Best Performances Of November 2023

From Abhinav Jha in Pokhar Ke Dunu Paar to Mammootty in Kaathal, here are November's stand out performances
Best Performances Of November 2023

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 compile this list to foreground exceptional work, even if these actors did not have the proverbial spotlight on them.

Abhinav Jha, Pokhar Ke Dunu Paar

Streaming Platform: MUBI

An integral part of the 'Darbhanga New Wave' of film-making, actor Abhinav Jha plays Sumit – the lesser half of a pandemic-stricken couple – as a direct descendent of Pankaj, the restless dreamer of Achal Mishra's Dhuin (2022). Sumit is restless but not so much a dreamer, because he thinks he's already achieved the dream: Eloping with the love of his life and being the (perceived) breadwinner in a companionship. Jha's performance is beautifully sharp and blunt at once. In his hands, the young Bihari man is a wastrel who's secretly happy to be back in his hometown, but he's also a man-child who assumes that he is entitled to taking his partner for granted. It's almost like he knows that if he keeps procrastinating, Priyanka will continue nagging him – and 'nagging,' in the language of his Indian masculinity, is the same as caring. 

Alizeh Agnihotri, Farrey

Theatrical release

The young actress – who up until recently was simply known, in nepo-speak, as "Salman Khan's niece" – carves out her own identity as the teenage protagonist of Farrey, the Hindi remake of Thai hit Bad Genius. Agnihotri stars as Niyati, an orphan genius who gets seduced by her rich new friends into running a cheating scam at an elite school. It's a perceptive performance – shorn of crowd-pleasing spirit and infused with underdog anxiety – that allows the film to take a pragmatic journey rather than a romantic one. There's a narrative candour about Niyati, one that doesn't reach for lofty eat-the-rich themes and comeuppance arcs. It's a refreshing debut, and hopefully a sign of alt-starkid-launch potential. 

Babil Khan, The Railway Men

Streaming Platform: Netflix

As Imad Riaz, an ex Union Carbide employee who risks his life to save others in Netflix's uneven Bhopal Gas Tragedy-based drama The Railway Men, an achingly sincere Babil Khan captures the spirit of heroism like few others in the four-part series. Partly because Imad is the best written (see: least overwritten) character among the busy ensemble, Babil speaks with his actions more than his words. His use of perceptive, oddly affecting pauses and his sensitive eyes leaves little doubt that Imad is a person who cares about people. Someone who would do what needs doing and put others over himself in an instant. Through his gentle, reassuring presence Babil breathes life into a figures who isn't a "hero" who rises to the occasion as much as he is a young man always on the lookout for one. For an opportunity to help. No matter the cost.

Mammootty, Kaathal: The Core

Theatrical release

Reinventing himself in his 70s, Mammootty is an actor who isn’t afraid to take risks, lending a powerful space in mainstream cinema to address socially relevant issues to a larger audience. In Kaathal: The Core, he plays a gay man, married yet yearning, unable to come to terms with the flatness of the identity, "gay", a "homosexual". Instead, we get the troubled landscape of his face, everything simmering, few things expressed, and when expressed, then as ruptures. Mammootty poignantly makes us feel his character’s vulnerability and helplessness, sometimes giving us glimpses of him in love, yearning to put back all his broken pieces together.

Raghava Lawrence, Jigarthanda DoubleX

Theatrical release

The variations that actor Raghava Lawrence can bring to a character are well known, thanks to the multiple ghosts that possess him in his series of horror films. But these ghosts have also restricted him to just "the Kanchana hero". Jigarthanda DoubleX offers him his biggest transformation. From a gangster with no heart, that you don't even care if he is brutally killed, he evolves into someone who fights and sacrifices his life for a community that when he actually sheds his blood, you're crying your heart out. There is so much in the writing that Lawrence beautifully embraces; not to forget the little Clint Eastwood-esque appearances he makes. In what is also one of his best looks, Lawrence makes you hate, sympathise, celebrate and love his character. And it's only fair to say, in the absence of the looming ghosts, a wonderful performer in Lawrence was found.

Shefali Shah, Three of Us

Theatrical release

There's a tender luminosity to Shailaja, a middle-aged woman who decides she wants to recollect memories from her childhood when she's diagnosed with early-onset dementia. The medical condition comes with some predictable melancholia, though it's delivered in a way that doesn't dull the edge of its impact (look out for the scene in the dance school, when Shailaja is suddenly disoriented). Shefali Shah's portrayal of Shailaja also hums with joy and wonder. Tapping into age-old and yet unforgotten feelings, reconciling with the past, and cherishing the present, Shailaja's journey is richly emotional and Shah makes us want to shadow her every step of the way. This is an acting masterclass.  

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