Year Ender 2023 | Best Performances of the year


In a year that gifted us such a variety of astonishing work–from films to web series to short films–there were a plethora of actors who delivered some of their very best. Here is a subjective reading of the selected few, picked across a variety of formats and languages, united in their artistic brilliance. (Also read: Year Ender 2023 | Aatmapamphlet to Three of Us: Best Indian films of the year you probably didn’t watch)

Vikrant Massey, Rukmini Vaisanth and Surinder Vicky feature in the Best Performances of 2023.
Vikrant Massey, Rukmini Vaisanth and Surinder Vicky feature in the Best Performances of 2023.

Sahasra Shree in Chithha

As Sundari, child actor Sahasra Shree is unforgettable in S. U. Arun Kumar’s Chittha. The magnitude of what the role demands of her as an actor hits like a storm later, given how convincingly the actor plays Sundari in all her reflective abundance. Her concern, attentivevness and observation are balanced with utmost care and sensitivity in the second half of the film, when a life-altering event occurs. The actor brings that rare arc of innocence, slowly transitioning towards exhaustion, where there’s a shift in how she will see the world from now on. Chithha is a remarkable film, with Sahasra Shree providing one of the most deceptively intelligent child actor performances I have encountered in years.

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Ranveer Singh in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani

Ranveer Singh‘s Rocky Randhawa–the flamboyant Punjabi businessman who doesn’t really like buttoning his Gucci shirts– is perhaps the greenest of green flags any male lead has even been in Bollywood, if memory serves me right. At the centre of it lies Ranveer Singh’s infectious performance- so acutely balanced between loud, elaborate expressions and calmer, more rational responses. Rocky is fragile, dramatic, silly, goofy and sometimes a little too much, but as viewers we are with him through all his eccentricities. He makes mistakes, yet he is also eager to learn better. He wants to know why it’s so hard to accept it in the first place. Ranveer Singh makes all of it come alive.

Amruta Subhash in The Mirror from Lust Stories 2

Amruta Subhash has always been terrific, but in Konkona Sen Sharma’s segment from Lust Stories 2, titled The Mirror, the actor outdoes herself and more. She plays Seema, the house help who secretly has sex with her husband on her employer’s bed. The intrigue rests on Seema’s discovery of being watched- and Subhash plays that whole rush of shock and fear turning into disgust and ultimately the thrill, brilliantly. The walk she takes from one room to other, discovering that she is in control now, is fascinating to watch. Later when her husband asks her what happened to her earlier, Seema doesn’t know how to articulate it in words. Subhash’s face says everything without a single piece of dialogue. This is a woman in full possession of her desire.

Also read: Lust Stories 2: Konkona Sen Sharma’s The Mirror juxtaposes class and desire in the film’s best segment

Mammootty in Kaathal- The Core

There’s truly no one doing the work quite like Mammootty. At 72, the superstar is continuously taking risks, challenging himself as an actor like never before. The star delivers a remarkable performance in Jeo Baby’s Kaathal: The Core, as Mathew, whose 20 year-old marriage to Omana (Jyotika) comes crashing down. When Omana files for divorce and alleges that he is a homosexual man, it threatens to disrupt Mathew’s personal and political space at once. The baggage of coming out after spending a lifetime in hiding, coupled with the history of the relationship and his internal helplessness- all of this is captured poignantly in Mammootty’s note-perfect performance.

Rajshri Deshpande in Trial by Fire

A true breakout performance if there ever was one- came from Rajshri Deshpande in Trial by Fire. The Netflix show released way back in January, but the force she brought to her Neelam Krishnamoorthy continues to haunt me still. The magnitude of her loss is immense, and as Neelam, Rajshri Deshpande carves out a woman grieving, hurting, fuming with anger and desperation- alive in her determination to seek justice. Deshpande nails the body language. The last shot that rests on her face as she confronts the truth that lies ahead, is an indelible image.

Also read: Trial by Fire review: Netflix series based on 1997 Uphaar tragedy is a triumphant reminder of the cost of resilience


Sidhant Gupta in Jubilee

Sidhant Gupta is a force of nature as Jay Khanna in Vikramaditya Motwayne’s Jubilee, a performance that immediately pushes you to sit up and take notice. Right from the early scenes in the refugee camp, you know this is a star-making turn. The actor infuses dollops of charm, intelligence and humour to his scenes as his ascent in the world of cinema begins, adding more nuance to the free-spirited character than what the script demands. It’s an eclectic mix of the Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand style of magnetism- a tender bloom in motion.

Also read: Jubilee review: Sidhant Gupta delivers star-making performance in Motwane’s sad, slow burn about movies

Aishwarya Rai in Ponniyin Selvan 2

The presence of Aishwarya Rai is the vicious fire that keeps the grandeur and spectacle of Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan 2 alive. As the tumultuous relationship between Aditya Karikalan and Nandini takes shape, we as viewers come to terms with the imprint of Aishwarya Rai’s Nandini in the journey anew. The actor provides texture and a startling sense of intimacy to the narrative, directing our gaze inwards. Her grief and anger are the sharpest weapons, somehow inescapable from her own grip. That penultimate scene with Vikram still gives me shivers. More of Aishwarya Rai on screen, please!

Also read: Ponniyin Selvan 2 review: Aishwarya Rai is unbelievably good in Mani Ratnam’s terrific epic

Surinder Vicky in Kohrra

Kohrra, the slow burn investigation thriller set in Punjab, features Surinder Vicky as a veteran sub-inspector whose years of duty has given him a jaded worldview. His Balbir Singh knows how the system works, yet has to participate in it without an iota of prejudice. Surinder Vicky pursues this character with a desperate, silent rage. His personal circumstances, and the truth that emerges out of it, torments the framework of Kohrra. The actor slowly and painstakingly carves out the character along the way, the answers written on his eyes. One particular scene where he gives in to a dance in drunken haze is captivating to watch.

Read more here: Kohrra review: Sudip Sharma juggles between slow-burn and sledgehammer

Rukmini Vasanth in Sapta Sagaradeccha Elo

The ‘sea’ her character Priya keeps referring to in Hemant Rao’s Sapta Saagaradaache Ello, is actor Rukmini Vasanth herself in this tragic love story- providing waves of composure to the shifting tides of the narrative. Right from the very beginning, when she playfully chides her lover that she will not sing whenever he wants, to that striking realization on-stage later when she has to confront an entire auditorium full of strangers- Rukimini carves the zeal and heartbreak of a woman whose grief slowly consumes her love. Not a single note feels false. The actor gives a thoughtful, layered performance- one whose presence provides Sapta Sagaradeccha Elo its soft, anguished soul.

Vikrant Massey in 12th Fail

Vikrant Massey gets the role of a lifetime as Manoj Kumar Sharma, a young lad from the Chambal region who is so inspired by a policeman, that he aims to become one himself. Yet, what are the odds? Too many, if you count. Vikrant Massey is captivating to watch, finally able to use his body language to drive the underdog story without being forced. It’s not the showy, predictable turn, but one that is understated about the character’s stubbornness and zeal. So much so that when a policeman remarks, “Chhote se ho, par dum hai tum mein!” it instantly rings true. I cannot imagine any other actor who would bring that infectious charm as Vikrant Massey does in 12th Fail. He deserves full marks.

Read more here: 12th Fail Review: Vikrant Massey delivers a superlative act in this pure and honest tale of success and failure

Special mentions:

Radhika Apte in Made in Heaven Season 2, Subhashree Ganguly in Indubala Bhater Hotel, Vijay Varma in Dahaad, Manikandan in Dada, Soori in Vidhuthalai Part 1, Vicky Kaushal in Sam Bahadur, Churni Ganguly in Ardhangini.

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