Be it the vulnerable, stumped, bumbling blackmailer of a husband in the black-mad-comedy Blackmail whose helplessness injects mirth and shows us how one of us can act on our darker instincts, or the digressive yet entertaining journey of Karwaan —where he chews and delivers every piece of dialogue with deadpan whiplash, Irrfan shows us why he’s one of the best in the business. Instinctive and solid, he’s got no choice but to come back in 2019.
His act in Raazi is hearbreakingly kind and sensitive, making you put down the instinctive cross-border shield. And in the triangular Manmarziyaan, he’s manic energy: all bluster and boisterousness and it’s as if he shot up a vial of Punjabi beats every time he faced the camera. Kaushal is the bridge between thoughtful, pause-filled spaces and in-your-face madness, and we’re the better for it.
In the superb mini-series Patrick Melrose, the actor disintegrates, breaks into pieces, makes you scream for his pain, and slapsticks into the hazy world of drugs—the scene where he becomes Elastic Man and droops, drops, and crawls is a bizarrely Chaplinesque waltz. He’s absolutely dry, flavorful, and addictive. Much like your favorite gin. Which is why, he’s also the best pick-me-up of 2018.
In the same year, Nawazuddin spouts marvelously written dialogues that capture the gangsta zeitgeist of Bombay (in Sacred Games, the first truly gritty Indian streaming content that inaugurated 2018) with the burning punch of an unfiltered cigarette. Then he does a searing portrayal of the titular role in Manto, his characters cracks and frailties out there for all to see.
In an year when the actor had no less than five releases (lesser than his six the earlier year), his performance in the wickedly comic Stree stands out for the sheer fearlessness with which he embraces his wannabe-cool role. Rajkummar Rao stutters, fumbles and courageously turns up for the climax in a wedding suit, pearls, and other paraphernalia and offset them with his sneakers, only to strip down to his boxers later—and pulls off every scene in Masterclass style. He’s truly Captain Courageous of 2018.
Will there ever be an year when this gentleman not feature on this list? That question’s redundant, for Pankaj Tripathi’s only getting started. In Stree, the actor chews every line of dialogue as he would his favorite paan, taking swigs of his favorite bot of quarter, and then delivers those lines to devastatingly comic effect. And in the year’s bone-crackingly good and grippingly bloody TV show Mirzapur, Tripathi’s face is a complex map of control, murderous intent, and ruthlessness. Not one scene does he twist and shout to show who’s boss. You doubt him, you do so at your own mortal risk.
In Mulk, the actor has a quiet cameo in the courtroom scenes, but he’s mind-bogglingly good. Peering from behind his glasses, his performance is polite, soft, quietly dismissive at times, absorbing everything keenly elsewhere. And when he delivers his judgment, it’s an act couched in wisdom and maturity; he lets words hang at exactly the point they ought to be, not once trying to steal the show. But in and at the end, he involuntarily does. Who’d have thought that a judge’s role could have such meaningful gravitas?
The actor’s the highlight of Badhaai Ho, magnificent as the husband, father, and the son, combining pressures of all these roles in an act that’s hopelessly likeable and loveable. He shuffles around facing life’s curveballs with the acute vision of one looking forward to his pension. And when he’s asked to dispense advice about making babies, the actor’s performance is a highlight that shines on his face and on the screen.
Who’s made middle-class the new aspirational. His likeable, human act in Badhaai Ho is on the money, as he slinks around, ashamed about a pregnancy that infuriates and repulses him in equal measure. And later on, he’s heart-meltingly good in the scenes where he draws out his sensitive, mortified self. None of that holds good in his other standout act for Andhadhun. Here, the actor revels in his multi-shaded character, playing him with a deft, sure-footed mastery, hitting all the right notes across the story-scape.
To portray a theater legend without ending up making a cringe-worthy caricature or a weak imitation game requires some talent heft. In the Marathi movie, Ani…Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar, actor Subodh Bhave comes out trumps. And not just because he doesn’t fall into any of the aforementioned traps, but because he adds a magnificent persona to the troubled actor he portrays. The actor injects himself with all of Ghanekar’s famed swag but also shows the cracks and frailties that such talent must inevitably carry if not embrace.