In a year where stars largely struggled, it’s the humble but talented artistes that have kept the ball rolling for Bollywood.
By Mayur Lookhar
2022 proved that super star status counts for nothing. It is only performance that matters. Not all superstars disappointed as the year saw a bevy of fine performances making it extremely difficult to come up with this list.
A legend just keeps getting better with age but a young Turk also impressed. There are some unheralded artistes, plus a name that doesn’t quite ring a bell. After much deliberations, we honed in to the following names who are worthy of the Bollywood actor of the year honour.
11 Sharad Kelkar – Operation Romeo
Great voice, great talent, tremendous screen presence backed by experience. Sharad Kelkar is a powerhouse performer. In times when there is a dearth of villains, a Sharad Kelkar has emerged like a worthy successor to the great Amrish Puri. He has played intimidating characters before. Mangesh Jadhav [Kelkar] is one too, but he also a bigot and a sleazeball. A conman in the garb of a cop, Jadhav stunned his own wife and daughter by indulging into lecherous conduct. Kelkar performed like an evil doctor in Operation Romeo.
10 Ritwik Bhowmik – Maja Ma
A surprise package in every sense. Many would question, Ritwik who? The young actor impressed in the Madhuri Dixit-starrer feminist drama Maja Ma. Here’s a son, Tejas Patel [Bhowmik], who is displeased about his mother’s uncomfortable past. He urges his mother to undergo a lie detector test, at the insistence of his girlfriend’s father. Ayushmann Khurrana has usually mastered such roles. What works in Bhowmik’s favour is the age . There is a certain immaturity required to play such a character, The relative inexperience of Bhowmik works to his advantage and the actor plays his part to the T.
9 Jitendra Joshi – Thar
Very few films can match the visual storytelling of Thar. The violence was grotesque but the film was sincere in its message, and produced some fine performances. Satish Kaushik, Anil Kapoor, Fatima Sana Shaikh and even Harshvardhan Kapoor was fairly competent but it is the despicable act by Jitendra Joshi that eclipsed all others. The unheralded actor regaled in the debauchery, chauvinism of his character Panna. Greedy as a fox, but highly conservative, a Panna epitomized the chauvinist rural man who dominated his young wife Chetna [Fatima Sana Shaikh]. Joshi’s stellar act in a despicable character drew our ire and praise in equal breath.
8 Pankaj Tripathi – Sherdil: The Pilibhit Saga
There is a dearth of righteous, humble folks both on and off screen. For a man who has largely excelled in villainous roles, Tripathi can charm you as a simpleton too. We saw a glimpse of it in Kaagaz . Sherdil  revealed the total honest, gentleman in Tripathi. Based on true events, here’s a panchayat head/member Gangaram [Tripathi] who is willing to be eaten alive by a tiger to honour his word, but also hope that his death will compel the state government to act against the drought. More importantly, the compensation money can save his family. Such folks are either idiots or bholas (innocent}. Tripathi never loses that innocence. This unbending integrity is what draws you to Gangaram. The early long sequence where in Gangaram is arguing with a laid-back government official [played by Vishwanath Chatterjee] is a masterclass from both artistes. Gangaram’s flurry of questions reflect his ignorance, innocence, but it is meted with bewilderment, frustrating response from Chatterjee. More than lionhearted, this selfless act by Tripathi deserves few accolades.
7 Vijay Varma – Darlings
Once told that he is no Shah Rukh Khan, the talented actor would go on to play the lead in a Shah Rukh Khan production. Hamza Shaikh [Vijay Varma] is no hero, but an abusive, alcoholic husband to Badrunissa [Alia Bhatt]. The ticket collector from Mumbai is a tiger at home, but a mouse at work. His boss even gets him to clean toilet. “Yes, I’m a TC [toilet cleaner]”, Hamza says frustratingly. How often do such men vent their professional frustrations at home? We have no empathy for Hamza but sheer praise for Varma’s terrific performance.
6 Rajit Kapur – Maja Ma
A seasoned pro who usually shines in intense roles. Rajit Kapur though played a quirky character in Maja Ma. Bob Hansraj is not a funny man. He is amusing though as the desi American who is way too pretentious, and full of pride. He conducts a lie detector test on his daughter’s beau, and then later puts the boy’s mother to test too. Bollywood has its stereotypes of desi Americans, especially Punjabis. Most are painful to watch. Bob Hansraj though is a rare exception. “Can’t trust these Indian Indians anymore”, he tells to his equally pretentious wife Pam [Sheeba Chadha]. The manner, style, the disgusting look on his face and the sheer humour of the dialogue had us laughing out loudly. Bob takes his ego to a despicable but hilarious level. It’s great to watch though, and brilliantly performed by the seasoned artiste.
5 Siddhant Chaturvedi – Gehraiyaan
He was tipped for a bright future after impressing mightily in his debut film Gully Boy . Watching him in Gehraiyaan , one wouldn’t say that this young man is only a few films old. He showed the maturity of a veteran. Ambitious to the core, you couldn’t trust Zain Oberoi [Siddhant Chaturvedi] from the moment he arrived on the screen. You always suspected this suave, smooth-talking middle-class guy’s seismic rise. He wouldn’t let anything come in the way of his ambitions. Zain is an opportunist, yet there is a certain empathy for him. This stems from his backstory where a young Zain was left disheartened with his dysfunctional family. Maybe, that explains why he has scant regard for personal relationships. Seismic rise is often followed by a seismic fall. From being the perfect guy who could do no wrong, Zain touched rock bottom in his nadir moment. Chaturvedi aces the two shades to his character. The flawless act only adds to his reputation of being a fine gen next actor.
4 Amitabh Bachchan – Jhund
Ah, the veteran just keeps going on and on. He climbed Everest base camp in Uunchai , but it is the inspiring show as a football coach in Jhund that grabbed our senses more. Amitabh Bachchan, a Brahmin, stepped into the shoes of a humble retired government official turned football coach Vijay Borade.
Understated to the point of being nearly muted, Bachchan’s Vijay Borade believes in noble action than words. His challenge is not to teach the slum teens football, but for them to find dignity in life. Sports offers a level playing field for all. Civility, grace, humility, these traits come naturally to Bachchan. The character maybe Vijay Borade, but we felt as if the gentleman Bachchan was on full display here, charming us with his mannerisms. One of the most powerful images is that here is a Brahmin legend paying respect to the Dalit icon Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
3 Ayushmann Khurrana – Doctor G
An actor who is in a league of his own. It’s been a tough year, but Ayushmann Khurrana’s films are never determined by the box office. It’s the message that counts. Doctor G was novel in its idea, and noble in its thoughts. The man in a female’s world is innovative, but the core of the film is to strike a civil debate on abortion, questioning not just society, but also harping on medical ethics.
In a country, culture where a doctor is equivalent to God, director Vibhuti Kashyap’s Doctor G [Doctor Uday Gupta] is no god to start with. His admission to gynecology department in a government run medical college /hospital is purely an obligatory academic move. His reservation smacks of chauvinism, male ego. The personal crisis in his life sees him shamelessly expose his chauvinism. How can you like such a character? You don’t. But he grows both as a medical professional and later as a human being. It’s this journey that makes Dr. Gupta such a fascinating character. As often, Khurrana gets into the skin of his character finely. We rated his Gulabo Sitabo act as the best performance. Dr. Uday Gupta comes close to beating that tour de force effort.
2 Akshaye Khanna – Drishyam 2
Though an insider, but Akshaye Khanna’s been like an outsider, an outcast for the so-called Bollywood cliques. He’s happy in his own space and wise in his choice of films. They don’t always pay rich dividends, but it is what defines the brilliant actor. He joined the Drishyam franchise playing IG Tarun Ahlawat, who is determined to get justice for his predecessor Meera [Tabu]’s dead son.
A man of few words, Tarun expressed a lot with his intense eyes. In fact, his eyes move like a probing tool. A no-nonsense guy, he also has a wicked sense of humour. Here’s a character who can intimidate with his eyes, but also humour. Despite being at odds with the protagonists, you wouldn’t label Tarun as any antagonist. He may be tough, intimidating, but Tarun Ahlawat is a likable professional. Akshaye Khanna slipped into his characters effortlessly, delivering a near perfect performance
1 Shreyas Talpade – Kaun Pravin Tambe?
Few years ago, we met Shreyas Talpade for a mundane promotion of a mundane film. It felt like an obligation for us, and even Talpade. During that conversation though, we sensed a certain frustration on Talpade’s face over the lack of plum opportunities. Maybe, that made him a natural choice to play a character whose life, career has largely been about rejections. Kaun Pravin Tambe? The question mark in the title itself narrated the life of former cricketer Pravin Tambe.
He never played for India, but Tambe shot to limelight by becoming the oldest cricketer  to play in Indian Premier League. He had a good opening season, even getting a hat-trick, but he couldn’t quite replicate that in subsequent seasons. What then makes his story so great? It is the hardships that define his legend.
Talpade became Tambe in every sense, living through his frustrations, rejections, tumultuous career/life. Tambe’s journey mirrored millions of humble cricketers/ sportsmen, every man who work their butts out, yet don’t find success for prolonged period. Most simply give up and are lost forever, Despite the many setbacks, the one thing that defines Tambe is his child-like passion for the sport. The story, the performance is so gripping that it feels personal. Not just a career-best but Talpade’s tour de force performance makes him worthy of being our Best Actor of the year.
Kartik Uikey – Jhund
We mistook him for a little girl. And it’s taken months to realise that Kartik Uikey is a boy. He was among the many new faces in Nagraj Manjule’s Jhund . Another one of the rustic artistes. Kids have no fear, and be it Kaun Banega Crorepati or Jhund, it explains how kids communicate with the legend Amitabh Bachchan as if he is one of their own. He demands Vijay Borade [Bachchan] to get 500 rupees. There are better performances, but in one scene, Kartik leaves us, the society stunned.
“Bharat matlab?” [What is Bharat?], Kartik asks a fellow slum guy. The latter nor Vijay Borade, nor anyone has an answer. The two words though are enough to justify actor, comedian Vir Das’ one India, two India theory. We live in times where nationalistic sentiments rule, but this question by Kartik is reflective of the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. Kartik’s energetic, spirited effort deserves a special mention.