10 Underrated Indian Acting Performances of 2015

We’re nearing the end of yet another prolific season for the Indian Film Industry. There have been the obvious standout mainstream films, but there has also been an explosion of remarkable independent films and regional cinema onto commercial screens this year. This has been good news for the wide cross-section of cinema enthusiasts and consumers across the country. It’s not easy to please everybody, but 2015 has come close to delivering perhaps the widest variety of genres and films in a while. Box office registers haven’t been ringing as much as previous years – which isn’t always a bad sign. Of course, the Khans are yet to arrive. But till then, these hidden faces can, and should, be celebrated. 

Swanand Kirkire (Crazy Cukkad Family)

That’s right. The famous Hindi film lyricist is also quite a natural performer on screen. In this idiosyncratic ‘Great Indian Family’ showpiece, which alternates between the bizarre and outlandish, Kirkire excels in his role as a domineering, rude patriarch with a submissive wife. The plot is generic, and revolves around Kirkire and his three brothers re-uniting at their comatose father’s villa to fulfill absurd conditions of his will, to claim the property. They say most writers perform in their minds while creating their characters. Kirkire goes a step ahead, and shows many how the over-the-top loud cliché can be done well.

Sheeba Chaddha (Dum Laga Ke Haisha)

As Naiantara Tiwary (Buaji) in Sharat Katariya’s delightful little ‘arranged’ love story, the popular stage and television actress finally got a chance to shine. She wasn’t just another face in the fascinating Haridwar family; her fate made for the defining plot device of the film, and she handles the crucial scene with utmost sensitivity to ensure it is convincing enough. Her transformation from bitter to sentimental drives the leads. And just like that, Miss Chaddha becomes more than just a shooting star – more than that ‘sex worker’ in Talaash, or the eager family friend in ‘Luck By Chance’, and one of the thousand faces from Dilli 6 or Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. 

Murali Sharma (Badlapur, Baby)

The perennial supporting actor finally became a crowd-pleaser this year with two of his comical turns – in Badlapur and Baby. In the former, he plays a veteran prisoner and rival to Nawaz’s murderous convict, and he brings a dark, desperate funniness to this brittle relationship. He compliments Nawaz in jail, and vice versa. In Baby, as the point-man between the ATS wing (Akshay and Danny) and the chief, his face and fate at the hands of slap-happy Akshay serve as a running joke in a serious film about cross-border terrorism. 

Sai Tamhankar (Hunterrr)

The acclaimed Marathi actress is quite stunning in her brief role as the saucy, lonely Maharashtrian cougar housewife seducing Gulshan Devaiah’s promiscuous college-boy character in a quintessential Pune housing society. She is restrained, and oozes discretion and sex – playing the ultimate fantasy for most Savita bhabhi-craving, red-blooded 90s males. Hers is the best segment in Hunterrr’s complex to-and-fro character narrative. 

Sayani Gupta (Margarita, With a Straw)

As the visually challenged Pakistani activist falling in love with Kalki’s cerebral palsy-afflicted Laila in Shonali Bose’s moving film, Gupta marries mannerisms with an eager curiosity, familiar only to many culture-confused Asians experimenting away from home on safer alien shores. The couple shares more chemistry on their educational stint in the United States than most mainstream heterosexual couples do in made-for-each-other potboilers. 

Barkha Madan (Surkhaab)

The little girl who played the Bhoot in Ram Gopal Varma’s Bhoot has now grown up to be a remarkable actress. Barkha Madan, whose real-life story trumps her illegal-immigrant journey from Bhatinda to Toronto in the film, displays a fair amount of nuance in this little-known crossover tale. In real life, she is now a Buddhist monk who has relinquished materialistic possessions, but her final turn as producer and actress (the film was made in 2012, released in May 2015) is a solid one. 

Vicky Kaushal (Masaan)

Son of veteran action director Sham Kaushal, Vicky excels – especially in a stunning breakdown scene with friends and alcohol – as the son of a funeral-pyre burner on Varanasi’s famous Harishchandra Ghat. His star-crossed romance with upper-caste Shweta Tripathi is now the stuff of small-town romance legends in Masaan. Kaushal lives, breathes and internalizes the transition of his unassuming character – one of a million heartbroken faces escaping to the city for a better, freer life. 

Sumit Gulati (Talvar)

This was perhaps the year of this little-known supporting actor. He appeared in Phantom, as well as this crucial role in Talvar as one of the Noida servants allegedly responsible for the double-murder. His shifty gaze and understanding of his own body language enables him to play slightly grey characters – nondescript bad guys who have perhaps let circumstances and impulses define them over time. His narco-test scene stands out in the film, and he will also appear in Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh as a photojournalist alongside Rajkummar Rao

Neena Gupta (The Threshold)

As the wife who wants to leave her longtime Delhi husband just after they’ve settled in the hills post their son’s wedding, Miss Gupta is perceptive and very sensitive. She wants to break out of this stifling relationship, and knows that she hasn’t chosen the best time – a phase where her domineering husband (Rajit Kapoor) can actually give her more time. Much of their relationship’s backstory is provided through Gupta’s subtle expressions, silences and moments of mute frustration. The moving film – a chamber piece – unfortunately, hasn’t released on commercial screens, and played at the recent Mumbai Film Festival. 

Ranvir Shorey (Titli)

The man is terrifying as the oldest brother – and carjacking chief – in the brutal Delhi household. He more than makes up for his clichéd bitter journalist role in Gour Hari Dastaan, and shows his true potential during his temperamental explosions, his passive aggressive ways, as well as his breakdown when he realizes that Titli, his youngest brother, wants to escape his clutches. 


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