Click here for #s 80-71 on my LJ.
70-Rani Mukerjee in Black
For a role that required her to be deaf, dumb and blind, Rani sure filled the silences with her stupendous presence and how. Rani has that quality of making each role her own stamping it with her instinct and force of talent. Pitted against a thespian actor like Amitabh Bachchan, Rani holds her own in her Helen Keller-esque portrayal of a young woman fighting not just her own private darkness but the one surrounding her world. Pitched with eloquence and a pathos that no one has matched in any role in coming years, Rani has left an indelible mark with this role that usually comes once in a lifetime for most.
69-Sanjeev Kumar in Aandhi
Sanjeev Kumar was in his `30s when he did the role of a middle-aged, laidback husband of a ruthlessly ambitious politician. His role goes through many ups and downs. He starts off as a conservative husband troubled by his wife´s sudden foray into politics. He almost makes the audience hate him when he menacingly says to his wife, ``Mera shauhar banne ki koshish mat karo.´´ Later, after a ten-year gap, when aspersions are cast about his relationship with Suchitra Sen, the resonance in his voice when he says, ``Tumse kya poochhte hain kee hamara kya rishta hai. Tumhe to khud nahin pata ke hamare beech koi rishta hai bhee ya nahin aur yadi hai to kya hai,´´ brings to mind the anger and the sense of regret in being caught in such a situation. Trishul, Sangharsh, Naya Din Nayee Raat are other worthy mentions.
68-Konkona Sen Sharma in Mr & Mrs Iyer
``Greenish `ello or `elloish green,´´ Oh, when Konkona Sen Sharma does that disarming Tam Bram accent in Mr & Mrs Iyer you actually want to go over and pull her cheeks. What´s special about her performances as Meenakshi Iyer is not the effort she put into it as much as the apparent lack of it. True she was sent to Chennai to perfect her accent and true, her mom and the director of the film, Aparna Sen held workshops prior to the film but Konkona´s madness fuels her method. Be it her squabbling with the urbane photographer Jehangir Chaudhary or her gently reprimanding him about how her name is pronounced (It´s Mee-naa-kshi not Minakshi) or even when she is screaming at her infant, you believe it´s Meenakshi you´ve met. And therein lies the key to her iconic performance. She is also stupendous in Page 3 and Amu.
67-Rajesh Khanna in Anand
Just one word is enough to demonstrate a good actor´s power of dialogue delivery. `Babumoshaai!´ Rajesh Khanna emotes, and that one word, which is repeated many times during the aforementioned speech in Anand, tells us whether he is laughing at the listener, with the listener, cautioning him, cajoling him or simply shocking him with the content that follows.
But the speech is not all. Rajesh Khanna as his name in the movie suggests, brings a whole lot of anand or joy in the lives of whoever crosses his path. But the greatest joy he saves for his doctor, Bhaskar Bannerjee played by Amitabh Bachchan. The doctor-patient relationship is interestingly written and both roles are performed with just that much of an edge. This film released in 1971 but Rajesh Khanna´s five handkerchief performance remains valid even today. Also check the actor out in Namak Haram and Amar Prem.
66-Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met
She really talked us into this one. Like literally. She´s like a glob of sunshine and the warmth comes hurtling towards you at breakneck speed and before you know it you´ve fallen in love with her. Unexpectedly so because the last time around Kareena attempted chirpy-bubbly we wanted to run for cover (Remember Khushi?). Kareena as Geet infuses a certain infectiousness into her personality and the best thing is she knew when to stop. What is obviously apparent is the abandon but look closer and you´ll see clever restraint too. A true director´s delight, Kareena knows how to follow leads and make the role her own not to mention immensely memorable.
65-Nargis in Raat Aur Din
Multiple personality disorder isn´t something that you see often in films. Nargis´ chilling portrayal brought out all the horror of a person suffering from such a malady. Her face changes when from the docile wife Varuna she turns into the cabaret dancer Peggy. Her housewife avatar suffers from an unease which communicates itself to the audience and notice the sadness in her life during her night romp scenes as well. You get the feeling that all her living-life-to-the hilt act is but enforced mirth. The best thing is that her madness isn´t your routine filmi melodrama but a slow descent towards the mouth of hell. She´s a must watch in Awaara and Andaz as well.
64-Shah Rukh Khan in Chak De! India
It´s hard for an actor who is on the top of the heap to let go and reconstruct himself. It´s like asking a style icon to wear drab everyday clothes.
Shah Rukh Khan does all that and more and reiterates the fact that beneath the nation´s sweetheart avatar lies a brilliant actor. His heartbreak at missing the goal at the film´s beginning is heartfelt, his frustration at not making his team work together is something any coach will identify with and his jubilation when he waves the Indian flag makes us proud to be Indians.
At the end, he doesn´t walk away with a leading lady in his arms. The scene where he goes back home and is accepted by his neighbors once again – the satisfaction in his eyes, the half-hesitant smile – the relief of acceptance is mixed with the bitter-sweet realisation that in the end, nothing succeeds like success. SRK´s other memorable roles include Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
63-Shreyas Talpade in Iqbal
From an unknown, Shreyas Talpade became the talk of the town by his superb performance in Iqbal. The actor´s dedication can be seen in the scenes where he is made to run barefeet on the village roads. He plays a mute cricketer but still manages to convey all the emotions connected with the sport. The last time someone tugged at your heartstrings by playing deaf and mute characters were Jaya Bhaduri and Sanjeev Kumar in Koshish. Shreyas had to keep those power-packed performances in perspective and not make his turn look like a repeat act. That he was able to do so speaks volumes for his talent.
62-Rekha in Umrao Jaan
`Dil cheez kya hai aap meri jaan lijiye!´ Umrao Jaan sings. And somewhere under the glittering jewellery, ruby red lipstick and the elaborate costumes, is the little girl Amiran who is living the tragedy of being sold to a brothel, having her love Nawab Sultan taken away from her and then the man she marries gunned down by the police. She is also a girl looking to going back home to her parents. Rekha´s performance as a courtesan is so flawless it is a benchmark in gestures and seduction. What is award-worthy is the suffering of her soul which you can clearly see in her eyes and the gradually exhausted body.
61-Sanjeev Kumar in Mausam
An older man drives back to a once familiar place and idly enquires about a girl who was his summer love. Instead of being able to salve his conscience by apologising to her, he hears that the girl he loved died a tragic death and has left behind her daughter, his daughter. When he first encounters his daughter, she is throwing a customer away from her ratty brothel. He is filled with remorse and has to take up the task of reforming the wild and social misfit that his daughter has become. Sanjeev Kumar´s helplessness and humiliation when he attempts to `humanise´ the girl and then ask for forgiveness for having abandoned her mother years ago is simply brilliant. You feel his embarrassment, and hope that his daughter will forgive him. It is the uncertainty his sad face expresses so well that makes this performances one of his best ever.
60-Aamir Khan in Sarfarosh
At first sight, Aamir looks totally miscast in the film. But as the film progresses, you realise that John Matthew Matthan is spot on with his casting. He wanted a common man to turn into this uniformed vigilante. Because he could sense that the common man was sick of the corruption in the system and would identify with ACP Ajay Singh Rathore’s anger. Like Bachchan in Zanjeer, it’s not his muscles but his eyes which convey all. His manic laughter when catching hold of a terrorist while suffering from a fractured leg eloquently expresses the do-or-die attitude of his character. You don’t see his lean frame – what you see is a hero, a warrior, fighting with all his might to right wrongs. And you applaud, because in both reel and real life, you need such heroes.
59-Sharmila Tagore in Mausam
She makes an entrance with a curse on her lips. She´s pushing a cheap ten-rupee customer down the stairs. She has a flower over her left ear and her lips are painted as red as her blouse is. She wears a long skirt and for good measure smokes a beedi by holding it between her thumb and forefinger. Sharmila Tagore is every inch the prostitue Kajri, and very convincing at that. Her language is foul, and her body language is fluid. But that´s not all, in the movie, Sharmila is also the mum, Chanda, who falls in love with a visiting doctor. Chanda is carefree and in the first flush of love. She also goes through abandonment and is shamed into marrying an old man, only to lose her touch with sanity, waiting for her doctor to come and save her.
58-Anil Kapoor in Virasat
Anil Kapoor goes from being a happy-go-lucky me-generation yuppie to this overlord of villagers. The transition is bumpy but Anil suavely maneuvers the right of passage. His juvenile belief that he may get away from rural politics, his regret in finding himself to be part of it, his acceptance of the situation and the final violent end, where he finds himself a murderer—the moments stick to your memory because Anil makes them so real.
The scene where he first accepts Tabu as his wife is worth a mention. He doesn´t even look at her properly till that moment but after that, everything changes. From a harsh householder, Anil transforms himself to be a loving husband in the batting of an eye. The role was done by Kamal Haasan in the original. It´s hard to fill Kamal´s shoes but Anil manages the feat superbly.
57-Mammooty in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar
Director Jabbar Patel traveled the world in order to find the perfect actor for the title role. He says the film could not have been done without Mammooty. He essays the whole sensibility and inner turmoil of the man just right. By shaving his moustache and altering his hairline Mammooty was able to get into the physical part of the role. Of course for a consummate actor such as he, the emotions – smiling like Ambedkar and even getting angry as he did – was a cakewalk. But the challenge lay in coming across as intelligent without saying too many things. Mammooty´s character, had an inward journey. Although he had not too many speeches to make in the film, it is the silences where he is at his expressive best.
56-Tabu in Astitva
Some performances just are. No frills, no flounces and no extra trappings. They take the essence of the role, and transform it into a flesh and blood experience. Tabu´s turn in Astitva is exceptional for its insight. She plays a woman married to a doubting male chauvinist and when his suspicions regarding her infidelity is confirmed as the truth, she must take a stand. At 27, Tabu played a 47-year-old woman and a mother to a 20-year-old as well as a young girl in her flashback and she brings a distinct composure to both.
55-Pankaj Kapur in Maqbool
His lover plots to kill him, an orphan who has grown up in his household betrays him, several gang leaders hate the power that he yields, the police hate him as well. Such is the character of Abbaji played by Pankaj Kapur in Vishal Bhardwaj´s Maqbool. And he plays it with quiet elegance. He´s an ageing head of a crime family, and although he is not a towering figure of crime and power, he is certainly replete with dignity. He is lusty too, summoning his lover to be with him with a wave of his hand, dismissing talks of peace his enemies have brought to the table with a similar wave of his arm. His speech is measured, but the violence it creates is immense. His suggests laughingly, `Miyan gilori khaya karo, zubaan kaboo mein rehtee hai´ but the menace in his hooded eyes send shivers down the spine. Such is the Indian Duncan in Vishal Bhardwaj´s adaptation of Shakespeare´s Macbeth. Please go watch him in Ek Doctor Ki Maut and Ek Ruka Hua Faisla as well.
54-Dilip Kumar in Gunga Jumna
Dilip Kumar, a Peshawari Pathan, plays a UP wallah to perfection. His dialect, mannerisms, knee-jerk reactions to everything – all smack of a salt-of-the-earth UP villager. He is loud, yes, but the loudness is part of the character. And his confrontation scenes with his police inspector brother (played by real life brother Nasir Khan) are a study in reacting.
And all those who know Dilip Kumar only as the tragedy king should see him dance in the song Nain lad jai hain from this film.
53-Ashok Kumar in Aashirwad
Ashok Kumar has given many memorable performances but it is in this film at the twilight of his career that perhaps he showed his true mettle. After a long gap, he sung for the movie as well. Railgaadi… can be said to be India´s first rap song and the infectious joy that he has on his face while entertaining children singing this song.
Aashirwad shows his journey from being a wealthy householder to a street performer to a convict, not to mention a loving father and the veteran breathes life to every hue and shade of his character. The scene where he comes to know that his daughter hates convicts comes to mind. Despite deep love for her, he doesn´t reveal himself to her. His anguish is heartbreakingly real and so is his satisfaction on finally meeting his daughter and offering his blessings on her wedding day. See him in Kismat and Kanoon as well.
52-Aamir Khan in Lagaan
Aamir Khan has never played a villager. He had never been in a period film. To play a villager in a period film was going beyond his image as a suave urban lover but to his credit, the actor pulls the coup off.
Lagaan is an improbable film in any case – Indian villagers at the fag end of the 19th century defeating the English at their own game? Who was ever going to believe that. But Aamir Khan makes us swallow the improbability with the intensity of his performance. His Bhuvan isn´t one-dimensional but multi-faceted. The Bhuvan who gawks at the British during the initial scenes isn´t the same as the leader of men who believes he can change his own destiny.
51-Paresh Rawal in Sardar
Known for his over the top performance of a landlord in the comedy Hera Pheri, Paresh Rawal has outshone himself in the lesser known gem called Sardar, a film made by Ketan Mehta. He plays Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in a cast-iron role about the changing national political scene in this film. Paresh transforms himself from a young man who prefers to play cards and laugh at Gandhiji´s efforts at independence into a savvy mover and shaker of the political scene and even becomes a candidate for Prime Ministership of a new India. His performance is so seamless that we barely notice how the man´s shoulders slowly hunch, wrinkles appear with every new experience and his voice gets huskier with the years that are shown in the movie. Fabulous stuff, we think!
50-Dharmendra in Satyakam
Satyapriya´s role in Satyakam is said to be Dharmendra´s best performance. One can relate to his dilemma when full of disillusionment, he says "Main cynic ho gaya hoon, ya duniya badal gayi hai (either I have become a cynic or the world has changed)."
The best example of his searing performance is perhaps his moment of frailty when he lets Sharmila falls in the evil hands of the Prince.
Satyapriya´s adherence to truth at all costs and gradual degradation because of that—both moral and material—is something so achingly real that you feel unashamed using your handkerchief.
His performances in Jeevan Mrityu and Sholay too are a must watch.
49-Nutan in Bandini
Bandini is perhaps Nutan´s best role ever. Love is a prison as they say and Nutan plays a woman betrayed by love to make a prison all around her. Nutan goes through all the phases of a girl struck by love – the first flush when colour comes to her cheeks upon the mere mention of Bikash´s name, the happiness she feels while playing his pretend-wife gives way to sorrow as Bikash jilts her. The shock and the acceptance of the fact that she has been tending to the wife of her lover gives way to mad jealousy which leads to murder – Nutan looks maddened with grief and hatred when she does the acts most foul. Her inner struggle as she reflects between choosing her first love and old is perhaps one the best scenes ever filmed.
48-Sanjeev Kumar in Angoor
Sanjeev Kumar is never so good as when he does comedy. Any other actor would have gone overboard while playing twins – that too which derives its roots from such a celebrated play as A Comedy Of Errors. The genius of Sanjeev Kumar lay in the fact that despite underplaying both the characters, he still made them out as individuals. We know who the two Ashoks are every time – and that adds to the fun rather than killing the excitement.
Remember the scene when it´s first realised the diamond necklace is lost. The perplexity of one Ashok is mirrored by the astonishment of the other upon discovering it. The climax, where the duo finally confront each other, is a classic example of what to do while essaying twin roles.
47-Meena Kumari in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam
Your heart goes out to her when she decks herself for her husband as she sings Piya aiso jiya mein samai gayo re. You get a whiff of marital discord but along with her willingly suspend disbelief and pretend everything is all right with the world. Meena Kumari, given the context of the period film, clandestinely hints at suppressed sexual desires but you understand.
You feel as helpless as her when she sheds her morals and become an alcoholic in the hope of winning her husband´s attentions. Her choti bahu isn´t a woman who suffers silently but is someone who is quite aware of her moral degradation. Her tears are not the tears of frustration alone but tears shed for the corruption of the soul as well.
Perhaps, the performance rocks because it mirrors Meena´s own estranged relations with husband Kamal Amrohi and her own alcohol-related issues, not to mention a desire to be liked and understood. Please watch her in Mere Apne, Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai and Aarti as well.
46-Hema Malini in Seeta Aur Geeta
If Dilip Kumar ave us a stupendous performance as twin brothers in Ram Aur Shyam, Hema Malini gives us the bubbly Geeta who could ransack a police station, climb onto a ceiling fan and taunt her aunt, `Oopar aaja moti!´, learn to skate with the dashing Sanjeev Kumar and enter our hearts with her laughter that sounds truly like a babbling brook. On the other hand, she plays the scared, tortured Seeta who is forced to run away from a home where she works like a servant. Hema Malini brings a uniqueness to her performance which makes this film eminently watchable no matter how many years have passed.
45-Nutan in Sujata
Sujata was a blow against the caste system by the socialist filmmaker Bimal Roy. And he cast his favourite heroine in the lead role. Nutan´s character had ample scope for high melodrama and thanks to her sensitive performance we escape that.
A low-caste girl brought up in an upper-class household, Sujata is played as a shy, introvert character by Nutan. When her lover Sunil Dutt first touches her, Nutan´s reaction is just like the touch-me-not flower, she withdraws within herself. Her facial expressions switch on and off between pleasure and confusion, between happiness and grief. It´s a fleeting shot but reveals all about the girl´s state of mind.
The scene where she is finally accepted by her foster mother too bears mention. After a lifetime of being ignored, Sujata gets so much joy in the acceptance that the albatross of grief hanging around her shoulders just melts away. You can actually feel she has become much lighter, more comely.
44-Amol Palekar in Gol Maal
The challenge for Amol Palekar was to portray twins who were not. He did it so well that the Fourth Wall, which knew all, too were beguiled by the act. His performance also exemplified the fact that you don´t have to go overboard to be funny. That comedy doesn´t always have to be of the slapstick variety. We identified with Ram Prasad because Amol made him the everyman who has a love-hate relationship with his boss. We adore Laxman because though average looking (like most) he nevertheless has a cool attitude. Like Amol, we too bring our inner Laxman out.
Amol Palekar had to contend with another superb actor, Utpal Dutt, in the film. Their scenes together are a riot because one is the Ali to other´s Frazier. They both move like a butterfly and sting like a bee, till you are bruised by laughter and can take it no more. Remember the scene where Amol´s fake moustache falls off as Utpal Dutt says, ``Main tujhe maaf nahee saaf kar doonga!´´ Paisa vasool performance which makes you smile even today. Mindblowing in Bhumika and Chitchor as well.
43-Balraj Sahni in Do Bigha Zamin
Movie lore has it that to prepare for his role, Balraj Sahni actually plied a rickshaw on the streets of Kolkata for some time. That may be stretching the limits of dedication a wee bit but maybe Sahni knew he was doing the role of a lifetime—it was the first film ever to win the Award and the film was one of the first mainstream Hindi films to be honoured at Cannes as well.
The film portrays Sahni as a small farmer fighting for his land. For people who know him to be this fuddy duddy character actor, one must watch his scenes where he cajoles wife Nirupa Roy to get drenched in the rain with him. Sahni, with few subtle gestures, brings home both the poetry and poignancy of love.
Then, the scene where he races his rickshaw with another in order to win more money is breathtaking. You want him to win and your heart shares his agony as a wheel comes off and he’s injured. Also see him fuse life to his role in films like Haqeeqat and Kabuliwala as well.
42-Dimple Kapadia in Rudaali
Set in the beautiful desert background of Rajasthan, Rudaali is a tale of Shanichari, played beautifully by Dimple Kapadia, known mainly for her fluff role as the sex symbol in Bobby. Here, however, she wears the ghagra of the village belle and drapes the sorrow over herself like a heavy dupatta. Dimple offers such subtle nuances to the audience as Shanichari that we begin to empathise with the character as soon as we see how much she must be suffering. Dimple saves the histrionics for the latter half of the film when Raakhee shows up as Bhikni, who is a professional mourner (a rudaali). Dimple´s portrayal of a mourner shows us how ridiculous and yet how socially acceptable the practice of hiring mourners really is. Dimple´s phenomenal talent comes shining forth when you see years of supressed hurt, anger and a sense of life´s injustice simply flow from Shanichari´s eyes.
41-Hema Malini in Sholay
She immortalised the role of a village belle: feisty and fun, beautiful and wilful. Hema Malini performs so flawlessly! She seems flighty but her heart is in the right place. This role is also important because she is shown to hold a job normally reserved for men. So here we are, a movie from the year 1975, with the heroine driving a horse-drawn tonga. Correction, even the tonga is driven by a mare, whose name is Dhanno!
What makes this performance so incredible is the ease with which Hema Malini becomes Basanti. Fearless in her love, she dances until her feet bleed. She fights with the dacoits but she´s all woman. She is shy in love, but is happy to flirt with Veeru... This is a performance that sets Hema Malini apart as an actress. Her performance stands the test of time. Every actress who has tried to emulate Hema´s Basanti act, has ended up as a pale imitation. We also love her in Ek Chadar Maili Si, Kinara and Khushboo.
40-Madhuri Dixit in Mrityudand
1997 was the year Dil To Pagal Hai was released. Madhuri played a young danseuse who feels the first rush of love. But that Madhuri is different from the Madhuri of Mrityudand (released in the same year as Dil To Pagal Hai), who confronts her abusive husband with the words, ``Tum mere pati ho, parmeshwar banne ki koshish mat karo.´´
The dhak dhak girl becomes a rural feminist in the film. She battles male supremacy with gusto. Her character goes through the phases of disillusionment, acceptance of her reality and ultimately finds a cure for her condition by inspiring the entire women folk of the village (reminiscent of Mirch Masala) to stand up against oppression. Though we like her in films like Beta, Devdas and Lajja, not to mention Tezaab, it’s ultimately the Madhuri of Mrityudand that tells us what a class act she is.
39-Rekha in Khubsoorat
Much before didi tera devar deewana, Rekha enacted the `I love my sister´s brother-in-law act with panache. Her tears when being scolded by the stern Dina Pathak are the tears of any high-spirited child. When she subtly schemes to bring the entire household to her fold, her eyes remind you of your own similar escapades.
Khubsoorat is one film perhaps where the real Rekha emerges. She isn´t playing the hero´s plaything, the eternal courtesan or the repressed middle-class woman – which is her wont. For once, she has a chance to play a blithe spirit and she lets herself go with abandon, reveling in every mood and hue of her character, knowing perhaps that neither reel nor real life will give her such a chance ever again.
38-Mithun in Mrigayaa
We remember the disco dancer Mithun and forget that the man got a National Award for acting in his first film, Mrigayaa. Mithun´s tanned, taut body made him look like an adivasi but credit must be given to him that he learned the mannerisms of tribals and reproduced them perfectly.
He apparently did his own stunts. The scenes where he hunts in the jungle and later when he himself is being hunted and is on the run would have given credit to any Hollywood film. His romance with Mamta Shankar too is fresh and real, not the fake screen romance seen in most films. Despite being a fresher or perhaps because of it, Mithun plays the role without any inhibitions. He showed his brilliance yet again in films like Swami Vivekananda, Tahedar Katha and Guru but sadly this great actor surrendered his art to commerce.
37-Shabana Azmi in Mandi
Shabana plays Rukminibai, who owns and runs a house of ill-repute in the middle of town, to the hilt. She´s clearly enjoying herself in this one. Political pressure nudge her colourful existence into a house. Her protege is threatening to leave her and start a kotha on her own. A young girl who has been sold to her turns out to be a handful. And the men of power think that her daughter is an easy prey. No wonder she hates the world. And she cribs and complains about it all to her loyal errandboy Thungrus. Watch Shabana manoeuver these plot points with a certain tragi-comic flair. She is dramatic, she is quirky and she´s bang on. A natural, her carefully restrained performance makes you smile at her lament about professionalism and loyalty. Although she is supported by a sterling cast, this is a satire which is all hers. See her spirited performances in Morning Raga, Masoom and Ankur as well.
36-Nargis in Mother India
Many years before a son in Deewaar loudly claimed, `Mere paas maa hai,´ Mother India had already established the close bond between a mother and her two sons. One strong and wilful and the other meek and obedient. Nargis essays the role of a bucolic woman so wonderfully that we can almost smell the toil of her hard day, we empathise with her never-ending battle with poverty and nature itself. She is brave in her battle with a lustful Sukhilala and her helpless anger is so visible we wish she would just take her sickle and kill him. We admire her as she manages to retain her sanity and her virtue and bring up two strapping sons. Nargis´ moment of acting triumph comes when she turns away her wild son, and then as the ultimate sacrifice kills him because she needs to save another woman´s virtue.
35-Saif Ali Khan in Omkara
For years, Saif Ali Khan struggled to make his presence felt, to carve out his niche. People accepted him in secondary leads but not in the main leads. He was relegated to being just a comic actor but Omkara changed all that. The film has come and gone but people still remember Langda Tyagi. He has our sympathies because Saif makes us feel that we too are more sinned against than sinned.
Chhote Nawab makes Shakespeare´s famous Iago (Othello) come alive. His frustations, his angst and above all the too human jealousy which raises its ugly head and ultimately bites the very hand that feeds him — Saif perhaps used his own anger to fuel a power–packed performance. He makes us overlook the evil and concentrate on the man – we forgive him his failings while remembering our own. Other honourable mentions include Saif in Dil Chahta Hai and Being Cyrus.
34-Jaya Bhaduri in Abhimaan
She´s a reluctant star, elegant and naive, who unknowingly topples the chart busting rockstar that is her husband. In this tale of a marital tightrope walk, Jaya Bhaduri´s eloquent eyes say it all.
She is propelled into stardom unwillingly and when she discovers her husband´s changing attitude, she retreats into a quietness that needed a fantastic actor. Jaya gives her all to this role. Her anguish, the bewilderment and betrayal are matchless in their portrayal.
This is not your average in-the-face role and the subtle nuances are seen in the climax of the film where she sings with her husband and yet there are tears in her eyes. She even won the Filmfare Award for her sensitive performance.
33-Hrithik Roshan in Koi... Mil Gaya
How does a six-foot something hunk with Greek God looks pass off for an autistic child with a mind of a ten-year-old? Ask Hrithik Roshan. It´s incredible how the actor manages to diminish his size, unstylise his look, wear bug-eyed glasses and talk funny. But that´s the physical bit. Watch the film and you’ll notice how flesh and blood Hrithik´s act is. Simply because he believes he is the part. Watch him laugh, cry or bond with his remote controlled alien friend and note his nuanced turn. He won both the Filmfare popular and Critics Award that year, a near impossible feat thus setting impossibly new standards for himself and for others.
32-Waheeda Rehman in Guide
Waheeda is Rosie, the young, beautiful, talented wife of an aging archeologist, raring to spread her wings and live. `Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai!´ she sings. Waheeda who was luminescent as Gulabo in Pyaasa is incandescent in Guide. Her dance is the exuberance of life itself. When she laughs on screen you laugh with her, when she sheds a tear of agony, you feel it in the pit of your stomach. Such is her performance. Vijay Anand´s masterpiece was a tough film at that time because the role required Waheeda to be a modern woman, the one who leaves her husband for Raju, the guide, to fly out of her zone of respectability and discover her soul that comes alive with dance... it is considered to be one her finest performances ever.
31-Abhishek Bachchan in Guru
Abhishek plays one of the historical figures of modern India. The challenge was to make his performance real and yet not make it a study in the mannerisms of Dhirubhai Ambani. Further, he had to convey the ethos of a ruthless businessman and yet make him likeable. Remember the scene where he cajoles Mithun into helping him, or the way his anger dissipates when he realises that Madhavan is married to Vidya, who is someone he cherishes. His long speech where he pacifies irate shareholders or the court room scenes, where he again wins the day through the force of his personality – all these and more make you forget you are watching an actor. You come out thinking you watched something real. For once, he doesn´t look like a Bachchan clone. For once, you don´t argue that his father could have done it better. We remember his spirited performance in Yuva too.
30-Kareena Kapoor in Omkara
Kareena is an apt Desdemona to Ajay Devgan´s Othello. As young Dolly who elopes with a man she´s madly in love with and ultimately becomes a victim of his violent jealousy, Kareena is brilliant. Her vulnerability is palpable, her expression of love endearing. It ties little knots in your stomach as you are aware of her impending fate. Kareena internalises her character with stupefying intelligence and throws up a performance that leaves you overwhelmed. And she makes it look so effortless.
29-Guru Dutt in Pyaasa
Guru Dutt plays Vijay, a misunderstood, unappreciated poet who is also unlucky in love. Pyaasa is not just Guru Dutt´s toughest film as a director, but an ambitious experiment as a performer as well. The sheer range of emotion that Guru Dutt conveys is stupendous. The alcoholic haze, the disappointments, the heartbreaks, the disbelief and loss of faith - it´s all there for us to experience.
There is poetry in his pathos. In the climax when he stands silhouetted against a door Christ-like in his anguish, you know, it´s a matchless experience not just for him but also for us. Guru Dutt´s performance in Kagaz Ke Phool too highlights his virtuosity.
28-Naseeruddin Shah in Masoom
Naseeruddin Shah portrays the helplessness of such a man so beautifully and with such control that we find ourselves empathising with him instead of being angry at his infidelity. His agony and frustration is palpable when he asks his wife `Kya karta main?´ Naseeruddin Shah´s pain is so compelling and he expresses the helplessness of the situation he finds himself in so stupendously that this becomes one of the best performances on the silver screen.
27-Shabana Azmi in Arth
A wife shattered when she realises that her husband is having an affair is a tough role to play, but director Mahesh Bhatt puts Shabana through the entire octave of emotions. She is made to break down and cry, create a public scene, have a private showdown with the husband´s mistress, have a physical throw-things-at-each-other type of scene with the husband, leave the comfort of her own home, learn to stand on her own two feet, learn to live alone, learn to be admired and finally learn to become her own person. Her talent shines forth when her husband asks her to sign the divorce papers and she asks him what date it is. The husband has forgotten that it is her birthday, and it is one of the most moving moments of cinema. This film firmly established Shabana Azmi´s place in cinema history.
26-Balraj Sahni in Garam Hawa
With the Partition of India as the backdrop, Balraj Sahni gives one of his finest performances as Salim Mirza, the elderly shoemaker who is faced with the dilemma of moving to Pakistan with the rest of the Muslim community. Life slowly but inevitably becomes tougher for him and Balraj Sahni´s portrayal of a man crumbling because the world around him has changed is nothing short of brilliant. The dilemma of choices is palpable and although the events are real, the thought processes are in Salim´s head. There are no over-the-top dramatic scenes to make a point about patriotism, about a sense of belonging to a place, about love, but Balraj Sahni´s sensitive performance brings a lump to your throat even today.
25-Darsheel Safary in Taare Zameen Par
No kidding, this role is truly child´s play. As the autistic brat who transforms while on exile to a boarding school under the aegis of a nurturing art teacher, Darsheel nails it bang on. The child actor infuses a certain maturity, which in itself is endearing. He juxtaposes his character´s precocious self absorption with anguished silences laden with innumerable subtext. Ultimately he canvasses the trauma of a child befriended by only his own imagination, a child who no one understands and a child who vanquishes his demons in a way we would all like to.
24-Smita Patil in Bhumika
Perhaps, Smita Patil plays herself in Bhumika. Watching 22-year-old Smita, you sometimes feel the distinction between her character Usha and the actress Smita has disappeared. Usha´s sense of never being understood, never being accepted and always being used by the men in her life mirrored Smita´s own condition in real life. The film was based on Marathi actress Hansa Wadkar´s autobiography, whose controversial lifestyle shocked everyone in her time.
Smita´s role is memorable not only because of her keen understanding of an actor and a woman´s mindset but also because she flawlessly became Hansa during the film-within-the-film portions and gave us a glimpse of the acting style of the bygone era.
23-Amitabh Bachchan in Shakti
Amitabh Bachchan plays an errant son to Dilip Kumar´s married-to-my-job top cop. It´s hard to pull your weight under the shadow of such a screen father but Bachchan pulls it off. You get goosebumps when he explains his angst to Smita Patil, ` `Roma mere baap ne do shaadiyan ki. Mere baap ki pehli shaadi ka beta main hoon. Mere baap ki doosri biwi ka beta hai – kanoon!´´
Sparks fly whenever the two demigods share screen space. Bachchan´s eyes speak of his loathing as well as love. Even his silences are eloquent. There is a word in Hindi therav and as you watch him you know exactly what it means.
In Shakti, he ironically dies in Dilip Kumar´s arms. He finds reconciliation and peace in his last moments, finally confessing to his father how much he has missed him. It´s a scene made more difficult by the fact that Amitabh has made a career out of death scenes, but he pulls up something extra from his bag of tricks to make it stick in our memories. Bachchan is good in all his other films as well but Saudagar, Trishul, Kala Patthar and Chupke Chupke worth special mention.
22-Shah Rukh Khan in Swades
Mohan Bhargava is an NRI who comes back to India to pick up his nanny, discovers his childhood playmate all grown up and is forced to find meaning in his own life. Shah Rukh Khan, hugely popular as an exuberant romantic hero, took a real challenge when he signed Ashutosh Gowariker´s Swades. The thoughtful role suits King Khan and he surprises the audience with his sensitive performance. And it´s not the way he drums up the team spirit among the villagers when they have to haul the rocks uphill, it is not just his reaction when he goes into the village to collect rent from the weaver turned farmer, it is the gentle Shah Rukh who confesses to Gayatri that he needs help with the dhoti. The usual superstar offers such an elegant performance that he makes you believe that a change of heart is possible and a reverse brain drain can actually happen in the country.
One of the most restrained performances that Shah Rukh has ever given, he steals your heart when he sits in the boat brooding about what he sees as an empty future for the weaver and his family, for the villagers in general. This is where we see a hard, selfish NRI (who just wanted to fill up a void in his life with his nanny) turn into a caring, empathetic human being.
21-Jaya Bhaduri in Guddi
Looking back, you tend to forget that Guddi was Jaya Bhaduri‘s first Hindi film. Jaya had acted in Ray´s Mahanagar earlier so her acting abilities weren´t in doubt. Hrishikesh Mukherjee was so impressed that he actually went to meet her at FTII Pune (where she was studying) and offered her the role.
She captures the giggle-eyed filmstar crazy teenybopper to perfection. Half the battle is won by her girl-next-door looks. According to film lore, she looked so much the schoolgirl that Dharmendra couldn´t believe she was actually the heroine. Like any other kid, Guddi too has a wonderland image of movies in her mind and her disillusionment as she watches an actual shooting is something that mirrors our own.
Her gradual acceptance that film stars are human too and not demigods is something we can all identify with. Her eyes literally change as her illusions disappear and understanding dawns. She appears to be a new person. Such is the power of the performance that we believe in the metamorphoses. She gives us goosebumps in films like Kora Kagaz, Koshish and Abhimaan too.
20-Manoj Bajpai in Satya
Manoj Bajpai (Bhiku Mhatre) wasn´t spot on in his Marathi diction or mannerisms but was bang on in rage. Such was his performance that the actual hero of the film, Chakravarthy (Satya), was reduced to being an unnecessary appendage.
It´s an all-consuming inner fire that propels Bhiku to take on the world. He wants to be the king of Mumbai because nothing less will do. He believes the city is his for the taking. Manoj goes straight into the mindscape of our megalomaniac gangsters and treats us to their human side as well. He almost makes us believe that gangsters are people too. The only parallel that comes to mind is Amitabh Bachchan´s performance in Deewaar. He is that good. Bajpai touched new heights in Pinjar and Aks too.
19-Manisha Koirala in Khamoshi
In what is arguably the best performance of her career (she won the Filmfare Best Actress (Critics´ Award), Manisha Koirala as Annie brings out a well thought out sensitivity to her character. Born to dumb and deaf parents, Annie, who is perfectly capable of speech and hearing, desires a career in singing. This and her love interest Raj (played by Salman Khan) spark off a revelatory journey of self-discovery and angst both with herself and her parents. Special note for the scene where she screams at her father behind a closed door using sign language. Sometimes restraint on the part of the director can result in a restrained performance on the part of the actor and that´s probably the case here. Khamoshi remains Sanjay Leela Bhansali´s best thanks to its lack of unnecessary adornment and Manisha´s Annie is memorable for the same reason. One must not forget her acts of grace in Dil Se and Bombay as well.
18-Anupam Kher in Saaransh
It is unusual to say the least that an actor chooses to debut at 28 in a film where he plays an old man with such cussed aplomb that he is offered only roles of grandfathers and old, aged uncles after that. Anupam Kher plays a retired headmaster, BB Pradhan who wears out his chappals trying to retrieve the remains of his son who has been mugged to death abroad. But his stubbornness pays and although he and his wife (played by the very talented Rohini Hattangadi) are depressed enough to commit suicide, fate pushes them into offering shelter to a young woman who is single and pregnant. BB Pradhan gets a reason to live and decides to take that first step from misery towards living and then looking at hope even, because his wife believes their dead son will be born again. Anupam Kher is an incredible old man in the film! He is wonderful in Karma and Khosla Ka Ghosla too.
17-Utpal Dutt in Gol Maal
Utpal Dutt was one of Bengali stage and cinema´s greatest actors but sadly for Hindi film buffs, his foray into Hindi cinema was quite limited. But the work that he did do is on par with that of Hindi cinema greats.
Consider his performance as Bhavani Shankar in Gol Maal. The fanatic boss whose motto is `work is god´ but who nevertheless enjoys watching sports (albeit clandestinely) no less. Dutt supremly brings out the charming duplicity of character. We still remember his dialogue like `Eeesh. Aise straight aur great aadmi se milne ka soubhagya nahin mila´ with affection. A testimony to the fact that with a simple twitch of eyebrows he made us laugh our hearts out. His performances in Guddi and Shaukeen are noteworthy too.
16-Amjad Khan in Sholay
Amjad Khan creates arguably the most remembered and reviled icons of the Hindi film industry with his fire-in-the-belly portrayal of dacoit Gabbar Singh in Sholay.
Kitne aadmi the — is the most popular Hindi film dialogue. It is not just the characterisation that demanded menace, but the magnificence of the cold-blooded violence that Amjad Khan brings to the role which is peerless. His performance is the stuff that nightmares are made of. Before Sholay, bandits in movies were always sons who had to run from the law to avenge family honour, but the unkempt unshaven appearance, the gruff voice and the psychotic, heartless laughter made Amjad the ultimate bandit ever. We also fondly remember him in Inqaar and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar.
15-Dilip Kumar in Devdas
Itni khoobsoorti acchi nahin, Paro,´ says the lover, and hits her forehead with his fishing rod, thereby marring her for life and setting the theme for a doomed love story. Dilip Kumar was reportedly hesitant to do the shot as he didn´t agree with its ethos. That he went on to do it with such conviction is a reminder of his genius.
They say that those whom the gods want to destroy, they first make mad. Such strange reaction to his beloved´s beauty was perhaps the first sign of Devdas´ affliction and Dilip superbly displayed the downward descent of his character. One of the best scenes in the film is when Devdas hesitates to run away with Paro. He hardly speaks at all except with his eyes, which mirror his loathing of being unmanned this way.
Another great scene is where a chastened Devdas grasps that his love for Chandramukhi is no less than his love for Paro but ironically, understanding dawns too late. The actor understands the pathos of the scene and underplays the melodrama, thereby lending credibility to it. There would be versions galore but DK would forever be the only Devdas for the purists.
13-Sanjeev Kumar in Koshish
What can be a better test of an actor´s skill than to see him in a role where he has no dialogue? Koshish was a huge test and Sanjeev Kumar offers a singular performance. He was known to choose unusual roles, and the role of Haricharan Mathur, a deaf mute newspaper delivery person, is different to say the least. In this movie, Sanjeev Kumar is married to another deaf mute (Jaya Bhaduri in an amazing performance), and we realise how easy it is to follow their life which is mostly expressing themselves in sign language. Especially touching are the moments related to the children born to him. When he discovers that the first baby has normal hearing and is not speech impaired; when he loses the baby, and the hope and joy again with the birth of yet another normal child. Unforgettable is the lighthearted scene when he pretends to speak on the phone!
12-Tabu in Chandni Bar
Chandni Bar is a bleak film which offers no hope of redemption for its protagonists. Tabu progresses from being a gawky UP girl who is forced to become a bar dancer, to becoming a `famous´ bar dancer and the consort of a local goon. We further see her as a mother who tries to protect her children from the life of crime. She suffers further indignation when she has to turn to prostitution.
Tabu becomes a different person with each turn of the film. You feel as if different actors are essaying the role. The last scene where she bows down to fate is claustrophobic. You want to get out of the misery and breathe some fresh air. Actually, you want to take Tabu out of the hell hole and make things all right for her.
11-Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam
Every cinema trivia buff knows that the chains that bound Anarkali were real metal chains that bruised Madhubala for weeks and the most incredibly shot sequence of the film was the Sheesh Mahal dance sequence where Anarkali sings Pyar kiya to darna kya. But the reason why Madhubala´s performance bewitches us more is the delicate sensitivity she brings to the scenes in which she runs away terrified from the footsteps of Emperor Akbar and straight into the arms of Prince Salim. Anarakali is a doomed figure but Madhubala´s Mohe panghat pe brings so much joy that we forget she is just a baandi, a servant of the queen. Everyone else pales in comparison to this Anarkali. Drool over her oomph factor in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi and Mahal as well.
10-Seema Biswas in Bandit Queen
No one, but no one has been able to mouth the dialogue, `Main Phoolandevi hoon, bhenchod!´ with as much hatred and venom and sadness as Seema Biswas did in the Bandit Queen. It was a tough film to make and the result was one of the finest films about exploitation of the the lower caste by the thakurs, the lawlessness of the land and the tragedy of helplessness. Seema Biswas portrays a sexually exploited woman who runs away from one harsh reality to another. That Seema Biswas is a formidable actor is seen in the change of demeanour, an acquired cruelty and the merciless revenge we see in the story. But in the grit and gore of the Chambal Valley, the director shows us fleeting moments of tenderness between the dacoit who protects her (Vikram Mallah, played by Nirmal Pandey) and Phoolan that make this performance stupendous.
9-Om Puri in Ardh Satya
No matter how many cop films came after this one, Ardh Satya remains the one that broke all the rules. It brought realism like never before and the credit goes to Om Puri for making the role of a police inspector come alive for us. In a fit of impotent rage, Velankar (Puri) kills a goon in custody. Om Puri brilliantly portrays the helplessness of an honest police officer. He is not punishing the goon but himself. Then, in another scene, where Smita Patil gives him the ardh satya poem to read, his reactions change from amused to sombre as understanding dawns (the poem is about Abhimanyu´s state of mind as he prepares to enter the chakravyuh). It is a one shot scene and Om Puri, the actor, shines bright. Just like his performances in Tamas, Aakrosh and Chachi 420.
8-Smita Patil in Mirch Masala
Sonbai slaps a subedaar and takes shelter in a spice factory. What makes this simple plot come alive is the complex social, political statement that this little film made when it was made by Ketan Mehta in 1985. Smita Patil had already made a place for herself in the world of parallel cinema and had earned awards for her acting skills with fantastic performances in Manthan, Bhumika, Umbartha and even Chakra. But what she achieves in Mirch Masala is something else.
As the frightened Sonbai, the angry Sonbai, the confused Sonbai and finally the fiery woman who avenges her honour, Smita is mind-blowingly brilliant. When the men of the village are discussing her fate, the emotions that criss-cross her face are a sight you will not easily forget. She was mesmerising in Subah and Tarang as well.
7-Anil Kapoor in Woh 7 Din
How can you score with a name like Prem Pratap Patiyalewala? Anil Kapoor, despite the corny name, floors us with this stupendous performance in his first ever starring role itself. You warmed to his wannabe musical superstar act. The character´s earnestness, his can do attitude, (despite being not very good at what he does) and unworldly attitude are flawlessly captured by Kapoor. The scene where he tries to make a tune (Lakho mein hazaro mein hai mera mehboob) tells you what great comic timing the actor has. And in the confrontation scene with Naseeruddin Shah and Padmini Kolhapure, the actor´s dramatic abilities come to the fore. Anil Kapoor went on to give many good performances after this, like in Tezaab, Lamhe but like Sachin Tendulkar´s first century, Woh 7 Din will always be dearer to us.
6-Amitabh Bachchan in Sholay
Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra give us their best as Jai and Veeru, two crooks who are offered a chance to redeem themselves in the eyes of the law by saving a village from dacoits. Because this is a buddy film, one cannot look at one performance without mentioning the other. While Veeru is all talk and bluster, Jai is laidback and laconic. And Amitabh Bachchan makes laconic so brilliant that we are still saying, `Tera naam kya hai Basanti!´
His Jai is underplayed. There´s nothing over-the-top about it. In fact, his dialogue is delivered so softly and so subtly that you have to be sharp enough to catch the humour. He allows Veeru to play the brash hero while he follows his friend calmly smoking a cigarette. When Veeru romances Basanti, and happily exclaims, `Kitnee pyaari baatein kartee hai!´, it is Jai who offers us an opinion about Basanti: `Pyaari nahin bahut saari baatein kartee hai!´ Watch him go to mausi and offer the world´s most bizarre proposal in his now famous wry poker-faced manner. Of course, the dialogue is brilliantly written, but what matters is the delivery. And if you try imagining another in the role, nobody measures up. This role also made Amitabh´s best `dying´ scene. After this performance, Amitabh was required to die in many later films!
5-Meena Kumari in Pakeezah
Sahib Jaan is so beautiful, a stranger writes her a note on the train: Do not ever put your feet on the ground, they will get soiled. Now Sahib is a nautch girl, and the irony of the note and her doomed love for the stranger touches our hearts.
Meena Kumari was very unwell during the filming of the movie that took 12 years to make, but she fits into the tragic role so well, we come away with a sense of loss of something so pure, so beautiful. There is decadence in the film (men offer her carpets worth Rs 50,000), and the music and lyrics are hauntingly beautiful. But the central figure of Sahib Jaan does not seem to belong. She hankers after a life she knows she cannot have and herein lies Meena Kumari´s talent. She offers us glimpses into the very soul of a singing bird in a gilded cage.
4-Sridevi in Chaalbaaz
There are roles that you´ve got to work on and then there are roles which sort of grab you by the scruff of your neck, holding you in the vice-like grip of its sheer potential. Sridevi´s dual turn in Chaalbaaz is one such performance. Sure it´s an unabashed comedy-drama and it´s been done twice before once by Hema Malini in Seeta Aur Geeta and the male version by Dilip Kumar (Ram Aur Shyam) but Sridevi infuses a certain quirkiness that adds new sauce to the old as pasta formula. While she plays Manju with a certain offhand madness, she portrayed Anju with a kind of neurotic quivery personality thus totally separating the two. Sridevi´s penchant for giggles and her ability to look distinctly tearful when required polishes these performances to perfection. Hell, she made Sunny Deol and Rajnikant look like sidekicks in the film. Also memorable are her bravura acts in Lamhe and Sadma.
3-Nana Patekar in Parinda
When a role threatens to topple you over to the realm of over-the-top, sometimes you take the gamble and go with the flow. Which is why Nana Patekar´s frenzied act in Parinda connects with the audience. For one, he looks the part of a neurotic, deranged don to the hilt, his constant smacking of the head hysterically with his hands was a clever personality device and he spawned a new style of delivering dialogue with this one. He gave us the classic we-love-to-hate-this-guy feel, becoming one of the most negative characters ever in Hindi films. He embodies the film — dark edgy and unpredictable. And while we´re at it, one mustn´t forget his performance in Khamoshi, Prahar and Ankush as well.
2-Aamir Khan in Rang De Basanti
A boy becomes a man through a surreal juxtaposition of the past and the present. Life changing incidents take place. DJ as the lovable wastrel is called for short (his real name is Daljeet Singh) finds himself in a situation that´s stranger than fiction. Who else but Aamir to alternate between a modern young man without a care in the world and an intensely passionate freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad who lays down his life for his motherland. For a 40-something actor to convincingly pass off for a 20-year-old is an achievement in itself. Yes, we notice the crow´s feet around his eyes but then it‘s not just the physical transformation. It is how he tricks you mentally into believing he is a youngster with a song in his step. The slight inflections he brings into his voice, his body language and his personality. Watch him playfully flirt with the British documentary maker Sue, or bond with his friends as they take moonlight bike rides and then watch him spontaneously burst into tears even as the world around falls apart. Aamir Khan makes this performance his own, leaving the viewer with no choice but to imprint him as the only one who could have essayed this part. Rang De Basanti is embedded in cinematic history as one of the most powerful films ever made and Aamir´s overwhelmingly passionate turn makes it unforgettable as well.
1-Amitabh Bachchan in Zanjeer
The gentleman doctor of Anand is transformed into an angst-filled all-male cop. You forget he was lanky, you forget he lacks the necessary muscles to beat up 20 goons – all you remember are the smouldering eyes and the brooding anger that only take a break during the Yaari hai imaan mera song.
The film has one of the best opening scenes ever where Amitabh wakes up suddenly from troubled sleep. It‘s all so real, you are reminded of your own nightmares.
Bachchan, in the scene where he challenges Pran on his own turf, ear-marked the era of the angry young man. There is no softness in his body language there. He is like a caged tiger, waiting for someone to mess with him so he can unleash his fury. In the blink of an eye, 13 previous flops were forgotten and a phenomenon was born.