Rewind 2023: Best Actor of the year in Bollywood

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Ranbir Kapoor is the Animal, but sanity was provided by the likes of Manoj Bajpayee, Pankaj Tripathi. Some fine young talent, too, make their mark.

By IndiaLevel Media

In the fag end of the year, Ranbir Kapoor and director Sandeep Reddy Vanga shamelessly flaunted the Alpha male in Animal [2023]. Make no mistake, despite the criticism, the masses clinged on to Ranbir’s Ranvijay avatar like piranhas to flesh. Kapoor stayed true to his immense potential. Thankfully, this year there was much more to our actors than just toxic masculinity.  

Ranbir Kapoor is the Animal, but sanity was provided by the likes of Manoj Bajpayee, Pankaj Tripathi. 2023 was also a year where few unheralded talents made quite an impression.

Here’s Beyond Bollywood’s list of the best actors in Bollywood this year.

10 Manish Wadhwa – Gadar 2

22 years is a long time for a sequel to arrive. Amrish Puri is no more, and even if he was, the great man would have been 90.  Gadar 2 needed a new strong villain, but more importantly, a story that would connect him with Tara Singh. Anil Sharma and his writer Shaktimaan Talwar created Hamid Iqbal, who wants to avenge the loss of his men that were killed by Tara Singh 22 years ago.  So, you have an organic story. The screenplay had its holes, with bulk of the cast, too, being average. Manish Wadhwa, though, was an exception.  The best thing about Wadhwa is that he didn’t try to replace Puri. He made Iqbal his own man. Gone are the days of entire Pakistan-bashing, Indian filmmakers are now smart enough to limit the enemy to the Pakistani military dictatorship and the mad mullahs. Iqbal is a sinister, shrewd character. He knows how to indoctrinate his men, use religion to incite anti-India, anti-Hindi sentiments. Cruel throughout, Wadha finely played Iqbal with a certain style, and sophistication.

 9 Sohum Majumdar – Sajini Shinde Ka Viral Video

Who is Sohum Majumdar? We knew nothing about him until we saw Mikhil Musale’s brilliant mystery thriller Sajini Shinde Ka Viral Video. Siddhant [Majumdar] begins as the suitable boy, who is engaged to Sajini. An IT professional living in Bangalore, very liberal, broad minded. He is the dream middle class son-in-law until one viral video changes everything. The true test of character lies in adversity. It is here that the real, selfish Siddhant exposes himself. As the prime accused in the mysterious disappearance of Sajini, Siddhant is now on the defensive. He was simply pretending to be this Mr. Niceguy earlier. Majumdar chipped in with a terrific show. He proved that it’s not good looks, six pack abs, but talent alone that counts.

8 Inaamulhaq – Zara Hatke Zara Bachke

With a name like Bhagwan Ishwar Das, you expect him to be some pious man. Inaamulhaq though plays the corrupt peon in the lndori government office.  Das is the one who plants the twisted idea in the minds of Kapil and Saumya. Phew, though corrupt, you simply adore the mannerism, the tone of this betel chewing peon. Inaamulhaq has you in splits with this rooted characters. For a film set in Indore, it is Inaamulhaq who aces the accent. He may not have much screentime, but the unheralded artiste is arguably the finest performer in this Vicky Kaushal, Sara Ali Khan-starrer twisted family drama.

7 Ishwak Singh – Tumse Na Ho Payega

Ishwak Singh (C)

He shot to limelight with Paatal Lok [2020]. Good looks, voice, talent. Ishwak Singh has it all. Singh headlined this underrated, under marketed OTT gem Tumse Na Ho Payega.  The Hindi translation stands for You won’t be able to do this.  Director Abhishek Sinha’s inspiring tale was a fine allegory on the rise, challenges, fall, rise again of start up firms in India over the years. Ishwak played this frustrated middle-class man who is fired from his job. As it is, he was fed up with the mundane job. He randomly thinks of a business idea – deliverying home cooked meals to bachelors. Slowly Maa’s Magic casts its spell on the customers. A big firm acquires it, but it leads to fresh trouble.

Gaurav’s [Singh] troubles mirror those of many young entrepreneurs. The director and his writer churned up a fun screenplay that appealed to all youth, working class. Singh’s Gaurav begins as a pessimistic character, often abusing. The success, and the subsequent fall leaves him crestfallen. Singh’s delightful performance went a long way in making Tumse Na Ho Payega a sleeper OTT hit.

6 Vikrant Massey – 12th Fail

His wiry frame, modest looks make him fit to play humble, impoverished characters. Though in his mid 30s, Massey looks par to play a teen. The wiry frame helps here. A lesson for all actors, chase art, not six-packs. Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 12th Fail presented him a rare opportunity to shine in a leading role. Based on true events, Massey did full justice to the role, succeeding in bringing out the despair, grit, determination of a Manoj Kumar Sharma.  A Manoj Kumar Sharma epitomizes the never-say-die, or should we call it the restart attitude. Massey makes you empathetic towards Sharma’s struggles. The actor really draws you to the character in the final moments, where he fearlessly expresses himself, embraces his humble beginning, failures. Above all, it is the rock-solid integrity that wins over everyone, even the naysayers.  That is what dreams are made of. Cinema is all about selling dreams. Massey surely ignited the restart spirit in us.

5 Late Irrfan Khan – The Song of Scorpions

This isn’t an Indian film, but a joint Swiss, French, Singaporean production. A Rajasthani film in this Bollywood list. Inappropriate but can anyone ignore Irrfan Khan’s last film?  Well, we thought it was Angrezi Medium [2020] but then this little-known Rajasthani film finally saw a theatrical release after moving around in festival circuits for years. One doesn’t know if there is any more unreleased work, but as of today, Anup Singh’s The Song of Scorpions is the late Irrfan Khan’s last theatrical release. And quite a lasting impression.

The maverick actor that he was, Khan charmed and stunned as Aadam, the camel trader who is smitten by the voice and the beauty of Nooran [Golshifteh Farahani], a folk singer, healer. Khan made a career by playing these intense, sophisticated characters. There was one Aadam, and there never will be another Irrfan.

4 Pankaj Tripathi – OMG 2

For a man who earned fame playing the villain initially, Pankaj Tripathi has done well to win over audiences with his positive characters too. OMG 2 was perhaps the most difficult film of his career. How do you talk about sex education in a dignified way? It takes a dignified man like Tripathi to spread the all-important message. The tone, mannerism, clarity of thought of Sharad Mudgal comes naturally to Tripathi. The actor is helped by sensitive writing which ensures that not once did a viewer felt uncomfortable. All through the court case, Sharad Mudgal puts forth his arguments in a dignified way. He maintains composure even through the tough cross questioning. One emotional reaction and his son’s career will be over, so too the chance to regain the family respect. Tripathi strikes the right conversation, compelling the viewer, the society to have a serious look at the way sex education is being told, or untold. Thank you, Pankaj ji, for enlightening us.

3 Ranbir Kapoor – Animal

Animal is sexist, misogynist. It has divided an already polarized nation, but there is consensus on one thing – Ranbir Kapoor is simply brilliant. Hey, but won’t any praise for such act encourage misogyny, violence, corrupt the youth? That is a fair argument too, but unrecognizing this superlative beasty effort will not be fair to Ranbir. This is perhaps his finest performance. Physicality is a tiny part, but Ranbir embraces the trauma, the psyche, the soul of his character to near perfection. This was Ranbir Raj in a Sandeep Reddy Vanga jungle. He isn’t the apex predator, but Ranvijay uses all his animal instincts to save his family. Don’t emulate Ranvijay, but how can one not admire this outstanding performance by Ranbir?

2 Jaideep Ahlawat – Jaane Jaan

A later bloomer, so a Jaideep Ahlawat values his opportunities and often does full justice to it. Forget the masses, but even Bollywood will never truly give him due credit. He’s been so good that even super star Shah Rukh Khan has become a fan. Of course, Ahlawat had worked in Khan’s production Bard of Blood [2019]. That though hasn’t influenced Khan’s view of Ahlawat’s performance in Jaane Jaan.

A remake of Japanese novel The Devotion of suspect X [2005], the Sujoy Ghosh directorial was much praised for the master act by Ahlawat. Love ke liye kuch bhi karega (Will do anything for love). We’ve heard that before but how many truly mean it? There is no love between Maya [Kareena Kapoor] and Naren Vyas. It’s a one-sided affair with the mathematical professor/genius just not having the courage to express his feelings.  He owes his life to Maya but the latter never knew it up until the end when Naren reveals to her that he was about to end his life, when she rang his door bell. The mathematical professor was smitten by the new neighbour but the introvert, lonely man just didn’t have the guts to express his feelings.

Destiny grants Naren an opportunity to repay the debt. But at what cost? Self-destruction.  Phew, saving someone at the cost of one’s own dignity / career. Is that true love? Here’s the most respected man in the town killing an innocent to save his crush. Phew, Kambakth Ishq, Pyar tune kya kiya?

Ahlawat’s Naren instantly struck a chord with the humble, average looking, underconfident lovers across the globe. Jeez, the actor made you empathize with Naren, that many would overlook his big sin. That’s the sheer quality of a man like Ahlawat.  This is another master act by the actor par excellence.

1 Manoj Bajpayee – Sirf EK Bandaa Kaafi Hai / Gulmohar

Gulmohar, Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai. We heard good things about Bajpayee in Joram too. Jeez, it’s almost illegal to be so good in a year. The popular awards are likely to disrespect Bajpayee by confining him to Critics or OTT awards. Any person, who remotely respects cinema, will firmly say that 2023 belongs to Manoj Bajpayee.

We couldn’t see Joram – courtesy mysterious marketing/PR, but had the good fortune of watching Bajpayee first in Gulmohar and then Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai – both released on OTT. Good reviews for the latter prompted producers to have a limited theatrical release.

The medium is irrelevant. A good film or a good performance should never go unappreciated. Bajpayee gave a masterclass in acting in both Bandaa and Gulmohar.

Based on true events, Bandaa gives a dramatized account of the conviction of fake godmen Asumal Sirumalani Harpalani aka Bapu Asaram in a rape case.  Director Apoorv Singh Karki naturally plays it safe by not naming the convict. Bajpayee though kept the real hero PC. Solanki’s name.

This Solanki is not your fist clinching, swearing Bollywood lawyer. He doesn’t even have a powerful tone as such. As the defendant keeps roping in one big lawyer after another. Solanki even has few fanfare moments. The victim, his lawyer was up against the odds. This wasn’t a David v/s Goliath, but a David v/s many Goliaths. Yet, truth prevails. That’s down to the integrity, intelligence of Solanki. Fearless, no he does fear for his family too. Solanki uses his skills, legal, even mythological knowledge to seek justice for the victim. The real task though was how to motivate the victim, to make her believe that despite all the pressure, threats, this is a fight that neither of them can now walk away from. 

Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai. Nah, this isn’t any praise, but a reality that there was only individual who braved to stand with this poor victim against a fake Godmen and his dangerous cult.  There was only banda [guy] in the industry who could have played Solanki with such perfection. It’s a film, a performance for the ages.  It would be criminal to not rate this Bajpayee masterclass as the finest performance by an actor this year.

Phew, Banda gave us the goosebumps. Earlier, Bajpai showed a similar masterclass in an emotionally gripping show in Gulmohar. A son long knew that he was adopted, but he is hurt by the fact that the mother, and his late father didn’t pick him or his siblings as the nominee for Gulmohar villa. Arun Batra [Bajpayee] never had any greed, he is simply hurt that this information didn’t come from his mother, but the scheming uncle Sudhakar [Amol Palekar].  The Gulmohar villa is being sold, but the cracks in the relationships is what breaks Arun from inside. He still keeps a strong face, choosing to honour his adoptive parents’ will. Bajpayee embraces the internal turmoil of his character to give a masterclass. Back then one thought this act wouldn’t be replicated until the same man turned up as P.C. Solanki.  Bandaa, Gulmohar, you don’t need to think twice, simply give all the awards to this banda Bajpayee.

Rewind 2023: Best Actor of the year in Bollywood

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