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.
Streaming Platform: Amazon Prime Video
In a season that increasingly becomes a lesson-mugging first-bencher in class, Arjun Mathur's Karan remains the only real person with a sense of complexity and inner trauma. His character's sexual identity becomes a source of family estrangement this time, with Karan struggling to gain the acknowledgment of his dying mother – an arc that's as heartbreaking as it is common. The way Mathur distinguishes Karan's tortured journey and infuses it with implosions is hard to watch but easy to admire. The best scene of the series features Mathur's underrated talent as a crier: Karan is grieving and pouring his broken heart out to an old lover, but he doesn't know whether to laugh or cry at the sadness of his situation. The sobs and shallow breaths are perfectly paced, making for the portrait of an Indian child aching for validation that never comes.
Streaming Platform: Amazon Prime Video
The enigmatic Bulbul Johari is one of the most welcome additions to the Made In Heaven crew and thanks to Mona Singh’s measured performance, nothing about Bulbul stretches credibility. Often a killjoy (like when she’s auditing the team’s finances and questioning their spends), this no-nonsense businesswoman comes into her own early in the series, when she’s able to detect how a young woman is covering up for her abusive fiancé. As the season progresses Singh has a lot of heavy lifting to do, especially when she is faced with her teenage son’s casual misogyny. Singh’s performance is a joy to watch because she allows Bulbul Johari to have shades of grey. Bulbul is a professional who isn’t popular in the office, she’s a mother who’s struggling to raise her sons, but she (much like Mona Singh in a season challenged by preachiness) persists.
There’s something about Shane Nigam that always lends likeability to his imperfect characters. Be it Ishq (2019), Kumbalangi Nights (2019) or Bhoothakalam (2021), he managed to make the normal, dull guy attractive. So naturally, when he is given a ‘massy’, heroic, and stylish role in RDX, a film that's designed to make you hoot every 10 minutes, he soars as the new ‘mass’ star. Shane is brilliant in the film’s many action sequences and has a presence that makes him effortlessly watchable even when he is not breaking bones or making people fly in high-speed shots. He infuses just the right amount of arrogance and charm into his Robert, the film’s standout character. Robert and Shane are inseparable, and that is his biggest achievement with the role.
Scream acting is an art form, as is slow-motion acting. Sunny Deol’s brute-forced sincerity in Gadar 2, the way he shrieks at the audience, turning them into pulp, without it seeming overly performed is a study in mass excellence. The effort is never visible. To see Deol run in slow motion alongside the younger actors is to see the control one must have over every muscle. It is easy to dismiss melodrama because of how silly and dated it all looks, but there is an artistry in making the ridiculous look like a natural way of being. As though there is no other way of expression. At no point do we doubt that Deol is Tara Singh, who with one provocation will throw a hand pump at you. That kind of exaggeration requires an egregiously loud, muscular presence.
Streaming Platform: Netflix
The young actor owns the tricky balance of playing a kid whose adolescent toxicity is on the brink of turning him towards the dark side. His school-going Gangaram not only has a tough life, he's also influenced by all the wrong kinds of Nineties' Bollywood tropes. He's a stalker and a chauvinist, the 'rotten egg' in a trio of friends, and a crowd-pleaser to boot. But Chaudhary is excellent in the way he lends him a redeemable touch – a boyishness that can still be repaired before he turns into the morally depraved adults of the show. He is a natural in front of the camera, and his little moments – like the small and dreamy smile when a Bryan Adams love song hijacks a scene – shape the heart of the dark Raj & DK comedy.
Let's face it, going against Rajinikanth as a villain is no joke. Few actors/characters managed to do it over the years. Ramya Krishnan’s iconic Neelambari, from Padayappa (1999), and Mark Antony from Baasha (1995)—embodied by the late Raghuvaran, with all his flamboyance— pop up in mind instantly, but that’s about it. Filmmakers and actors have been struggling to crack ‘The Rajinikanth Villain’ since Suman managed to pass with grace marks in Sivaji: The Boss (2007) fifteen years ago. The shoes are so big that even Nana Pataker and Nawazuddin Siddiqui couldn’t fill them. And then comes Vinayagan in Jailer, the star’s latest blockbuster, in which not only does he prove to be a tough bargain to Rajini’s Muthuvel Pandian, but also manages to scare you with his brute force and violent Breaking Bad-inspired ways of killing people.