As the first decade in the new millennium comes to an end, one thing becomes clear that Bollywood has seriously changed for better. The last ten years have seen Hindi cinema breaking away from tried-and-trusted formulas and move towards new trends and new themes. That has given the actors opportunity to play plenty of interesting characters, many of which have gone on to become a part of film folklore! Here is an attempt to take stock of some of the most memorable Bollywood characters seen over the last decade!
The big guys
The star-system has always worked wonders for Bollywood and even in this decade, the best roles were mostly essayed by top tier stars. Leading the star-pack with his varied set of roles was Aamir Khan. His Bhuvan in Lagaan was the perfect epitome of India's search for national pride and its cricket-mania. This dhoti- wearing farmer raising a ragtag rustic cricket team and locking horns with the might of British colonialism was taken to hearts by the audiences. Aamir's much anticipated title-role of the big mustached historic freedom fighter Mangal Pandey did not make many waves but both, classes as well as masses loved his ubercool urban youth Akash in Dil Chahta Hai, Kashmiri terrorist Rehaan in Fanaa, happy-go-lucky collegian-turned-modern day revolutionary DJ in Rang De Basanti and the sensitive art-teacher Ramshankar Nikumbh in Taare Zameen Par. But his most amazing transition was as a suave businessman-turned-amnesiac killer Sanjay Singhania in Ghanjini where his tonsured head, muscled body and manic attitude in Ghajini floored the audiences! As his decade-ending present he delivered another memorable character- Rancho in 3 Idiots, a genius student looking to challenge the age-old education methods.
Shahrukh Khan, too pulled off some memorable performances this decade. His modern interpretation of lost-in-love, lost- in- life Devdas was rather surprisingly lapped up by the Gen X. His down-to-earth, realistic portrayals like Mohan Bhargav in Swades (an NRI scientist finding his Indian roots) and Kabir Khan in Chak De India (a once-disgraced goalkeeper coming out of oblivion to coach the unfancied Indian Female Hockey Team to World Cup victory) were a far cry from his usual glamorous roles. Taking cue from them he later successfully depicted Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi's Surinder Sahni, a mousy middle-class clerk unable to voice his love to his wife!
Hrithik Roshan challenged the top 2 Khans with multifaceted roles. His Rohit Mehra in Koi Mil Gaya, a mentally challenged youngster ('Main sirf Bournvita peeta hoon!') was simply superb. Equally enticing were his title-role portrayals of superhero Kkrish and emperor Akbar, and his Catch-Me-If You-Can clever thief Mr. A in Dhoom 2!
Among other leading stars, Salman Khan's passionate lover Radhe Mohan (Tere Naam), Akshay Kumar's bumbling don Happy Singh (Singh is King), Ranbir Kapoor's aimless youth Sid (Wake Up Sid) and Shahid Kapoor's double role- Charlie and Guddu (Kaminey) proved popular. Bachchan Jr. Abhishek too had his fun as a slippery thief Bunty in Bunty Aur Babli but his portrayals as hot-headed goon Lallan Singh in Yuva and canny entrepreneur Gurukant Desai in Guru were more potent.
And how can we ever discount Bachchan Sr. from delivering sterling performances? His roles as an eccentric teacher Debraj Sahai in Black, sacrificing father Raj Malhotra in Baghban, powerful leader Subhash Nagre in Sarkar and ponytail-sporting grouchy chef Budhdhadev Gupta in Cheeni Kum won rave reviews.
The bad guys
It was as a villain, Saif Ali Khan first made his mark this decade. His smooth-talking criminal Karan in Ek Hasina Thi and even more significantly his scheming rustic underworld henchman Langda Tyagi in Omkara were two superb negative portrayals. John Abraham's bike-gang-leader Kabir in Dhoom was another stylish villain that stayed in minds. Naseeruddin Shah's unnamed common man-turned-terrorist in A Wedndesday was brilliant and so was Boman Irani's sly dean Dr.Asthana in Munnabhai MBBS. The best bad guy of the decade was Pankaj Kapoor's subtly portrayed underworld don Abbaji in Maqbool and arguably the worst was Big B's pathetic attempt at recreating Gabbar Khan in Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag!
The funny guys
The golden-hearted simpleton don Munnabhai (portrayed by Sanjay Dutt) and his ever-loyal wool-headed sidekick Circuit (Arshad Warsi) first trying their hand at getting a medical degree in Munnabhai MBBS and later following the 'Gandhigiri'- path in Lagey Raho Munnabhai were two cleverly written and extremely well-acted comic characters that entered Bollywood's Hall Of Fame! Another pair to catch imagination was John Abraham's Kunal and Abhishek Bachchan's Sameer in Dostana, two straight guys posing as gays out of situational compulsion!
While recalling funny guys, who can forget Paresh Raval's perpetually harassed bespectacled landlord Baburao Apte in Herapheri and Javed Jaffrey's fake Aussie-accented Jaggu in Salaam Namaste saying 'egjactly'? Vinay Pathak's Bharat Bhushan was another zany comic character, whose simplicity and innocence wreaked havoc on his smart aleck host in Bheja Fry!
The leading ladies
Surprisingly only a few female roles this decade made lasting impact. Urmila Matondkar's Sarika, a wronged woman turning tables on her tormentors in Ek Hasina Thi was a powerful role that went unnoticed. Rani Mukerjee's portrayal of Michelle, a severely physically challenged girl adapting to the 'normal' world in Black was exceptional. In total contrast was her role as bubbly would-be model-turned-thief Babli in Bunty Aur Babli. Aishwarya Rai's spirited princess Jodha in Jodha Akbar, Shabana Azmi's hideous witch Makdee, Kajol's Alzheimer-affected Piya in U Me Aur Hum, Vidya Balan's classically romantic Lolita in Parineeta, Priyanka Chopra's aggressive vamp Sonia in Aitraaz, and Kareena Kapoor's full-of-life chatterbox Geet Dhillon in Jab We Met were worth remembering.
Shweta Prasad's contrasting double roles- Chunni and Munni in Makdee, Ayesha Kapoor's deaf-mute-blind Michelle in Black, Dwij Yadav's child-guide Nanhe Jaisalmer and Purav Bhandare's Kashmiri boy Tahaan were some top drawer child-performances. Darsheel Safary's Ishaan Avashthi in Taare Zameen Par brought to the fore the issue of dyslexia, a learning disability. The endearing young actor so naturally portrayed the day-to-day struggles of an academically challenged 6-year old, who is misunderstood by his family, teachers and schoolmates, before discovering his true calling through an understanding teacher.
Incidentally just as the decade was drawing to its close, one great performance came from a newly introduced child artist! The 68-year old Amitabh Bachchan let go of his larger-than-life Big B-persona and his famous Bachchan- baritone to change into a 12 year-old prematurely aging progeric school-kid Auro in Paa, The 'boy' with slumped shoulders, gawky walk, squeaky voice and (not to mention an alien-like old man-face!) won a million hearts with his wry wit and sunny humor!
Some others that stayed in mind
Paresh Raval's Vallabhbhai Patel in Sardar
Sachin Khedekar's Subhaschandra Bose in Bose
Ajay Devgan's Bhagat Singh in Shaheed Bhagat Singh
Akshaye Khanna's Harilal Gandhi in Gandhi My father
Pankaj Kapoor's lonely shopkeeper Nandu Khatri in Blue Umbrella
Abhay Deol's Dev in Dev D
Vinay Pathak's Amar Kaul in Dasvidaniya
Paresh Raval's policeman Tukaram Patil in Mumbai Meri Jaan
Anupam Kher's delusional Uttam Chaudhary in Maine Gandhi Ko Nahi Maara
The friendly alien Jadoo in Koi Mil Gaya