2018 belonged to Badhaai Ho’s Gajraj Rao, Neena Gupta and Stree’s Pankaj Tripathi: Meet the scene-stealers

Fleshed-out character roles is what makes a story more palatable. Some of the 2018’s biggest successes like Badhaai Ho, Stree, Raazi among others proved it, like none other.
(Left) Gajraj Rao and Neena Gupta in Badhaai Ho and Pankaj Tripathi in Stree.
(Left) Gajraj Rao and Neena Gupta in Badhaai Ho and Pankaj Tripathi in Stree.
Updated on Dec 30, 2018 02:53 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByNivedita Mishra

The year 2018 began with a bang with the release of a big budget Padmaavat — initially scheduled to release in December 2017 -- but the same can’t be said of the other big releases of the year including Aamir Khan’s Thugs of Hindostan, Salman Khan’s Race 3 and films boasting of impressive star cast like Fanney Khan and Batti Gul Meter Chalu. While Ranbir Kapoor’s Sanju did make a lot of money, clearly this year was about the film’s story, not its stars.

If anything, 2018 belongs to new stories, ones of triumph despite odds or stories picked from history. It is films with relatively smaller stars but great story lines that were the winners. What’s more most of these films were made on small to medium budget. A look at the budget of these films will help put things in perspective: Hichki (Rs 12 cr), Badhaai Ho (Rs 29 cr), Raazi (Rs 30 cr), Stree (Rs 23-24 cr), Pad Man (Rs 20 cr), Raid (Rs 30 cr), Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran (Rs 44 cr), Soorma (Rs 31 cr), Dhadak (Rs 41 cr), Gold (Rs 85 cr), Sui Dhaaga (Rs 35 cr) and Andhadhun (Rs 32 cr). All of these films were successful at the box office and prove the point.

What is remarkable in many of these films is the importance given to fleshed-out character actors. In fact, one can say that while in the past character roles in films like Tanu Wed Manu helped build a much better narrative, in 2018, they almost came of their own. Even when stories were told from someone else’s perspective, the camera focused on them for a long time. A case in point is Badhaai Ho. While the story is being seen from Ayushmann Khurrana’s perspective, the scenes that leave a lasting impact are the ones that focus on Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao and Surekha Sikri.

So, here’s a look at some of the break-out character roles in 2018.

Pankaj Tripathi and Aparshakti Khurana in Stree

(From Left) Pankaj Tripathi, Rajkummar Rao and Aparshakti Khurana in Stree.
(From Left) Pankaj Tripathi, Rajkummar Rao and Aparshakti Khurana in Stree.

Since 2017, anything Pankaj Tripathi touches turns into gold, quite literally. Even in the smallest of roles, he seems to shine. This year, Stree proved that length of a role need not be directly proportional to either the success of a film or getting noticed. As Rudra, a paranologist, whom Rajkummar Rao and his friends consult to understand the phenomenon of disappearance of men in Chanderi town and its connection with the mysterious Stree, Pankaj was in his elements. Some of the punchiest lines in the film were his. Giving him company were Aparshakti Khurana and Abheshek Banerjee. As friends of the hero, it doesn’t take time for such actors to get sidelined. Aparshakti, younger brother of the more successful Ayushmann Khurrana, had appeared in his small role in Dangal as Aamir Khan’s nephew. In Stree, he is has much longer role and definitely adds to the variety in the narrative.

Gajraj Rao, Neena Gupta and Surekha Sikri in Badhaai Ho

(From left) Sanya Malhotra, Neena Gupta, Ayushmann Khurrana, Surekha Sikri, Shardul Rana and Gajraj Rao in Badhaai Ho.
(From left) Sanya Malhotra, Neena Gupta, Ayushmann Khurrana, Surekha Sikri, Shardul Rana and Gajraj Rao in Badhaai Ho.

Ever since the launch of its trailer, Badhaai Ho had a positive vibe from the word go. Its concept was enticing enough to get all interested; however, it could have stayed that way had the film not been written so well and had the performances not been as pitch perfect as they were. The film captured the ethos of middle-income, service-class Delhi.

While the film’s story was from Ayushmann’s eyes, its best dialogues and situational comedy were reserved for its senior actors. As a conflicted father, forever in the line of fire, for an unexpected turn of events, initiated by him and his wife, Gajraj Rao, was a perfectly cast. The poor chap’s character has to listen to jibes from his wife and his mother, snide remarks from neighbours and must face disdain in the eyes of his two grown-up sons. Helping him sparkle was Neena Gupta as a woman, who in the secrecy of her room, enjoys a happy conjugal life but when faced by the consequence of it (read pregnancy) has to face scorn from family and friends. The icing of the cake was, of course, grandmother, played by Surekha Sikri. As an acid-tongued grumpy old woman, she is a delight to watch as she names and shames her son (and by extension her daughter-in-law) for their act. Together, the three of them, give us a slice of life, laced with humour, joy, tears and empathy, like none other.

Jaideep Ahlawat in Raazi

Jaideep Ahlawat as Khalid Mir.
Jaideep Ahlawat as Khalid Mir.

Raazi is touted as one of the finest performances of actor Alia Bhatt. She is big star and almost every frame of Raazi has her in it. The film is story of RAW agent Sehmat, played by Alia. But her story, necessitates a number of other people she must face, to take it further. A crucial clog in the story of this RAW agent, who infiltrates the Pakistan’s military establishment, is Khalid Mir. Between these two, we are constantly being asked to pick sides between innocence, goodness of heart, intense love for motherland and shrewd moves, intense training, politics of the day, the blurring of good and bad -- moral compass that must pick between real and practical and idealistic and humane. A cocksure Khalid is the perfect foil to a vulnerable Sehmat. Together, they rock the boat, like none other. Jaideep, first came into focus as the antagonist in Commando. However, Raazi brought him the kind of recognition he hadn’t known in the past. Deservingly so.

Parambrata Chatterjee in Pari

Anushka Sharma and Parambrata Chatterjee in Pari.
Anushka Sharma and Parambrata Chatterjee in Pari.

Parambrata Chatterjee is a well known actor in the Bengali cinema and Vidya Balan’s Kahaani first showed his calibre to Hindi-speaking audience. Quiet and sensible, Parambrata was a go-to guy in Kahaani and with Vidya, he enjoyed a screen time (and national viewership) he wouldn’t have imagined. However, Kahaani was in 2012 and nothing was heard of him in Hindi cinema after that. In this year’s paranormal drama, Pari, Parambrata’s portrayal as a kind-hearted man who cares for an Ifrit-inhabited Rukhsana, was appreciated. Parambrata projects a different kind of masculinity, which isn’t macho and brawny but is man enough to care for the helpless.

Gitanjali Rao in October

Gitanjali Rao with Varun Dhawan in October.
Gitanjali Rao with Varun Dhawan in October.

Shoojit Sircar’s October was nothing like we are used to watching as mainstream cinema, Bollywood or otherwise. The lack of drama and display of any overt emotions are its calling cards. Presenting Varun Dhawan in a rather unglamorous avatar, the film is about two souls who don’t even know if they are in love, but feel a strange connection after one of them meets with a near-fatal accident and slips into coma. Varun, as the ever caring, ever hopeful friend to Banita Sandhu’s Shuili Iyer is a beautiful portrayal of man’s innocent urge. However, while the film is rightly focussed on Varun, there’s one more person who comes into sharp focus. No, it isn’t the coma-ridden Shiuli but her mother, played by theatre actor Gitanjali Rao. Her silences speak more evocatively than her words, as she and Varun’s Danish are the only two people, willing to be patient and hope for Shiuli’s revival.

Angad Bedi in Soorma

Diljit Dosanjh and Angad Bedi in Soorma.
Diljit Dosanjh and Angad Bedi in Soorma.

In Soorma, Punjabi singer-actor Diljit Dosanjh was mighty impressive as India’s ace drag flicker Sandeep Singh, who was accidentally shot and got paralysed hip downwards. The film chronicles that phase of his life when he meets with the accident but manages to defeat injury and bounces back to win international glory for Indian hockey. Diljit was impressive in an author-backed role. However, Angad Bedi, playing Sandeep’s elder brother Bikramjit Singh, was its quiet success. Playing Sandeep’s chief motivator and his backbone, Angad was apt for the role. Projecting strength, dogged determination and support, his portrayal as Bikramjit Singh was worthy of applause.

Author tweets @mniveditatweets

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