That it has been a pretty poor year for Hindi cinema is far from breaking news. But despite the seemingly endless string of duds, there is much to be discussed, dissected and celebrated when it comes to the year in actors, their choices and the performances which stuck with us long after the closing credits.
The Talking Points
Looking back at the stars who soared, who stood out and who fell flat, 2017 was full of wonderful surprises: Irrfan Khan explored his lighter side and displayed his comic chops in both Hindi Medium and Qarib Qarib Single. Kangana Ranaut once again miraculously managed to rise above many turbulent personal scandals with stellar performances which made otherwise disappointing films worthwhile with Simran and Rangoon. Bhumi Pednekar seems to have got the spunky small-town girl down pat between Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and the wonderfully endearing Shubh Mangal Savdhaan.
On the more commercial front, Hrithik Roshan witnessed a fine return to form as a blind man out for revenge in Sanjay Gupta’s Kaabil, armed with his brand of inherent vulnerability and lurking intensity. Varun Dhawan did what few others could, bringing his industrial-sized charisma and comic timing to Judwaa 2 and proved that David Dhawan comedies can still be relevant and enjoyable in this day and age. Sonakshi Sinha continued her streak of aspiring to be a part of better projects with an admirable turn as a millennial oddball in Noor and a fitting performance in Ittefaq.
By way of the unlikely surprises which went on to steal the show, Akshaye Khanna entirely nailed the tough cop avatar in Ittefaq singlehandedly making the film well worth the ride. Despite being surrounded by scene-stealers, Kriti Sanon did well to hold her own and charmed audiences with her first worthwhile, non-pointless role in Bareilly Ki Barfi, with what we hope is a much-needed turning point for the newcomer. Similarly, Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos offered an unexpectedly competent Katrina Kaif who for once wasn’t a deal breaker and was surprisingly wonderful as Jagga’s goofy partner in crime.
Sidharth Malhotra’s talent once again flew under the radar as he proved his mettle as a charismatic action star in Raj and DK’s quirky action comedy A Gentleman. In the category of bad films with towering performances, there was Pink’s Kriti Kulhari who shone in Madhur Bhandarkar’s otherwise exhausting political drama, Indu Sarkar. In terms of supporting acts which shone, an unrecognisable Nishikant Kamat proved to be a formidable adversary for Arjun Rampal in Daddy.
The Big Hitters
Before diving into the year’s big hitters, we must take a moment and acknowledge that this was the year of Rajkummar Rao. 2017 has been an exercise in displaying the actor’s range, from delivering a career-defining turn in Trapped – a role which only a handful of actors could have even attempted – to proving his comedic chops as one unforgettable badass babua in Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s Bareilly Ki Barfi. Newton is undoubtedly the icing on the cake for the young actor and the definitive Rao performance of the year. 2017 was a year which proved that no longer is he an actor with a bright future, but rather a star with a shining present.
Equally, the year was dominated by towering performances from the ever-talented Pankaj Tripathi, from neigh on redefining the role of the onscreen father in Bareilly Ki Barfi, to taking a far darker turn in Gurgaon, to providing a fascinatingly layered antagonist as Aatma Singh in Newton.
Also among the year’s most defining performances was Vikrant Massey in Konkona Sen Sharma’s A Death In The Gunj, also undoubtedly the ensemble film of the year. Despite a tremendous cast, Massey stood out, oozing purity and innocence with his sensitive, heartbreaking portrayal as Shutu, which challenged traditional notions of masculinity. Ranbir Kapoor shone bright like a diamond with a decade-defining performance doing what only he could in Anurag Basu‘s Jagga Jasoos. Kapoor brought his otherworldly talents and carried one of the most innovative films to ever come out Hindi cinema. Equally, as the very soul of the film, Saswata Chatterjee stole hearts as Tutti Frutti offering a magical performance befitting a magical film.
Ayushman Khurrana nailed the everyman avatar in his three outings, thereby redefining the traditional Hindi film hero as someone more grounded and relatable than aspirational with Meri Pyaari Bindu Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Savdhaan. Also instrumental in those films was Seema Pahwa who became the year’s definitive onscreen mother we all wish we had in Bareilly Ki Barfi and even more so in Shubh Mangal Savdhaan. Ratna Pathak Shah took a bold, brave move in Lipstick Under My Burkha as Buaji thereby breaking barriers, and subverting stereotypes of how elderly characters are portrayed on screen. Similarly, Vidya Balan showed no signs of slowing down as one of the best actresses working today, proving to be one of those rare stars who can disappear into a character entirely in Tumhari Sullu.
That said, perhaps the year’s best performance by an actress came from Swara Bhaskar‘s fiery and flawless outing in the painfully overlooked Anaarkali Of Aarah, with an equally impressive and despicable Sanjay Misra. The preternaturally gifted Zaira Wasim demonstrated she can carry a film like its nobody’s business in Secret Superstar, displaying a wisdom and maturity well beyond her years.
The Fault In Our Khans
Amidst the flock of disappointments, the three reigning Khans managed to offer little to salvage the year. That said, 2017 was the year which saw Salman Khan finally sinking his teeth into a fully-fledged character poles apart from his man-of-the-masses persona as a mentally challenged man in Kabir Khan’s Tubelight. While the film was widely rejected by Bhai devotees and detractors alike, it offered a side of the superstar we will likely never get to see again and there’s much to be admired in that. His next Tiger Zinda Hai appears to be a desperate dash back to his commercial comfort zone aimed at once again hearing the seetis and taalis which maintain his myth.
King Khan continued his admirable streak of diverse role choices making him one of the most interesting actors working today. However, despite the wonders of being unable to predict what he’ll do next, this certainly wasn’t his year. While Rahul Dholakia’s Raees was arguably one of his most ambitious roles in recent years, his portrayal of a Gujarati gangster failed to uplift the flat narrative, despite some electric interplay between him and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Imtiaz Ali’s Jab Harry Met Sejal was similarly torn apart by audiences, however, this writer maintains the film had much to offer, led wonderfully by both Anushka Sharma and Shah Rukh Khan – who struck a fine balance between his hallmark classic swooning but still somewhere grounding that in a relatable character.
Not much this year from the man who can seemingly do no wrong, Aamir Khan, apart from a supporting stint as a rambunctious music producer in his home production Secret Superstar. While the film was loved by one and all and Khan clearly had a ball of a time with the character, his performance was arguably the worst thing about the film.
Further down the list of actors who couldn’t catch a break this year, in Chef, both the narrative and Saif Ali Khan’s performance were flat and flavourless, supported by one of the most annoying onscreen child characters in recent memory. It was, however, good to see the Nawab of Pataudi somewhat back in his element earlier in the year as Roosi Billamoria in Rangoon. Further along, though he’s being touted as the superstar of the hour with labels like ‘offbeat’, ‘nationalistic’ and ‘content-driven’ attached to him, Akshay Kumar had a largely unremarkable year with strictly adequate performances, from both his small-town outings in Jolly LLB2 and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha.
Arjun Kapoor, who strangely appears to be becoming less talented over time, was a double-role deal-breaker bordering on film-wrecker in Mubarakan and was equally forgettable in Half Girlfriend. With Raabta, Sushant Singh Rajput showed us that without a meaty character to sink his teeth into, he flails and flounders and just doesn’t have the inherent star quality required to survive on image alone. Patience for Shraddha Kapoor‘s lack of any semblance of acting talent seems to be wearing thin, as her laughable turn in Haseena Parkar further cemented. Of course, this hasn’t stopped the train of significant roles coming her way in an industry that always takes care of their own. While she was let down by a flawed narrative in Naam Shabana, the exceedingly talented Taapsee Pannu‘s synthetic-airhead persona in Judwaa 2 was almost insulting to sit through.
In the end, its clear 2017 had much to offer by way of colourful characters and knockout performances. It was also a year which saw some heartening trends such as actresses above a certain age coming back with a vengeance with Raveena Tandon in Maatr and Shabh, and Manisha Koirala in Dear Maaya, proving they will not be deterred by the industry’s regressive norms. A trend we certainly hope to continues.