This is a monthly series where we highlight standout performances from the film and streaming universe. Since Film Companion watches widely, we decided to curate this list, foregrounding exceptional work, even if they did not have the proverbial spotlight on them.
Streaming Platform: SonyLIV
Jim Sarbh has tremendous fun playing Homi Bhabha – he makes it look like he was born for it. Sarbh brings a Benedict Cumberbatch energy to the role, being irreverent and cocky, riffing on the polar-opposite, straightjacketed Ishwak Singh, and pretty much steals the show. The highlight of the performance? His verbal takedown of a buffoonish British officer after a few drinks at a cocktail party, the punchline delivered with a special emphasis on the word 'cunt'. For a moment, patriotism seems sexy.
Streaming Platform: Amazon Prime Video
Padukone plays Alisha, one of the most complicated portraits of contemporary womanhood, in a career-best performance straddling infidelity, guilt, passion, and vulnerability. Her wonderfully resentful portrayal in Piku influences our perception of this film's father-daughter dynamic, between Padukone and Naseeruddin Shah. When they argue, it's familiar. Playing a woman gasping for air and attempting to conquer the demons of her past, she is shorn of make-up and her inherent star dazzle. The melancholy in her eyes is heartbreaking.
It's difficult to tell one Rajkummar Rao social-com performance from the other lately, but in the process one tends to overlook the times he gets it right. In Badhaai Do, his Shardul Thakur is a gay man whose entire life is designed to hide his "secret" – he works as an oppressor (policeman), his muscles reek of North Indian masculinity, his body language is firm, and he gets (seemingly) married. Some of the best scenes feature Rao drunk and internally tortured, but without the small-town tropes of movie drunken-ness. These moments pass; they're part of his closeted life, and in the process, Rao crafts one of the more memorable queer characters in Hindi cinema. I suspect this role of his will be remembered more than Ayushmann Khurrana's from Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan in the years to come.
Streaming Platform: Zee5
It's been a long time coming. As a murderous Jatt right-wing mercenary, Bobby Deol finally lands the scruffy and seasoned minimalism he has been aiming for in his last few films. He's been trying to craft a more serious second coming as a streaming star, and this role of Dagar in the heartland of honour-killing Haryana presents him with a once-in-a-career opportunity to not just act his age but wear the years on his gloriously movie-friendly face. A Coens' character rampaging through a political Shanker Raman landscape, Deol makes the most of it – and becomes so much more than the mindless dog-loving assassin in the wild.
Alia Bhatt as Gangubai is in nearly every frame of the film. Bhatt tempers the hurt of her voice and eyes, bringing subtext to the film, elevating its fractured storytelling with a purposefully lowered voice and carefully modulated swagger. She owns the part. She often sounds unconvinced by her own showy feminism and courage – staring at people and places just that extra second longer, holding onto thoughts for a beat more than necessary. The way she'd rather be hugged and caressed in her lover's lap evokes the tenderness that Gangubai sacrifices at the altar of reluctant toughness. The casting did feel like a gamble. But everything that was supposed to be a fatal flaw – Bhatt's frightfully young face, diminutive frame, urban gait – becomes a triumph in Gangubai's performative armour.