In a word, we could say this decade in Hindi movie performances has been…interesting. We’ve seen some new actors take Bollywood by storm with their talent and courage in choice of film and role. But we have also seen too many movies in which the same actors churn out the same nails-on-blackboard level of performance.
There is a point beyond which you cannot make excuses for them, and that point was somewhere in these 10 years. Here, in no particular order, are the worst and best performances of the decade.
Performances that made us cringe
Sonam Kapoor in The Zoya Factor (2019) and Khoobsurat (2014): We’ll admit, it’s hard to pick a movie in which Sonam Kapoor wasn’t the worst thing, because she’s the same in almost every one — oscillating between whiny/sulky and screechy/cretinous, with a hefty dose of irritatingly ditzy and klutzy thrown in. We picked these two romantic comedies because there is literally nothing to differentiate her performance in them — down to the affected diction that’s enough to make a reviewer break out in hives.
Arjun Kapoor in Panipat (2019): Like his cousin, this Kapoor also offers a wide range from which to choose his worst performances, but we’ll stick to Panipat, in which he, as the Peshwa, displays half an expression. It’s even worse than his debut in Ishaqzaade (2012) — a problematic but energetic movie that Kapoor, as the loutish Parma, managed to bring down by virtue of his lacklustre dialogue delivery and perma (Parma) scowl. We would ordinarily avoid including someone’s debut in a list of bad performances just because we’d like to give them a chance, but this is one of the few times an actor has just become worse with time.
Amitabh Bachchan in Pink (2016): This is a difficult one to write, because one wanted so hard to like Pink and everything about it. But Amitabh Bachchan’s pointlessly enigmatic brooding and staring, his random affectations and his overblown, melodramatic dialogue delivery, eventually capped off with the “No means no” speech all made for a painfully contrived performance.
Salman Khan in every movie: Ready (2011), Bodyguard (2011), Kick (2014), Tubelight (2017), Dabangg 3 (2019) — you could close your eyes and randomly pick one among any of these and more and you’d find the same brain-dead movie with the same non-performance — loud, nonsensical dialogues mouthed with not even an iota of effort to be convincing, and tacky action set pieces performed tackily. Swagger can only take one so far.
Akshay Kumar in Boss (2013): One could say it’s not his fault — Boss is just such a mind-numbingly shoddy film that Kumar is left with little choice. But there are many bad movies in which the actor tries to rise above the inanities of the script and plot. In this one, though, Kumar does not even try. It is a lazy, dull performance that seems like a rehash of his earlier action-comedy films, notably Rowdy Rathore.
Performances that made us cheer
Ranveer Singh in Band Baaja Baaraat (2010): The decade has been bookended by Ranveer Singh, with crackling performances in Band Baaja Baaraat and Gully Boy. But we’re going with the former simply because a first-time actor displaying such confidence should be applauded. His pitch-perfect, high-energy-but-not-loudly-caricaturish turn as a Saharanpur boy in DU who will do anything to avoid going back was a game-changer.
Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture (2011): Rarely is a movie that’s hard-hitting and gritty also just plain, out-and-out fun. This one is, and Balan’s performance will go down in history as one of the bravest, most uninhibited acts in, well, more than a decade. Her Reshma, a village girl who runs away to Chennai and is rechristened Silk, makes it big in the movies, is all heaving bosom, rolls of fat, hip thrusts and gaudy makeup — and Balan revels in it all. One scene, especially, stands out: At an awards ceremony, when Silk lashes out at the hypocrisy of a world in which directors, producers, writers and male actors of “sexy” films are seen as heroes, but the female lead is judged and called out for having loose morals, a dirty secret unfit for polite company. It is gut-wrenching.
Sridevi English Vinglish (2012): You don’t need to speak the same language as another person to understand them, and be understood by them. It does help, though, if you have Sridevi’s trademark wisp of a voice hesitantly trying out unfamiliar words, her perfectly wobbly chin, her eyes brimming with tears that she never sheds. Ostensibly about a woman ridiculed by her family for not knowing English, who signs up for classes to learn it, the movie is actually about much more. The language aspect is just a backdrop to a larger exploration of how we treat people, even those we love, and how we see ourselves through the eyes of those whose validation we crave. And Sridevi owns the role so completely — with grace, dignity and maturity. You’ll have tears in your eyes when you watch the scene towards the end, when she makes a speech at her niece’s wedding — her English is broken and clumsy but she never gives up.
Alia Bhatt in Highway (2014): Imtiaz Ali’s take on Stockholm Syndrome is an uneasy ride, mainly because of some hasty writing. It’s saved by a gorgeous cinematography courtesy Anil Mehta, a rousing soundtrack (including the Nooran sisters’ Patakha Guddi) and, more than anything else, by Alia Bhatt. For someone so young to take on such a difficult role and do it so unself-consciously — flaring nostrils and everything — is incredible, and makes it hard to believe it was only her second film.
Rajkummar Rao in Trapped (2017): To watch a 105 minute-movie about a solitary man trapped in his own apartment without food or electricity and not get bored for a second means the actor has to be unbelievably good. And Rao is just that, combining vulnerability, optimism and resilience in just the right mix. It’s a performance that at once shows how isolating and solitary life in a big city can be, and how resourceful the human mind is.
Special mentions: Tabu in Andhadhun and Haider, Kangana Ranaut in Queen, Ayushman Khurrana in Vicky Donor and Irrfan Khan in Paan Singh Tomar. More of this, please.