Netflix, Amazon Prime And All Others…
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or have voluntarily distanced yourself from digital revolution that is engulfing our content consumption, you might have been thoroughly impressed by the range of qualitative products out on the OTT-space this year. What’s more the products which we’ve been privy to, also re-introduced us to some of the most exciting talents in entertainment, both on-screen and off-screen. Below we pick out the actors who have left us all highly impressed with their unique perspectives in playing author backed roles within different OTT’s, and in turn making us fall in love with their nuances, philosophies, whims and fancies, long after the show ended…
Sobhita Dhulipala (Made In Heaven)
Sobhita plays Tara, an independent wedding planner who is married to a rich, cold-hearted industrialist, Adil Khanna (played by Jim Sarbh) who is involved in an extramarital affair with Faiza (Kalki Koechlin). Spontaneous and unapologetic, Tara Khanna is relentless in keeping her business alive, a wedding planning company that plans the biggest Indian exhibition of wealth -- The Big Fat Indian Wedding. Adil, being the prime investor, and Karan (Arjun Mathur) being her business partner, Tara is the show-runner with her shrewd, street-smart tactics to procure clients, which comes from her middle-class upbringing. As the show progresses, Tara realizes the exhaustion and pent-up aggression building up within her, which stems from the fact she had tricked her way to become rich and become a part of the luxurious, extravagant Khanna household.
Tara’s pretentious aura and impulsive outbursts lead up to a beautifully written aftermath which can jeopardize almost everything she owns or has rather gained. Sobhita’s portrayal is so unapologetic and fantabulous and has a diva-like presence on the screen. Sobhita invests every atom of her talent in Tara, a Delhi middle class girl who aspires to be independent and filthy rich. Tara is also one of those characters you grow to love, someone who is secure in her vulnerabilities and flaws, as the series ends. Unlike her typical housewife-mother, Tara sets out on a path of schemes, politics, and luxury, away from the working class, only to discover the self-destruction it causes to her and everything around her. Sobhita nails the portions, especially when she skews deliberate schemes to “trap” Adil as her husband and later on when she deals with regressive, conservative clients. Her chameleon-like nature is never over-the-top and stays true to the character throughout the series. Sobhita Dhulipala does this with absolute style and glamour, which beat our expectations beyond imagination. Truly, an actor par excellence, who is set out to become one of the most versatile actresses if she chooses the right scripts.
Arjun Mathur (Made In Heaven)
Ironically, while Sobhita Dhulipala brings the right amount of cold-hearted attitude required for an entrepreneur, Arjun Mathur carries a sensitive and empathetic sensibilities which balances it out, and create the much-required chemistry between these two. Their equation extends beyond business, a friendship that stands tall in the tests of time, money and clients. Arjun Mathur depicts a homosexual man living in Delhi, who has on-and-off affairs which causes complications that endanger both, his life and business.
Karan has a slightly sublime, hidden persona to him which gives a mysterious touch to the character and Arjun Mathur slays it with his grace and charm. Throughout the show, he is a character who is the white, calming to the dark, unstable (black) (Sobhita) and carries a distinguishing and individualistic personality; a chic and urbane chap who is seeking for his long-lost love and fighting societal notions simultaneously. There’s also a duality to him that comes out in some of the most vulnerable and heated moments when he is forced to confront the harsh realities of life or deal with sophisticated issues in a compromising manner. Arjun Mathur brings an artsy and delicate layer to this complex character and understands Karan’s emotional state of mind like the back of his hand, rendering it perfectly on-screen. Arjun Mathur’s portrayal of Karan, is undoubtedly, is a big career leap and a much-deserved ode to his artistic talent.
Geethanjali Kulkarni (Gullak)
Known for brave character choices, Geethanjali Kulkarni is an extremely talented actor who has an appealing outlook and beautiful screen presence, which borders between cuteness and charismatic. Whenever you see her on-screen, you empathize with her character almost immediately and believe in every word she utters, taking her side eventually, despite the righteousness of it. This year, she portrays an adorable and outspoken housewife in the SonyLiv Original web series -- Gullak. Based in a B-town, the series is a collection of anecdotes you’d witness in almost any Indian middle-class family-tantrums, sentiments, superstitions, basically the mindsets encompassing within an average Indian household.
In Gullak, she outshines all the characters with her unique quirks of a typical Indian homemaker, who struggles to keep her family intact despite the compromises she’s forced to take. There are certain scenes when her emotional outbursts or her consistent pestering leave you teary-eyed. Her character, Shanti Mishra leaves an everlasting impact and Geethanjali Kulkarni breathes life into it with a generous dignity and palpable simplicity. Her underrated skills find the perfect mould of a character and story setup which blend magnificently and leave you mesmerized throughout. This 5-episode drama is a collection of short stories surrounding a family of four and Geethanjali’s mere presence has a powerful and bossy shade to it, which is quite hard to pull off in male-dominated family like hers, comprised of a husband and two sons. Geethanjali Kulkarni is carving a niche for herself in webmedia and it would be of immense academic interest to look out for her future projects.
Rasika Dugal (Out of Love)
An Indian adaptation of the BBC Original Show, Doctor Foster, the basic storyline revolves around a general physician’s life, who finds out about her cheating husband and decides to act on it leading to complicated aftermath. Rasika Dugal is the protagonist, Dr. Meera, who falls in love with Akarsh (Purab Kohli), and they currently live in a scenic hill station, with their adolescent son.
Rasika Dugal stands out for the classy and regal demeanor she gets to the character of Dr. Meera Kapoor. Out Of Love, is an ambitious show that thrives purely on Rasika Dugal’s performance who keeps it afloat despite the predictability in panning out of things. There are various moments she recreates, highly empathetic moments just like the original, which create a grip hold over the viewers. Previously seen in Nandita Das’ directorial, ambitious film Manto, Rasika outshines her co-stars and keeps the show gripping throughout. Unfortunately, even though she is the only source of anticipation for a common viewer, her portrayal of Dr. Meera is equally convincing and unnerving. All said, we are looking forward to her next promising web series, A Suitable Boy, adapted from the Vikram Seth novel by the same title, directed by Mira Nair and produced by BBC productions.
Lovleen Misra (Little Things)
In theatre circuit it is often said that the measure of a great performance is directly proportional to the stage time an actor is allotted. Although that might be true, the new media of visual storytelling, ie., OTT is a whole new game, and there are albeit a handful of actors who can shine in the shortest roles written perhaps only for them. Lovleen Misra is without a doubt one amongst them. In this years, Little Things Season 3, Lovleen Misra plays the protagonist Dhruv’s unnamed mother, with a peculiar poise which allows her to make an ever lasting impression on the viewers despite her one episode role.
Lovleen Misra, an experienced actor of repute, owing to her work in features like Hum Log and City Of Joy, brings to her role an unsaid imperfection which makes it stand out as real and vulnerably raw. In the series, we first meet her in the midst of a house-shifting scenario, where Dhruv comes to help her pack the belongings. Lovleen Misra flaunts her affection over him, all the while dodging his accolades and achievements, perhaps under the impression that such things wouldn’t matter in her present plight. She restrains her involvement as she becomes a stranger to her son’s life, but celebrates his arrival by introducing him to her acquaintances at a local bazaar. In the hands of an amateur actor, what could’ve easily come across a self-centric proclamation of motherhood, becomes an age-morphed wisdom of existence. She is a mother on her own terms; expressing herself measuredly for her son’s sake, but at the same time winding into her own priorities when need be. At the end, Lovleen Misra makes her role not just a dotting mother with her own eccentricities but more importantly a sturdy human with her own yearnings.
Dia Mirza (Kaafir)
Playing Kainaaz Akhtar (based on the true-life counterpart, Shainaz) is Zee5’s Kaafir, Dia Mirza brings a palpable vulnerability to the character which stands as a defining percolation in this story about survival, friendship and motherhood. Dia Mirza’s Kainaaz is a strong-willed person, blessed with timely optimism which helps her survive the gross injustice delivered to her, owing to her wrongful imprisonment. Jailed for seven years, Kainaaz never for a second succumbs to the smothering accusations inflicted upon her not just by the authorities out of convenience, but society in general out of sheer ignorance.
In playing Kainaaz, Dia Mirza walks the fine line between willfully docile and overtly hopeful. She takes up all the challenges her misfortune throws at her, not to turn them upside down, but to help her survive with saner sense. In the current socio-political landscape, Mirza’s Kainaaz stands as a glowing example of humanity before religion, and a monolithic symbol for hope and justice. It stands to say that Dia Mirza has outdone herself, perhaps even pulling off one of the finest performances of her career. A victim not just of situations but also perceptions, a mother not just of a prison born child but also of a new way of life, and a woman beyond not just her boundaries but also the world’s convenient whims, Dia Mirza’s Kainaaz is pure inspiration.
Priya Bapat (City Of Dreams)
It is one thing to play a strong female lead in feature presentations, it is a whole new thing to play a flawed yet measuredly smart female lead in them. Priya Bapat plays Poornima Rao Gaikwad, the power-hungry contender to lead a political party, after its leader and her father, gets dramatically wounded in HotStar’s City Of Dreams. Within the series, when Ameya Rao Gaikwad, a prominent political figure is shot at, rendering him to a comatose state of being, the onus of leading the political outfit turns quickly into a war for political succession, between the calculative and astute, Poornima (played by Priya Bapat) and her arrogantly rash brother, Ashish Rao Gaikwad.
In playing Poornima, Priya Bapat brings a certain sense of elegance to her destructive plans, and an amount of grace to her drastic measures, that makes you sit up and root for her to win. Priya Bapat inches across the chessboard with astounding calmness yet grappling at the same time with her own self-righteousness and misplaced responsibilities. She fights for her right when all things seem lost, and yet is morally ambiguous about the trust she needs to deliver upon. In doing so, Priya Bapat shows a clear and acute understanding of a political figure, often driven by inner workings of personal pathos and defined by overtly-zealous public stances.
Ranvir Shorey (MetroPark)
Much has been said over the past decade about Ranvir Shorey and the acting prowess he possess, that it becomes a moot point for anyone to write something new about him. The actor literally has done it all. One of the mainstays of the new-wave Indian cinema, Ranvir Shorey has had an interesting year thus far. His noticeable and equally forgettable role as a global terrorist, Shahid Khan, in this year’s Sacred Games Season 2, did no favors to anyone. However, it was his role as the highly satirical and eccentrically expressive New Jersey based Gujarati businessman, Kalpesh Patel, that made this year truly rewarding for admirers of his work.
Ranvir Shorey’s Kalpesh Patel is a first-generation businessman, who along with his wife Payal Patel, settle in New Jersey but are desperately clinging onto their native Gujarati roots, symbolized in the nostalgic speeches and pickled culinary cravings. Ranvir Shorey excels in delivering sardonic humor with the grace of a home-bred bullock and yet brings a fresh layering to his silences and ponderings. His chameleon like transformation into a Gujarati family head is both unnerving and exciting to watch; even his monosyllables delivered in the thickness of an accent, make for an instantly familiar watch, often reminding one of an amusing uncle with chatting up worldly anecdotes whilst munching on some crisply made papads. Ranvir Shorey, thus continues to be an enigma of sheer talent, who keeps challenging writers to match upto his potential, a feat only the proud can flaunt.
Manoj Bajpayee (The Family Man)
Manoj Bajpayee is a national treasure and one of the most versatile actors working today. This is not by accident but by design, in the sense that he is an actor that has never been afraid to take chances. Taking his filmography into consideration, he is an actor that has done everything from a ruthless gangster in Gangs of Wasseypur to a naïve goon in Satya, from a dangerous psychopath in Kaun to a vilified homosexual professor in Aligarh. These are characters that are extremely diverse yet believable and textured, this can only be achieved due to the conviction that an actor of his calibre can bring to that table. The other trait that we learn through his choices are that he has never been afraid to take chances, he has worked in all kinds of cinema from short films to masala films to television to art house cinema.
Now, he takes his plunge into the OTT market and excels in that arena too. In The Family Man, he plays a middle-class dad who seemingly has a boring desk job, little does his family know that he works for the Indian government as an undercover intelligence officer. He perfectly balances the swagger and confidence of the intelligence officer with the frustration that comes out not being recognized by his family for the work he does. He understands the tone of the show perfectly and caters to it in a way that it seems incomplete without him and what more can you ask from your leading man.
Amruta Subhash (Sacred Games 2)
Amruta Subhash is a theatre and film actor who has predominantly worked in Hindi and Marathi films. The first time that I saw her was as the helpless and abused sister to a psychotic Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Ramanna in Raman Raghav 2.0. She is absolutely soul-crushing in the film and is in the most pivotal part of the film, hence making her performance plays a key role in making the film so effective. The pain in her face is still etched in mind.
This year has been particularly rewarding for her as she was part of two great projects. One, as the empathetic and absolutely heart-breaking mother to Ranveer Singh’s Murad in Gully Boy. Two, as the tough as nails raw agent in Sacred Games Season 2 and the reason she is on this list. In both the films, she is a demure looking lady who seems submissive than authoritative. In Sacred Games she is absolutely the opposite; she commands respect as soon she comes on screen and holds your attention throughout. While she does not have the amount of screen time afforded to the leads, she makes her presence felt and has a long-lasting effect on the viewer.
Shefali Shah (Delhi Crime)
Shefali Shah is an actor people don’t need to be given an introduction to. She is one of the great performers of this generation and has constantly been doing challenging and daring roles -- ever since her enthusiastic and full of life performance in Satya, to the composed and commanding turn in Dil Dhadakne Do. But for my money, she has been eternally underrated and hasn’t been given enough roles that can actually tap into the well of talent hidden inside her. Hence her turn as DCP Vartika Chaturvedi felt so satisfying as she was finally given a full-fledged role that she could really sink her teeth into. And this kind of freedom and depth can be afforded only on a platform like Netflix.
As the ferocious but level headed DCP, Shefali Shah plays the role with such grace and grit, that she can literally flip from being a motherly caring boss to your worst nightmare within the same scene. She has these momentary outbursts contrasted with lonely moments of crying, which she plays without bone-bearing honesty and piercing conviction. She uses this character and her struggle to encapsulate the feeling of justified communal rage that the whole country felt at the moment. Through her struggles and the fight for doing the right thing, Ms. Shah delivers the viewers a feeling of closure.
Rajesh Tailang (Delhi Crime)
Rajesh Tailang has entertained us over the years with his remarkable screen presence in films like Siddharth, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Omerta, Commando 3, etc. Since the past two years he has been ruling the webspace as well, with some hit series like Mirzapur and Selection Day. This year though, Mr Tailang gave an incredible performance in one of the most successful web series of this year, Delhi Crime. His character Bhupender Singh is a police officer who works tirelessly and a father who is struggling to get his daughter married.
The way Mr. Tailang portrays the character of Bhupender Singh who has multiple layers is just magnificent. Mr. Tailang brings his expertise of understanding a character’s mindset, and gets right into the Bhupender’s mind, while showing us the internal pathos and dichotomy of Bhupender, and at the same time making him look relatable. This is pure genius from Rajesh Tailang, and given his skillset of adding minute details to his characters, he can make any character look authentic.
Jitendra Kumar (Kota Factory)
Jitendra Kumar also popularly known as Jeetu, is one of the best things that TVF has given us along with some great content. Jitendra Kumar has been associated with TVF’s short films and series for a long time now and is the go-to person to portray any character. After convincing and engaging performances in multiple series like TVF’s Pitchers, Permanent Roommates, TVF’s Bachelors Season 2, he appeared in another feature film -- Gone Kesh, with which he showed the extreme range of acting he possesses. But with TVF’s one of the biggest and most successful web series’ this year, Kota Factory, Jeetu left everyone super impressed and in awe with his stellar performance.
Jeetu got huge acclaim and positive response from the audience for his nuanced and accurate depiction of an empathetic teacher Jeetu Bhaiya. Jeetu brings his experience and natural flair of timing into the play and depicts the honesty, innocence and the sorted mindset of the character, with utmost ease and conviction. Another aspect which really helps Jeetu is the strong screen presence he has. His ridiculously rewarding natural charm, strong diction and powerful on-screen improvisation in almost all occasions, help him nail the charecters written for him.
Gopal Dutt (The Office, Delhi Crime)
Gopal Dutt, who we have seen in series like TVF Pitchers, TVF Bachelors, Official CEO-giri, etc., has constantly shown us how good of an actor he is. This year he featured in two of the most popular series, Delhi Crime, and The Office. The fact that he plays two contrasting characters with such incredible conviction is the testament of the wide range of talent he has.
Portraying a serious character of Sudhir Kumar, a police officer in Delhi Crime, Mr Dutt brings in the vast experience he has amassed over the years and adds a lot of weight behind the actions of Sudhir Kumar, hence making him convincing and his actions organic. On the contrary, he plays T.P. Mishra in The Office who is an eccentric and a competitive paper salesman officer. This is a show full of humour and sarcasm and hence the actors rely heavily on their comic timing. Gopal Dutt gives an outstanding performance as a weird, unconventional and an irritating person, and owns the character of T.P. Mishra in a way as if this character is written keeping only him in mind.
Shweta Tripathi (Laakhon Mein Ek 2)
Shweta Tripathi is a Hindi film and TV actress who made a huge impression with her role in Masaan, where she plays an optimistic girl in love from a small town. She had an unassuming smile and optimism that made her an instant star. She then followed that up with great turns in films like Haraamkhor and Gone Kesh. But over the years she has made herself a niche for being a very reliable actress who excels at both comedy and drama. Hence OTT platforms have become something which suits her well. She gave a head-turning and quietly powerful performance in Mirzapur as the seemingly meek Golu.
This year has been absolutely brilliant for her in terms of OTT presentations. As she has been part of three shows just in 2019. She had a guest appearance in both Trippling S2 and Made in Heaven. She especially stood out in Made in Heaven with an assuredly quiet intensity that made the episode featuring her, one of my favorites. But the real reason she is on the list for her turn as Dr. Shreya Pathare in the second season of Laakhon Mein Ek. Here she plays an extremely optimistic doctor who is too good for the world around her and her ambitions are way too pure. She uses her thespian talents to the fullest to make Shreya an extremely likable and believable character, elevating the writing in the process.
Here’s hoping that this list never ends…!!