Rewind 2023: Bollywood actress of the year


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Alia Bhatt didn’t make it, nor did the trendy glam dolls. 2023 was a year that belonged to promising young talents. It was also a period where few struggling names turned a new leaf in their careers.

By IndiaLevel Media

Women’s era. It’s difficult to find in a patriarchal society, industry but thanks to few empowering filmmakers, writers who have had the guts to tell strong stories led by female protagonists. 2023 was a year where the stars didn’t make much of an impression. Barring Alia Bhatt, how many can claim star status? The reigning queen of Bollywood, however, didn’t have much to offer this year. Having become a mother, Bhatt naturally had to take a break before and after the birth of her child. Her Rocky Aur Ranii Ki Prem Kahaani [2023] was pretty dull and boring. So, Bhatt missed out this year.

The glam dolls and their PR machineries saw them top social media trends, but they only stagnated as actors. 2023 was a year that belonged to promising young talents. It was also a period where few struggling names turned a new leaf in their careers.

Without further ado, we look back at the finest performances by Bollywood actressess this year.

12 Mahima Makwana – Tumse Na Ho Payega

A young talent who made the most of her opportunity. Mahima Makwana came as a breath of fresh air charming us with her new-age confident celebrity manager/PR professional/Social Media Executive avatar in the Nitesh Tiwari co-written, Abhishek Sinha directorial. It is refreshing to see a PR professional mock an entertainment client [unseen] in a FILM.  Here’s a lady who supports a former classmate in growing his ‘Maa Magic’s’ business. This despite knowing that all along the man had a crush over her since school days. Devika’s [Makwana] presence initially irks the other business partners, but the lady uses her wit to eventually earn their respect. The Devika-Gaurav business partnership blossoms, then there is a parting. The duo eventually realise that despite their imperfections, they are made for each other. That final marriage proposal triggers a long ‘awwwwwwww’. It is the first time we saw Makwana. She is one hell of a talent. Tumse Na Ho Payega, it doesn’t exist in her lexicon.

11 Navindra Behl – Khufiya

Wamiqa Gabbi with Navindra Behl (R)

One is a creation of the environment that they are raised in. Usually, it’s the mother who shapes the future, personality of her children. Ah, in a good or the bad way. In a shocking turn of events, it’s the mother Lalita Mohan [Navindra Behl] who has sown the seeds of greed in her traitor son R&AW agent Ravi [Ali Fazal]. Initially, she comes across as this humble, old Punjabi woman, but once the cookie crumbles, the viewers are taken aback by her greed. Veteran Navindra Behl makes you feel sick, but therein lies her success. Watching Lalita’s greed, one is now scary to say ‘mera pass maa hai”. 

10 Simran Rishi Bagga – Gulmohar

A name that young Bollywood audiences may not be so familiar with. The 90s men though had a crush over this gorgeous simpleton in the defunct ABCL Corporation film Tere Mere Sapne [1996]. She has been a consistent figure down south. She made a rare appearance in a Hindi film this year with the acclaimed Disney + Hotstar film, Gulmohar.  Simran was paired with the master Manoj Bajpayee, who stayed true to his reputation, but she, too, sprang a surprise with a stellar act. The face seemed familiar. It was only in the credits that we discovered her name. Despite the tension in the family, her husband disturbed by the happenings in the Gulmohar villa, Indira Batra [Simran] stood like a rock behind Arun (Bajpayee). It is common to say that she completes him, but here it was the man who completes her woman.

9 Prasanna Bisht – Farrey

Casting in Salman Khan Films tend to be been benevolent but Farrey was an exception. Of course, the story demanded young blood, but director Soumendra Padhi had full freedom in choosing his cast. Salman Khan’s niece Alizeh made an impressive debut, but we were stunned by this young girl Prasanna Bisht. Not an ideal feminine name, but staying true to it, Bisht ne kaafi prasann kiya hame (Bisht left us happy]. Here’s an insider [Alizeh] playing the poor underdog. Whilst the outsider [Bisht] regaling as daddy’s princess. She can get about anything, but papa can’t help her clear the exams. For that she uses the poor genius Niyati [Alizeh].  Initially, one is empathetic to Chhavi’s [Bisht] plight, the paternal pressures. So, she makes us a believe every word of her. But in one moment whilst deriding Niyati, the true face of Chhavi is revealed. The cuss word comes out, and so, too the spit [no part of the script]. For a young actress, Bisht showed maturity beyond her age. In all probability, the insider might get more attention in popular awards, but any jury/critic worth his/her salt would be naïve in ignoring the flawless performance by Bisht.

8 Adrija Sinha – Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai 

Another young girl that left a lasting impression on the viewers. Adrija Sinha played the poor rape victim in director Apoorv Singh Karki’s highly gripping crime, court room drama Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai.  Manoj Bajpayee had the world at his feet with a virtuoso performance, but young Sinha chipped in with near flawless act of her own. Nu Singh [Sinha] is naturally meek to begin with, but her lawyer Solanki [Bajpayee] slowly helps her to find that inner strength. The banda (guy) was phenomenal, but one has to salute the fighting spirit of the bandi (girl) too.

7 Yami Gautam Dhar – Lost

She was underrated in Vicky Donor [2012] but Yami Gautam Dhar didn’t do much over the next decade to merit attention. She showed some shades of change in Uri: The Surgical Strike [2019], but Gautam unleashed her true talent in 2023 with three quality performances. Two of them made it to our list. Up first is Lost, where we were lost in the intensity, hunger, passion of Gautam’s righteous journalist avatar. For the first time, a Hindi film did their homework, refraining from mocking journalists. Vidhi Sahani [Gautam] was willing to go the extra mile, not so much in search of a cover story, but unearthing the truth. That only happens when a journalist follows the forgotten 5 Ws and 1 H. Gautam showed great strength but importantly great sensitivity in portraying her character. Back then, we felt that this is a career-best act but Gautam had more surprises for us this year.

6 Medha Shankr – 12th Fail

Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 12th Fail bust the myth around humble underdog stories. Make them well, and the audience will come. This was strictly a word of the mouth film. Everyone rightly went gaga over Vikrant Massey, but it was young Medha Shankr who stole many hearts. In times, when many are obsessed at being the glam dolls, a Shankr came as a breath of fresh air. Petite, blessed with a gorgeous smile, oodles of talent, an ideal girl-next-door. Ah, no we’re not objectifying women. We talk a lot of the common man, but the common girl is hardly mentioned. The character comes secondary, as Shankr epitomized the common girl spirit.

From that first meeting to parting then reuniting and finally that proposal [girl sending a letter], Shraddha [Shankar] stole your imagination. Though young, Shankr showed great composure in giving a stupendous performance. She has all the attributes to become a top, top actor. Hopefully, 12th Fail opens the doors for more such plum opportunities.

5 Sanya Malhotra- Kathal 

Punjabis essaying Central India, Uttar Pradeshi characters. This is usually a recipe for disaster.  But not if your name is Sanya Malhotra. The region is unspecified but Yashowardhan Mishra’s film appears to be set in Uttar Pradesh, with his leading artistes also having a tone similar to central India states. The Delhi girl pleasantly surprised us with her grasp of the requisite accent. More than the tone, Kathal was a bittersweet social satire. Malhotra’s Mahima Basor overcame gender, caste bias and the usual bureaucracy. You can’t change the system, but nor can you let yourself be weighed down by it.  She can wield the danda [stick], but Basor uses her sharp brain, wit to solve not just the jackfruit mystery, but also open our eyes to the real issues plaguing the region.

(Now, it gets really tough from hereon. Each of the below performances is equally worthy of being the top draw. That underlined the difficulty in placing them in order of merit. After much deliberations, here’s our final four)

4 Golshifteh Farahani – The Song of Scorpions

A Rajasthani film, but too good to ignore. What is an Irani-French actor doing in a Rajasthani film? It must be a cameo, perhaps appearing as a tourist. Nah! Not only did the international actress play the lead, she learnt Rajasthani language too. The Katrinas, the Jacquelines have been around for years, yet their Hindi is off the mark. Farahani though is an altogether different kettle of fish.  

She charmed us as this Rajasthani tribal folk singer Nooran. So pure, so innocent. Her lip synching was top notch. Nooran’s voice healed those bitten by scorpions. Maybe the arachnids bit their human victim just to hear her sound in the desert. Golshifteh was a modicum of simplicity, beauty and grace.  She was a free bird in a patriarchal society until her wings were clipped by a lusty animal. She could barely sing then. Living in flesh, but a lost soul. Golshifteh made you shed Nooran’s dried up tears. How many international artistes made you feel like one of our own in their maiden Indian film? Golshifteh is a writer-director’s dream. Don’t be surprised if more Indian filmmakers tap into her talent.

3 Yami Gautam Dhar – OMG 2

Watching Yami this year, one was like, why didn’t we see more of this version before? She had played a lawyer before, but none as shrewd like Kamini in OMG 2. Kamini is usually a vamp name. There is a certain ruthlessness to Yami as Kamini. She has a commanding presence in every court. She isn’t afraid to come up with hard strategies to cross examine, and break down people in court. The background music also added a layer to Kamini’s personality. There’s an intimidating factor around Kamini. We thought Lost was her best, but Gautam excels in this intimidating, confident avatar.

2 Nimrat Kaur – Sajini Shinde Ka Viral Video

No, she isn’t the titular character, but the investigating officer probing the mysterious disappearance of Sajini Shinde [Radhika Madan]. Bela Barot [Kaur] is recently transferred to Pune city. It takes a while to get acclimatized to the culture, especially gelling with her colleagues, who clearly don’t rate her much. Bela Barot is tough as nails. The senior cop comes with a take no prisoner’s attitude. She will stand to misogyny. Her verbal volleys with Suryakant [Shinde’s father] are enough to shut the insider-outsider debate. Bela doesn’t fire much guns but she has an answer for every barb. Ah, don’t assume her to be any vanguard of feminism. On the contrary, Bela is out to shut Bollywood’s brand of woke feminism that reeks of self-indulgence than substance. Oh, how the men cheered when she dismisses boozing, sexual freedom as woke. Be careful what you say to Bela. She sure will make you eat your own words sooner than later.

It’s a masterstroke by director Mikhil Musale to even think of Kaur in such a role. The Sikh woman delivers her career-best performance.

1 Wamiqa Gabbi – Khufiya

We had heard good things about her, but barely watched her films/TV shows. She had a tiny role as Mrs. Madan Lal in 83 [2021]. 2023 was the year where Gabbi arrived on the big stage.  She was praised in Prime Video’s Jubilee [series] and then the talented girl left us stunned with her stelar act in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Khufiya. With her husband suspected of being a traitor, Charu [Gabbi], too, was naturally under the suspicion.

She comes across as this gorgeous, happy-go-lucky housewife. She does all the chores with a smile on her face. There is everything normal about Charu. She has no inkling that the house is bugged. The only thing she does peculiar is when she grooves to classic songs in her robe. She takes it off, dancing in her two-piece in front of the mirror. Oh, boy, it sets hearts pounding. The voyeur egging her to reveal her birthday suit. One is instantly hooked to Charu. Once the suspense is revealed, Charu is stunned by the real face of her husband and mother-in-law.

How can a revered Army man’s daughter accept that her husband and mother-in-law are traitors? She resists only to be shot. It’s a miracle that she survived, and from that moment, life and Charu are never the same. The physical wounds heal, but the mental scars give birth to a despondent Charu. Her life now only revolves around the frail hope of reuniting with her 8-year-old son.

Destiny presents an opportunity but Charu must navigate through the prying eyes of her husband and mother-in-law, who are now given asylum in the US. It takes immense self-control to restart life with the same man and the toxic mother-in-law. Jeez, that scene where Ravi [Ali Fazal] makes love to her. She’s there in body, but not in soul. Charu fakes the moans [rightly muted]. This is mother India willing to pay any price to have her son. This performance by young Gabbi is a sheer virtuoso. Many might differ on our choice, but Gabbi is our Best Actress of the year.

Watch the video review below.

Rewind 2023: Bollywood actress of the year

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