2023 Wrap: Screen Crushes That Made 2023 Better

From Rocky Randhawa in ‘Rocky aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani’, to the Hyena in ‘Leo’, we take a look at fictional characters who made us smile, swoon and get through this year.
2023 Wrap: Screen Crushes That Made 2023 Better
2023 Wrap: Screen Crushes That Made 2023 Better

The screen and the spectator have a unique relationship, one bound by desire. As the theatres 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 our screen crushes of 2023, in alphabetical order — fictional characters who made us smile, swoon, and get through this year. 

Azmeri Haque Badhon as Heena, Khufiya

When Vishal Bharadwaj guides your focus to a strategically placed mole nestled in the jugular notch, you can't help but sit up and take notice. It doesn't matter if the film betrays her, crushes can be as illogical as fate. Azmeri Haque Badhon's Heena Rehman is an enigma with an allure so potent that tearing your eyes away seems impossible. Her piercing eyes evoke a nearly physiological response. You know that her heart belongs to Tabu's Krishna Mehra, and yet you allow yourself to fall for her. In this entanglement of emotions, you find that when you are enamoured by Badhon, you are also irresistibly drawn to Tabu. It's as if crushing on Badhon intensifies your fascination for Tabu, creating a connection for your passionate projections. It's a sultry double whammy, one that you welcome with open arms.

— Anushka Halve

Mammootty as Mathew, Kaathal — The Core

It feels wrong to ogle a 72-year-old man, but even if he hadn’t chosen some stellar roles in projects that range from mainstream (Kannur Squad) to indie (Kaathal — The Core) in their sensibilities, Mammootty would make jaws drop just for how he’s paused the ageing process. We can only conclude that he’s dabbling in magic, because what else can explain Mamootty looking like he’s still in his 40s? In Kaathal, director Jeo Baby takes the camera up close to catch the flicker of every long-suppressed emotion on Mammootty’s apple-cheeked face and inadvertently also shows how miraculously young the actor looks. Also, he’s  very… fit. Add to this his poignant performance as Mathew, the hero of Kaathal who tries to remain stoic when he is unexpectedly outed as queer to his conservative Malayali community. If the longing glances he darts at his lover weren’t enough to make you melt, there’s the shot in which Mathew holds his wife’s handbag so that she can take the witness stand (effectively to speak against him). Mathew might have lost the case, but thanks to Mamootty, he’s the winner.

— Deepanjana Pal

Naina Bhan as Koel Kalra, Class 

Amongst a sea of exciting fresh faces in Netflix’s Class, despite the busy ensemble, you can't help but fix your gaze on the striking Naina Bhan who shines as the sizzling Koel. With her bewitching confidence and electric presence, Koel is the kind of snooty, popular girl who’d probably treat you like crap in school but you'd somehow end up falling for her in the process. You’d perhaps even delusionally cling onto the hope that, one day, if she became kinder, or you got cooler, maybe you might just have a shot. Hey, a nerd can dream, okay?

— Suchin Mehrotra

Ranveer Singh as Rocky Randhawa, Rocky aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani

Oh, to be loved by the Punjabi, Karol Bagh residing, Randhawa Paradise inhabitant Rocky Randhawa (Ranveer Singh). Rocky aur Rani shows what rom-coms can do to your dreams. Rocky Randhawa’s “Love you from last life”, “a-fragile”, "Jo bhi hun main tera hun (whatever I am, I am yours)”, sequined shirt with his lover’s face stitched into it (within a red heart, no less), the flowy red silhouette of the Sabyasachi kurta in which he does kathak with his future father-in-law are all etched —no—chiselled into my rom-com heart. 

There is something about the way Karan Johar uses Delhi to draw out a capacious narrative where two people love earnestly without making the other smaller. Rocky shows up to his lover’s office with a lunchbox when she is working late into the night. He learns her language, Bengali, for her. He repents for his gendered notions, and uplifts her with his sweeping eulogisms. Copiously tearful, he gives a fervent (and random?) speech about how we shouldn’t cancel each other. You just want to reach through the screen and hug the man. He is so. Damn. Lovable. Despite all the generous displays of the protein-shake, naturally made, no-steroids gym bod, Rocky is sexiest when he is shamelessly proclaiming his love for his fiance. Who is more desirable than someone who submits themselves so thoroughly to the whims of their lover?

—  J. Shruti 

Rukimini Vasanth, SSE

Often dressed in the many colours of the ocean, there couldn’t have been a better actress to play the film’s Priya. The aspiring singer steals your heart right from the word go, and it’s easy to join the film’s hero in his plans to own a small piece of paradise by the sea to create a life with her. The film only makes sense when we, as the viewer, let go and fall in love with Priya and Rukmini does everything to make sure we hold on to hope and heartbreak right through the two films she stars in. 

 — Vishal Menon

Sidhant Gupta as Jay Khanna, Jubilee

Never have I ever wanted to be a cigarette. Except when we saw it dangling off Sidhant Gupta’s lips, in a performance that was part Dev Anand, part Shashi Kapoor, in a show that was part love letter, part tragic retelling of the history of our cinema. When he gets off the bus he cannot afford a ticket to, dancing his hips and clicking his fingers, it is both a thank you and a flip-off, told so gently through the body, that who can rage at him? Well, except the conductor who flings his chappal at him, but I would like to think of it as a leather-bound offering. 

— Prathyush Parasuraman

Subramani the Hyena, Leo 

In Vijay’s Leo, a hyena named Subramani gets the love usually reserved only for pet golden retrievers and labradors. This family-friendly predator doesn’t really get a hero’s welcome, given how we first meet him when the film’s hero has pinned him down and then tranquilises him. But from then on, we slowly start falling for the beast, as he turns into the family’s favourite companion. It may not have been love at first sight but you can’t help but fall for all of his CGI fluffiness. And when a timely whistle can bring back the beast, right in time to save his family, you too can’t help but dream about co-parenting one of Subramani’s siblings, albeit after checking your apartment association’s pet policy. 

— Vishal Menon

Shah Rukh Khan as Vikram Rathore, Jawan

Just when I thought that the average cigar would forever be resigned to its fate as a prop in a Manish Chaudhari character's mouth, Jawan single-handedly restored its sex appeal through a fictional hero better known as 'Zaddy SRK'. The reason Vikram Rathore's alt-Harley-Davidson swag ruffles the butterflies in my stomach is simple. Shah Rukh Khan plays the ultra-masculine movie stereotype — a dead-eyed, cigar-chewing, ear-pierced, grey-haired, tattooed, smoke-tracing man's man — with a sort of emotional tenderness (the amnesia ensures he can't remember what Indian men really are) that belies the grizzled eroticism of the middle-aged rebel. It's like watching beauty disguised as a beast. In the words of the world's most famous heiress: That's hot. Seeing the superstar turn his real age into a fetishised wrecking ball of chain-smoking vigilantism is a fantasy nobody knew they needed. Not least a stiff film critic who started imagining the opening notes of ‘Take My Breath Away’ when SRK's Daddy era exploded onto...the screen. 

 — Rahul Desai

Vedang Raina as Reggie Mantle, The Archies

If there’s one person in The Archies who legitimately makes pulses go va-va-voom, it’s Vedang Raina as Reggie of the curl quotient and laconic, angular charm. In a screenplay where Reggie actually does get dialogues that show a talent for comedy, he’d have the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. Unfortunately, The Archies with its bland script doesn’t give Reggie that edge so Raina has to make do with filling out leather jackets photogenically, and occasionally casting broody looks into the camera. Fortunately, in addition to being photogenic, Raina has that ineffable quality that makes you notice him even when he’s part of a crowded frame (though if his Instagram is any indication, Raina might be the Samson of his generation. Though, without his long hair, he doesn’t have quite the same impact). The Archies may not have delivered on the promise of a proper love triangle, but Raina as Reggie definitely got the girls (and guys). 

— Deepanjana Pal

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