Characters in series breed a special sort of attachment. The format allows the audience to experience their journey more intimately than the time constraints of a film can. It also allows actors to embrace their roles comprehensively, to show off the little details that may otherwise be cut in the editing room. Perhaps this is why some of 2020’s greatest performances were featured in web series. Here are some of the best of this year:
Nimra Bucha (Batool Jan) – ‘Churails’
Nimra Bucha, who is usually cast as a timid mother, showed a different side in ‘Churails’ as Batool Jan. Batool is a convicted murderer who joins the fight to ensure no other woman is put in a situation she was in by men in their lives. Embodying darkness and trauma, but never evoking pity, Bucha finds the perfect balance in her character. Batool has the raw tenderness and fury of a heartbroken mother, which is simultaneously terrifying and heartbreaking, as it should be. Her acting prowess isn’t surprising, the fact that she finally got a role that allows her to fully exhibit her craft is. Bucha’s performance is a stark reminder of the immense amount of talent in Pakistan that is being wasted on television screens.
Pratik Gandhi (Harshad Mehta) – ‘Scam 1992’
Pratik Gandhi’s stock market king Harshad Mehta is the most iconic character of this year. Physically embodying the rise and fall of a man through his body language, Gandhi was not acting as Harshad Mehta, he was him. Seeing a performance like this is incredibly rare. The appeal is immediate, as he charmingly makes even the most complicated concepts seem understandable with his dialogue delivery and catchy one-liners. Throughout the series, Gandhi creates a myth out of the man he is playing, breaks it, then grounds him back to the ordinary man he once was. And he does it all without any judgement.
Shreya Dhanwanthary (Sucheta Dalal) – ‘Scam 1992’
Women like Sucheta Dalal are hard to come by in fictionalized stories. So are performances by women like Shreya Dhanwanthary. The inherent assertiveness of the character is so lived in, it feels unusually natural in a time when such traits are given to female characters only to make a statement. She is ambitious and relentless in her pursuit of the truth as a journalist uncovering the shady dealings of the Bombay Stock Exchange, but instead of using courage, Dhanwanthary frames these characteristics as moral resolve. She doesn’t try to be brave or inspirational, yet she is.
Jaideep Ahlawat (Hathiram Chaudhry) – ‘Paatal Lok’
‘Paatal Lok’ is a hard watch made slightly easier by the humanity that seeps through Ahlawat’s performance as a conflicted police officer investigating a major conspiracy. A slight twitch, a gentle nod is all Hathiram Chaudhry gets to express his dilemma, and Ahlawat manages to find the perfect expression for that split second. The emoting isn’t restricted to his face either. You can see the tension in his shoulders, his posture, the eye contact he makes with other characters. Our screens will soon be flooded with imitations of Hathiram Chaudhry, but none will come close to Ahlawat’s ingenuity.
Sushmita Sen (Aarya) – ‘Aarya’
We might struggle to remember when exactly Sushmita Sen faded away from the silver screen, but with a thrilling performance in ‘Aarya’, Sen has made sure we never forget her comeback. She presents a calm and composed front of a caring mother and loving wife. However, underneath that image of Aarya is a simmering rage. No situation is truly out of her control, no problem is big enough to crush her. The hidden ferocity that Sen brings to her character is so compelling, you can’t look away. But the gentle, quiet moments are the ones that stay with you.
Jitendra Kumar (Abhishek Tripathi) – ‘Panchayat’
The easygoing charm of Jitendra Kumar’s on-screen presence made him the best fit for a show like ‘Panchayat’. He plays Abhishek, a young man who is forced to begin his career in a small village where nothing exciting ever happens. But the joy in ‘Panchayat’, just like in Kumar’s performance, lies in the small moments. It is hard to imagine the show working as well as it does without Kumar and his ability to know exactly when to shine and when to let his fellow actors take the spotlight. Especially when the co-actors are as iconic as Neena Gupta and Raghubir Yadav.
Kay Kay Menon (Himmat Singh) – ‘Special OPS’
Kay Kay Menon is restrained and sarcastic as RAW officer Himmat Singh, who has spent years looking for a missing terrorist no one else believes exists. Menon’s cool demeanor is far more intimidating than any aggressive portrayal could be. It is especially amusing then, how his composure changes at home with his family. A brilliant officer becomes a flustered father in front of his teenage daughter. Menon is the scene-stealing highlight of ‘Special OPS’, defining the pace of the narrative with his performance.
Gulshan Devaiah (Nakul) – ‘Afsos’
Devaiah has perfected performing jokes on screen, so for ‘Afsos’ he took the next logical step and became the punchline himself as passive, unlucky, suicidal Nakul. Devaiah has found Nakul stuck between his expectations of himself and his reality. He is a man who doesn’t really want to die but can’t quite figure out how to live the way he wants to either. The stubborn unenthusiasm of his existence has Devaiah cleverly going out of his way to do very little, whether out of exhaustion, self-doubt or both. Never has misery been so hilariously endearing.
Ritwik Bhowmik (Radhe) – ‘Bandish Bandits’
Lip-syncing to each nuance of a complicated Indian classical tune is not easy, but Ritwik Bhowmik looks like a natural on screen. His unassuming charm doesn’t hurt either.
Jennifer Winget (Monica Mehra) – ‘Code M’
Jennifer Winget has shown time and again that she is the best actress in the TV industry. Seeing her take on atypical roles like Monica, expanding her horizons as a performer is a delight.
Amit Sadh – ‘Avrodh’, ‘Breathe: Into the Shadows’
Amit Sadh has consistently gone above and beyond this year with intriguing performances in both ‘Avrodh’ and ‘Breathe: Into the Shadows’, proving his mettle as an actor.
The web series released this year have exponentially raised the quality of content being produced on OTT. We hope to see more great actors starring in great stories next year as well.