By RAHUL DESAI
It’s that time of the year. Year-enders and Listicles will flow thick and heavy, as they should, to celebrate the best (and worst, with plenty of choice) of 2015. There will be the more conventional lists like the best films, best performances, best songs, music, lyrics, newcomers, first films, awards-style category lists and the works.
In the independent spirit of this website, however, we’ve decided to list our own favourites – actors, male or female, who’ve shone in the more blink-and-miss, supporting performances of the year. At the end, when many look back, it’s easy to not remember them behind the smokescreen of lead acts and filmmakers. But make no mistake, they’ve made their films what they are, and will instantly bring a knowing smile to most faces when seen on screen again.
SHEEBA CHADDHA (Dum Laga Ke Haisha)
The talented veteran stage and TV actress finally – at long last – got her due as an important, well-placed and rounded supporting character in a mainstream film. She’s usually relegated to evil, stepmother-ish, glaring caricatures in many serials and movies, but writer-director Sharat Katariya brings her out of those shadows. As ‘Buaji’ Nain Tara Tiwary in DLKH, she surprisingly goes from bickering, bitchy small-town aunt to an insightful, poignant face of unrequited love and broken womanhood. Along with Deepti Naval’s chilling ‘Chief Ammaji’ from NH10, Miss Chaddha’s was the most inspired, subversive casting decision of the year.
SAI TAMHANKAR (Hunterrr)
First-time director Harshavardhan Kulkarni carves out quite an authentic, time-machine ride back into 80s Pune (& Mumbai) through the different phases of promiscuous ‘sex addict’ Maharashtrian Mandar Ponkshe’s (Gulshan Devaiah) colourful adventures. One of the three back-and-forth phases (structural issues persist with this texture-heavy movie) has popular Marathi actress Sai Tamhankar as, to put it crudely, a ‘Savita Bhabhi’ (cougar housewife) to Ponkshe’s randy college student hormones. Tamhankar sizzles as the forbidden woman shooting surreptitious glances at Ponkshe from her middle-class balcony, behind her middle-class husband’s back. She doesn’t speak much; she doesn’t need to. Much is conveyed through her pent-up body language and sari-clad gait when he goes at her in a particularly humid kitchen sequence. Surely, the infamous ‘Mastram’ tales were borne by the loins of her afternoon romps with jolly Ponkshe.
VEERA SAXENA (Hunterrr)
Amidst the star acts by Gulshan Devaiah and Radhika Apte, this little-known actress made her big-screen debut with an impressive turn as one of Mandar’s more serious conquests. She plays the role of the naive, starry-eyed girl who eventually has her heart broken, but also the girl whose eventual moving-on cause Ponkshe to reflect on his hollow life. There’s something endearing about the way she grins when greasy Ponkshe ‘pretends’ (and leaps in) to share the same rickshaw and stalk her shamelessly.
ROGER NARAYAN (Hola Venky!)
So this one doesn’t exactly fall into the ‘supporting’ category, but this indie, in a way, lends support to a flailing Indian genre. Sandeep Mohan’s serviceable little rom-com doesn’t boast of technical set pieces or overtly original content, but it is lead actor Roger Narayan who makes it fairly enjoyable. As an inexperienced, frustrated Tam-Brahm techie on a mandatory USA assignment, his performance brings to fore the more believable ‘Inscrutable Americans’ crossover tropes – a perpetually frazzled face, a ‘screwed’ situation, alien surroundings and a few serendipitous encounters. His contrived, occasionally amusing journey through the shady, unlit (burnt out) frames and back-lanes of San Francisco makes for a lazy Sunday afternoon watch.
TAAPSEE PANNU (Baby)
If there’s anybody who lends some semblance of coherence and adrenaline to Akshay Kumar’s increasingly Bond-isque travels in Neeraj Pandey’s overrated ‘Baby’, it’s Miss Pannu and her physically convincing, butt-kicking undercover-agent-in-Nepal act. She is one of the few glamorous faces her age who looks the part, and not some pretty starlet literally dropped into a big franchise to bring in the males. There’s an urgency and ‘trained’ way about her, even when she’s navigating her way through ambiguous Kathmandu streets, amidst a plot that out-ambitions itself only to culminate in an Argo-inspired, loud, terrorist-demolishing climax.
RASIKA DUGAL (Qissa)
Anup Singh’s etherial Punjabi-language film focuses primarily on the pre-independence struggles of a deluded patriarch (Irrfan), and a suppressed daughter (Tillotama Shome) who he brings up as a son to carry on his legacy. He marries ‘him’ off to a carefree gypsy girl essayed by Miss Dugal, who – after a powerful, spirited performance in the hard-hitting indie ‘Kshay’ – conveys a wide-eyed complexity that belies her deceptive life situation. Her transformative chemistry with Shome is stuff of cinematic legend, and perhaps the purest on-screen relationship borne out of lies and a damaged era.
VINAY PATHAK (Badlapur)
Only on a second watch does Mr. Pathak’s role truly make an impact in a film dominated by its director, a crazed Varun Dhawan and a shifty Nawazuddin Siddiqui. From the small-time bank robber stuck at the wrong place at the right time (with the wrong partner) to a seafood restaurant/bar owner with a young trophy wife (Radhika Apte, in her breakout Hindi film role), Pathak does a fine job as the changed soul – older, and a little wiser – with a whispery conscience. Once Dhawan’s vengeful character discovers his new life, wife and existence, his face is a perpetual storm of guilt, denial, anger and utter fear.
MURALI SHARMA (Baby, Badlapur)
In both his mainstream appearances this year, this familiar villainous provides moments of dark, awkward humour in otherwise pulsating stories – as the cocky ‘rival’ prisoner to Nawaz in ‘Badlapur’, and as the much-slapped and bullied link between the top brass and Danny Denzongpa’s top-secret ATF mission in ‘Baby’. It’s heartening to see the veteran finally get recognition in major films, because he has forever been on the fringes of the frame when any major villain or hero or comedian makes their presence felt.
REVATHY (Margarita, With A Straw)
The experienced actress excels as the overprotective mother of the cerebral-palsy-afflicted girl (Kalki), and matriarch of this dysfunctional (not because they’re weird, but because they don’t have a choice) South-meets-North family. The filmmaker may have gone overboard with her role, but it’s hard not to be excited about what Revathy brings to the table. Her fierce maternal instincts come disguised as narrow-minded shades of homophobia, racism, classism and callousness. Look out, especially, for the way she discovers, and refuses to accept her daughter’s ‘affair’ with a blind Pakistani activist girl (Sayani Gupta).
MOUSHUMI CHATTERJEE (Piku)
The veteran Bengali actress plays old grump Bhaskor Bannerjee’s (Amitabh Bachchan) freewheeling, extravagant and outspoken sister-in-law with much gusto in this character-driven, delightfully chaotic film. Her bong-ish taunts to Bhaskor about his domineering ways, her sister’s fatal illness, and the way she blames him (but doesn’t really want to) for this condition are half-playful, half-resentful voices we’ve come across in so many overpopulated Indian family households.
SATYADEEP MISRA (Bombay Velvet)
The young coach from ‘Ferrari Ki Sawari’ blossoms into a stylish sidekick to Ranbir’s overly angsty Johnny Balraj – and provides a steady, conventional, calming side to a film that drowns in its over-baked history-meets-Scorsese plot. He is measured and completely aware of how he looks as the hat-wearing, gun-touting period gangster in an excessively stylised movie about a city on the verge of acquiring an identity.
KULJEET SINGH (Margarita, With A Straw)
The unassuming, genteel father of a family that – at least on the surface – is given direction by his domineering wife (Revathy), Mr. Singh looks like that nice would-never-hurt-a-fly chap at every function: the sweetest father and most supportive husband. He doesn’t appear too often in the movie, but when he does, he provides an invisible pillar of strength to the struggling, hyperactive mother coming to terms with the evolving adolescence of her differently-abled daughter.
SUMIT SURI (Surkhaab)
Mr. Suri has stereotyped himself previously as the young, crass ‘jatt’ boy on screen (Babloo Happy Hai), but there’s something about the way he pulls it off in this largely woman-oriented film. Though the story touches on illegal immigration, and is about a female Judo Champion (Barkha Madan) forced to move from Bhatinda to Toronto, he plays the conniving hustler with the air of a man-child who isn’t really sure of his own motivations. He gamely represents the murky waters of the criminal racket – even though the filmmakers make him into somewhat of a comedic villain by the end.
SHEFALI SHAH (Dil Dhadakne Do)
As the submissive, wealthy Delhi wife finally coming of age and lashing out at her philandering husband (Anil Kapoor), Miss Shah essays one of the more complicated characters in Zoya Akhtar’s ode to #FirstWorldProblems. While the film doesn’t really make a lasting impact on our minds, Shah’s performance evokes familiar faces that we may have seen over the years in posh dos and lavish parties. In a way, she plays an urban, realistic, contemporary version of Farida Jalal (Maa) in DDLJ – a woman trying hard to break out of her shell and prevent her daughter from making the same mistakes. Her breakdown in front of a mirror is particularly notable as she grapples with her inner voice, struggling to understand her children, and yearning for her husband to understand her.
NIKHIL SAHNI (Masaan)
Sahni plays the omnipresent, bright-eyed kid named Jhonta at the banks of the Ganga – whose presence drives the epiphany of the privately disgraced Vidyadhar Pathak (Sanjay Mishra). His is a crucial role plot-wise to bring the three narratives together, with quite an endearing arc, for he stands for more than just an innocent, uncorrupted part of Benaras. He represents the missing link in Pathak’s existential struggle, and oddly, completes him the way most of us turn to unconditionally-loving pets to get over heartache and pain.
PANKAJ TRIPATHI (Masaan)
As the extra wheel of young Devi’s (Richa Chadda) second life, Mr. Tripathi is awkward, bumbling, innocent and charming all at once. He is the 40-year-old virgin who thrives on any sort of female presence, but in a very pure, earthy way – the guy who always tries too hard, but, beyond an unintentional goofiness, is keenly aware of torrid undercurrents of the lives he wants to affect.
PRAKASH BELAWADI (Talvar)
The Bangalore-based activist plays a disillusioned Ashwin Kumar’s (Irrfan) CDI boss – in charge of the infamous Noida double-murder case – with an almost submissive, cynical and passive aggressive spirit suggestive of Delhi politics and external forces that have worn him down over the years. His turn as R&AW superior ‘Bala’ in Madras Cafe was compelling enough to put him on the radar of most cinema enthusiasts. His sarcastic ‘jugalbandi’ with Irrfan in the final scene, where they smugly sit across the new CDI team responsible for muddling up the case (headed by the equally enthralling theatre veteran Atul Kumar), says so much about what the filmmakers want their viewers to know without really spelling it out.
SAURABH SHUKLA (Kaun Kitne Paani Mein)
This cultured, well-executed satirical take on class wars, rural politics, withered regality and droughts utilises Mr. Shukla in an integral manner that hasn’t been done since Jolly LLB. Nila Madhab Panda, its director (and the maker of ‘I Am Kalam’) redeems himself, somewhat, after making the awful ‘Babloo Happy Hai’ in 2014. As the ageing, overweight and time-forgotten King of Upri (Odisha), Mr. Shukla – who is one of India’s most natural character artists – presents a sorry, sympathetic picture of an India struggling to find a balance between its glorious past and self-sufficient present.
VIVEK MUSHRAN (Tamasha)
Imtiaz Ali has this tendency of always including one over-the-top, caution-to-the-wind caricature as a nod to various Hindi movie stereotypes. It’s probably the only time he gives in to convention, but he does this in an exceedingly creative way, at least in terms of where this character appears in the main protagonist’s journey. In Tamasha, Vivek Mushran plays the seedy, condescending CEO of Ranbir’s robotic product manager avatar. “Boy” is his precedent catch phrase, as he attempts to represent a cocky, silk-shirt-wearing producer’s persona (the guys who address people with “dear”, “darling”) in a dull corporate setup. He does this well, especially when he is to look absolutely shaken by Ranbir’s final meltdown in his cabin.
PAVLEEN GUJRAL (Angry Indian Goddesses)
Miss Gujral has to personify one of seven stereotypical women in a film that attempts to cover all bases of the modern post-Independence ‘Indian lady’. As the young North Indian housewife who has probably sacrificed (willingly) her career to spend her time in a haze of spas and kitty parties, she has a real-life, sheltered, childlike, wide-eyed gawkiness she brings to this role. She was probably a curious little wildcat in her college days, and the other ladies’ reactions to her current avatar suggest the same, but her transformation is entirely dependent on her rather ‘moo-phat’, direct, uninformed takes on everything under the sun.
VAIBHAVV TATWAWDI (Bajirao Mastani)
After appearing as one of the more notable buddies (Kshitij) in ‘Hunterrr’ earlier in 2015, the Maharashtrian actor makes his presence felt as the ice to Bajirao’s fluctuating fire in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s roving epic. He goes from comfort-zoned, younger brother to a disapproving, traditionally-inclined, torn-between-two-personas well-wisher, as Bajirao continues to test his patience and loyalty over the years of his courtship with Mastani. Some smart, diametrically opposite Hindi film choices have put him out in the open. He must now sustain this variety, and move on to better – if not necessarily bigger – things.
GAURISH GAWADE (Killa)
There was of course the frighteningly talented Parth Bhalerao (Bandya) and lead Archit Deodhar (Chinmay) in Avinash Arun’s beautiful Marathi film, but much credit should also be given to the ‘ringleader’ of the school group, Gaurish Gawade as Prince/Yuvraj. As that classmate who everyone else wants to suck up to, owing to his family’s advanced financial status and new gadgets, Gawade is notable for the pride and faint cockiness he brings to this familiar role. He’s the one who feels most threatened on ‘scholar’ and all-round nice guy Chinmay’s integration, and his quiet, almost vengeful antics on a rainy day at the titular ‘fort’ sets the tone for Chinmay’s eventual transformation.
USHA BANE (Court)
She appears in two scenes in Chaitanya Tamhane’s acclaimed multilingual film ‘Court’; one in the courtroom where, as the deer-in-headlights widow of the dead sewage worker, she is required to answer lawyer Vora’s (Vivek Gomber; also the producer) questions, and the second in the car-ride back home, where she puts on another face completely – that of stoic indifference and survival instinct (“Ask if any of your friends needs a maid, saheb”) – when the reality of the stark situation dawns upon her. She presents the wordless, almost submissive face of the many silent victims of domestic violence (though never explicitly mentioned; her husband was an abusive drunk), and is somewhat relieved and nervous to embark upon a solitary journey.