• Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Arts and Culture

The best of 2021



THE last few years have seen creative boundaries being expanded around the world and south Asians crossing new frontiers.

This has resulted in interesting work right across the board and offered beautiful  rays of light during the decidedly dull Covid pandemic times we all live in.

Eastern Eye decided to celebrate the best 2021 had to offer, based on originality, excellence, talent, and entertainment value. Extra points were also given for path-breaking work.

Best Film – Mandela: The rise of regional cinema in India was perfectly illustrated by great films in diverse languages overshadowing Bollywood in 2021. This cleverly crafted Tamil comedy showed the absurdity of world politics with a simple village-set story of two warring half-brothers doing whatever it takes to win a local election, except actual policy, and the casting vote going to someone dismissed as the village idiot. The comic satire was entertaining, thought-provoking and elegantly captured the current political climate.

Best Actor (Film) – Dev Patel: Last year the British actor delivered a boundary-breaking performance in The Personal History of David Copperfield. He continued his colour-blind casting quest by playing Sir Gawain in critically-acclaimed 2021 film The Green Knight. It was the first time a British Asian played such a role, but what made it extra special was the rave reviews it received right across the board and at the heart of it was a stunning performance from the actor.

Best Actress (TV) – Sumbul Touqeer Khan: The biggest breakout television star of 2021 showed maturity way beyond her years to play the title role in hit drama serial Imlie. The talented teenager completely transformed herself for the role of a feisty village girl, who finds herself in new surroundings and an unusual triangle. She captured a rainbow of emotions and held her own opposite more experienced actors. What makes it more remarkable is that the amazing actress, only just turned 18.

Best Actress (Film) – Taapsee Pannu: The hardworking Indian actress followed up a lead role in last year’s best Bollywood film Thappad with two terrific turns in 2021. The contrasting characters in Haseen Dillruba and Rashmi Rocket not only showed off her remarkable range, but also left a lasting impression. In one she plays a femme fatale, and in the other she brilliantly takes on the role of a female athlete fighting for her rights.

Best Actor (TV) – Nauman Ijaz: The Pakistani star showed off his impressive range as an actor in diverse drama serials in 2021 and added weight to each storyline. The seasoned actor delivered top-drawer performances in critically acclaimed serials Dunk, Parizaad, Dil Na Umeed To Nahi and Raqeeb Se, where he portrayed a married man, who takes in his former flame after she flees domestic abuse.

Best Actress (Web) – Drashti Dhami: Television superstar Drashti Dhami showed that she could rule the web space with a regal turn as warrior queen Khanzada in historical Hotstar serial The Empire. She overshadowed a strong cast with a powerful performance and looked simply stunning in the period drama. The actress breathed fire into every scene that she was in with her incendiary turn.

Best Actor (Web) – Manoj Bajpayee: It was always going to be difficult to match up to The Family Man, but the award-winning star took things up a level with season two. He once again played the secret agent balancing family life with taking on a deadly mission. The multi-layered performance had everything from comedy to intense emotion from an actor who was once again on top of his game.

Best Animation – Bombay Rose: Director Gitanjali Rao delivered perhaps the greatest Indian animated feature film ever with this artistic Netflix release. Rich in colour and loaded with imaginative touches, the story revolves around three individuals trying to survive an unforgiving city and how their lives intersect. There is a beautiful love story, dreamy escapism, cross-generational characters, great voice performances, simple but effective writing and beautiful artistry in this fairy-tale like film.

Best TV Series – Ghum Hai Kisikey Pyaar Meiin: The hit drama serial may have premiered at the end of 2020, but really hit top gear in 2021 and had audiences around the world hooked. The amazing success of this romantic drama has largely been due to the incredible performances of lead stars Ayesha Singh (above) and Neil Bhatt. Their engaging characters have powered the storyline forward and turned it into one of the most discussed TV shows of the year, which has clocked up over 370 episodes in quick time.

Best Web Series – Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam: Streaming site ZEE5 scored a big success with feminist 2020 Pakistani drama Churails. This time the streaming site delivered something even more unique with this stunning six-part anthology about deadly women. The perfect combination of original storytelling, unexpected twists, great direction, and standout performances combine for a five-star fantastic web serial that is nothing like anything that has come out of south Asia.

Best Album – Next Level by Bally Sagoo: Whether it was the spiritual Ek by Manika Kaur, the critically acclaimed Immigrants by Nitin Sawhney or the commercial MoonChild Era by Diljit Dosanjh, there were great albums released in 2021. However, the album of the year is a stunning comeback from British music legend Bally Sagoo, which was loaded with big tracks from start to finish. By combining an old school flavour with contemporary sounds, he delivered a complete album, which has cross-generational appeal.

Best Singer – Shreya Ghoshal: Although the biggest 2021 high for the queen of Indian cinema music was giving birth to a baby boy, she still found time to deliver some huge hits across different languages, genres, and styles. The incredible singer showed off her remarkable range on superb song releases that included Param Sundari, Zaalima Coca Cola, Pyaar Ek Tarfaa, Oh Sanam and Habit. Other great song releases included Telugu and Tamil film tracks, and Angana Morey, which she sang, composed, and wrote.

Best music producer – Steel Banglez: Most music producers continued to play it safe in 2021, but that certainly wasn’t the case with the ace boundary-breaking music producer. Whether it was teaming up with British rap talents in singles like Blama or continuing his dream partnership with Indian singing star Sidhu Moose Wala, he put his own unique stamp on the music industry.

Best comedian – Paul Chowdhry: The live comedy scene is red-hot right now, with more stand-up talent than ever performing to packed venues. Although Zakir Khan deserves a special mention for taking Hindi language stand-up comedy global, path-breaking comedian Paul Chowdhry continued to boss the UK scene with his new show, entertain listeners with his podcast and most importantly blaze a trail for so many who are following in his giant footsteps.

Best Online star – Madan Gowri: Whether it is YouTubers or social media stars, independent content creators are red-hot right now. While most are using comedy or commercial forms such as dance to connect with audiences, Indian online star Madan Gowri is unique in that he has been using meaningful videos and deep discussions to make a mark. The lead Tamil language content creator on YouTube is blazing a trail for others in that language.

Best documentary – WOMB (Women of My Billion): Two stunning documentary films premiered at festivals this year. One was the Delhi-set Invisible Demons, which showed the devastating effects of climate change and the other was this massively inspiring masterpiece. The film mixes up a determined woman’s 3,800-kilometre walk across India with three brave abuse survivors telling their deeply emotional stories. The thought-provoking film charts an incredible journey, uncovers injustice, offers hope, finds allies, and puts across an important social message.


ONE of the best aspects of 2021 was wonderful celebrity fuelled moments that took everyone by surprise and made the past 12 months even more magical. Here are super seven celebrity surprises from what turned out to be another roller-coaster year.

Adarsh Gourav in The White Tiger (Tejinder Singh Khamkha​/NETFLIX ​)

Adarsh Gourav: The White Tiger film adaptation may have had popular stars Priyanka Chopra and Rajkummar Rao in key roles, but it was unknown actor Adarsh Gourav that surprised everyone with his stunning performance. The 27-year-old outshone his more established co-stars in the film adaptation of the best-selling novel and got himself major nominations, including at the BAFTA awards.

Hadiqa Kiani: After decades of making great music, Pakistan’s greatest female pop star made a stunning acting debut. The 47-year-old icon followed up an award-winning acting debut in hit serial Raqeeb Se with a stunning turn in Dobara. Apart from showing off her impressive acting ability, she also delivered stronger older protagonists in a TV landscape dominated by young characters.

Riz Ahmed: The British actor became the first Muslim and Pakistani to get a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars for his stunning performance in Sound Of Metal. The surprise ground-breaking achievement was accompanied by Best Actor nominations at the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards. The amazing achievement became a landmark moment and showed anything is possible.

Debattama Saha and Karanvir Sharma: A lot of Indian TV stars have appeared in music videos, but the Shaurya Aur Anokhi Ki Kahani stars took things a step further with the stunning Jo Tera Howega. They recorded the terrific track in their own vocals, produced the beautiful looking video themselves and released it independently. The result was one of this year’s best musical moments and a boss move from the rapidly rising stars.

Jameela Jamil: We all knew about Kumail Nanjiani being part of mega-budget superhero movie The Eternals and Iman Vellani playing the title role in forthcoming series Ms Marvel, but what took us all by surprise was Jameela Jamil signing up to star in She-Hulk. The British Asian actress will join the Marvel universe as super villain Titania in the hotly anticipated 10-episode series, due to premiere in 2022.

Yohani & Satheeshan: The Sri Lankan music duo teamed up to deliver this year’s biggest sleeper hit with their successful song Manike Mage Hithe. The cover version has been viewed over 180 million times on YouTube and inspired countless remakes. Most importantly, the Sinhala language song put Sri Lanka on the international musical map and broke ground for others in their country.

Sajal Ali: It was a delightful moment  when it was revealed the Pakistani actress was part of big budget British film What’s Love Got To Do With It. By becoming the first frontline Pakistani star to sign up for a major international film, she opened the door for a generation of talent to follow in her brilliant footsteps.

Eastern Eye

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