The power of female actresses to pull in crowds to theatres and deliver hits has been established in recent years. Still, 2015 can be called the year when they reiterated this fact emphatically, especially with successes like Piku and Tanu and Manu Returns. When pushed into a corner, Anushka Sharma picked up the rod and defended herself; Deepika Padukone showed up as a cranky but caring daughter; Kangana Ranaut reprised her Tanu act with oodles of spunk; Priyanka Chopra made a successful foray into the international scene; and Tillotama Shome went beyond the unexpected as she portrayed the conflicts and struggles of a girl raised as a boy. (Read Alaka’s interview: Rapid fire round with King Khan Shah Rukh Khan: I like being called ‘papa’)
We pick the female actors, in alphabetical order, whose performances stayed with us much after their movies were released and the box-office verdict was delivered. (See Pics: Kangana Ranaut, Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma: Top 10 actresses of 2015)
Anushka Sharma: She made a bold move when she stepped into produce NH10, a slasher thriller directed by Navdeep Singh. Then, she delivered a gritty performance as a city-bred girl caught in a brutal war of survival in an alien terrain where patriarchy exists in it most violent and ugliest form. In the latter part of the year, she played the character of a jazz singer of the 60s in Anurag Kashyap-directed Bombay Velvet. She got mixed reactions for her Rosie in this period drama that required her to wear heavy costumes and transform herself into a professional jazz singer. (There’s no perfect shot in my head: Kajol)
Deepika Padukone: Even though, she appeared in three prominent movies this year, Deepika Padukone will be remembered for transforming into Piku. While essaying the author-backed title role of Piku, Deepika Padukone showed the depth of her emotions and range of her craft. For most part of the film, she was grumpy. Yet, one could sense her vulnerabilities and concerns. She owned the role with amazing maturity. While Tamasha revolved mainly around Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika was a perfect foil for him with her verve and eagerness to engage in the game of make-believe. Sanjay Leela Bhansali took great pains to showcase her dream-like beauty in Bajirao Mastani, adding more layers and dimensions to her character would have taken her performance several notches higher. (Read: Amitabh, Ranbir, Ranveer: Top actors who stole the scene in 2015)
Kalki Koechlin: In Margarita with a Straw, with her sensitive portrayal of Laila — a differently-abled teenage girl with regular ambitions of finding love and physical intimacy as well as the desire to enjoy life — she made the audience understand her heartbreaks and confusions. Yet, at no point, she made the audience feel sorry for Laila, a teenager with cerebral palsy, in this Shonali Bose-directed movie. The credit for this goes to Koechlin for presenting Laila’s inherent joie de vivre. As Laila, she has made one of her career-best appearances, so far.
Kangana Ranaut: With Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Kangana Ranaut reprised her already popular role of Tanu and spiced it up with more spunk and devil-may-care attitude. However, the layers that had kept her insecurities hidden are peeled off in the second half. Interestingly, the popularity of Tanu was threatened by Datto, the character of a Haryanvi-speaking athlete. To play Datto, Kangana sported short hair, buck teeth and developed the body language of a sprinter. Her second release of the year, Katti Batti, a rom-com with Imran Khan, failed to tickle the funny bone.
Priyanka Chopra: Priyanka Chopra made her much-publicised foray into the international showbiz by headlining the American series Quantico. Notwithstanding mixed response it received from the critics and audience, she generated a lot of interest in India and abroad as Alex Parrish, an FBI recruit who is suspected of committing a terrorist attack. Back home, she managed to shine in two big-budget movies with ensemble cast – Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakane Do and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani. She was convincing as Ayesha, a self-made successful business woman caught in a loveless marriage, in Dil Dhadakane Do. In Bajirao Mastani, she won the appreciation of critics and audience alike as Kashibai, who shows her unstinting support for her husband even after he marries another woman.
Tillotama Shome: To play the role of Kanwar, a girl raised as a boy by her father, Shome’s preparation started six months before the shoot of Qissa. She had to undergo intense training that involved swimming and practising kalaripayattu, apart from learning the Panjabi dialect that director Anup Singh uses in the film. When you watch her on the big screen, in her
turbaned head and breasts flattened by bandage, you realise it requires a consummate artiste to reveal the conflicts her character encounters; the betrayal she feels as her mother did not protect her from her father’s whims; and the confusion about her identity that engulfs her. Masterful.