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2018 has been a watershed year of sorts for Hindi cinema. Bollywood buffs saw their favourite actors in roles that weren’t run of the mill. An interesting mix of characters and narratives gave way to stellar performances that made the audience sit up and take note.
Here are 20 of the best stand-out performers of 2018.

Alia Bhatt
Alia Bhatt in Raazi. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Alia Bhatt in Raazi

As the demure, vulnerable yet undeniably committed and fearless Sehmat, Bhatt pulled off a stellar performance in the blockbuster ‘Raazi’. Based on real life and directed by Meghna Gulzar, Bhatt essayed the role of an Indian spy, married at the behest of her father who works as a double agent, into a Pakistani army family. Dressed in delicate pastels coupled with an innocent demeanour, Bhatt handled the tricky balance of her character admirably. It was a moving, compelling act that wowed the critics and audience alike.

Manoj Bajpai
Manoj Bajpayee in Gali Guleiyan. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Manoj Bajpai in Gali Guleiyan

Bajpai had several noteworthy releases in 2018, but the film in which he stole the show was Dipesh Jain’s ‘Gali Guleiyan’. As the mentally disturbed, reclusive Khuddoos who is stuck inside a maze in the narrow lanes of Old Delhi, Manoj Bajpai is terrific. He gets under the skin of his character to release a nuanced, melancholic performance that stays with you long after you’ve finished watching him.

Tabu
Tabu in Andhadhun. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Tabu in Andhadhun

Tabu has managed to floor moviegoers nearly every time she has graced the silver screen. In the deliciously dark ‘Andhadhun’, she plays a femme fatale, wife of a yesteryear movie star, and had the audience eating out of her hands. As the multiple twists and turns in Sriram Raghavan’s thriller kept the audience hooked, Tabu held her own with a phenomenal performance as the evil, coquettish Simi.

Varun Dhawan
Varun Dhawan in October. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Varun Dhawan in October

In April 2018, Dhawan gave us his career’s best as Dan in Shoojit Sircar’s ‘October’. In this still, meditative film, his character goes through a transformation, from being a brash, irresponsible intern at a hotel to one who begins to care deeply for a colleague who has had a fatal fall. Dhawan channelises an intensely sensitive performance, one that is very different from his usual Bollywood hero avatar, and it worked its magic.

Anushka Sharma
Anushka Sharma in Pari. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Anushka Sharma in Pari

Prosit Roy’s ‘Pari’ set new standards in the horror genre in Hindi cinema, and Sharma as Rukshana gave a haunting performance. Pari was a brave choice for a mainstream actress, both to act in and back as a producer. Devoid of any makeup, with a blood-stained face but with an equally frail and vulnerable disposition, Sharma was at her evocative best in this role.

Ayushmann Khurrana
Ayushmann Khurrana in Andhadhun. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Ayushmann Khurrana in Andhadhun

In the dark and delectable ‘Andhadhun’, Khurrana outdoes himself as Aakash, a talented and ambitious pianist who is literally playing the blind man’s bluff, which lands him in one dodgy situation after another. Khurrana is fully in control here, never hitting the wrong note as the piano player caught in the crossfire of a murder.

Rani Mukherjee
Rani Mukherjee in Hichki. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Rani Mukherjee in Hichki

Returning to the big screen after a hiatus of four years, Mukherjee gave a moving performance in ‘Hichki’ as the teacher Naina who has Tourette Syndrome, but is determined to see her, and the students’ dreams through. As her character battles multiple rejections and societal biases, Mukherjee gave a nuanced, brave performance marked with a range of emotions portrayed wonderfully.

Ranbir Kapoor
Ranbir Kapoor in Sanju. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Ranbir Kapoor in Sanju

In filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani’s biopic on actor Sanjay Dutt, ‘Sanju’, Kapoor in the lead role left no stone unturned to replicate Dutt’s body language, mannerisms, and even way of speaking. Through each phase – as the young Dutt in the 80s battling drug issues to the muscular 90s superstar to the greyed actor in his 50s, Kapoor got the look and feel just right.

Taapsee Pannu
Tapsee Pannu in Manmarziyaan. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Tapsee Pannu in Manmarziyaan

So far Pannu has been picking roles that are out of the ordinary, and has delivered two great performances 2018 – first, as the deeply committed lawyer who fights for justice for her in-laws’ in ‘Mulk’, and then as the firebrand Rumi in ‘Manmarziyaan’. In both roles, Pannu stood out for her power-packed, fierce portrayals of women with a mind of their own who are not ready to bow down to societal norms.

Neena Gupta
Neena Gupta in Badhai Ho. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Neena Gupta in Badhaai Ho

Who would have thought 2018’s most loved onscreen couple wouldn’t be giddy, young teenage lovers but instead middle-aged parents who accidentally find themselves pregnant? Returning to the silver screen, Gupta plays the wife in ‘Badhaai Ho’, and her illuminating presence lit up the screen. Her act was subtle, impactful, and just pure joy.

Gajraj Rao
Gajraj Rao in Badhaai Ho. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Gajraj Rao in Badhaai Ho

For many moviegoers, the brilliance of Gajraj Rao in ‘Badhaai Ho’ was a revelation. As a middle-aged father of two grown up sons and with a wife who is pregnant for the third time, he finds himself stuck in a tricky situation. He floored the audience with his nuanced act in which he allowed his expressions to say so much more than the actual dialogues.

Surekha Sikri
Surekha Sikri in Badhai Ho. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Surekha Sikri in Badhaai Ho

As a disgruntled, sour faced grandmother and mother-in-law in ‘Badhaai Ho’, veteran actress Sikri showed she’s among the finest. She unleashed a delightful, endearing performance that had the audience in splits.

Rajkummar Rao
Rajkummar Rao in Omerta. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Rajkummar Rao in Omerta

Rao wowed his audience not once but twice in 2018 – once as Omar Saeed Sheikh in Hansal Mehta’s ‘Omerta’, based on the real-life story of the terrorist, and then as the besotted, small-town tailor in the blockbuster horror-comedy ‘Stree’. In both roles, diametrically different from each other, Rao shines. In ‘Omerta’, he chills you with his evil designs – icy, cold eyes and a calm demeanour that betrays his ruthlessness – while in ‘Stree’ he has you in splits with his easy-going vibe and superb comic timing.

Rasika Dugal
Rasika Dugal in Manto. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Rasika Dugal in Manto

In Nandita Das’s ‘Manto’, Dugal played the protagonist’s wife Safia. Her subtle and nuanced performance, in which her silence and expressions spoke volumes, held the film together. In a movie that had Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Manto mouthing the best dialogues, Dugal matched the performance frame by frame.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Manto. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Manto

In what can arguably be called the best performance of the year, Siddiqui shines as Saadat Hussain Manto, the controversial author of the 1940s and 50s. Director Nandita Das’s eloquent, powerful narrative is uplifted several notches by Siddiqui’s powerful performance. From his unruly curls to his bespectacled face and wiry frame, Siddiqui captures the essence and mood of the writer with brooding intensity and evocative dialogue delivery.

Shah Rukh Khan
Shahrukh Khan in Zero. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Shahrukh Khan in Zero

Shah Rukh Khan pulled off one of his best performances as Bauua Singh in ‘Zero’. While the film received mixed reactions, almost everyone agreed on one thing – Khan owned every scene he was in. His infectious energy was palpable, clearly showing the actor had a lot of fun with his role.

Pankaj Tripathi
Pankaj Tripathi in Stree. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Pankaj Tripathi in Stree

With one laudable performance after another, Tripathi gave a memorable performance as Rudra, the village know-it-all in ‘Stree’. With his terrific, straight-faced dialogue delivery and impromptu comic touches, the actor made his character stand out in this horror-comedy.

Vicky Kaushal
Vicky Kaushal in Love Per Square Foot. The best Bollywood performances 2018
Vicky Kaushal in Love Per Square Foot

2018 has been special for Kaushal with four films – ‘Love per Square Foot’, ‘Raazi’, ‘Manmarziyaan’, and ‘Sanju’. In fact, his heartfelt and assured act as Kamlesh in Sanju won him many accolades. Despite being pitted against heavyweights like Paresh Rawal and Ranbir Kapoor,  Kaushal holds his own and leaves a mark with this one.

Ranveer Singh
Ranveer Singh in Padmavati
Ranveer Singh in Padmavati

From ‘Padmaavat’ to ‘Simmba’, 2018 has been a cracker of a year for Ranveer. He began as the menacingly evil Khilji (‘Padmaavat’) and his passionate performance left the audience awestruck. And on the last weekend of 2018, he burst onto the big screen with his high energy act and charm in Simmba, where he plays a corrupt cop who has a change of heart – notching up another blockbuster act.

Avinash Tiwary
Avinash Tiwary in Laila Majnu
Avinash Tiwary in Laila Majnu

In the tragic love story ‘Laila Majnu’, Tiwary as Qais almost single-handedly carried the second half of the film through. With a subtle, restrained act he pulled off a difficult role which had every possibility of being derailed with a false note or over the top acting. Qais’s painful mental decline is channelised by Tiwary in a heartfelt, commendable portrayal.

Sreeparna Sengupta

Sengupta has been a director and producer of shows on movies and entertainment for the last 14 years, for some of the biggest media houses, including Zoom and Times Now. She has been reviewing movies for a living for the last two years while working as a freelance writer / editor and content developer.