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
Playing a cop in the vast landscape of Indian cinema comes with its own baggage of tropes, but Kathir often flips the traditional stereotype on its head with his performance as sub-inspector Sakkarai in Suzhal –The Vortex. Sakkarai bites off more than he can chew in the thriller, which often pulls him into inexplicable twists and turns that question both his morality and strength. However, unlike the character he's playing, Kathir knows exactly what he's doing. Sakkarai comes off as a one-dimensional dirty cop when he's seen accepting bribes in the first episode, and Kathir's genius lies in the way he works to change the audience's mind, one episode at a time. From the swaggering cop who knows just about every little curve of his town, Kathir's Sakkarai becomes an aghast onlooker, who is blindsided by the secrets that lurk in that same town. Ultimately, at the centre of the vortex in the show's title is Sakkarai, anchoring Suzhal's narrative with his anguish and vulnerability.
No antique star has aged as elegantly – and sportingly – as Anil Kapoor, who seems to be playing versions of himself these days. One gets the sense that he is enjoying the process of reinventing the relationship between performance and vanity. As the father who feels far younger than he actually is, Kapoor is technically the protagonist of this film. His Bheem is an extension of the roving patriarch from Dil Dhadakne Do (including a heart scare) – except his weapon here is comedy. It's an interesting choice, because the comedy becomes not just a lens, but also a mirror for the people watching him. One might argue that Bheem being a funny guy – punctuated by annoying sound cues – trivialises the gravity of who he really is: a manipulative, selfish and deceitful partner. But the film is not interested in judging him so much as addressing us. It's an intuitive and deceptively smart turn by Kapoor, who is now at the peak of his third wind as a Hindi film actor.
Streaming Platform: Disney+ Hotstar
Boman Irani's debut on over the top (OTT) platforms is arguably the most nuanced performance of a storied acting career. In Masoom, he plays the respected family patriarch whose daughter suspects he has killed his wife. It's a role that's a sum total of much of Irani's Hindi film career, where our perception of his roles adds to our understanding of this one. There's an awareness about how the series, and its characters, views his dominant personality – one that shifts through many shapes over the course of six episodes.
Streaming Platform: Zee5
There have been a lot of Arnab Goswami parodies and imitations in Hindi cinema over the years, but Ahlawat gets the balance of camp and cultural intensity right in this middling series about the Indian television news ecosystem. He transcends the inconsistent screenplay to fashion a character that is toxic, power-drunk, arrogant, ruthless but also oddly vulnerable – without really humanising the monster. It's a fine line to walk, and nobody but Ahlawat – a streaming MVP at this point – could have done this role with such integrity.
It has perhaps taken a while for Kiara Advani to be noticed in her films because so often, she is surrounded by a wealth of talent and it is easy to mistake her easy, pretty presence as a perfumed side-dish. But with Jugjugg Jeeyo something struck. Take the scene where both she and Varun Dhawan articulate their desires to get divorced. The camera stays on her face. She is relieved to finally blurt it out, but also hurt that he too feels the same. It is a complex expression, from which even her prepped, designed look can't distract. Throughout the film, she is given the space to be hurtful and hurting, as well as vengeful and sympathetic. There is also something so soft about her presence that it makes the sharp-edged emotions of her character in the film feel palatable.
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Aaditi Pohankar plays Bhumi, a lower-middle-class police officer, getting used to a slowly but steadily erecting spine. Using sex to trap a criminal, she instead falls in love with him while discovering the pleasures of sex. Sex as reckless pleasure is extremely rare on screen, and heat is even more so. While the show has its stilted male perspective on feminine sexuality, which the maker Imtiaz Ali has often been accused of, Pohankar's performance is able to bring in the required oomph, gilding the Imtiaz Ali-isms of confusion and catharsis with an intense presence that doesn't make her look like a sociopath (read: Love Aaj Kal, the 2020 incarnation). There is a hot and heavy scene when Bhumi, strapped in Arun Chauhan's sex-chic costume design, is trying to get picked up by two men in a car. Bhumi strikes an erotic glance at the man in the passenger seat, who says he doesn't pay for sex. She has her doubts. The gaze lingers. She walks off. Someone will cave soon. It's a filthy, expectant moment. Sex lurks under every beat. For scenes like this, we need actors who can bring a virile burn to the surface. Pohankar does it with an odd, throbbing dignity.