This year, 2021, wasn’t the same as every year for Bollywood. While in 2020 the industry was struggling to understand the dynamics of OTT release, this year they got a bit more familiar with that. But with theatres also opening up in spurts, there was a balance that was being tried to maintain between the theatrical and digital releases. The number of films released by Bollywood in 2021 wasn’t that high, but it did give me some of the most memorable performances of all time. While some came in the theatrical releases, most of them were from the films that released on OTT.

And as we draw close to 2021, here’s my list of breakthrough performances in films in 2021:

Sanya Malhotra in Pagglait

Before 2021, Sanya had been a part of critically and commercially successful films, but all of those were either multi-starrers or centered mainly on the other characters. With Pagglait, Sanya announced her arrival into the leading zone impressively. Her portrayal of a young widow, who is expected to be grieving but is unable to feel that emotion, and goes through the tides of manipulating family equations, while getting to know her late husband some more, touched my heart. The part kind of asserted her dominance as a leading performer and with Meenakshi Sundareshwar last month, she just proved she is a born star. In both these films, she stole the show, that too with so many amazing performances around her in the same frame.

Kriti Sanon in Mimi

Kriti had already established herself as a commercial performer before this year, but with Mimi, the actress backed a project on her name alone for the first time. Pairing that with a spellbinding performance of a surrogate mother and her relationship with her son, Kriti proved that she can deliver a heartfelt performance while keeping the commerce in mind as well. The range of emotions she showed through the film, and the required sentiments of fear, protection, love and pain; she exhibited that all quite efficiently and that’s what struck a chord with me. Her amazing line up of films in the coming years is a proof of her achievements.

Sidharth Malhotra in Shershaah

To be honest, I went into watching Shershaah with zero expectations as I am not much into war films and Sidharth’s performances over the years haven’t had that edge yet. But with this film, he changed all that. Sidharth gave his career-best performance as Captain Vikram Batra, and till date, Shershaah remains my favourite film of the year. The subtlety and the nuances that Sidharth kept through the movie, without any on the nose patriotism, just won me over and had me crying incessantly for months to come, increasing my love and expectations from him.

Kartik Aaryan in Dhamaka

After playing the chocolate boy in romcoms for over a decade, Kartik successfully broke free of that image with Dhamaka. The actor tried something new and showed a varied range of emotions as a journalist facing a dilemma between saving his life and saving his job, while being caught between a terror attack in the city, proving that he can be a part of projects other than just the commercial potboilers. He succeeded in proving that and I believe, his upcoming line up of films give him a chance to explore that even more.

Aayush Sharma in Antim: The Final Truth

With Antim, everyone was expecting another Salman Khan entertainer with the superstar in the forefront. But that wasn’t the case, Salman actually took the backseat in the film giving Aayush the platform to shine and the actor utilised it and how. Aayush’s portrayal of a gangster named Rahuliya just blew me away and his action scenes with Salman were just breathtaking. I am sure this portrayal will bring a lot more good offers for Aayush.

Nushrratt Bharuccha in Chhorii

Nushrratt also had been reduced to playing the leading actress in romcoms that were majorly male-dominated stories. But this year proved to be a game-changer for her. She started with an impressive, non-glam role of a maid in Ajeeb Daastaans which brought her a lot of appreciation, and then she closed the year with my favourite performance of hers till date, an eight-month pregnant woman caught amongst the secrets and paranormal activities within a family, in Chhorii. The actress backed a poignant story on her name and the appreciation for it was such that its sequel has already been announced with her returning as the lead.

Vaani Kapoor in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui

After her debut in 2013, this year marked Vaani’s first outing outside the Yash Raj Films camp, and she shined and how. After doing a brief yet impressive role in Bell Bottom, Vaani closed the year on a bang with the portrayal of a trans-woman in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui. The restrained confidence that she showed as Maanvi was praiseworthy and bringing representation to that community with a respectable portrayal was revolutionary. My expectations from her have now just increased a lot more.

Sara Ali Khan in Atrangi Re

Sara made an impressive debut three years ago with Kedarnath, but her last two releases failed to hit the mark, and as she was being written off, the actress made a rocking return with her performance in Atrangi Re. The way she has portrayed the character of  Rinku, I feel like it was tailor-made for her and Aanand L Rai has extracted an amazing performance out of her. If she keeps up with this progress, I am sure Sara is going to do many more wonders.

Adarsh Gourav in The White Tiger

I was used to watching Adarsh’s face on the digital screens in those youthful web shows, but the actor just reinvented himself with his portrayal of an underprivileged driver whose life takes a dark turn, in the international film The White Tiger. His part was so appreciated that he even received a BAFTA nomination in the Best Actor category, and now that praise is turning into good offers here too, as he has a film titled Kho Gaye Hum Kahaan with Ananya Panday and Siddhant Chaturvedi.

Parineeti Chopra in Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar

Parineeti has had a rollercoaster of a journey in Hindi films. She started on a high, went through a low, and then even took a little sabbatical. But ever since she returned, I had been waiting for her breakthrough performance that would again put her back in the A-league, and with three impressive performance back-to-back in a span of just a month earlier this year, she accomplished that. She gave amazing performances in The Girl On The Train and Saina, but it was in Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, that she gave her best performance of the year, and for me, it just announced her return to the big leagues.

This year has been a mix bag for the Bollywood industry with the pandemic changing the consumption pattern of the audience and then theatre business finally reviving with Sooryavanshi, but these performances have been the proof of what makes cinema so important in our lives. These 10 actors have just made me hungrier for more amazing performances from them, and I am sure that 2022 is going to much bigger and better for them and the industry.