The discourse around Bollywood films has nearly always lacked nuance. A flop doesn’t necessarily mean a bad film, an independent film doesn’t always qualify as good cinema. A well-intentioned film doesn’t necessarily translate into a good film, and there can still be those ‘problematic films’ of the mid-90s with a genius of their own. A good film can have no particularly memorable performance, and many films with good performances don’t necessarily translate into a fun viewing experience.
This week’s release, Bohemian Rhapsody, posed the most scary challenge for any leading man/woman this year. Playing Freddie Mercury? It was a tall task, and how good was Rami Malek? It’s fascinating to see him transform from his quiet, existential role in Mr Robot to the luminous Freddie Mercury, who could transcend venues using his on-stage persona. It’s a shame the film never quite matches up.
Here are 8 Bollywood films from the last decade that could similarly not match up to the brilliance of their lead’s performances:
1. Ranbir Kapoor in Sanju
Rajkumar Hirani’s factually-incorrect and morally irresponsible biopic of Bollywood actor, Sanjay Dutt, had a magical performance by Ranbir Kapoor. The actor internalised the senior actor’s persona, his voice, his stooped posture, and even his perpetually drunken gaze. Unfortunately, this was all in service of a dishonest/manipulative film, that was more intent on acquitting the actor from the people’s court. The film was a success, but was panned by most critics for becoming a paean for its subject and Vicky Kaushal ran away with acting honours. But Ranbir Kapoor’s lead performance wasn’t hailed as much as it should have been.
2. Saif Ali Khan in Kaalakandi
Akshat Verma’s apparent ‘stoner comedy’ laced with expletives was ultimately a toothless caper. Save for the leading man, Saif Ali Khan, who shows remarkable restraint and maturity in a film that is quite childish in comparison. Especially, in a scene inside a lift, Khan’s terminally-ill character breaks down after realising that he won’t be around to see his son grow up. This isn’t the first time when Saif has owned his role in a bad film, like we saw earlier in Kurbaan and Agent Vinod, but it’s wonderful to see him make use of every last bit of his age to give us that magical moment in an otherwise forgettable film.
3. Avinash Tiwary in Laila Majnu
In this maddening film that is good & bad in (almost) equal measure, the only salvation is the performance of the leading man, Avinash Tiwary. Playing the disarmingly honest Qais in the film’s first half, it’s thrilling to see him gradually descend into madness, and his eventual transformation into ‘Majnu’. In a film that’s been termed a missed opportunity by many, the only silver lining is that we’re now aware of an actor called Avinash Tiwary.
4. Ranbir Kapoor in Jagga Jasoos
The largely physical performance, the Hindi film hero dance, that perfect stutter opposite an unremarkable co-star with an accent, Ranbir Kapoor conquers every hurdle to deliver a performance that is nothing short of a dream. Unfortunately it’s lost and forgotten in the director’s mess of a film.
5. Sushant Singh Rajput in MS Dhoni: The Untold Story
In a largely reverential biopic about the former captain of the Indian cricket team (who was also the producer), the odds were stacked against Sushant Singh Rajput from the get-go. By perfecting the signature helicopter shot and showing enough poise to depict the captain’s (much publicised) ‘detachment’ on field, Sushant Singh Rajput *became* Dhoni for the film. In the midst of all the chatter about the film’s 200-crore box office and how it carefully avoids controversies, this performance was lost
6. Kangana Ranaut in Simran
Hansal Mehta’s Simran was in the eye of the storm for reasons ranging from the writer’s credit claimed by Apurva Asrani, to Kangana Ranaut’s stormy pre-release interviews about her alleged-ex, Hrithik Roshan. However, when the cash registers weren’t exactly ringing, people stopped talking about film, and it was wiped from public memory. And with that, Kangana Ranaut’s stellar performance as a gambling addict/compulsive liar, was long forgotten. And that’s a real shame because, amidst all those caricatured ‘gora characters’ and the silly robbery scenes, it is Ranaut’s arresting central performance (effortlessly oscillating between slapstick and desperately dramatic) that holds fort for this middling film.
7. Farhan Akhtar in Karthik Calling Karthik
In an industry that doesn’t recognise psychological thriller as a genre, it isn’t surprising to see Karthik Calling Karthik trying to cater to the lowest common denominator and failing spectacularly. Something Farhan Akhtar’s quietly affecting performance as the protagonist couldn’t save. Akhtar obviously nails his part as a rom-com hero, but he’s especially good in his character’s portions as a tentative introvert. Unfortunately the film’s preposterous reveal and its half-hearted conviction, overshadows the lead performance.
8. Kay Kay Menon in Shaurya
As a remake of A Few Good Men, it was a given that Kay Kay Menon’s character modelled on Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Nathan R Jessep, was going to be the most towering character in the film. But in what turned out to be an insipid remake, Menon went full bonkers showing none of Nicholson’s expertly calibrated performance. The result? We get a gorgeous climax that leads up to the iconic line, “tum mujhe sahi-galat ka gyaan mat dena, tumhari aukaat nahi hai” borrowed from the original – “you can’t handle the truth.” It is Menon’s steely conviction as Brigadier Pratap that gives us a rare performance that possibly eclipses its Hollywood counterpart.