This year saw the celebration of performance over spectacle. Despite larger-than-life themes and obscene movie budgets, one thing that managed to shine throughout most of our favourite movies of the year were the incredible performances.
From Alia Bhatt’s career-defining performance in Gangubai Kathiawadi to Rishab Shetty’s awe-inspiring turn as a forest-spirit-possessed villager in Kantara, there was no dearth of acting performances that left indelible marks on our minds in 2022.
Take Neetu Kapoor’s beautifully restrained performance in Jugjugg Jeeyo, for instance. The Kapoor matriarch managed to hold her own amidst over-the-top (but intensely watchable) performances by her co-stars Anil Kapoor and Varun Dhawan. Kapoor lent a heartbreaking sincerity and dignity to the comparatively smaller role and managed to be a surprising scene stealer in the film.
So, without further ado, here are some of our favourite performances by Indian actors in 2022…
Alia Bhatt in Gangubai Kathiawadi
Inarguably one of the best performances of 2022 was Alia Bhatt as the titular Gangubai in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s take on the life of the eponymous sex worker who rose up the ranks to fight for the rights of her fellow sex workers. Bhatt does full justice to her character’s journey from the naive Ganga to Gangu, and then eventually, to Gangubai and manages to make the otherwise underwritten and flimsy narrative watchable.
Rishab Shetty in Kantara
Rishab Shetty delivers an exhilarating performance in Kantara, the Kannada movie that he has written and directed himself. Kantara is a movie that dealt with the clash between the beliefs of a forest-dwelling tribe and the government officials who seek to declare the forest area as reserved. Shetty stars as Shiva (and Shiva’s father), who is running from his inherited duty of protecting the village as the vessel of the demigod Panjurli. The climactic sequence of Shiva taking revenge on his enemies will give you goosebumps and is easily one of the best action sequences of recent times.
Shefali Shah in Darlings
That Shefali Shah is an excellent performer is not news. The actress has established herself as a force to be reckoned with when it comes to acting and she continued to remain superior in 2022. One of her best moments was in Netflix’s dark comedy Darlings. Shah played the role of Alia Bhatt’s widowed mother Shamshunissa ‘Shamshu’ Ansari who has managed to etch a place for herself in a world that is cruel to her kind (independent, Muslim women). The movie has Vijay Verma and Bhatt deliver strong performances but Shah’s ability to say a thousand words by just using her eyes and expressions trumps them all.
Sai Pallavi in Gargi
Sai Pallavi plays the titular role in this Tamil legal drama. In the movie, Gargi’s father is accused of assaulting a nine-year-old and she becomes determined to prove his innocence, despite being abandoned by friends and family. Pallavi plays the role of the conflicted daughter with powerful subtlety that is breathtaking in the midst of the chaos of a provocative courtroom drama.
Rajkummar Rao in Badhaai Do
In Badhaai Do, a story about a gay cop getting married to a lesbian school teacher to ward off nosy relatives, Rajkummar Rao does an admirable job in holding onto the character’s vulnerability and humanity. Rao effectively conveys the character’s projection of tough masculinity and internal chaos and gives a heartwarming performance to remember.
Fahadh Faasil in Malayankunju
The National Award-winning actor plays a thoroughly unlikeable character in the survival drama Malayankunju who undergoes a deeply transformative experience that opens his eyes. Fahadh Faasil proves his acting mettle once again as the casteist technician who gets trapped in a landslide and has to fight his deepest beliefs to come out of the dire circumstances as a changed man.
Darshana Rajendran in Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey
Vipin Das’ comedy-drama deals with the not-so-funny subject of domestic abuse. In the movie, a newlywed woman realises she would have to fight for even the most basic of rights in her new home and decides to not take the abuse lying down. The movie is the distant cousin of another incredible Malayalam movie The Great Indian Kitchen, which dealt with gender dynamics and politics in Indian households with gravity. In this one, Darshana Rajendran manages to remain restrained, despite the comedic treatment of the subject matter for satirical purposes. Her performance forms the backbone of the movie and makes us root for her throughout.
Kiara Advani in Jugjugg Jeeyo
While Kiara Advani has been a part of many Bollywood box-office hits, she has never been able to shine as an actor, aside from her role in Karan Johar’s short from the anthology Lust Stories (2018). In Jugjugg Jeeyo, Advani subverts expectations and plays an exhausted married woman at the end of her tether who is done with being disrespected by her husband just because she is more successful than him. One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is a fight between her and Varun Dhawan’s characters who are on the verge of getting a divorce. Advani delivers a scathing monologue that provides the otherwise silly and lighthearted narrative enough depth to make the two-dimensional, designer wear-clad characters and their problems seem soberingly real and relatable.
Honourable mention: Shahrukh Khan in Brahmastra
Whether you belong to the Brahmastra fan club or not, you would agree that Shah Rukh Khan’s not-so-surprising cameo earlier in the movie is the best part of the film. Seeing the actor on-screen after a long time was magical and thrilling, it also helped that he delivered enough charm to keep us going through a plot hole-ridden story and weak performances.