This article is part of our 2017: A Year In Review series
As a year in movies, 2017 is likely to be remembered more for its controversies than as the year of memorable films.
Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about my top films of the year, or the ones I would say are a must-watch: Newton, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Mukti Bhawan, Baahubali, Trapped, Anarkali of Aarah, Tumhari Sulu and Bareilly Ki Barfi were all good films.
Looking at this selection, it became clear that barring a few exceptions, 2017 took shape as the year when content trumped commerce and, as actor Rajkummar Rao said in an interview to Firstpost, the small town became the new Switzerland.
This year, big Bollywood stars were overshadowed by stand-out or breakthrough performances — by actors who had thus far been happy playing supporting cast or lead roles in independent films.
Here’s my (subjective) pick of some noteworthy and exceptional performances of the year.
As the schoolgirl Sandhya infatuated with her teacher, Shweta Tripathi brought out the innocence, insecurities and rebelliousness of a 15-year-old in Haraamkhor while also standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the powerhouse Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
His physical transformation for survival drama Trapped was just the first in a career-defining year for Rajkummar Rao, who continued to build on a solid foundation of work with Bareilly Ki Barfi and Newton. While Behen Hogi Teri, Raabta and Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana did not add value to his filmography, Rao embraced all the characters with equal enthusiasm and proved to be an extremely busy actor with six releases in 2017 alone.
If Swara Bhaskar proved her singularity with Nil Battey Sannata last year, this year she played another complex character with impressive control. She wore the fiesty stage singer Anaarkali’s strengths, weaknesses and emotions on her blingy blouses in Anaarkali of Aarah and found able sparring partners in Sanjay Mishra, Pankaj Tripathi and Vijay Kumar.
This brings me to Pankaj Tripathi. If anyone has overtaken Rao’s tally for the year, it’s Tripathi. He chalks up seven titles in 2017. From playing Rangeela, the leader of the music troupe in Anaarkali of Aarah to the intoxicated, hearltess and haunted businessman Kehri Singh in Gurgaon to Bitti’s affectionate father in Bareilly Ki Barfi and the assistant commandant Atma Singh in Newton, he introduced a quirk to each part.
In the sensitive and touching Mukti Bhawan, Adil Hussain plays Rajiv, a son trying to make his aged father’s last days as peaceful as possible while juggling the mundane demands of his everyday life.
When I reviewed Half Girlfriend, in which Vikrant Massey played Madhav’s (Arjun Kapoor) roommate Sailesh, I singled out his act as “a single spark in dullsville”. Then as Shutu in A Death in The Gunj, Massey conveyed all the anguish of a withdrawn, timid and hurting young man.
Ratna Pathak Shah was quite the surprise in Lipstick Under My Burkha as Usha, a middle-aged widow who dares to explore supressed feelings and passions. She was endearing and you rooted for her.
While she had but a small part in Shankar Raman’s noir thriller Gurgaon, Shalini Vatsa got under the skin of the character of a long-suffering wife who has for too long been a mute spectator to patriarchal dominance.
At the other end of the spectrum of mothers, Seema Pahwa relished her parts as mother to prospective brides in both Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, making the most of the wonderful dialogue ascribed to her characters. In the first she’s the parent worrying about her daughter Bitti’s wedding while in the latter she’s Sugandha’s mother as a couple and their families deal with a future grooms issues with erectile dysfunction.
Another actor who had a good time with his role was Ravi Kishan. Playing the minister in Lucknow Central, he was funny and impactful in a brief part in the musical revolving around a band comprising of prison inmates.
Akshaye Khanna’s performance as Dev, a police investigator on deadline to solve a double murder, was the standout element in lacklustre thriller Ittefaq. Not only did he receive acclaim for this role, but also it left us wanting to see more of Khanna’s work.
Milind Dhaimade’s ode to Mumbai city, Tu Hai Mera Sunday came alive thanks to its ensemble cast comprising of Shiv Subramaniam, Barun Sobti, Jay Upadhyay, Avinash Tiwary, Nakul Bhalla, Vishal Malhotra and Shahana Goswami who play friends brought together by a Sunday game of football.
Raj Arjun’s interpretation of the mean father Farookh in Secret Superstar conveyed the oppressiveness in the household where a teenaged girl Insiya dreams of fame as a singing star. But another creditable performance in this drama was Tirth Sharma’s confident turn as Chintan, Insiya’s positive and supportive school friend.
Sanjay Mishra has created a brand of comedy that has been captured in films such as Dilwale and Golmaal Again. But as a blind old farmer desperate to save his debt-ridden family, Mishra made your heart melt in Kadvi Hawa as he imbibed the fatigue of a man in his twilight years.
And now it’s over to 2018 to top this list of striking performances and fine performers.
Disclaimers: This is a subjective list based on the Hindi language films the writer watched in 2017. The list appears in chronology based on release dates