The Indian OTT content space in 2018 was peppered with instances of brilliance – in storytelling as well as performances. The year saw some outstanding shows that left a lasting impact on viewers. Read our year-ender on Top web series that created an impact in 2018, to find out which ones (here). While the shows featured several glorious and gutsy male leads, these shows and the year 2018 will be remembered for giving rise to some of the most fascinating women characters in a long time.

And the credit for bringing alive such diverse, riveting female characters must be shared by an eclectic bunch of female performers of the Indian entertainment industry. From established stalwarts to fresh-faced debutants to eminently bankable performers, these actresses have upped the ante for every performer, not just female, in the realm of web series

Although it is extremely difficult to put down the names of just a few actresses that have had far-reaching impact on the course of digital web series, lack of space compels us to pare down the list of exceptional performances to the few most outstanding ones.

We’ve therefore compiled a list of the top ten actresses who stole a march over others in shattering norms, engineering powerful performances and generally creating an impact.

Presenting some of the best female performances of 2018 in Indian web series, in no particular order –

Mithila Palkar: Dice Media’s Little Things Season 2 is a wonderful tale of a live-in couple, Kavya and Dhruv’s journey of growth, evolution and self-discovery. Playing Kavya is Mithila Palkar, the reigning queen of digital content-dom. Palkar’s performance as Kavya transcends the show’s underlying sombreness. She carefully gives weight to the powerful dialogues she wields with the charm of a quintessential child-woman. As Kavya, she is naïve, yet sophisticated; child-like, yet determinedly driven to succeed; charmingly elfin, yet wise and worldly. Her acting takes the characterisation of Kavya to another level altogether. The result is a subtle, bracing performance that showcases all of Mithila Palkar’s strengths and theatrical repertoire.

Eisha Chopra: Eisha Chopra has carved out her own distinctive space in the world of web series with glittering performances in several web series in 2018. But the performance that earns her a place in this list is her turn as Sonali Ranaut in ALTBalaji’s laugh riot, The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family. Eisha Chopra’s Sonali is blessed with the ability to keep her cool, and her head, when everyone around her is losing theirs. Her snarky witticisms, delivered in the most sardonic of tones, cut down whoever’s in front of her with razor precision. By the end of the show, she emerges as the queen of acerbic sarcasm and withering takedowns. What’s more, she holds her own in the presence of her big name co-stars, claiming her space, and putting in a performance that is strikingly impressive.

Rasika Dugal: In a series that’s crawling with acting stalwarts, Rasika Dugal puts in a bravura performance as Kaleen Bhaiya’s second, much-younger wife, Beena Tripathi, holding her own amidst the sea of talent. As a sexually-dissatisfied young woman seeking forbidden pleasures within the four walls of her fortress-home, Rasika’s character comes across as both extraordinarily stimulating and tragically sad. She’s alluring, seductive, and scores as a woman who uses her skill and intellect to wield power in a world that’s done everything to snatch that power away from her. Her characterisation is both empowering and exhilarating. It is a shining, invigorating performance that stays with you for a long, long time. Truly affecting!

Mona Singh: ALTBalaji’s bold and courageous web series, runaway hit, Kehne Ko Humsafar Hain, will be remembered for Mona Singh’s career-defining role of the other woman. Playing the proverbial other woman is rarely gratifying, but Mona breathes life into a role that could very easily have denigrated into a caricature. Mona’s other woman is neither shrewd, nor shrewish. She’s raw, real and displays a depth of emotion that grabs our attention and never lets go. You don’t want to root for her, but her performance has you hooked, compelling you to lay your sympathies at her door – this, despite her being the other woman, an entity much-despised in conventional ethos. And for that, Mona Singh wins our vote as one of the most note-worthy performances of the year.

Renuka Shahane: No list of great female web series performances of 2018 can ever be complete without Renuka Shahane’s engaging turn as the mother-in-law in Season 2 of Dice Media’s What The Folks. As Vandu Solanki, she’s both soft and determined; she’s motherly, and tender, but also tough and fiercely protective. She’s so natural, so unforced that she comes across as a real person who could be living in your neighbourhood. Except that mother-in-laws like Vandu Solanki are a rare breed. And that’s the beauty of her performance. It feels raw, and real, and stirring. Having been the darling of Bollywood viewers since long, in What The Folks, Renuka appears like she’s reached a new level of confidence and maturity in her acting. This Bollywood veteran has proved that talent never goes out of fashion. It just reinvents itself.

Nidhi Singh: In a testosterone-driven series with hardly anything to do for female performers, Nidhi Singh wins our vote for giving an outstanding performance. As Ranjana, in the ALTBalaji show, Apaharan, she displays an endearing naïveté, with dialogue delivery that is spot on. She’s also quite hilarious in parts. It’s a performance that contains a multitude of emotions – great love for her beleaguered husband, pride in his achievements and valour, and poise and grace in the face of hardship. Nidhi’s portrayal of Ranjana celebrates the story of the woman caught in a terrifying vortex of circumstances, giving her hopes, desires, and calm, confident dignity. It’s a galvanizing performance that has us rooting for her throughout the show.

Yashaswini Dayama: Dice Media’s delightfully heart-warming web series, Adulting, had Yashaswini Dayama playing Ray, a fresh, wet-behind-the-ears graduate, out to prove her worth in the cut-throat corporate world. Yashaswini, as Ray, simply steals our hearts away with her defining act. Cute as a button, she carries her emotions on her sleeve, as also her face, for all to see. Her singularly unique dialogue delivery, adorable performance, and elfin charm– in fact everything about her– has us hooked. In Adulting, Yashaswini is really really funny, with her impeccable comic timing on full display. And she has us falling for her turn as Ray like a ton of bricks.

Radhika Apte: Radhika Apte had a great year in the digital space, with two highly successful and much-talked-about web series, Sacred Games and Ghoul, both with the OTT giant, Netflix. While she put up a solid performance as a RAW officer in Sacred Games, it was her turn as military intelligence officer, Nida Rahim, in Ghoul, that has earned her a place in this list of top female performances of 2018. As Nida, Radhika conveys a gamut of emotions with effortless ease, changing personas with the dexterity of a chameleon. She’s the worrying but dutiful daughter; she’s also the fearless combatant that faces the unearthly challenge head-on. It is a brilliant depiction of a role that is at once complex and challenging to portray.  Radhika Apte excels in the complicated and multifaceted role, pulling off one of the most revelatory performances of her career.

Swara Bhaskar: As Mira Verma, in Voot Original, It’s Not That Simple, Swara Bhaskar shines in a role that is tailor-made for her fiery personality. Swara’s penchant for strongly feminist roles may seem flabbergasting to some. But then she rules the genre. As Mira, she’s all fire and fury. Her performance dominates the series absolutely, letting her coolly portray what she sets out to – the woman who can just as easily swear vengeance against her nemesis as she can love him to distraction. In It’s Not That Simple, Swara juggles a thousand emotions at once, and looks great doing it. Hers is a performance that is bold, candid and seductive.

Samridhi Dewan: That Samridhi Dewan had never acted before she landed the role of the Isha Sanghavi in Zoom Studio’s quirky comedy, Imperfect, is a fact that boggles the mind. Because the self-assuredness and depth of emotion she manages to convey with her engaging performance as Isha boast of acting skills that could only have been honed on the magnificent grinding wheel of experience. Her refreshing candour and rock-solid performance compel us to invest our emotions in her Isha. And we end up making her heartbreaks, our own; her successes, our pride; and the indignities she suffers, personal attacks on our own well-being. It’s a crisp, bracing performance, deserving accolades.

While this was our list of compelling female performances in a web series for 2018, we couldn’t help listing down a few performances that caught our attention, thereby deserving a special mention ­

We all know that Supriya Pilgaonkar is a consummate performer; and Home, ALTBalaji’s tale of guts and gumption, gave her ample space to showcase her formidable talent. As a woman about to lose her home, she displays an astonishing range of emotions that makes hers a nuanced, multi-layered portrayal.

Sayani Gupta, playing the titular character in Viu’s edgy thriller, Kaushiki, takes your breath away with her mesmerizing performance, as she walks the fine line between enigmatic mystique and tense drama. It is a finely-honed, enthralling performance, distinctive and defined.

Swaroop Sampat puts in a sparkling, entertaining performance as the high-on-weed-and-life matriarch of the quirky Ranaut family, in The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family. She makes a splendid web debut and keeps us engaged throughout, with her superb acting and infectious joie de vivre.

Shriya Pilgaonkar shines in both her outings this year – as the investigate journalist on the trail of a serial killer, in 13 Mussoorie; and as a young gangster’s love interest, in Mirzapur. Both roles display her classy range of acting, though her turn in Mirzapur gets our vote for the wildly interesting character and Shriya’s effortless portrayal of the same.

This then is our list of the top actresses that made an impact in web series in 2018. Do wait for the next year-ender that will come around next.

(Written by Rashmi Paharia)