The screen and the spectator have a unique relationship, one bound by desire. As the theaters opened up, we finally got to see so many of these characters on the big screen, looming large over our eyes and our imagination. Here are 12 screen crushes of 2022, in alphabetical order — fictional characters who made us smile, swoon, and get through this year.
A beautiful woman with a bruised heart and a broken body who still refuses to be circumscribed by her horrific reality. At another time, in another world, Gangubai (at least Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s version of her) could have run the world. She’s exquisite.
— Anupama Chopra
As the wacky and nonchalant Mathi, Aparna Balamurali adds liveliness to Nitham Oru Vaanam which weaves together three different stories. Mathi doesn't comply with any rules, especially her father’s. So, when it comes to her marriage, she wants to marry a man of her choice even if he is a complete stranger. Be it when she corners the stranger to marry her or announces to her family that she will run away before the wedding, her crazy actions and cheeky one-liners leave you in splits. Although she plays a very short cameo, Aparna Balamurali steals the show with her crackling personality. And her small yet firecracker role reminds me — Chota Packet Bada Dhamaka!
— Harshini Venkatasubramaniyan
Razneesh Ghai’s film, starring Kangana Ranaut, is arguably the biggest box office failure of the year, but the film does have a silver lining in the form of a silver-haired Arjun Rampal. The 48-year-old actor, always admired for his good looks, plays Rudraveer, a violent one-man army fronting a human trafficking syndicate in ‘Central India’. Speaking in chaste Bundelkhandi through visibly stained teeth, Rampal effortlessly dons aviators and berets, while casually unloading magazines of machine guns or wielding an axe. In the film’s second half, he’s seen in fur coats and silver hair like he is the Russian mafia. Rudraveer seems inspired by Li’l Z (City of God, 2002) and Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers, 1994), which is completely at odds with Rampal’s rooted dialect. Sure Dhaakad is ultimately too derivative, but some day, Rampal’s fearlessness will be rewarded.
— Tatsam Mukherjee
It feels like I've spent the year being consumed by Aubrey Plaza’s smoldering, scornful and smileless gaze – starting with Emily the Criminal at the Sundance film festival and ending, of course, with the second season of The White Lotus. As Harper, the only half-intelligent and fatally self-aware person at a resort full of oblivious rich fools, Plaza makes confusion and misery look strangely sexy. She is crabby and judgmental about the airheaded couple on vacation with them, almost like she's trying to distract herself from her own mechanical and hyper-sensitive marriage. Plaza does wonders with a frowny grimness, where she knows she’s smarter than the rest but can’t really do much about it. There are moments when she recklessly succumbs to the silliness of the setting — like when she gets drunk, smokes seductively and locks eyes with her husband’s sleazy friend. I haven’t blushed that hard in a while, mostly because there’s nothing more potent than the sight of a sensible individual flirting with the idea of self-confidence.
— Rahul Desai
Clad in a pink pantsuit, gyrating and stringing the guitar, Austin Butler as Elvis dominated the screen with his charisma. The singer was known to elicit feelings that one "isn't sure they should enjoy", and Butler was successful in evoking that conundrum too. A rebel with a cause, Butler's Elvis belts out ‘Trouble’ — a debauched man’s righteousness peeks through his indulgences. The cherry on top of the cake of that segment is when he holds a fan’s face, leans in, lets her revel in it, and draws back. As he lingers, you wish he stays, for her sake and yours. What the movie lacks in sex, Butler makes up for with the promise of it.
— Saaya Vaidya
FaFa might not be the central spy that Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Vikram revolves around, but he is still the film’s most compelling one. As Amar, an underground black-ops chief who upholds just one rule and one rule only — that he has no rules. Fahadh Faasil’s Amar is the a vessel through which we see the life of Vikram, Kamal Haasan’s ghost of a spy, in the first half. If Faasil’s sequences with Haasan evoke compassion and an unlikely camaraderie, his scenes with Gayathri offer a piercing romance that is cut too short. Also those eyes! Smoldering, indignant, and making us feel all the feels, all the time.
— Sruthi Raman
Playing the spunky yet soft-hearted Shobana in Thiruchitrambalam, Nithya Menen brings a refreshing vigour to the Betty archetype and embodies its girl-next-door essence to near-perfection. Menen steers clear of any conventional ideas of glamour, but still lights up the screen. Maybe it’s her eyes, twinkling and reacting to every little movement around, or that fearlessness of her physical comedy. Or maybe it’s her disarming lack of vanity. Her adorable chemistry with Dhanush also makes one yearn for the innocence of old-fashioned candy floss romances. Menen in Thiruchitrambalam is a lovely reminder that very few other actors today can convincingly capture the goofiness and bubbly charm of a classic rom-com the way she can.
— Harsh B.H.
There is something about a man who lives with his mother, who smokes in hiding, and whose moods are placated by food the mother prepares. A man-child, yes, surely, but that, too, has its charm when the face of Prithviraj Sukumaran is stuck over it, bearded — groomed well, mind you — and subtly muscled. The man can punch. While thinking of an impending windfall wealth, a song pops up with him in a shimmering golden coat and pants, tight as a wedding knot, almost making us wonder how the pants didn’t rip as he moved his body vigorously to the sweet, silly choreography of limp hands and dextrous legs.
— Prathyush Parasuraman
As SS Rajamoulli tells it, these two were superheroes without capes. Brave, handsome, and relentlessly dashing. That’s a word I had reserved for the late, great Dev Anand. But watching these two in the greatest dance-off in recent movie history — “Naatu Naatu” — I understood dashing all over again. What a soaring combination of beauty and brawn!
— Anupama Chopra
On one hand, it can be easy to attribute Gu-ssi’s (Son Seok-ku) magnetism to the Bad Boi Syndrome. On the other, it can feel terribly reductive. Because what do you call a man who downs four bottles of soju in guilt every night? What do you call a man who flies across the breadth of a canal to retrieve his lover’s hat snatched away by the wind? Early on in My Liberation Notes, Yeom Mi-jeong (Kim Ji-won) storms up to Gu-ssi to remind him that nothing survives the winter. She demands to be worshiped, to be made whole, until the spring. Despite her defiance, Mi-jeong has tears in her eyes. But, disarmingly, so does Gu-ssi. Son plays Gu-ssi with a deadly combo: Aching vulnerability and a mysterious, raw sexuality.
— Rhea Candy
It’s only fitting that the leader of an underwater kingdom should make us all so thirsty. Director Ryan Coogler saw how dry the sexual landscape of the Marvel cinematic universe (MCU) was and gifted us approximately 300 shots of his antihero Namor (Tenoch Huerta) emerging from the water, expertly summoning a tidal wave of desire in his audience. Namor was magnetic, full of casual confidence and coiled danger. He was also undeniably hot. Did I fall for his piercing gaze when he asked Shuri (Letitia Wright) to burn the world with him? Hook, line, and sinker.
— Gayle Sequeira
Manavalan Wazim in Thallumaala is a flashy idiot — colourful clothes, dark glasses and 'youth' haircuts — who gets into one fight after another. Tovino Thomas doesn’t pretend for a minute that Wazim has any higher purpose in leading this thug life — and that’s what's refreshing about him. The film has many memorable fight sequences (the title, after all, translates to 'a ballad of brawls'), but my favorite is when Wazim goes to a college as the chief guest and punctures the ego of an ‘intellectual’ onstage. The swagger is totally paisa vasool. Thallumaala is an acknowledgement of the shallowness of our attention-starved, frenzied cultural landscape — but it is not an indictment, it is an affectionate portraiture. Wazim is at the heart of this amoral celebration, and what joy it is to watch an uninhibited Tovino play the Angry For No Reason Young Man!
— Sowmya Rajendran