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Saturday, September 30, 2023

20 Game-Changing & Impressive Performances of Indian Actors in 2020

The year 2020 has truly made the audiences aware of impressive talents who have been working in the industry for a while but haven’t quite got the acknowledgement they rightfully deserve.

With cinemas closing down, the big screen experience became domesticated and some fantastic actors have emerged within South-Asian content in digital spaces.

Filme Shilmy pays a tribute to some of these actors – whether they are new or established – through their game-changing and impressive performances.

As such, criteria of the list are based on some recent and relatively newly discovered talents who have stood out due to their impactful performances, seen prominently throughout the year and familiar actors who have endeavoured to explore unfamiliar or iconic characters in a film or digital series.

Tanya Maniktala – A Suitable Boy

Having made her acting debut in the web series, Flames, Tanya Maniktala bagged the lead role of Lata Mehra in Mira Nair’s series A Suitable Boy.

Based on Vikram Seth’s novel of the same name, it is about a 19-year-old university student who is torn between romance and responsibility in the backdrop of the 50s India.

From mastering her diction to her expressions and body language, Maniktala adds an element of grace and elegance to the role.

It will be interesting to see what other projects she has lined up!

Tripti Dimri – Bulbbul

Post a stellar performance in Imtiaz Ali’s Laila Majnu, Dimri gives a very formidable, heart-breaking and thought-provoking performance in Anushka Sharma’s Bulbbul on Netflix.

Set during the 1880’s Bengal presidency, she plays a Thakurain – adorned in heavy jewellery and beguiling saris, who suffers fatal abuse and rape at the hands of patriarchal figures in her marital home.

After a supernatural change occurs within her and she returns to save women in her village to fight back injustice.

Tripti Dimri is among the finest talents in the industry and she really is a fine discovery. She deserves many more opportunities.

Abhishek Banerjee – Paatal Lok

There is no doubt that Abhishek Banerjee is talented. Not only does he know the ‘A’ of acting, but also he knows what he looks out for in talents when casting.

Interestingly, Banerjee’s breakthrough work as an actor was through a web-series and his most iconic one is in Anushka Sharma’s Amazon Prime series Paatal Lok.

Playing Vishal aka Hathoda Tyagi is a character which one can sympathise from a distance. A character who is a misanthropist and conceals a dark past.

Being an assassin that is engulfed by violence, Abhishek brings to life a silent character, that is deeply in pain. A performance that will be remembered for posterity.

Pratik Gandhi – Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story

Gujarati characters are always susceptible to being stereotyped and used for mere comic relief. However, Pratik Gandhi changes the game completely with Hansal & Jai Mehta’s Sony LIV series, Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story.

As his debut web-series, that too in Hindi, Pratik plays the real-life role of Harshad Mehta, an Indian stockbroker who was infamous for being a market manipulator.

Essentially, it’s an underdog story that goes very wrong. Harshad’s character is grey and questionable, but Gandhi presents it with so much simplicity and charm.

Although Pratik is already a popular name in Gujarati cinema and is now set to take Indian cinema as a whole by storm. Remember, you read it here first!

Alaya F – Jawaani Jaaneman

When one watches Alaya F’s interviews and her awareness of the industry, it only piques our curiosity.

Having seen her in Jawaani Jaaneman, there is definitely a spark and spunk in her as an actor – that definitely speaks louder than whom she is related to.

In the film, she plays a 21-year-old Amsterdammer, who has come to London in pursuit of her estranged father who got her mother pregnant out-of-wedlock. Now, she too is pregnant with her boyfriend’s child.

Given that a few of Alaya’s peers have entered Bollywood with more ‘hyped’ roles, her debut definitely ranks among the mature, beautiful and wholesome ones. Plus, even with experienced actors like Saif Ali Khan and Tabu, her performance is equally strong. 

Namit Das – A Suitable Boy, Aarya, Mafia

Namit Das is a supremely talented artist, who has worked extremely hard and instrumentally over the years. He has great knowledge of music as well as a fabulous craft in acting.

2020 has been a very interesting year for him as we witnessed some very impressive works on the OTT front, leading him to international love and appreciation.

On one hand, he plays the chivalrous Haresh in A Suitable Boy and on the other hand he essays rattled gangster in Hotstar’s Aarya, alongside Sushmita Sen.

He also piques our attention as a cop in the ZEE5 psychological thriller series, Mafia. Way to go, Mr Das!

Farrukh Jaffar – Gulabo Sitabo

Farrukh Jaffar is truly a legend within her own right. She worked as a radio presenter before getting a role in Umrao Jaan and ever since she’s done several notable acting works.

However, thanks to Shoojit Sircar and recent movies, we’ve witnessed her true mastery. What a remarkable presence she has.

In a film like Gulabo Sitabo, which is headlined by two major talents like Ayushmann Khurrana and Amitabh Bachchan, it is Farrukh ji who steals the show.

Playing the dapper Begum of a derelict mansion, who kicks out her greedy and opportunistic husband after he tries to get the mansion in his name.

Rohit Saraf – Ludo, Mismatched

For his age, Rohit Saraf has witnessed several successes. Since his debut in Dear Zindagi, he has come in several major Bollywood films and has played significant roles.

There a charm, softness and charisma to Rohit – that makes one enamoured by him. He exudes a chocolate hero vibe, which is so refreshing.

After leaving a lasting impression in The Sky Is Pink, 2020 has seen a double-bill of Saraf in two quiet, yet distinct characters – on Netflix. On one hand in Anurag Basu’s Ludo, he’s a frustrated retail worker who gets unintentionally caught up in crimes.

On the other hand, in the series Mismatched, he plays Rishi Shekhawat, a young ‘prince-charming’ type character searching for his lady love. Two different styles but yet so much Rohit Saraf style!

Kiara Advani – Guilty, Indoo Ki Jawaani

Kiara Advani has been on a roll recently especially post her back-to-back successes in 2019 with Kabir Singh and Good Newwz.

As an actor, she exudes spunk and elegance, commanding a solid screen presence in every role regardless of how minute it may be.  

The year 2020 has been equally fruitful Kiara as she explores two different styles of works. In Karan Johar’s Netflix film Guilty, she plays a songwriter whose boyfriend is accused of rape during the era of #MeToo. She stands up for what is right, even if that is against the people she loves.

Then in Indoo Ki Jawani, she plays a girl who experiences life through misadventures and dating. Two opposite characters portrayed effortlessly. 

Jennifer Winget – Code M

The gorgeous Jennifer Winget has carved such a great space for herself. On Indian television, she is a superstar and her presence is felt strongly in every work she chooses to pursue.

Since her initial days in Kasautii Zindagii Kay, Jennifer has made such strides in her craft as an actor especially post headlining Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saraswatichandra.

As such, we’ve seen several variations to her as an actor, whether it’s playing the psychotic Maya in Beyhadh or a head-strong lady in Kunal Kohli’s Netflix film, Phir Se… 

However, 2020 proved to be a major turning point as she steps into the shoes of army personnel for her digital debut in Alt Balaji and ZEE5’s Code M. Superlative she is in that.

Barun Sobti – Asur, Halahal

Barun Sobti has been a heartthrob for the longest time and has always been a solid name.

Having begun with Dil Mill Gaye to stealing hearts as Arnav Singh Raizada in Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon, he has become a household name.

Recently, with a realistic, slice-of-life film like Tu Hai Mera Sunday, he has completely shrugged off his previous image.

In 2020, Sobti plays gatekeepers of the law in two thrillers – Asur on Voot and Halahal on Eros Now. Both hailing from different cultures, dialects and characteristics. In both, he comes across as compelling.

Rasika Dugal – A Suitable Boy, Mirzapur 2, Lootcase

Rasika Dugal is amongst the finest actors in Indian cinema. In comparison to many other actors out there, Rasika has never shied away from essaying realistic characters in films like Tahaan, Kshay, Qissa, Manto and most recently, Hamid.

Last year she was a part of Emmy-winning Delhi Crime series and the popular series Out Of Love and Made In Heaven.

This year, however, she’s explored various styles of genres and characters. A doting sister in the period drama A Suitable Boy, a voluptuous Thakurain who seeks revenge in Mirzapur 2 and a more ‘commercial’ role in the comedy Lootcase.

In fact, she is so dedicated to the arts that Rasika and partner Mukul Chadda created a short film together during the global lockdown. Rasika is on the roll!

Sharib Hashmi – Darbaan, Asur

Having started off amongst the supporting cast in Slumdog Millionaire, Sharib Hashmi has slowly and steadily made waves in his career.

Sharib appeared in Jab Tak Hai Jaan with a more in-depth role and then a National Award-Winning movie like Filmistaan, proving his worth as an artist.

After a successful run last year in Amazon Prime Video’s The Family Man as a head-strong cop, he once again leaves an impact in the series Asur.

But in ZEE5’s Darbaaan, his performance based on Rabindranath Tagore is a poignant and impactful one. He also appeared in Eros Now’s mini-series A Viral Wedding. 

Jitendra Kumar – Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan

With the OTT platforms booming, it has provided a platform for several fresh talents. One of the key figures to have emerged from there since its infancy is Jitendra Kumar.

Since doing comedy sketches on The Viral Fever (TVF), he has come leaps and bounds as an actor and can definitely be said to be a youth icon in many ways.

This year, Jitendra faced back-to-back successes. On one hand, in the trailblazing Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, he plays a homosexual who hails from an orthodox family and fights against all odds to be with his man (Ayushmann Khurrana).

Then in Amazon Prime Video series Panchayat, he plays a city boy who gets a low salary job in a remote village in India. Through comedy, he is pushing the envelope each time and bringing non-metropolitan city narratives to the forefront.

Vijay Varma – She, A Suitable Boy, Mirzapur 2

Vijay Varma exudes a solid charm and he entices you the moment he appears on the screen. This vibe is almost a charisma that Johnny Depp has as an artist.

Since his Hindi film debut in 2012, we’ve seen him don numerous avatars which are edgy, rugged and unpredictable. But this year, he has been nailing it with several exciting and anticipated projects.

While the characters share a mutual sentiment of edgy and unpredictability, the shades are different. For instance, in Netflix’s She, he plays a notorious drug dealer who is irresistibly charming and charismatic.

Then in A Suitable Boy, he plays a smitten Urdu teacher on the verge of destruction, in Ghost Stories he plays a reluctant lover and then twins from a crime family in Mirzapur 2. Even in quantity, he assures quality.

Sharad Kelkar – Laxmii

Sharad Kelkar is a fabulous actor. He is natural in every role he chooses to do and commands a solid screen presence. Since his stint on Indian television, he has excelled each time.

He kicked off 2020 with the Bollywood period extravaganza Tanhaji in which he plays the formidable Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj – the brave warrior and founder of the Maratha Empire.

Then in the horror-comedy Laxmii, he essays the titular role of a transgender woman who is mercilessly killed by a prominent political figure. He steals the show with a powerful performance.

In ZEE5’s Black Widows, he plays a seemingly successful man with a dark shade which is enigmatic. Within a year, Kelkar has undertaken such contrasting roles. If that isn’t game-changing, what is?

Jaideep Ahlawat – Paatal Lok

Jaideep Ahlawat is such a natural actor. For over a decade, he has been working in the Bollywood film industry. Continuously, he has impressed audiences and critics alike.

Beginning with roles in Priyadarshan’s Aakrosh and Khatta Meetha, he has since never shied away from essaying dark characters – many of which exist within the fabrics of society.

However, in Paatal Lok, despite being the central protagonist as a cop, he plays a very grey character… a role which is no hero nor villain. And he does it with such ease. It’s gritty, raw and questionable.

In Bollywood blockbuster Baaghi 3, he portrays a villain-turned-goodie with that much flair. Jaideep truly deserves an outstanding opportunity like Paatal Lok and this is there for posterity.

Janhvi Kapoor – Ghost Stories, Gunjan Saxena

Janhvi Kapoor is a budding artist who certainly has an eye for diversity in cinema. It’s interesting how Kapoor plays characters which are vulnerable yet solid in extreme circumstances.

She began her career with an intense and emotional love story in Dhadak and since then she will be exploring several genres including a period magnum-opus, a rom-com and horror-comedy.

In just her second film, Ghost Stories, she plays a young nurse, arrives to take care of an ailing bedridden old lady in a desolate house. It’s a fragile, flawed and oblivious character which is raw.

Then, she takes up the challenge of her first biographical performance in Gunjan Saxena, based on the first Indian female air-force pilots in combat. Kudos to her for challenging herself each time and daring to be a better artist!

Sharvari Wagh – The Forgotten Army: Azaadi Ke Liye

Sharvari Wagh already has a very promising future in Bollywood as she takes centre stage in Yash Raj Films’ Bunty Aur Babli 2. She is no stranger to cinema as she has been an assistant director in reputable movies like Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2Bajirao Mastani and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety.

But this year, she made her debut in Amazon Prime Video’s series The Forgotten Army, directed by Kabir Khan and a fine first performance it is.

The series, which is based on The Indian National Army (INA), which was forged out of British defeat in Singapore during WWII, was led by the charismatic Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

Given the army had the first-ever women infantry regiment anywhere in the world, Sharvari plays a formidable soldier and a brilliant role to take as a first performance.

Harshvardhan Rane – Taish

Having been a prominent face in Telugu cinema Thakita ThakitaPrema Ishq Kaadhal and Anaamika, Harshvardhan Rane impressed us in 2016 romance drama Sanam Teri Kasam – his Bollywood debut.

After a 4 year hiatus, we see him as the fierce, barbaric yet vulnerable British-Punjabi gangster Palli in Bejoy Nambiar’s Taish on ZEE5.

It’s a very difficult role to play but Rane gets into the skin of it with such natural flair. He is ruthless and brawny, but yet so broken within. It’s a grey character and Harshvardhan portrays it in a compelling way. Arguably, his best performance to date.

Harshvardhan Rane is a handsome hunk who has always made an impact and his future roles in Bollywood only makes us more excited to see what more we will see from him!

Special Mention: Deepika Padukone – Chhapaak

Deepika Padukone is a remarkable talent who always lit up the screens with her charisma and graceful presence. But in Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak, she raises the bar.

She surrenders herself completely to the role and plays the character of an acid attack survivor with such consistency and sensitivity. It’s an emotionally challenging one to play but done so poignantly.

Even during the sequences of Malti in her younger days, Padukone is so convincing and gets every nuance right… This is undoubtedly her best work (as an actor) yet and a fantastic film to debut as a producer.

Malti, which is inspired by Laxmi Agarwal, symbolises strength, positivity and courage. It will always be respected and applauded. 

Selecting 20 names out of a plethora of several talented individuals is no easy task.

Having said that, we must also credit the following names who have also changed the game for their careers and/or have given some memorable performances Sushmita Sen for Aarya, Hina Khan for Damaged 2, Unlocked and Wish List,Prajakta Kohli for Mismatched, Taapsee Pannu for Thappad, Avinash Tiwary/Rahul Bose for Bulbbul, Sunny Kaushal for The Forgotten Army: Azaadi Ke Liye,  Divyendu for Mirzapur 2/Bichu Ka Khel, Sanjana Sanghi for Dil Bechara, Vidyut Jammwal for Khuda Haafiz, Pavail Gulati for Thappad, Aditya Roy Kapur for Ludo and Malang, Aaditi Pohankar for She, Dimple Kapadia for Tenet, Adil Hussain for Pareeksha, Shreya Dhanwanthary for Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story and Aditya Rawal in Bamfaad.

Also, an artist to watch out for is Adarsh Gourav in The White Tiger – he is set to also impress us with his grey character and realistic portrayal.

Watch our interviews with some of the talents mentioned above here:


Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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