By Rahul Desai
Just like last year’s season-ending piece, in the independent spirit of this website, I’ve decided to list my favourites — Hindi-film actors, male or female, who’ve shone in either blink-and-miss cameos or slightly more significant supporting roles this year. They’re easy to miss. It’s not always easy to remember them, and maybe a knowing smile or two could be afforded to them down the line; but in that moment, they’ve contributed to making the film — the year — what it is.
Soham Maitra (Chauranga)
As an infatuated, illiterate Dalit boy besotted with the upper-class demureness of the village landlord’s young daughter, Maitra is endearing and tragic in his brief role as one of housemaid Tannishtha’s Chatterjee’s two sons. The older boy helps him encapsulate his lofty emotions into written love-letters to the girl, painting a dreamy Sairat-ish picture destined to be punctured by the harsh realities of social dichotomy.
Anurita Jha (Jugni)
She is naive, dreamy, possessive, explosive and excitable as the ‘third wheel’ — the village belle destined for heartbreak when the apple of her eye, a talented folk singer (Siddhant Behl), falls for the flaky city-slicker music producer (Sugandha Garg). Jha lends a kind of juvenile charm to her role as a lovelorn rural-Punjabi girl unable to understand the complexities or embrace the detachments of messy creative minds.
Prakash Belawadi (Airlift)
The cynical, bitter Malayali gentleman constantly distrustful of hero Ranjit Katyal’s (Akshay Kumar) change of nature embodies the internal antagonism our filmmakers often create to lend the story more dramatic/mainstream heft. He isn’t a villain per se, but more of the everyday crabby disillusioned adult in us, not ashamed to swim against the tide and question the order of establishment; in their case, a decrepit school building serving as the shelter to thousands of stranded Indians in Kuwait at the peak of its war. After Talvar and Airlift, filmmakers will do well not to misuse him in worthless bit roles (Te3n).
Kumud Mishra (Airlift)
With a restrained under-the-radar act enveloped by the lethargic old-worldness of Delhi’s slow-moving bureaucracy, Mishra’s graph typifies the disturbing contrast of pace between both the film’s worlds — with time at a premium back in Kuwait, and distressful phone-calls by Kumar and co. to Mishra serving as the only ray of hope. His gradual transformation from a comfortable cog in the machine to a reluctant hero is one of the film’s more notable victories.
Manoj Joshi (Ghayal: Once Again)
When Sunny Deol’s Dhai Kilo Ke Haath start functioning after almost two decades in a modern, corrupt metropolis, all the politicians (read, baddies) become mere cartoonish props headed for mass annihilation. Though the story revolves around an Ambani-ish family (Narendra Jha and his bratty homicidal son), Joshi is the perfect comic relief as the bald, bumbling Home Minister well aware of cop-vigilante Ajay Mehra’s Ghayal-inducing power.
Yogendra Tiku (Neerja, Fan)
He is now contemporary cinema’s favourite beta-male father — that is, the genteel, shifty, shy and soft-spoken North Indian patriarch primed to serve as the foil to opposite-natured partners. After Vikas Bahl’s Queen, he once again revels in the background as Neerja Bhanot’s father, and the more considerable Shabana Azmi’s mild-mannered husband, aching to be everyone’s calm shoulder to cry on but forever at a loss of words in a situation he isn’t prepared for. His jolted, office-going face grows on us through Neerja, especially in the scene where he is, like many conservative Indian fathers gone wrong, struggling to come to terms with his daughter’s broken (arranged) marriage.
Jim Sarbh (Neerja)
A Barkhad Abdi-ish terrorist on Pan-Am Flight 73, theatre veteran Sarbh delivers an impulsive turn as a flawed villain rarely in control of his hijacking. He makes mistakes and shares a strangely human relationship with Sonam Kapoor’s titular character, providing viewers a figurative portal into the various layers of chaotic equations on the airplane.
Kavi Shastri (Neerja)
As the misogynistic Gujarati husband in the Middle East, Shastri’s violent presence belongs to Neerja’s flashbacks in the moments leading up to her death. She lives through her predicament again, with a gun to her head, and achieves closure simply through memories of this torrid man; if not for him, she wouldn’t be on this flight, both growing up and confronting her own mortality simultaneously. It’s more about Shastri’s necessary TV-husband character than his actual performance.
K.R. Parmeshwar (Aligarh)
The delicate little film revolves around Manoj Bajpayee (as the embattled, gay Professor Siras) and Rajkummar Rao (as young journalist Deepu Sebastian), but the fleeting face of this actor — an academic character from the Malayalam department built as a fragile bridge between individual and establishment — became just as important as things began to go downhill. Torn between being Siras’ longtime friend and the institution’s peacekeeping employee, Mr. Parmeshwar’s instinctive reaction on learning that Deepu is a journalist (tongue out, eyes wide, ears touched, as if approached by the Devil himself) is one for the ages.
Dilnaz Irani (Aligarh)
As Deepu’s barnstorming, no-nonsense, aggressive editor, Ms. Irani plays the millenial newsroom journalist to near-perfection. Her banter, and subsequent sexual chemistry with Deepu, serves as a passing reminder of young ambitions — both victim and product of her profession’s high-pressure working environment.
Karuna Pandey (Bollywood Diaries)
In an under-appreciated film, Ms. Pandey plays an under-appreciated character in context of her Bhilai-based protagonist husband’s (an in-form Ashish Vidyarthi) downward-spiral of a midlife crisis. The man wants to pursue his long-suppressed dreams of becoming an actor in Mumbai’s tinseltown. As the small-town wife, both ashamed and confused by Vidyarthi’s outburst of late senility, she weeps, rages, taunts and rants with the air of an established house-maker.
Vineet Kumar Singh (Bollywood Diaries)
An original Anurag Kashyap protege, the perceptive actor mixes it up a bit here as an idealistic, shades-of-grey-ish Bollywood assistant director inspired by a starry-eyed sex worker (Raima Sen) in a Kolkata brothel. On his research trip to the red-light area, he wins her trust and encourages her to share her colourful story, promising her the lead role when he “finds funding” for this ambitious script. Many strugglers will know what happens next. Good film, fine performer.
Sikander Kher (Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive)
It’s hard to occupy the ‘right kind’ of slapstick, in a madcap genre that thrives on hamming and heightened chaos. Kher, though, is virtually unrecognizable as a brash yank of an American agent (David Dosomething, it seems) who transforms at will into a brasher Jatt undercover counterpart. An absolute hoot to behold, Kher stands on the thin line between parody and piss-taking with the ease of a seasoned standup comedian.
Murali Sharma (Jai Gangaajal)
In Prakash Jha’s uneven Bollywood-sequel (read, not really a sequel) to Gangaajal, in which he stars as a bad-to-good cop too, a bunch of side-acts shape Priyanka Chopra’s femme-fatale action-heroine turn. One of them, veteran side-stopper Murali Sharma (in this list last year for Badlapur and Baby), is fairly memorable as an ominous transgendered flunky of villainous local MLA Manav Kaul. His role is more on the intimidating, disorienting lines of Sandeep Sikand’s devilish performance in Murder 2.
Ninad Kamat (Jai Gangaajal)
As part of the same MLA motley crew, Kamat is Kaul’s bratty out-of-control brother — the henchman-kinds who usually overshoot the gun, mistreat hapless villagers and then get killed or lynched first, lending the main villain an excuse to swear eternal vengeance on the good guys. Though routinely overexposed as the fast-talking, dubious B-grade character in movies, Kamat makes this role his own, and even outperforms the leads in Jha’s cocktail of politics, corruption and guns.
Pankaj Tripathi (Global Baba, Nil Battey Sannata)
As the extravagant conman Damru of the fraud-Baba brigade, and the ‘totla’ sidekick behind the ingenious “Bhakti main hai dum, Godfather ki kasam!” chant for his pal-turned-Guru (Abhimanyu Singh) in Uttar Pradesh’s Kabirganj, Tripathi has quite a ball in his threads. He is arguably even better — perhaps the most lived-in cameo of the year — as the opposite-end-of-spectrum, eccentric and playful class teacher in Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Nil Battey Sannata.
Ratna Pathak Shah (Kapoor & Sons, Nil Battey Sannata)
From essaying the conflicted, stubborn, nagging and cynical ‘lady of the house’ in Shakun Batra’s wonderful ensemble-powered family drama to being the respectful, curious and typically sagely employer (notice how she enquires about her maid’s little idiosyncrasies and linguistic quirks) to Swara Bhaskar’s housemaid character in Nil Battey Sannata, she hit every urban beat of two vastly distinct Indian roles.
Amarjeet Singh (Kapoor & Sons)
The plumber did it. After fixing a malfunctioning pipe in the family bathroom, privy to one of the Kapoors’ many loud living-room squabbles about lost money and financial duress, on being asked his price, Singh’s single line — timely, poker-faced and genuine — makes for the moment of the year: “Ab iss bure waqt mein jo theek samajhiye de dikiye (Give these tough times, pay me what you can)”.
Aahana Kumra (The Blueberry Hunt)
In an unfairly received fable-like film about a sociopathic, reclusive braided old Colonel (Naseeruddin Shah), his dog and his secret marijuana fields, young Ms. Kumra’s entrance into the languid story ignites it into action. As an accidental hostage — the daughter of an influential figure — she is lively, frightened and dangerously spunky in the beginning; soon, she develops a softened, near-Stockholm-Sydromed, daughterly presence to the cranky man, helping them both come of age.
Tipu, the German Shepherd (The Blueberry Hunt)
Kutappan, Colonel’s charming watchdog and companion in the film, embodies the running joke throughout about how a North Indian (Naseeruddin Shah) has generically condescended on the distinct South-Indian-ness of the high-altitude Kerala town of lush Vagamon: “Kuta-ppan” being his patronising attempt at ‘integration’ into a culture he has never really warmed up to. The dog is quite smart, too, taking a special fancy to evening cartoons on the idiot box every night — watching with the attentiveness of an infant enjoying his post-homework hour.
Shriya Pilgaonkar (Fan)
When there are two Shah Rukh Khans pitted against one another in one film, it’s always a bit difficult to arrest attention as the ‘heroine,’ given the reduced importance of its romantic track. Functioning on the periphery of Khan’s tunnel vision, though, is Ms. Pilgaonkar, who appeared to fit right in as more than a pretty face opposite Khan’s obsessive Delhi avatar, Gaurav Chadana. There is something about her, the unconventionality of which will perhaps be more visible in the years to come, in roles that allow her to do more than just break into the mainstream Bollywood scene.
Piaa Bajpai (Laal Rang)
It’s a pity we haven’t seen more of her yet in Hindi cinema. She is electric as the “better half” of light-eyed Akshay Oberoi in the Randeep-Hooda-centric Karnal-based blood-theft drama, Laal Rang. Her questionable interpretation of a thait Haryanvi’s English-speaking attempts not withstanding, she brings a petite, small-town firebrand-ness to her equation with the boys — a far cry from her half-a-decade old career in South Indian cinema so far. She was pretty affable even in what was otherwise an average short film, The Virgins.
Divya Dutta (Traffic)
As the desperate mother of a girl in need of a heart transplant, and Marathi superstar’s (Bengali superstar Prosenjit) estranged wife in the race-against-the-clock road thriller, Ms. Dutta evokes a fair bit of empathy. It isn’t easy to not go overboard in the much-abused Hindi-film role of a teary mother, but Ms. Dutta, garnering all her acting experience, lends the film the few humane moments it needed to rise above the vast B-movie kingdom of soulless thrillers.
Parambrata Chatterjee (Traffic)
Rana from Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani is all grown up! Well, not quite, but (another) Bengali star Chatterjee has always had this air of likability about his screen presence. Which is why his role as a tense cardiac surgeon stuck between the devil and the deep sea stands out a little. When traditionally good guys take up ethically diverse roles, Indian cinema — pardon the Shastri-esque quote — is the winner.
Aman Uppal (Dear Dad)
There’s more to his vain modern-day reality-TV-star character, who lends some colour and (surprising) perspective to a bland father-son road trip in Roja star Arvind Swamy’s comeback film. Uppal excels as the smirky macho fame child, especially in a scene where he unexpectedly takes his responsibility as a “public figure” seriously, advising the kid (Himanshu Sharma) about identities and fatherhood in a mature, measured tone.
Richa Chaddha (Sarbjit)
Omung Kumar isn’t the best of biopic-directors, but the one right choice he made in his latest debacle was Ms. Chaddha’s role. She is fierce, quiet and conflicted, equally as a passive bystander and a mourning wife, while her husband rots in a Pakistani jail for years, and while Aishwarya Rai Bachchan hams her way into Jazba-ish heaven.
Satyadeep Mishra (Phobia)
Perhaps the most overlooked male role of the year, Mishra’s is a genuinely layered, nuanced performance that fits well within the ambiguity of this film’s genre. As an agoraphobic Radhika Apte’s on-and-off, needy and enigmatic boyfriend, he steps out of the shadows and builds upon his under-appreciated Bombay Velvet reputation.
Ankur Vikal (Phobia)
As Apte’s eerie, horror-film-specific devious-looking neighbour (also seen as the evil trafficker from Slumdog Millionaire), Vikal is the perfect red herring in a film all about deceit, mystery and illusion. He distracts us with his psycho-lover-boy avatar at the most crucial of times, shifting our focus from the unthinkable into the psychologically safer realms of convention.
Yashaswini Dayama (Phobia)
The fresh-faced Parsi-looking girl made her debut in Phobia as Apte’s manic-pixie (yes, one of many this year) teenaged neighbour, who becomes more important in a horror-victim sort of way as the film goes on. She is supremely confident in front of the camera, which is a lot more than can be said about even a lot of seasoned veterans. Her second role in Dear Zindagi, an extension of her scatterbrained-caricature-heroine’s-friend persona, was a little annoying though.
Ratnabali Bhattacharjee (Waiting)
Singularly influential — the contemporary-society kind of unconditional “support” — in the two scenes with a grieving Kalki, Ms. Bhattacharjee is responsible for the protagonist’s emotional upheaval and epiphany, while still never leaving her friend’s side. Her throwaway lines hint at tiny principle-based squabbles between the two sentimentally disparate ladies over the years, but also provide a calming, if not completely confident idea of a shoulder to cry on.
Rajeev Ravindranathan (Waiting)
As the eccentric, well-meaning colleague of a man whose wife he must be hospitable towards, Ravindranathan adds a dose of humanity to the inherent awkwardness of his situation. He is part-heartwarming and part-overeager towards a stricken Kalki, either with his inability to speak openly or with his purpose of politeness about the tricky communication. We’ve seen many mechanical ‘company’ men in our peripheral vision like him over the years, but his is the only compromised soul in which we’re allowed to look a little deeper.
Prabhjyot Singh (Udta Punjab)
As the drug-addled teenaged teenager embodying the substance-abused wastelands of lower-middle-class Punjab, 16-year-old Singh is quite the poker-faced revelation. His dead eyes and detached adolescence goes a long way in pushing the bigger faces of the film, namely his cop brother (Punjabi superstar Diljith Dosanjh), to make the intensely kinetic chain-sequence of action it becomes.
Satish Kaushik (Udta Punjab)
As pop star Gabru’s (Shahid Kapoor) shady, quasi-paternal been-there-done-that manager, Kaushik, a bonafide veteran of shady rural-badlands roles, is a crucial mentor-meets-assistant addition to Kapoor’s psychedelic universe. The expression on his face when he is shot ‘mistakenly’ by a hyperventilating Gabru is, perhaps, the aggregative expression of this fantastic film.
Vibha Chibber (Dhanak)
A “noble” dhongi-baba-style witchcraft-practising Chibber is one of Nagesh Kukunoor’s many colourful devices on a siblings’ rural adventure across Rajasthan to meet Shah Rukh Khan. She is both intimidating and disarming as the loud, lavish Sheera Mata, who could well belong to the extended universe of Global Baba.
Suresh Menon (Dhanak)
Menon, who had turned me off with several horrid roles in (sex) comedies over the years, subverted his image by playing a mute, mentally unhinged dewy-eyed character on the siblings’ journey. He uses his big eyes to great effect, painting a thousand backstories to his baffling behaviour.
Amruta Subhash (Raman Raghav 2.0, Island City)
The memorable single mother from Avinash Arun’s Killa has had a phenomenally artful 2016 in Hindi cinema. She was an integral part of the two most compelling short segments of the year: First, in Anurag Kashyap’s complicated anti-fairytale, as the paranoid estranged sister of Nawazuddin’s psychotic serial-killer character in THAT lingering-terror sequence. And next, in Ruchika Oberoi’s best part of the wonderfully realised, dystopian, Mumbai-specific tale of three lives. On its own, The Ghost in the Machine is perhaps the year’s best Indian short film, about a suppressed Maharastrian patriarch-ruled household slowly discovering its soul in the man’s prolonged, bittersweet absence. Ms. Subhash is pitch-perfect as the wife torn between habit and wisps of newly-found freedom, deriving inspiration from the dated perfect-family-man protagonist (Samir Kochhar) from the latest melodramatic Hindi soap opera on their brand new television set.
Uttara Baokar (Island City)
As Amruta Subhash’s mother-in-law in the same segment, the veteran TV actress does a fine job of subverting the Indian-mother-in-law template by silently siding with the younger woman. She provides hints of having led a similarly submissive life, willing her daughter-in-law to break free, simultaneously unable to do much but shield the children from her monstrous son (who is perhaps a reflection of her late husband). Her gait is amusing, too, especially in the one scene where she is impatiently listening to a friend offer her fake condolences, hoping desperately for her to leave before her beloved K-serial-ish soap begins.
Sobhita Dhulipala (Raman Raghav 2.0)
An intensely physical and erotic presence in Kashyap’s freewheeling exploration of good-evil dichotomy, Dhulipala’s debut as ‘bad cop’ Vicky Kaushal’s girlfriend is a remarkable one. The ex-beauty queen should, however, not fall into the trap of a never-ending avalanche of ‘bold’ roles, given that Indian filmmakers rarely like to think beyond the first impression.
Anant Sharma (Sultan)
Sharma stole the show as Salman Khan’s cheeky best friend in the wrestling drama, meriting comparisons with Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s breezy presence in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, despite being the quintessential blockbuster ‘sidekick’ here. He oozed natural talent and plenty of Haryanvi wit and over-expression, setting the platform for a career begging for meatier roles.
Anula Navlekar (Brahman Naman)
As the chatty, liberal “female equal” of a misogynistic, perverse and pock-marked nerd of a 1980s college student (Shashank Arora) in Q’s retro sex comedy, Ms. Navlekar is attractive and personable, occasionally lifting the self-obsessed film out of its intellectual funk.
Auritra Ghosh (M Cream)
As the entitled, hoity-toity personification of the lesser-explored manipulative ‘female gaze,’ Ms. Ghosh is more than adequate as the girls-and-boys-cannot-be-best-friends stereotype opposite Imaad Shah’s drifter-stoner protagonist. She is both lovable and deplorable as Shah’s ‘Unobtanium’ — pivoting on the chemistry with a curiously effeminate city-slicking boyfriend (Raaghav Chanana).
Piyush Mishra (Happy Bhag Jayegi)
I’m convinced that ACP Usman Afridi, the ever-mumbling Mishra’s India-phobic Pakistani character in this inter-border comedy, will be quoted relentlessly in the years to come. His disgusted (especially drunken) banter and wry Urdu-heavy offhand opinions with reluctant journey-partner Ali Fazal (who he must accompany for the greater good of the situational comedy genre) are things that only the hammy, hyperkinetic Mishra could have pulled off.
Jimmy Shergill (Happy Bhag Jayegi)
Of course he doesn’t get the girl. He never will. But this time, there’s more to his Jatt-goon-ish caricature. He feeds off Mishra’s comic timing and Abhay Deol’s good-boy sincerity, fashioning a heroine-obsessed “loser” for the ages.
Momal Sheikh (Happy Bhag Jayegi)
The Pakistani actress is immensely convincing as Deol’s snooty, high-society fiancé, a cultured child of unmistakably posh bureaucracy, unable to come to terms with the film’s absurdist plot.
Vijay Verma (Pink)
As the disturbingly convincing, repulsive and entitled-Delhi-male sidekick (to Angad Bedi), the Hyderabadi actor broke through in the season’s most-discussed film. The molestation scene in a moving car will go down as perhaps the year’s most unsettling and powerful cinematic moment.
Dhritiman Chatterjee (Pink)
The veteran Bengali actor undoes memories of his bizarre goat-obsessed pandit in Chauranga by symbolising the best (?) of India’s justice system in Pink. One can sense that he comes from the same cynical generation as Amitabh Bachchan’s disillusioned lawyer character, and he is almost desperate to side with him, but in the most unbiased, orderly way possible.
Herry Tangri (MS Dhoni: The Untold Story)
The uncanny Yuvraj Singh impersonator in Neeraj Pandey’s biopic is also responsible for the coolest moment of the year. His gait, mannerisms, swagger and attitude is eerily reminiscent of the real-life player, as he walks past a young Dhoni (Sushant Singh Rajput) coolly in a seminal scene on a basketball court early in their domestic career. And Tangri doesn’t even speak a word in his role.
Rajesh Sharma (MS Dhoni: The Untold Story)
The constantly impressive Rajesh Sharma fills in as Dhoni’s earliest (school) coach, dramatising the man responsible for the kid trading his goalkeeping mitts for wicketkeeping gloves. He is more than merely disciplinarian half-sleeve-sweater-donning comic relief, despite his bemused expressions, and is quite fulfilling as the proud older man by the time his protege hits that winning six.
Aditi Sharma (Saat Uchakkey)
Amid the controlled comedy-of-errors chaos of the foul-mouthed Delhi-6-based lot of Manoj Bajpayee, Kay Kay Menon, Annu Kapoor and Vijay Raaz, the perpetually spunky and under-utilised actress stands out as the ‘aggressive submitter’ in her secret relationship with Bajpayee’s crooked good-guy. The way she gleefully strings along and seduces Menon’s vengeful cop persona is both filmy and funny, as they mischievously play to the gallery.
Lisa Haydon (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil)
Haydon is delightfully over-the-top and self-aware as Ranbir Kapoor’s air-headed NRI girlfriend, almost replicating the success of her hypnotic French-NRI gypsy-girl persona in Queen. The way she pronounces ‘Vaatavaran’ in that distinctly bimbo-ish accent — and then describes her almost-amorous attraction to the “exoticism” of Urdu — will always be the most enduring moment of a film that depends solely on its actors.
Priyanshu Painyuli (Rock On 2)
As a crazed, mentally unstable aspiring musician with daddy issues, the pale-faced, curly-haired boy is the tragic fulcrum around which the backstory of the now-reclusive ex-vocalist (Farhan Akhtar) revolves. He makes us almost forget about the fact that a commercial Hindi-language rock-film franchise rests on the shoulders of a fictitious band called Magik. With a “k” — that’s right.
Ayesha Raza (Befikre)
We’ve seen her shine as one of the many obtrusive “aunties” on the ship in Dil Dhadakne Do. The naturally gifted actress now shines as YRF’s interpretation of Farida Jalal’s (from DDLJ) new-age successor — an unobtrusive heroine-mother, attempting to glide along the thick line between (Indian) tradition and (Western) modernity, even making the sappy, age-old done-to-death Chopra metaphor of ‘alu ke parathe’ in France seem fairly plausible.
Ira Dubey (Dear Zindagi)
After starring in M Cream, it mildly disappointed me that she returned back to the thankless mainstream folds of the star’s girl-gang in Gauri Shinde’s underwhelming sophomore film. But she still manages to lend some brevity to her motherly, older-than-other-friends character in a role that should have perhaps been longer than that of Yashaswini Dayama’s.
Amba Sanyal (Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh)
Playing the little girl’s upright, royal-remnant grandmother of mysterious disposition, stage veteran Ms. Sanyal employs a stiff-upper-lip gaze through her flashback role, that could burn a thousand holes through (her on-screen son) Jugal Hansraj’s deliberately un-Masoom antagonist act.
Kharaj Mukherjee (Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh)
As Arjun Rampal’s Chandan-Nagar-centric, laidback and vaguely oppressive cop-boss, Mukherjee gamely provided the mandatory window into mainstream Bollywood’s obsession with corrupt, system-hugging law-breaking law enforcers.
Vidushi Mehra (Moh Maya Money)
The banker-turned-actress does a remarkable job of internalising the confused grief of a pregnant woman in search of her missing husband. That she turns to Neha Dhupia’s ethically-torn character for support is one of the uneasy crime-drama’s better twists of fate.
Sakshi Tanwar (Azaad, Dangal)
Both in Humaramovie’s short-film anthology Shor Se Shuruaat (segment: Azaad, mentored by Mira Nair) and Dangal, Tanwar plays the hapless-onlooker wife, inherent second fiddles, to towering talented tornados of men (Atul Kulkarni’s idealistic writer-activist, Aamir Khan’s bitter ex-wrestler coach). She excels in her moments of muted expression, conveying entire chapters on her own by letting the men do the story-making.
Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar (Dangal)
The teenaged versions of wrestlers Geeta and Babita Phogat, daughters of Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan), formed the most embryonic and expressive parts of Nitesh Tiwari’s sprawling biopic. As the physical and mental backbone of the girls’ eventual resolutions and conflicts, they are sharp, tough, obedient, funny, endearing and very committed as the ‘begins’ part of the 160-minute film.
Ritwik Sahore (Dangal)
Aparshakti Khurrana may have taken away the plaudits for his fairly amusing voiceover and omnipresence as Mahavir Singh Phogat’s fictitious nephew, but the young boy who played his teen avatar laid the foundation for the core of his unconventional-comic influence. Sahore’s face is hysterical for most of the first half, as he is recklessly used as the guinea pig and human punching bag for all of Singh and his daughters’ lessons. By reversing the traditional theme of young rural masculinity, he is as important as the girls in their journey ahead.
Shruti Marathe (Budhia Singh: Born to Run)
Another strong, martyr of a wife, as divergent and complex — if not more — as her driven, multi-faceted, multi-tasking husband (Manoj Bajpayee; a year to behold), who in turn feeds off the woman’s longing quiet gazes: both for a child and a more ‘normal’ man who isn’t on the verge of obsession with his star pupil, the marathoner prodigy, Budhia Singh (Mayur Patole). There’s a lot to be found about the wordless sacrifices of their selfless life together simply through close-ups of her eloquent face.