift. And there is where Jiiva came into his own in 83.  Compared to some of the recent Southern imports to Bollywood, we found Jiiva to be pretty efficient in his Hindi.  Jiiva ‘s jovial show deserves a pat on the back.

7 Saif Ali Khan – Bhoot Police

Bhoot Police’s humour stems from its milieu and its rooted characters, excluding Jacqueline Fernandez and Yami Gautam.  Without understanding of the milieu, culture, you wouldn’t’ understand the humor. A comedy entails a writer to play around with his/her characters. Director Pavan Kirpalani and his co-writers Sumit Batheja, Pooja Ladha Suri didn’t burden Saif Ali Khan in his Bihari avtaar, but they allowed the actor to be himself.  Although a tantric, Vibhooti [Khan] is a learned man who is only milking his father’s legacy to make a living.  Khan’s witty, chirpy character knows where to draw the line in this bijhaness [business], as he says in the film. Although an average plot, but Khan did his best to amuse us with his wily humour.  May be a long call, but we found this to be one of Khan’s best acts.

6 Manoj Pahwa – Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi

Manoj Pahwa had shown a sinister side to him in Article 15 [2019].  Whilst he is no evil, but neither is he a saint in his wife’s [Seema Bhargava Pahwa] directorial debut Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi.  Gajraj [Pahwa] is the eldest son of the deceased Ramprasad [Naseeruddin Shah].  With time he’s lost connect with his parents often blaming them for his failures.  And this sulking continues even after his father’s death as Gajraj and his brothers shirk responsibility.  Gajraj’s sick mind is further revealed when he shamelessly tells his fellow drunk brothers that he’d seen their parents naked on many occasions as a child.  You feel like hurling your shoe at him at that moment.  But that is also appreciation of Pahwa’s convincing performance. 

5 Sukant Goel – Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar

Source: Sukant Goel Instagram

The length of the role is immaterial, make the most of whatever screen time you get. Unheralded actor Sukant Goel certainly left his mark in a small but a pivotal role in Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar. Most people might not even recollect his face or character name, but he was this sweet, innocent looking bank manager who tried raping Sandeep Kaur Walia [Parineeti Chopra]. He failed in his lust, but in his attempt to rape, he ended up killing Sandeep’s unborn.  

How one will now hurl curses at him. We did it too as we were shocked by this act. How could this simple, innocent blue collar chocolaty boy turn out to be this monster?  Ah, lust can make monsters of gentleman too.  Until that act, Sumit [Goel] was this timid manager who could be played around with easily. Before she went to meet him one final time, Sandeep told Pinky [Arjun Kapoor] that he needn’t accompany her as Sumit was already shitting bricks over fears of him getting caught for helping her. None expected the horror that ensued.  In a moment, the sweet-innocent boy had the look of a lusty beast to him.  Yet you felt, Sandeep could take on this slim, feeble guy.  But when a man has lost his bearing, he is capable of causing harm.  The disgusting lusty look on his face and his subsequent action sent a shiver down my spine.  Our reaction is testimony to Goel’s stunning performance.  We hope though Bollywood now doesn’t cast him in lusty roles.

4 Sharat Saxena – Sherni

A veteran actor who at 71 can put many young actors to shame with his physique and macho look.  As told to this writer few years ago, Saxena reckons that age is just a myth as a human body only gets stronger with it.  We see that strength in him but the veteran is also making the most of his opportunities that have come so late in his career.

Director Amit Masurkar picked him to play the royal hunter Ranjhan Rajhans aka Pintu in Sherni. Hailing from a royal family, hunting is in his blood and so, too, the royal airs.  Pintu can’t differentiate between a tiger or leopard’s droppings, yet he audaciously proclaims that he can look into a tiger’s eyes and tell whether it is a man-eater.  In reality he is a fool who is simply interested in adding to his kills.  For him they are his trophies.  He’s misogynist, too, and proud of it. Although a poacher, Saxena’s stellar show draws you to Pinto. The veteran’s late success is testimony to his perseverance, physical and mental strength.  His fine show in Sherni is a slap on the face of past story tellers who failed to tap his talent.

3 Shaun Scott – Sardar Udham

Shoojit Sircar’s Sardar Udham introduced us to Canada-born British actor Shaun Scott.  He played Michael O’Dwyer, the then governor of Punjab who ordered General Reginald Dyer to take action against Indian rebels [revolutionaries] gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh in 1919.

Never before has any story teller explored the psyche of a man like O’Dwyer.  Most Indians wouldn’t want any glimpse of the man, but Shoojit Sircar wanted to explore what drove him to such madness? Sardar Udham’s journey saw him travel to England and work for the very same man.  All be it dramatized, through their conversations, Udham Singh, and the audience, get a fair idea that the man never had any remorse for his actions. Not even till his last breath.  Deep within his heart the horror of Jallianwala Bagh massacre surely must have rankled him, but rather than showing any guilt, he deliberately chose to justify his action for the rest of his life.  Alcohol can get even a stone-cold person to open up. Maybe his heart carried the guilt but even in an inebriated state, O’Dwyer wouldn’t feel any remorse. He clearly was a lost case. We reckon the man wouldn’t have shown any remorse even in the afterlife. 

Such was the magnitude of Shaun Scott’s performance that it makes you feel sick in the gut.  It would be interesting to know how Scott felt after experiencing Shoojit Sircar’s Michael O’Dwyer?  Despite the evil act, Shaun Scott’s brilliant show deserves all the praise.

2 Vicky Kaushal – Sardar Udham

What goes through a revolutionary who has to lurk into the shadows of the man he wants to kill? Winning his target’s trust took years and countless patience as he repeatedly watched Michael O’Dwyer justify the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Vicky Kaushal led us into the remarkable journey of Sardar Udham. A journey where he endured countless pain, frustration, observed great patience, eventually delivering justice, but in the process, he learnt so much about the enemy territory that went beyond the imperialist image back home in India. The long wait perhaps made him feel like a pariah. You start to fear whether the man might have a change of heart.  

The events in London made him a revolutionary, but the true valour of Sardar Udham happened on the tragic day of Jallianwala Bagh where a frail teenager mustered the courage to carry any breathing soul amongst the massacred.  The action could be partly dramatized, but the choked emotion of Vicky Kaushal left us numb and eventually we couldn’t hold back the tears. 

How does an actor pull off such an act? How does he maintain his composure in the pile of bodies around him? We were left numb after few minutes; Surely, Kaushal must have had an equally tough time to recreate those tragic scenes. Kaushal’s tour de force in the final 30-40 minutes of the film is an emotion that neither he or the viewers will forget in their lifetime.  In the process, he paid a fitting tribute to Sardar Udham, whose humanism will never be forgotten, and never will anyone refer to him as an unsung hero.

1 Ranveer Singh – 83

The long due film finally released on Christmas eve. Unfortunately, despite all the hype, 83 [2021] has so far flattered to deceive at the box office.  But the largely positive critical reviews tell a different story. Not that critical view counts for much today, but even the harshest critic would agree that Ranveer Singh’s individual brilliance was hard to ignore.

Singh’s competent show as the then India winning captain Kapil Dev earned praised from all and sundry.  Whilst most felt Ranveer Singh became Kapil Dev, for us more than the physical attributes, it was the heart that convinced us about Singh’s show as the legendary Indian cricketer.  Dev, a great cricketer, but a man known for his humility, large heartedness both on and off the field. Singh embraced the skills, but more importantly, he exhibited the true leadership, the true character of the legend. Credit to Dev who, too, who wasn’t afraid to hide his odd follies, mainly the Haryanvi style English. 

The World Cup win is well documented, but Singh thrived in bringing out the humanity of Kapil Dev in 83.  The legend is a difficult man to impersonates but not once did we feel that Singh’s effort was staged.  He seamlessly fitted into Kapil Dev’s shoes, bowled his heart out, struck few lusty blows, laughed at himself, earned respect in the odd moment of frustration, anger, but like the great man, he remained humble all through the film. If not in the final match, but Ranveer Singh was the undisputed Man of the Match of 83. This brilliant performance deserves a standing applause. Another feather on Ranveer Singh’s illustrious Kap.

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