Hindi cinema’s best actors of 2012

2012 has been a very, very solid year for actors. We’ve had some sensational ensembles, and many films underscored by standout performances. And yet, ironically enough, this is a list with only eight men, testimony to just how stunning one particular actor has been this year. And even he’s been bettered.

Thank you, gentlemen. For creating and inhabiting characters we won’t forget.

adil110. Adil Hussain, English Vinglish

It’s easy to play a character like a jerk, but Hussain makes sure his character — that of Sridevi’s husband — never knows how badly he’s behaving. To him it’s okay teasing a wife with a recurring joke, or hugging a colleague. He’s being innocently callous, insensitive as well as indignant. It’s what makes his character a real person, one who needs to be cut down to size and yet one who picks out a good saree.

9. Ayushmann Khurana, Vicky Donor

Khurana plays a lout in this film: completely full of himself, rough around the edges, insouciant to the point of being obnoxious, and generally good for nothing. Well, unless you look closer and realise he’s also the first Indian leading man to give out pedicures. Khurana creates a Vicky who is jagged on the outside, swaggering around like his world needs him to, while unmistakably tender and well-meaning. His easy charm goes a long way, and he gets further applause for singing his own songs.

8. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Talaash

The script structure of Talaash goes awry with Siddiqui. He plays Tehmur, a limping two-bit hustler. He’s a throwaway character, a mere sidekick, but so compelling is this amazing performer that he takes over the film, his track emerging the most genuine and most impassioned — even though it’s meant merely as a distraction. Siddiqui perfectly creates a creature of the gutters, one raised on ridicule and lovelessness, and one who thus longs only for love. His eyes do the talking, sure, but that one chase sequence where he bolts through Bombay crowds, still limping, may well be the film’s highest point.

rajeshsharma17. Rajesh Sharma, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana

One of my favourite actors in current cinema, Sharma lights up whatever screen he appears in. But rarely does he get to play this unhinged a character. This one is a wonderfully whimsical wastrel who pretends to be insane just so he can get out of doing the chores. Sharma plays madcap with glorious elan, making even flatter lines work with consistently killer dialogue delivery and immaculate timing. Super, super fun.

6. Abhay Deol, Shanghai

Showy theatrical grandstanding is often mistaken for good acting, and it takes a lot for a leading man in this country to give up the vanity and go deeply internal. Deol plays a stuffed shirt in Shanghai, a conflicted bureaucrat who seems utterly apathetic to the murky world around him. Handed a simple assignment merely so he can shove it under the rug, he discovers there is a certain basic honesty, a schoolboy morality perhaps, ingrained within him. He can’t take it lying down. It’s a deliberate, constantly solid performance.

5. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Gangs Of Wasseypur

Rarely does an actor get a film that steps back and lets him do his thing. And considering he’s the hypertalented Nawazuddin Siddiqui, his thing is very special indeed. With all the rawness of Pacino in Scarface, he starts out intense and keeps it constantly on the boil. We first meet his Bachchan-obsessed Faisal as a doped out wastrel, and can’t help but be awestruck by his fearsome growth into a truly driven mob overlord. Who cries when scolded by a pretty girl. Spectacular.

4. Irrfan Khan, Paan Singh Tomar

With legs of greased-up lightning and a perpetually intriguing personality, Irrfan’s Paan Singh Tomar runs havoc as a character because you have no clue where he’ll sprint next. It’s a searingly honest performance, one that has an actor do so much more than act. Khan’s commitment to the biopic comes through in every frame, and even when the film isn’t working, he’s galloping away, making us gape. Making it impossible to look away.

3. Ranbir Kapoor, Barfi

The finest mainstream leading man we’ve had for decades — or perhaps even ever — Kapoor’s constant and impressive reinvention continues with a film where his effervescence conquers all, from skepticism to disability to violence to, most importantly, silence. Sunnily enthralling and irrepressible, he plays it with a smile. Mostly. Because when Barfi isn’t smiling, he’s busy breaking our collective heart. It’s an anguished, soulful, authentic performance, and balancing it with goofy humour makes it an artistic triumph.

nawaz12. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Kahaani

He was striking in Talaash, Wasseypur might well mark the yardstick by which he’s forever measured, but I firmly believe Kahaani was the ace of Nawaz’s pack this year. There isn’t a single false or indulged note, it’s all prime. Playing a brutal, boorish Intelligence Agent, he brings an interminable ferocity to the role. The unceasing harshness, the cigarette smoke, the constantly threatening aura. The result: an authentically unpredictable character who scares you. In a year where the big three are nowhere to be found on lists like this, it is then Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Khan who deserves to take a bow.

1. Emraan Hashmi, Shanghai

Gobsmacked. Watching Hashmi in Shanghai is an abrupt revelation, like being slapped in the face only to finally see clearer. His character sounds straightforward, a videographer (with more than a passing interest in porn) who chances on a conspiracy and wants to help out, but Emraan plays him nuanced and authentic and, eventually, tormented. It’s a bravura performance, and here’s what I’d said about it in my review:

He occasionally shoots porn — this is off-camera, we see him ask his subjects to clear up and hear the hurried sounds of straps and zippers — and later, when the film’s heroine is about to sit on his bed, he instinctively barks that she sit somewhere else, because the bed’s dirty. It’s a throwaway grunt but Hashmi nails it — just like he nails highly energetic pelvic thrusts in a streetdance, one where he keeps biting his tongue, faux-scandalised by the words of the song. It’s one of the best performances from one of our leading men in quite some time, and in one chilling pre-climactic moment, when sitting on the floor and confounded by the situation, his plaintive wail is fittingly reminiscent of the late great Ravi Baswani’s angst in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’s darkest minute. Bravo.

Incredibly well done, then, Mr Hashmi. Yours is the year’s finest, bravest and most consistent performance. Congratulations are indeed in order.

Now.. Feed us more?


First published Rediff, December 25, 2012


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  1. Mithil

    Great list. Feels like visiting the movies all over again. However I was suprised by the exclusion of Manoj Bajpayee and Amir Khan from the list.

  2. Ruchira

    Definitely Manoj Bajpayee has been missed out
    I think most missed Aamir’s subtle hariyanwi accent in Talaash… Surprised that even you missed.

  3. Manali

    Great list indeed. 2012 has certainly gifted Indian cinema the real actors that it deserves. However, didn’t Manoj Bajpayee’s ‘Sardar Khan’ of Gangs of Wasseypur move you at all?

  4. Nishtha

    Couldn’t agree more. Though, I think Manoj Bajpai should have been included as well.

  5. Keka De

    Nawaz is the man! :-) Also happy to see Emmy get his due!

  6. Gaurav Tiwari

    You missed Manoj Bajpayee in Gangs of Wasseypur and Amir Khan in Talaash. http://gauravt168.blogspot.in/2012/07/my-favourite-acting-performances-so-far.html

  7. sim

    Nawazuddin comes thrice in your list and no mention of manoj bajpai? For all his acting credentials, talaash is not an amazing performance worth mentioning in top ten!

  8. Zoeb

    Well that was a superb list man I have to admit it…..
    but i am surprised that you did not include some other favorites…
    What about Bob Biswas? What about Arjun Kapoor or what about Manoj Bajpayee? What about Annu Kapoor? And you should have also included Shahrukh Khan, given the fact that you praised him so much in JTHJ.
    But still i loved the list. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is truly the actor of the year and the rest are equally good (though i am not sure that Emraan Hashmi deserved the top spot)

  9. Tanuj

    Manoj Bajpai in Gangs is a big miss! I am really dumbstruck that you missed him!?

  10. Clue

    Finally someone with a perfect listing of the best performances of 2012. Especially the Top 3!

    But I also miss Manoj Bajpayee. He was great.

  11. rody


  12. Chatur

    Manoj Bajpai held together an otherwise all-over-the-place GoW Part 1.

  13. Shekhar

    Come on Raja.. You should have included SRK’s performance in JTHJ.. He was beyond terrific & very different for a change

  14. Bobby

    Rest all great and agree… Nawazuddin really rocked and should be adjudged the best actor this year….
    But Emraan Hashmi on TOP, in ANY list, by any yardstick is little surprising. Yet to see Shanghai, but considering you bang-on on the other 9, guess there must be something in Emraan’s character in Shanghai, so will check it out. (or rather force myself, as I cannot see a Emraan’s movie out of choice :(

  15. mindcravings

    Rajesh Sharma and Adil Hussain really were the two most surprising performances of the year for him.. though I’d noticed Rajesh Sharma in No One Killed Jessica, but he performed with such ease in LSTCK, it was just amazing!

    Just added two more people to my ‘Actors to follow list’


    Great list!

  16. Sharjeel

    You forgot Manoj Bajpeyi!! Had GOW been one combine film, Manoj would have eaten Nawaz. Topping the list with Emran is a crime, just because actor surprised you doesn’t make him at 1. I would not put Ayushmann in the list. He was fir, but he was just playing himself there.


    I’d like to include actor Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Inspector Satyuki Sinha aka Rana from ‘Kahaani’ too. He gave us back our long missed ‘9 to 5’ hero..

  18. kush

    Manoj bajpai should have been at number 1.Aamir should have been there too

  19. Kunal

    RS: I feel you missed out a very important person from the list; Manoj Bajpayee from GoW

  20. Divya

    really surprised .. no mention of Manoj Bajpayee………

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