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.
Aneethi captures the inner battles and sufferings of Thirumeni aka Thiru (Arjun Das), a young delivery guy who suffers from depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, wherein he has recurrent thoughts of killing people. In a way, this Vasanthabalan directorial delves deep into the psyche of Thiru. Sometimes you see him murdering someone, with his rage and vengeance on full display, but it is actually happening in his head. So we immediately cut back to reality, where we see Thiru clenching his jaw and controlling his emotions. He is always hesitant, and forms words with pauses, somewhat upset about himself. But when he sees his girlfriend, his facial muscles relax and there is a certain calmness Arjun brings to the character in this scene. However, when his girlfriend blames him for murder purely because he suffers from the disorder, Arjun swaps his character’s suppressed anger, shyness and hesitation for a blank expression; as if with this betrayal, nothing matters anymore. Even if the sudden changes in Thiru’s actions during the climax are hard to buy, Arjun ably makes us feel his myriad emotions.
Streaming Platform: Netflix
As Assistant Sub-inspector Amarpal Jasjit Garundi, Barun Sobti brings in both the brash extrajudicial violence that is required of a police officer in Punjab solving a crime that has more questions than answers, and a softness from the intensity of a personal life that is both twisted and lonely — he is sleeping with his sister-in-law, and remains unmarried. When he finally finds a woman he is able to settle down with, it is a gorgeous reprieve. The way he responds to her entrepreneurial work at a “nail bar” is both innocent and biting; the way he stands on his bike, looking at her walking away into that nail bar, with that promise of a banal life, is both hopeful and terrifying. Can the life he wants, for once, not elude him?
It’s always a little disorienting – and concerning – when we see veteran superstars, dashing in their heyday, look like pale and fading shadows of themselves on the big screen. How much of it is real and how much fictional? How much of it is acting and how much is being? In that sense, watching a quivering Dharmendra play a wheelchair-bound and dementia-afflicted man in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani feels strange at first. He looks worryingly in character. But ultimately, this inspired piece of casting breaks through our illusion, and informs our experience of Karan Johar’s old-but-new family melodrama. Dharmendra’s mannerisms as Kanwal, a man dismissed by everything but love, might have come across as cringey and dated in any other film (read: Rajesh Khanna in the latter portions of Swarg (1990)). But the context and pitch of this film channels the actor’s hammy presence to create a very poignant character, who even summons the waterworks with his final few dialogues. There’s not a dry eye in the hall towards the end. It’s hard not to appreciate the humility of the man himself, in a role so shorn of masculinity and strength and coolth and everything that he was once famous for.
To watch Ranveer Singh’s performance in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani is to see what charm can twist you into loving. He is given a drastic arc — from not knowing West Bengal is in the east of India to singing “Ekla Cholo” among a throng of very Bengali elite. The charm of his performance is that you are with him throughout the arc — even when he is silly, goofy, wrong, troubled, and definitely when he swings progressive values in his favor and performs a kathak performance that strikes a hot hammer over any demands of conventional masculinity. It is not just lust that his character evokes — but, unmistakably, there is that, too. It is also this sense of reaching into the screen to want to hold him. A gym-boy himbo of the finest kind.
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Suvinder Vicky is a familiar name for those who have watched offbeat Punjab films like Meel Patthar (2020) and Chauthi Koot (2015), but playing the protagonist in Kohrra might just be the actor’s breakout performance. As the grizzled and seemingly unflappable sub-inspector Balbir Singh, who ties his turban with neat precision and whose personal life is unraveling, Vicky is a revelation. Balbir is someone others look up to, unaware of the terrible secrets he carries deep within himself. Haunted by the past and struggling with the present, this broken patriarch is torn between his better instincts and the toxicity of being a man and police officer in Punjab.
Streaming Platform: Jio Cinema
For an actor who made his mark playing a rookie cop (in Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootout), it’s ironic that Vijay Varma has become Hindi cinema’s go-to talent for portraits of criminal men-next-door and toxic masculinity (Dahaad, Darlings, She, Pink, even Gully Boy). But he comes full circle in Kalkoot, a police procedural in which he plays a small-town sub-inspector who almost gets derailed by his own Good Guy image. Unlike in the beginning of his career, Varma actually toys with our perception of his edgy own-screen image in the way he conveys the moral and sociocultural conflict of this protagonist. He thinks he’s a nice man by virtue of not being bad like the acid-chucking perpetrator he’s seeking, but there’s always a sense that he’s doing the world a favor by being more woke and educated than the rest. The series is far from perfect, often succumbing to its own examination of the male gaze and violence against women, but Varma keeps it afloat with this deceptively layered performance.