There is no denying the fact that actors who don’t hail from film families don’t get to have expensive debut films served to them on a platter in Bollywood. They slog, like Sushant Singh Rajput did, in commercials, television serials, hoping they’d get a break in a big film some day.
Often, even when they do get a break in a film, the audience doesn’t queue up to watch them with the same eagerness with which they’d go for a star kids’ film. Some times, like in the case of Vikrant Massey’s confident yet tiny cameo in Half Girlfriend which starred a frigid Arjun Kapoor, these actors’ presence alongside ‘stars’ on screen make the unfairness of the industry only too apparent.
In the past five years, a bunch of fantastic actors formally debuted in Bollywood.
If you haven’t watched their films, stream them now!
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Siddhant Chaturvedi ― Gully Boy
Even though Chaturvedi made his acting debut in Amazon Prime’s Inside Edge, where he played a fast bowler called Prashant Kanojia, it’s his role as rapper MC Sher in Gully Boy that made him an instant hit with today’s youth. His stark physicality and effortlessness, ensured that despite ending up with a part written with little nuance, Chaturvedi melted the screen with sheer charisma. Just look at him in the ‘Sher Aaya Sher’ sequence, where he owns the stage with his body-language alone. Pitted against Ranveer Singh in the film, the fan-following Chaturvedi amassed following Gully Boy is evidence of his versatility and talent. While through the major part of Gully Boy, Chaturvedi’s job was to play a rapper with sass, his restrain and versatility shone in the few scenes he had as a regular young man straddled with a disapproving father, someone who he also had to take care of. He will be seen in Bunty Aur Babli 2, and alongside Deepika Padukone and Ananya Panday in Shakun Batra’s next.
Avinash Tiwary ― Laila Majnu
Tiwary, who brings a rugged vulnerability to most of his on-screen personalities, starred in the most watchable portions of an otherwise middling Laila Majnu. Playing the male lead of the classic folklore of the same name, Tiwary brings a wild energy to his role as Qais spiralling into the broken, lovelorn legend Majnu. In the song ‘Haafiz Haafiz’, Tiwary exhibits his range as an actor — from entranced to tortured he brings a gamut of emotions to just one song, Tiwary was chosen for Karan Johar’s Ghost Stories segment, and the lead in Anushka Sharma’s production, Bulbbul, after his spectacular debut. His future project includes starring opposite Parineeti Chopra in the Hindi remake of Emily Blunt-starrer, The Girl On The Train.
Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar, Ritwik Sahore, Fatima Sana Sheikh, Sanya Malhotra and Aparshakti Khurrana ― Dangal
One reason why Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal witnessed its blockbuster high, was because of its stellar ensemble cast. Apart from Aamir Khan and Sakshi Tanwar, it was the ‘Phogat’ kids, who won everyone over with their spunk. Whether it’s Wasim and Bhatnagar as the younger versions of Geeta and Babita, with Sahore playing cousin Omkar, who usually got embroiled in the sisters’ rebellion. Or Sheikh and Malhotra (playing the older Geeta & Babita), who grapple with the complicated dynamic with their father, once they’ve seen the world outside.It’s nicely captured in the song ‘Naina’, telling us about the wedge drawn into the relationship. Khurrana doesn’t miss a single comic beat playing the grown up Omkar. Both Zaira Wasim and Sanya Malhotra have carried on with mature performances in Secret Superstar and Photograph.
Barun Sobti ― Tu Hai Mera Sunday
Sobti’s role in Milind Dhaimade’s Tu Hai Mera Sunday was a refreshing change from his routine as a TV star. Playing the role of a young, kind-hearted Bombay boy, trying to find a place for his Sunday football matches, Sobti brought a relatable earthiness to his character. Sharing the screen with an ensemble comprising names like Shahana Goswami, Vishal Malhotra, Shiv Subramaniam, Rasika Dugal and Maanvi Gagroo, Sobti’s held his own with his quiet, expressive presence.
Mrunal Thakur ― Love Sonia
After starting out in TV serials, Thakur made her Bollywood debut in Tabrez Noorani’s largely (and disturbingly) authentic film around India’s flesh trade. With the steep task of acting alongside Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadha, Adil Hussain, Rajkummar Rao and Anupam Kher among others, the vulnerability on Thakur’s face became synonymous with the tragedy of a million faceless girls. And that’s why it stood out even in the midst of an ensemble like this.
Since her debut, Thakur has gone on to star in many high-profile projects like Super 30, Ghost Stories (Karan Johar’s segment). She’s all set to star in the Shahid Kapoor-starrer Jersey remake, and opposite Farhan Akhtar in Toofan.
Mohammad Samad ― Tumbbad
After playing a ‘kid’ in Firaaq and Haraamkhor, Samad’s talents stood out in a critical scene with his on-screen father (Sohum Shah) in 2018’s Tumbbad. Shah’s character has just realised that his son exhibits the same shrewdness as him, and as a reward he takes the teenager with him to a nearby brothel for an evening of debauchery. Showering currency on the women in the middle of the occasional swigs of alcohol with his father, it’s a striking moment where one can practically see the vices of one generation being passed down to the next. Samad later went on to play the role of Sushant Singh Rajput and Shraddha Kapoor’s son in Nitesh Tiwari’s Chhichhore.
Vijay Varma ― Monsoon Shootout
Long before Varma came to be known as Moeen in many Indian households, thanks to his unforgettable role in Gully Boy, he starred as a hesitant newbie cop in Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootout. Varma fits perfectly into the mould of an idealistic rookie. He doesn’t put a foot wrong in front of an in-form Nawazuddin Siddiqui and an enigmatic Neeraj Kabi. Even though Varma has seen his share of recent misfires like Baaghi 3, or the Netflix original, She, everyone seems to be aware of Varma’s limitless potential as an actor.
Jim Sarbh ― Neerja
Starting out primarily as a theatre actor in Mumbai, Sarbh was the wildcard in Ram Madhvani’s Neerja. Playing the role of a terrorist named Khalil, Sarbh’s unpredictable presence, the eccentric body language he brought to his character multiplied the tension on screen manifold. After winning accolades for his debut performance, Sarbh has gone on to star in a mixed bag of films. Starring in Death In The Gunj, Jonaki and the recent Yeh Ballet, he’s also done his fair share of ‘commercial cinema’ like Raabta, Padmaavat and a forgettable part in Sanju.
Shashank Arora, Shivani Raghuvanshi ― Titli
Kanu Behl’s grimy directorial debut about a family residing in a city’s underbelly, gave us two confident debutantes in the form of Shashank Arora and Shivani Raghuvanshi. For all intents and purposes the ‘lead pair’ of the film, both Raghuvanshi and Arora go toe to toe with the film’s veterans like Ranvir Shorey and Amit Sial. They’re both deeply felt performances from the young actors, channelling the frustration of being stuck in a living hell of a family.
Rasika Dugal ― Qissa
Doing a series of blink-and-you-miss roles, the first time Dugal caught the audience’s attention was in Anup Singh’s directorial debut, Qissa. Playing the role of Neeli, who is married to a woman raised to believe she’s a man (played by Tillotama Shome), Dugal’s turn is both sensitive and affecting. Making her mark in a film of superlative performances by Irrfan, Tisca Chopra and Shome, Dugal proved her mettle as an actor. Thanks to a wide spread of short films, web series and an eclectic choice of films, Dugal is now enjoying some mainstream success, only destined to become bigger.
Vicky Kaushal ― Masaan
In spite of being the son of action director Shyam Kaushal, it’s hard to begrudge Vicky Kaushal as an ‘insider’. Making his mark in Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan, Kaushal won everyone over with his earnestness in the role of Deepak. Whether it’s in the little scenes where he’s sneaking a heart-shaped eraser to Shweta Tripathi, or that brilliant scene of mourning that ends with the great line - yeh dukh kaahe khatam nahi hota be? Kaushal has moved on to monster successes like Sanju and Uri, where his performances have got worthy mention, even if the films’ politics have been criticised. Recently appearing in a (frankly garbage!) Dharma production, Bhoot: The Haunted Ship, Kaushal will play the role of Udham Singh in Shoojit Sircar’s next, Sam Manekshaw in Meghna Gulzar’s next and Aurangzeb in Karan Johar’s Takht. Among his contemporaries, Kaushal has some of the most exciting films to look forward to.
Vikrant Massey ― A Death in The Gunj
Much like Barun Sobti, even Massey was a huge TV star by the time he was knocking on Bollywood’s doors. But he slowly made his way through many similar (but hardly monotonous) roles of the hero’s best friend, in films like Lootera, Dil Dhadakne Do and Half Girlfriend. Finding his breakout role in Konkona Sen Sharma’s Death In The Gunj, Massey won near-unanimous acclaim for his role as Shutu – a character caught in a seemingly unending battle with grief. Massey’s quiet yet tumultuous presence in the film, held it together and his final scenes in the film are stuff they should teach in acting schools.