In no particular order…
She was the best reason to watch Chennai Express, her absurd accent only adding to her charm. In Race 2 she was the only one who looked truly racy. But it was in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani and Ram Leela where Deepika Padukone really showed us how she’s matured as an actor and grown in confidence since her debut. Whether it is Ranbir Kapoor or Ranveer Singh, she effortlessly manages to match the boys’ energy and conviction with relentless chemistry, all the while making it look easy and natural. Now she’s gone on to become a true star in her own right given the many hundred crores her films have grossed at the box-office.
Every regular Hindi film viewer had an opinion about Dhanush based on what they saw in Raanjhanaa’s promo, but surely no one had an even an inclination of the mighty acting talent that Dhanush was going to reveal himself as. It turned out to be the underdog performance of the year. Dhanush is so good in the film, he makes you want to be him. His madly infectious enthusiasm as the young Kundan and the signature tune that plays every time his heart beats for the love of his life makes you want to grab on to these moments, pin them down so you can stare at them on your time with the same elation as Kundan’s eyes have for his lover.
Irrfan Khan continues with his tremendous form in 2013 with excellent work. In the Lunchbox – his best, most nuanced performance of the year – he enjoys the freedom the indie format provides, taking his time, allowing space for the emotions to form into expressions that don’t need support from dialogue or further exposition. In D-Day, some of the best moments of the movie belong to his story of dilemmas. This is not strictly Irrfan territory and yet he does a phenomenal job outside of it. He is also the single most compelling reason to watch Sahib, Biwi aur Gangster Returns. It’s impossible to look away when he’s on screen and you yearn for him to appear when he’s not.
Farhan Akhtar makes the cut for the tremendous commitment he shows in his role as the Flying Sikh in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Not many actors have worked harder on a physical transformation quite like Akhtar. And here, he does so with relevance to the role. He runs like a gazelle, with perfect precision, and how grueling it must be to do takes and retakes especially in locations like Ladakh. But it is also his acting that surpasses all expectations. Farhan Akhtar is Milkha Singh.
It’s been the big breakout year for Rajkummar Rao (the artist formerly known as Raj Kumar Yadav). He has two significant releases: Kai Po Che and Shahid. In KPC we saw more of what we’re used to of him. But it was in Shahid where he truly matured as a performer and demonstrates his superb range. Unlike lead actors in Hindi films who attempt to shine through their sheer energy, or by underplaying, or simply carrying off a certain look; he bares his soul like few others have in the past. This is not an easy thing to do as not every performance of actors who takes this route comes off looking sane. But Rajkummar controls that animal and delivers an exceptional rendition of slain lawyer Shahid Azmi.