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Scene stealers

Subhash K Jha

They don't always get noticed, the truly outstanding performances. In India, sympathetic performances tend to get all the applause.

Critical acclaim, even the awards, often depends on the way the lines are written for the artiste rather than the way he or she delivers them.

I believe in 2001, Hindi film acting truly came into its own. A look at some of the artistes who made their presence felt without trying:

Amitabh Bachchan in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham: It was an uphill task for AB.

He had done the obdurate business tycoon and obstinate patriarch earlier this year in Suneel Darshan's Ek Rishta: The Bond Of Love. His confrontation sequences with Shah Rukh Khan could well have been an instant replay of Mohabbatein.

AB has ably avoided both pitfalls in K3G. The self-opinionated Yashovardhan Raichand is rife with expressive silences -- unspeakable moments of happiness and grief.

In a film full of overt crowd pullers, AB is the 'awed' one out. You can see it in the entire cast's eyes.

Tabu in Chandni Bar: Some roles are so patently written for applause, you view them with scepticism and scrutinise them for flaws.

But Tabu in Madhur Bhandarkar's haunting treatise about a bar dancer's lunge towards dignity is flawless. She portrays the tragic resonance of her character without overt melodrama or tricks of the histrionic trade.

In the sequence where she sits with her pimp-pal Rajpal Yadav, hunting desperately through her telephone diary looking for clients who can earn her a quick buck, Tabu doesn't perform -- she lives the character's dignity even in the face of the most abject humiliation conceivable.

What a role, what a performance.

Suraj Balajee in Asoka: Santosh Sivan has always been brilliant with kids. Remember the super performance by child actors in Halo, Malli and The Terrorist?

In Asoka he used well-known Telugu producer Suresh Balajee's little son Suraj to play the important part of Arya, the banished crown prince of Kalinga.

The royal innocence that little Suraj invests into his part is nothing but acting skill. The snobbery ("Kaise log hain yeh" – what kind of people are these?) when he sees prostitutes giggling is tempered by a child's innate innocence and wonder as he roams the unknown forest. When the boy falls on the battleground, saying, "Main roya bhi nahin" (I didn't cry), something dies within us.

Sushmita Sen in Bas Itna Sa Khwaab Hai: Some actors are born to play certain roles. As the enigmatic but super-confident executive Lara in Goldie Behl's debut film, Sushmita Sen imparts cerebral and sensual velocity to her underwritten part.

Even if she stands quietly in a corner of the frame we just can't take our eyes off her. Who is this woman who quietly and authoritatively guides the hero and the plot's destiny?

Kamal Haasan in Abhay: Mumbai critics slashed the film. As Nandu, the psycho on the prowl, Kamal Haasan gave a perfectly pitched performance. Take the crazed look in his eyes as he recites the verse about being half-animal and half-human.

Many dissenting voices have accused him of hogging the limelight. Sorry, that's just lazy actors and slothful non-actors who can't dream big. Kamal Haasan in Abhay proves he can be anything, even Jack Nicholson if the script demands it.

Dimple Kapadia in Dil Chahta Hai: Sure, we loved Aamir Khan, Akshaye Khanna and Saif Ali Khan.

What about this diva? As the lacerated divorcee Tara Jaiswal, Dimple made a space for herself in the plot. Her eyes were like two magnificent pools of pain.

And when Akshaye Khanna paints her portrait, those ravaged eyes lit up like the July 4 fireworks. Dimple was simply stunning.

Madhuri Dixit in Lajja: Okay, in this case, the role superceded the performance. In a film brimming with female vignettes, Madhuri grabbed the plum role of the liberated nautanki performer who questions every etiquette pertaining to a woman's place in society -- she smokes, becomes pregnant before marriage and wants to know why women can't pee in public places.

The character could easily have gone overboard. Madhuri lent grace to her role. Her mercurial facial movements were so well timed.

Lilette Dubey in Zubeidaa: In a curiously twisted way, Lilette Dubey's Rose in Zubeidaa reminded me of Waheeda Rehman's Rosy in Guide.

The same spirited rejection of gender tenets, the same refusal to bow down under masculine pressure and determination to live life to the brim. Dubey's Anglo-Indian character in Zubeidaa has a vigorous grace representing the end of a coquettish era.

After Zubeidaa, Lilette Dubey has been accepted as part of our cinema's casting queue.

Shefali Shetty in Monsoon Wedding: She could burn a hole even on small screen. Lately, Shefali had gone underground. She resurfaced recently as the bride's wounded, but spirited, cousin Ria in Mira Nair's film.

Shefali's performance conveys so much pain and a longing for a sense of belonging in that rich atmosphere of festivity.

Manisha Koirala in Grahan: In one sequence, Manisha Koirala, playing a traumatised rape victim stands rummaging in a heap of garbage for food and hitches up her sari to offer her sexual services to a shocked and embarrassed Jackie Shroff.

It was one of the most difficult sequences I've ever seen an actress portray on screen. Manisha played the rape victim with an intensity and conviction that surpassed Nandita Das’ performance as a rape victim in Bawandar.