This is a monthly series where we highlight performances from the film and streaming universe that caught our eye. Since Film Companion watches widely, we decided to curate this list to foreground exceptional work, even if these actors did not have the proverbial spotlight on them.
The scene-chewing Jaideep Ahlawat in An Action Hero looks like a perpetual punchline in motion. He plays Bhoora Solanki, the local gangster, straight as an arrow — angry, irritated, derisive — like a man bemused by a story that he can’t seem to control. His poker-face is on par with Manoj Bajpayee’s, with the rare ability to alter the language of a moment. When he receives news about his brother’s death while eating, he stares at a roti in a manner that might have been hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic. The most amusing scenes feature him reacting to Maanav’s antics like a live-action version of the Disappointed Pakistani Fan meme: hands on hip and facepalming in equal measure.
In his first film as a lead, Kanna Ravi goes all out. He plays a young leader Appu fighting for marginalized communities and spreading the thoughts of communism. As the film progresses, he reduces from this mighty and know-it-all leader to someone who has knowingly lost his way. But what impacts us more is his eyes. As someone who doesn’t believe in violence, he is not about mass fights or loudness. Instead, the camera lingers on his face conveying love at times, tragedy and helplessness at others. And we get the best of Kanna Ravi when he awaits the gun at point range to be shot. He has a fire in his eyes, and a police officer says, “Ena oru kannu, eeral ah kuthi kodanjite iruku.” (His eyes are so powerful that my stomach keeps churning.)
Although Rohini has played the mother role in many films, including Baahubali, she delivers the best of everything in Witness. As an underprivileged mother struggling to come to terms with the loss of her son, her world turns upside down in a day. But she also relentlessly fights to seek justice for her son. So, more often, she expresses the two different emotions she is feeling at once. Take the court scenes, for instance. While she shudders and leaves the courtroom many times listening to the details of how her son died, she shows the conviction to fight. The writing and character arc elevate her performance, and long after the film ended, what stays is her face and her dialogue: “Jeikalana paravala, sir (It is okay if we don’t win, sir) But my son’s killers should stand in the court and give an answer.” And that’s what you get when a seasoned actor like Rohini gets such a strong character to play.
The true calibre of any actor is marked by how effectively and often they rise above the material and make a role their own. Rohit Shetty’s latest venture Cirkus was abysmal beyond repair, and it only speaks of Sanjay Mishra’s incredible prowess that he comes really close to making the film worth sitting through. Playing a classic over-the-top rich and arrogant ‘heroine’s dad’ from the good old Bollywood potboilers, Mishra channels his inner Jeevan as he hams his way through unimaginative writing and some horrible pun-laden dialogue — and somehow he extracts a few moments of endearing fun in this otherwise bewilderingly unfunny chain of events. Mishra steps out of the proceedings for a while, only to chew the scenery relentlessly once he is back. Shetty brought in here a whole bunch of veteran comic actors in cameos, who have been a regular part of his films, but it’s Mishra and Mishra alone who reminds us that Cirkus was supposed to be a ‘fun’ film.