The best of the best.
Have you ever wondered, when it comes to movies, why so much importance is bestowed to the actors? Movie-making, by the very definition, is a collaborative process which brings together talented individuals from various disciplines to tell a story. Wouldn't you agree that if there was a Director of Photography of inadequate skills, the movie would suffer just as badly as it would if there was bad acting in it? Actually, bad camerawork can affect the movie-going experience even more than a thinly-written role or a bad performance or two. So why then, the actors are sought-out with so much reverence when there are other aspects in movies that are equally important, if not more?
Yes, a portion of the popularity that the actors receive has to do with vanity. Actors, by and large, are good or distinct looking individuals which if they are good at their job, can walk and talk with a certain verve as well. That can be appealing to primal human senses. But, what many people don't realise sometimes, that the actors are absolutely key for a movie--any movie. It might be a high-on-special-effects superhero film or a low-key drama, it is the actors who make the two-hour-long experience sufferable. It is they who take in the words of the script, and with the help of a directing hand, inhabit they characters that make a story sustain. They are the very portals of all the ideas and process that go into filmmaking: audiences experiences the film through them.
Of course, the effectiveness with which an actor does his crucial job can vary. For example, there are when an actor realises the importance of his role too much and ends up over-performing which hampers rather than accentuates the story. Like any nuanced job, good acting requires the right measure of restraint and vivacity; a right balance between doing all that you can and doing less than you need.
And that is why good acting, truly good acting, is the exception rather than the rule. Which is precisely why it deserves all the praise that is directed towards it.
So, on that note, here are the best performances in Hindi films this century:
TEN Hrithik Roshan - Jodhaa Akbar
For an actor, to take up a role of a historical figure that has so much relevance and popularity in our country requires a certain chutzpah. And Hrithik Roshan, with the incredible commitment that he brings to his roles, rose to that challenge wonderfully well. But even if we put aside the actor's transformed way of talking and moving, his performance will be known for the grit and passion that his character showed through him.
NINE. Ajay Devgn - The Legend of Bhagat Singh
performance as freedom fighter Bhagat Singh is the way he matched the tenacity of the historical figure. The actor's determined eyes as his character went to sacrifice for his country still runs chills down the spine of many of us.
EIGHT. Shahid Kapoor - Haider
Vishal Bhardwaj's films tend to consist excellent performances. And Shahid Kapoor's role as Haider Meer is certainly among the best. The incredibly complex role required the actor to literally transform from a conflicted youth to a deranged individual. Within that, he had to wrestle with morally and politically difficult resolves. All of this is expertly handled by the talented actor.
SEVEN. Saif Ali Khan - Omkara
Another great performance in a Vishal Bhardwaj movie. Saif Ali Khan, in his career-best role, played the venomous role of Langda Tyagi shockingly well. Not only did he effectively carry the physical and verbal demands of his character but he also played the dynamic role with the sense of easy that is only associated with great acting.
SIX. Manoj Bajpayee - Aligarh
Whenever I think of Manoj Bajpayee in Aligarh, the term 'masterful' automatically appears on the fringes of my consciousness. The actor portrayed his role of a shy, closeted professor with such an uncommon grace that it is hard to look away. The delicate vulnerability of his performance will leave an imprint on whosoever sees the critically acclaimed film.
FIVE. Shah Rukh Khan - Chak De! India
Shah Rukh Khan's role as a disgraced player turned coach in Chak De! India is easily one of his best performances. The actor showed an impressive dramatic range and unlike many of his roles, resisted the urge to go overboard. And the result was a showcase performance that all aspiring actors need to see and study.
FOUR. Irrfan Khan - Paan Singh Tomar
One of the greatest actors in our country, Irrfan Khan has never really disappointed on the big screen. Actually, he has given several memorable performances that will stand the test of time. But his performance in and as Paan Singh Tomar is certainly among his best. The actor's pitch-perfect dialect to his ever-engaging eyes to the dramatic weight he carried in each scene is a perfect demonstration of the actor's boundless talent.
THREE. Aamir Khan - Lagaan
One of the best Bollywood films of all time also had one of the best acting performances in recent times. Aamir Khan's Bhuvan is headstrong, courageous and idealistic. And despite his dire circumstances, it is difficult to quieten the intensity that burns within him. Aamir Khan captured all of that and carried the ambitious project squarely on his shoulders.
TWO. Nawazuddin Siddiqui - Gangs of Wasseypur 2
For many of us, this Anurag Kashyap epic will be known for the way it brought out one of the most brilliant actors of our time from the shadows. Nawazuddin Siddiqui's confident portrayal of a local charasi-turned-don-turned-politician left the viewers dizzy in the best possible way. The term 'unforgettable' comes to mind.
NUMBER ONE. Amitabh Bachchan - Black
It had to be him. Amitabh Bachchan, in a performance that came after 30 years being at the top of the industry, showed us once again why exactly he had been as revered as he was. Though he has given two more National Award-winning performances in this century, it is his role in this Sanjay Leela Bhansali biopic that can be called his best. Debraj Sahai, intense and sullen, will live on because of his spectaular exhibition.
Honourable Mentions: Ranbir Kapoor (Rockstar), Ranveer Singh (Bajirao Mastani), Rajkummar Rao (Shahid), Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Raman Raghav 2.0.), Vicky Kaushal (Masaan), Manoj Bajpayee (Gangs of Wasseypur), Shah Rukh Khan (Swades)