Best of 2021: Hindi Films and Series

 A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature

The year 2021, much like the year 2020, has proven to a rather forgettable year for Hindi cinema owing to the continuing uncertainty created by the pandemic. And yet again the different OTT platforms have served as a strong substitute with several big banner films directly releasing on OTT. Here are some of the most outstanding Hindi films / series along with the best acting performances this year.

Best Films

Year-end review in Hindi (Best Films)

1. Sardar Udham

Shoojit Sircar’s atmospheric biopic based on the life of Udham Singh, a freedom fighter from Punjab who assassinated Michael O'Dwyer to avenge the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre, is meticulously shot and crafted. Bollywood biopics have seldom been as good as Sardar Udham. The film not only introduces a nearly forgotten revolutionary figure like Shaheed Udham Singh to the youth but also brings us face to face with the British tyranny that he stood against all his life while trying to follow the footsteps of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.

2. 83

Kabir Khan’s film about the India's first major sporting triumph in the global arena is easily the best mass entertainer to have hit the big screen since Dangal. 83 serves as a great reminder how the India national cricket team led by Kapil Dev rose above insurmountable odds to win the 1983 Cricket World Cup. Khan’s roots as a documentarian are on full display here as he makes brilliant use of archive material to take the narrative forward.

3. Sherni

Sherni marks the return of Amit Maurkar, the famed director of Newton. Sherni stars Vidya Balan in the lead role of an honest and tenacious forest officer caught at the centre of human-animal conflict. Masukar isn’t merely interested in making a film about a tiger hunt. He aims for something much bigger and succeeds to a great extent in examining the power dynamics and socio-politics that governs the lives of those inhabiting the forest areas. And he does so with a touch of his trademark satire that had made Newton so memorable.

4. Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar

Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar is a top class noir with a panoply of interesting characters, unpredictable storyline, dark motifs with shorts bursts of humor. The mood is set by the opening sequence itself and how Dibakar Banerjee is able to flip the perspective only a few minutes later. The clever choice of narrative tropes and soundscapes is absolutely brilliant and Dibakar directs it with a flair and frenzy that one usually associates with him.

5. Kaagaz

Directed by the veteran Indian filmmaker Satish Kaushik, Kaagaz is based on life and struggle of Lal Bihari Mritak, a farmer from a small village in Uttar Pradesh, who was declared dead between 1975 and 1994 and had to fight with the Indian bureaucracy for 19 years in order to prove that he’s alive. Two decades in the making, Kaagaz is aptly presented by Kaushik as a satirical commentary on the flawed system of land resources in India and the disasters associated with it.

Honorable Mentions 

- Shershaah

- Haseen Dillruba

- Bob Biswas

Best Performances (Film)

Best Actors – Female (Film)

1. Vidya Balan (Sherni)

In Balan’s own words, her character in Sherni is “passive-aggressive”. As an actor she has played countless strong female characters over the years. But, unlike those characters, Vidya Vincent’s true strength lies in her passive aggression. She is a doer but she doesn’t believe in boasting about it. That’s what makes it a truly special performance.

2. Taapsee Pannu (Haseen Dillruba)

Essaying the part of a newly married woman named Rani who is accused of plotting to kill her husband with the help of her lover Taapsee Pannu yet again shows the flair to try something different. In words of writer-producer Kanika Dhillon, “Taapsee has the courage to take the risk and try and do it as convincingly as she can.”

3. Parineeti Chopra (Sandeep Aur Pinki Faraar)

Parineeti Chopra is often accused of not being a very good actor. She has also been criticized for her choice of roles. But she seemed to have turned the tables with a superb turn of a pregnant banker on the run in Sandeep Aur Pinki Faraar. This also happens to be her best work since Ishaqzaade (2012).

4. Sara Ali Khan (Atrangi Re)

Sara Ali Khan is quickly building up a reputation of a fearless young performer. In Atrangi Re, she delivers an absolutely no holds bar performance, playing the part of a valiant girl from Bihar who isn’t afraid to question the societal norms.

5. Kiara Advani (Shershaah)

Post Lust Stories, Kiara Advani has only grown in stature as a bankable actress capable of essaying a wide range of characters. In Shershaah, she totally nails the part of a strong headed woman who isn’t afraid to express her love for the man she loves.   

Honorable Mentions

- Kriti Sanon (Mimi)

- Mrunal Thakur (Toofan)

- Dial 100 (Neena Gupta)

Best Actors – Male (Film)

1. Vicky Kaushal (Sardar Udham)

It is certainly not easy to essay a real life character like Shaheed Udham Singh but Vicky Kaushal is up to the challenge. If Uri was a major milestone for him in a commercial sense then Sardar Udham is certainly an important milestone in a critical sense. Through his mesmerizing portrayal of Singh, Kaushal has succeeded in taking a huge leap in his young but impressive acting career.   

2. Arjun Kapoor (Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar)

Much like Parineeti Chopra, Arjun Kapoor too often gets accused of not being a very good actor. He is also criticized for her choice of roles. But all that seemed to have changed with Sandeep Aur Pinki Faraar wherein he brilliantly essays the part of a suspended cop whose paths cross with a pregnant banker on the run.

3. Ranveer Singh (83)

Essaying the part of Kapil Dev, Ranveer Singh is the heart and soul of Kabir Khan’s 83. It’s his performance alone that makes the film believable. Without him the film wouldn’t have been half as gripping. That’s how good he really is. Also, Ranveer has a thing for accents and here again he gets it spot on.

4. Dhanush (Artangi Re)

Dhanush’s performance of a doctor hailing from Tamil Nadu who is forcibly married to a girl from Bihar is a major highlight of Aanand L. Rai’s Atrangi Re. Hindi filmgoers mostly remember Dhanush from the 2013 film Raanjhanaa, also directed by Aanand L. Rai. So in that sense his performance in Atrangi Re isn’t as refreshing as one would have hoped for but it’s still good enough to feature amongst the top performances of the year. 

5. Sunny Kaushal (Shiddat)

While watching Shiddat one feels that Sunny Kaushal was born to essay the part of Jaggi, a young Indian man who undertakes a road trip all the way to London, illegally hopping many international boundaries in the process, with the hope of uniting with the girl he loves. Full credit goes to Sunny for making a hopeless romantic like Jaggi come to life through his unforgettable performance.

Honorable Mentions

- Aayush Sharma (Antim: The Final Truth)

- Vikrant Massey (Haseen Dillruba)

- Ensemble male cast of Chehre

Best Series

Year-end review in Hindi (Best Series)

1. Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa and Forget Me Not (Segments of the anthology series Ray)

Abhishek Chaubey’s directorial Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa, starring Manoj Bajpayee as a singer named Musafir Ali and Gajraj Rao as a wrestler turned sports journalist Beg aka Jenga, is perhaps the best example of how a fascinating literary story can be remodeled and embellished decades later to suit the needs of a different medium.

Srijit Mukherjee’s Forget Me Not operates in a fascinating space with Ali Fazal shining in the role of a cut-throat corporate shark who prides himself on his vivid memory and his accolades until a chance encounter with a beautiful woman sends him down a vortex of self-doubt as he fails to remember her.

2. Special Ops 1.5

Special Ops 1.5: The Himmat Story is a major step forward for Neeraj Pandey in creating a full-fledged Special Ops universe. While the original Special Ops was plot-oriented, Special Ops 1.5 is more like a personal journey. This time, it is more about personal relationships than larger-than-life events. But the elements are all there making it one of the best offerings of the year.

3. Aspirants

Sometimes stories can bring places to life. That’s precisely what TVF’s new series Aspirants succeeds in doing. It manages to present West Delhi’s Old Rajinder Nagar, the famous hub of UPSC aspirants, in all its glory. Aspirants is a fun watch with some nice emotional moments and is very relatable if you have ever taken any competitive exams in India.

4. Bombay Begums

Presented by Alankrita Shrivastava, Bombay Begums is a fascinating series that follows five women across generations who grapple with temptation, desire, ethics, personal issues, and inner vulnerabilities to fulfill their ambition, in 21st century urban India. Despite its flaws and shortcomings, Bombay Begums is an important show that’s true to the times we live in.

5. The Empire

The Empire is a sumptuous retelling of the story of the rise of Mughals. The series presents a largely unexplored story of a young Babur and his struggle to protect the honour of his family as well as his kingdom. It’s shot across multiple locations in India and Uzbekistan. We are talking about a massive production on an unprecedented scale as far as the Indian entertainment space is concerned.

Honorable Mentions

- The Family Man 2

- Mumbai Diaries 26/11

- Kota Factory 2

Best Performances (Series)

Best Actors – Female (Series)

1. Samantha (The Family Man 2)

Portraying the antagonistic part of a remorseless assassin named Raji, Samantha not only succeeds in holding her own against an actor of Manoj Bajpayee’s pedigree but she also succeeds in eliciting a sense of empathy in the hearts of the viewers towards Raji who has few redeeming qualities.

2. Wamiqa Gabbi (Grahan)

Wamiqa Gabbi delivers a breathtaking performance in Grahan, essaying the part of a young girl in love with a rustic charm and total abandon. The songs “Chori Chori” and “O Jogiya” from the series serve as a testament to her grace and spontaneity as a powerhouse performer.

3. Ridhi Dogra (The Married Woman)

Ridhi Dogra plays a very complex character of Astha with great delicacy in The Married Woman. Astha is happily married only to realize that her true happiness lies elsewhere. Dogra deserves all the credit for making Astha so relatable despite her inner conflicts.

4. Pooja Bhatt (Bombay Begums)

The OTT platforms are providing the perfect opportunity to the lead actors and actresses from the ‘90s to make their much-awaited comebacks. Perhaps, there is no better example than that of Pooja Bhatt who is riveting to watch as Rani, the CEO of a bank who must rise above office politics, patriarchal notions, inner insecurities, and a dystopian family to stay in command.

5Sushmita Sen (Aarya Season 2)

Sushmita Singh has impressed everyone with her portrayal of Aarya Sareen and there is no denying that she is brilliant the second season of Aarya as well. It’s really heartening to see her essay such a gritty part with remarkable ease as if she were destined to play it.

Honorable Mentions

- Raveena Tandon (Aranyak)

- Drashti Dhami (The Empire)

- Zoya Afroz (Matsya Kaand)

Best Actors – Male (Series)

1. Manoj Bajpayee (Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa - Ray)

Over the last two-and-a-half decades, Manoj Bajpayee has managed to redefine himself again and again as a performer, constantly pushing the boundaries of acting for the screen. His work on the web has catapulted him to new heights of stardom. Essaying the complex part of a singer named Musafir Ali, Bajpayee not only gives a brilliant demonstration of his command over Urdu, but he also succeeds in showing a completely new dimension as an actor.

2. Kay Kay Menon (Special Ops 1.5)

Kay Kay Menon essayed Himmat Singh with a scalpel like precision in the original Special Ops and he takes it to another level in Special Ops 1.5 which presents Himmat in his 30s. He is youthful, intelligent and impulsive and lacks the judgment and wisdom of the veteran spymaster he would become in the due course of time. And Menon yet again nails it.

3. Gajraj Rao (Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa - Ray)

Gajraj Rao’s portrayal of a wrestler turned sports journalist named Beg aka Jenga Abhishek Chaubey’s directorial Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa is truly remarkable. Rao, who just seems to get better with each new performance, essays the part with such effortless ease that it’s difficult to think of it as a performance. Also, the chemistry that he shares with Bajpayee in Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa is truly special.

4. Ravi Kishan and Ravii Dubey (Matsya Kaand)

The MX Player series Matysa Kaand proves to be a captivating cat and mouse game played between my character ACP Tejraj (essayed by Ravi Kishan) and the con artist Matysa, essayed by Ravii Dubey. Tejraj has a certain mean streak and the killer instinct to get the job done but Matsya is always a step ahead of him. The chemistry between the two actors is what makes the show tick.

5. Akshay Oberoi (Illegal 2)

The real star of the second season of the Voot Select series Illegal is Akshay Oberoi who is absolutely brilliant to watch in the role of Akshay Jaitley. It’s a deeply nuanced performance with multiple layers. One ought to watch him in the 2020 series ‘Flesh’ to truly appreciate his versatility as an actor.

Honorable Mentions:

- Naveen Kasturia and Sunny Hinduja (Aspirants)

- Ali Fazal (Forget Me Not - Ray)

- Imaad Shah (The Married Woman)

A version of this article was first published in The Daily Guardian

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