This year has been brilliant for Hindi films as well as for actors. Now that we are halfway through 2016, it's a good time to document the best performances and films this year, so far at least. Here are some of my favourites.
Best Breakthrough Films
Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkummar Rao in a still from 'Aligarh' | Eros Now/YouTube
Uplifted by Manoj Bajpayee's gripping performance, Aligarh, for me, is the most outstanding film to have released this year. It's a gut-wrenching story of a man who dared to live on his own terms but suffered for it. Director Hansal Mehta honours the delicate theme of Aligarh with honesty, playing each nuance of psychological tension with precision and utmost respect.
Udta Punjab, too, firmly stands among the crème de la crème of Hindi films of 2016. The finely crafted lead performances by the actors transport the viewers to an astonishingly hard-hitting space, but the message that you take away is uplifting and ultimately defiant.
Director Shakun Batra's Kapoor & Sons is also one striking cinematic achievement of the year that subtly plays with sensitive issues ranging from adultery to homosexuality. The end-point may be inevitable but Batra brings it all to the front without being mawkishly over-sentimental.
Alia Bhatt gave one of the year's greatest performances in Udta Punjab. She makes us feel the hidden sorrow of "Mary Jane" with an ultimately heartbreaking grace.
Dhanak is a heartfelt fable told with unerring honesty that delves deep into child psychology without descending into melodrama. Children will love this film for it just brings a smile on your face. It sends you home thinking about compassion, faith and life. Smiling, but still thinking deeply.
Anurag Kashyap's tour de force Raman Raghav 2.0 is one of the standout films of the year so far. Playing with the contagious camaraderie between Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vicky Kaushal, Kashyap constructs a magnificent film that is bold, broody and brutal.
Ratna Pathak Shah was highly impressive in Kapoor & Sons as a woman constantly teetering on the edge of collapse. You know something tragic is simmering beneath her superficial smile but you don't know what it is. Shah brings a depth of emotions on the screen, with a glaring intensity towards the climax when she confronts Fawad Khan.
Ratna Pathak Shah in a still from 'Kapoor & Sons' | Dharma Productions/YouTube
Alia Bhatt gave one of the year's greatest performances in Udta Punjab. She makes us feel the hidden sorrow of "Mary Jane" with an ultimately heartbreaking grace. Her monologue in the third act grabs you at the heart when she talks of being raped and kisses Shahid Kapoor immediately after that. Following the kiss, she tells him that this is the only thing that no one did to her. At this moment, her lingeringly rich dialogue delivery is so beyond the parameters of great acting that it defies categorization.
Manoj Bajpayee's performance in Aligarh is formidable. He's a magician. Bajpayee makes you feel the terror of watching his own life slip away. His performance is scarier to me than any slasher film. His swooning, achingly sad performance offers a rich insight into his character's life that lingers long in the mind.
Fawad Khan's role in Kapoor & Sons is a wonderful meditation on longing, shot with a humanist approach.
What Shabana Azmi pulled off in Neerja is more than just a great performance. Her work in this film is low-key but highly affecting. Azmi's perfectly modulated and multifaceted performance is a career high for her.
Shahid Kapoor's performance in Udta Punjab is a soul-chilling case study of a coke-addled pop star's life. Whenever Kapoor is on screen, nothing else matters. His scene with Diljit Dosanjh in the jail is a wonderful piece of cinema, shot with terrific intensity. He is ably supported by the incredible Suhail Nayyar who is raw and super-talented performer.
The Pleasant Surprises
Fawad Khan, Alia Bhatt and Sidharth Malhotra in a still from 'Kapoor & Sons' | Dharma Productions/YouTube
Fawad Khan's role in Kapoor & Sons is a wonderful meditation on longing, shot with a humanist approach. There's a tremor that runs through his eyes like a thunder. His eyes had so much to say even when he didn't have any lines. Khan is easily the surprise of the year 2016 so far.
On the other hand, Shah Rukh Khan's stunning portrayal of a 25-year-old fan and an ageing superstar in Fan is something to marvel at. He is at his usual best as the superstar but it is the ferocious intelligence of the menacing fan that shines throughout the movie. Khan has the ability to be terrifying and charming at the same time, switching between the two effortlessly. This is his best performance after 2010's My Name is Khan.
Vicky Kaushal's Raghavan in Raman Raghav 2.0 is a dark, brooding character that leaves plenty of room for self-exploration. Kaushal makes a brutal cop's anguish richly palpable. His performance is a significant triumph considering his short filmography.
With such amazing talent and films that have come out over the first half of the year, I sign out with a hope to see even more evolved cinema and actors in the next half.