When ‘actors’ outshone the stars

Mumbai: They came, audiences saw, they conquered — that’s quite how it was for actors such as Vicky Kaushal, Ayushmann Khurrana, Radhika Apte and Taapsee Pannu who delivered quality films in a year where big stars failed as box office draws.

The year was especially bright for mid-size films and original online content with audiences rejecting formulaic, starry ventures like Salman Khan’s “Race 3” and the much discussed “Thugs of Hindostan” that featured the never seen before combination of Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. Instead, straight from the heart films like Badhaai Ho, Raazi and Manmarziyaan that packed in content and acting hit bull’s eye with both critics and audiences. Most of the films starred young actors in their 30s.

While the Rs 300 crore Thugs of Hindostan, an extravagant period drama, made just about Rs 150 crore, the modest Badhaai Ho, about a middle class, middle aged couple with grown up sons coping with an unexpected pregnancy, raked in Rs 135 crore. Among the other big scorers at the box office were Stree (approx Rs 125 crore), Andhadhun (Rs 73.5 crore) and Raazi (Rs 122 crore).

The direct beneficiaries of audiences unwilling to go with mediocre fare even if they had stars were the actors, some of whom made their presence felt in the digital arena as well. Vicky, for instance, began the year with the rom-com “Love per Square Foot”, his digital debut with Netflix. He returned to the streaming giant for yet another success with “Lust Stories” after featuring in Meghna Gulzar’sRaazi“, a major turning point in his career. He also stood out in the glossy Sanju, actor Sanjay Dutt’s biopic by Rajkumar Hirani which starred Ranbir Kapoor. His next release “Manmarziyaan“, featuring Taapsee and Abhishek Bachchan, further cemented his position as a reliable, consistent performer.

“When people say I’ve become a star, it takes time to sink in. I feel there’s a constant sense of happiness and gratefulness in me,” the 30-year-old told PTI.

Radhika also straddled different platforms successfully. The 33-year-old featured in “Padman“, “Andhadhun” and “Baazaar“, but showed her true acting colours in back-to-back digital outings on Netflix — Anurag Kashyap’s short in the anthology “Lust Stories“, “Sacred Games” and “Ghoul“.

“The year has been great but there’s much more I want to do, which will give me the kind of satisfaction that I’ve been looking for. I don’t think this is that year,” Radhika told PTI.

Radhika’s rise comes nearly a decade after working in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Tamil and Marathi industry. Another actor who took almost a decade to peak to remarkable heights in 2018 after working across languages and industries was Taapsee. Taapsee hit gold with Anurag Kashyap’sManmarziyaan“. She started the year on a strong footing with the multi-starrerMulk“. Both films were brave choices and didn’t come with any of the commercial comfort of, say, her last blockbuster “Judwaa 2″.

Taapsee embodied the feisty Rumi in Manmarziyaan with the same ease as she portrayed Aarti Mohammed, a secular lawyer fighting for a wronged Muslim family in Mulk. But the year, in a sense, belonged to Ayushmann, who finally hit mainstream in blockbuster manner with “Andhadhun” and “Badhaai Ho“, which collectively made more than Rs 200 crore. Both the films, though dramatically different in genres, generated similar responses at the ticket window and won critics over.

While director Sriram Raghavan’s “Andhadhun” was hailed as the film of the year by many for its wacky plot – a blind pianist who witnesses a murder – “Badhaai Ho” by Amit Sharma got the audience’s love for depicting a subject rarely attempted on screen. In an interview with PTI, the 34-year-old actor said he is aware he has become a star but wants to keep things simple.

“I approach all my films as my first. I know I have become a star but I don’t want to believe it. I want to be that simple, no-fuss guy who approaches a film as if it is my first movie,” Ayushmann said.

Last year’s wonder boy, Rajkummar Rao, also continued his winning streak in 2018, garnering praise in films like “Omerta” and “Fanney Khan“. But it was the horror-comedy “Stree” that furthered his image of an actor who doesn’t hesitate headlining out of the box stories and gave him his first Rs 100 crore hit. There were others who made their mark too. The ever reliable Pankaj was on the radar with a pivotal role in Amazon Prime’s “Mirzapur“, Netflix show “Sacred Games” and in “Stree“.

Kartik Aaryan, after his success in the “Pyaar Ka Punchnama” series, got the biggest hit of his career in “Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety“, one of the highest grossers of 2018 with collections of more than Rs 100 crore. After a successful run this year, the actors have big films lined up for 2019.

Vicky will headline the action-thriller “Uri: The Surgical Strikes“, Radhika will feature in a female-driven World War II drama with Stana Katic and Sarah Megan Thomas, Ayushmann has got his hands on “Dream Girl” and “Bala” and Taapsee will be seen with Amitabh Bachchan in “Badla“. Rajkummar will be seen in as many as three films, including Ek Ladki ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga with Anil Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor.

The promise that content will rule will hold out next year as well it seems.