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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

From Tabu to Neena Gupta: The top 10 best actresses of 2018

Tabu, Taapsee Pannu and Neena Gupta made it to our list of the top 10 best Hindi film actresses of 2018. Here’s the full list.

bollywood Updated: Dec 30, 2018 18:28 IST
Raja Sen
Raja Sen
Hindustan Times
Neena Gupta, Tabu and Taapsee Pannu charmed everyone with their brilliant performances this year.
Neena Gupta, Tabu and Taapsee Pannu charmed everyone with their brilliant performances this year.
         

Take a bow, ladies.

It’s been a brilliantly acted year at the movies. Several incredibly talented women have bewitched, bothered and bewildered us with their performances this year, and it was hard to whittle the list down to a standardised ten — which is why my ten performances actually come from more than ten women. That might be cheating, but I’d like to believe these complex and canny characters on the list would be okay with that. Here are Hindi cinema’s best actresses of the year:

10. Taapsee Pannu (Mulk)

Taapsee Pannu plays a lawyer in Mulk.
Taapsee Pannu plays a lawyer in Mulk.

This year Taapsee Pannu rolled our eyes for us. In Mulk, she played a lawyer arguing a criminal case, and exasperation is writ upon her face as she deals with a bigoted prosecution lawyer. In Pink the actress was defended in a courtroom, and now as the defender, she truly comes into her own. She’s flinty, focussed, and so righteous is her (mostly) articulate fury that we would all be fortunate to have this woman arguing our case.

9. Anushka Sharma (Pari)

Anushka Sharma starred in and produced horror movie Pari.
Anushka Sharma starred in and produced horror movie Pari.

We see her toes first. When we meet Sharma’s Rukhsana in Pari, it is daytime but she’s in a corner so dense we need a cellphone-torch to see her. Her ankle is chained, and she says — in the voice of a little girl — that her mother will come open her. Prosit Roy’s film stacks up ghoulish metaphors, and Sharma captivates as a wild girl, a vessel of trauma and tradition, who keeps us in the dark and guessing. Even though she’s already shown us her feet aren’t on backwards.

8. Bhumi Pednekar (Lust Stories)

Bhumi Pednekar plays a house help in Lust Stories.
Bhumi Pednekar plays a house help in Lust Stories.

Just because you make love doesn’t mean you can stake a claim. In Zoya Akhtar’s segment of Lust Stories, Pednekar plays a housemaid who, when she isn’t sweeping the floor, boinks the man she works for. The actress is wonderful here, tender when calling him names — ‘Nanga’ becomes a playful term of endearment — and while their equation is refreshingly coarse and equal, it can’t possibly end well. Pednekar vividly conveys helplessness, and eventually wrings our hearts as she dares, stirringly, to dream of more than leftovers.

7. Neena Gupta (Badhaai Ho)

Neena Gupta plays a middle-aged woman who gets pregnant in Badhaai Ho.
Neena Gupta plays a middle-aged woman who gets pregnant in Badhaai Ho.

The eyes have it. The men in Badhaai Ho had the best lines, but Gupta — playing Priyamvada, the beleaguered woman of the house — made herself heard silently: her eyes preempt her mother-in-law’s acerbic remarks, flash proudly at the smart girl her son befriended, and turn into limpid pools with her husband’s poetry. Later, she snaps at him for turning on the charm. With a woman like that, who could resist?

 

6. Rasika Dugal (Manto)

Rasika Dugal plays the wife of Saadat Hasan Manto in Manto.
Rasika Dugal plays the wife of Saadat Hasan Manto in Manto.

Dugal brings an intangible brilliance to Manto. All around her are Characters with a capital C — wordsmiths and whores, drunkards both real and fictional — while she is straddled with the part of the put-upon wife to Saadat Hasan Manto. Yet she’s the one who flickers fiercest, as she refuses to let her admiration for her husband get in the way of her admonitions. She indulges his flights of fancy, gladly even joins him, but is clear she doesn’t want their wings singed. I left this film wanting to see a movie about the storyteller’s wife.

5. Manisha Koirala (Lust Stories)

Manisha Koirala plays  woman unwilling to settle in Lust Stories.
Manisha Koirala plays woman unwilling to settle in Lust Stories.

‘How am I looking?,’ she asks, stepping out of the waves. ‘Like a mother of two,’ he answers. Her retort comes in peals. Who but Koirala could laugh that laugh? In Dibakar Banerjee’s segment of Lust Stories, she tackles a rare character: a woman who is unwilling to settle. She’s having an affair with her husband’s best friend, and is eventually fatigued by the immaturity of lies and excuses. The actress is wide open, and simultaneously inscrutable, as she demonstrates both her desire and her impatience, and by the end of the film, shrugs off secrecy to free her shoulders — no matter how it damns the men. She’s the boss.

4. Zoya Hussain (Mukkabaaz)

Zoya Hussain plays a mute girl in Mukkabaaz.
Zoya Hussain plays a mute girl in Mukkabaaz.

It’s my top romantic moment at the movies this year. Sunaina, a mute girl, is telling her mother, in rapid sign-language, about the man she loves. The mother is concerned about the man being a boxer, but Hussain — who manages to make this silent girl act shrill — is adamant. She runs her hands frantically through her hair to signal a certain dandruff-y dance step. “Ranveer Singh?” The mother aces it. “He looks at you the way Ranveer looks at — ?” Sunaina stops moving her fingers and moves her lips instead, mouthing three blessedly obvious syllables: Dee-Pi-Ka. This is movie love, not only because it’s about people in the movies loving movie-people, but because, for an instant, Hussain makes us believe we can hear Sunaina.

3. Radhika Madan and Sanya Malhotra (Pataakha)

Radhika Madan and Sanya Malhotra play sisters in Pataakha.
Radhika Madan and Sanya Malhotra play sisters in Pataakha.

It may not be entirely fair, but I’ve clubbed these actresses playing sisters because each performance is so completely defined by the other that it would be wrong to prize a Yang over a Yin. Here are two foulmouthed girls who feel no need for grace, warring over everything from beedis to boyfriends. Madan is the elder, a lip-biting bully who creates a prize-winning dairy empire, while the frequently monkeying Malhotra prizes the learning of English and wants to start a school. Their swearwords are folksy, their ambitions solid, and they bristle to life when taking the other down, sniping and hissing and tugging hair out. The film positions them as an India-Pakistan metaphor, something that confounds both girls. They wonder which of them is which, since both want to be India. The fact is that they both are.

2. Gitanjali Rao (October)

Gitanjali Rao in October.
Gitanjali Rao in October.

What does a person who deals in facts do when told to ‘hope for the best’? Rao, playing an IIT professor with a severely injured daughter, breaks the heart over and over in October as she wonders where to start — and when to stop — hoping. She is constrained by the children and doctors and students around her, knowing that her reactions to any news, as the girl’s mother, carry more responsibility, and that everyone is looking to her, even to know how best to grieve. It is a brittle marvel of a performance from an unprofessional, disarmingly natural actress. When her son inquires if he should mourn, she instructs him not to miss class. The facts, after all, will still be there tomorrow.

1. Tabu (Andhadhun)

Tabu played a woman with a secret in Andhadhun.
Tabu played a woman with a secret in Andhadhun.

There are altogether too many facets to Simi in Andhadhun. She is a femme fatale, yes, but she is both a Hitchcock golddigger who has married for movie roles and the promise of fame, as well as a Chandler blonde who can spin a web as intricate as required. Tabu feasts on this buffet-spread of a role like only she can, sighing and slaying in equal measure. She looks at an old victim with an air of weariness — ‘oh no, not again’, say her tired, tremendous eyes — yet she always acts without hesitation.

For me Simi is made unforgettable by two aspects to her character: by her steely pragmatism, like when she decides she wants not just a man dead but also his wristwatch, and by the way she is sucked in by absurdity, best demonstrated by her hysterical laughter after waving a fake gun in a faker’s face. It’s all a joke and she’s in on it. After all, she’s got a Scream mask in her handbag.