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: Prime Video
Ammu thinks her marriage will lead to a gifted future. However, her life comes crashing down when her husband starts to hit her. Unable to leave the man she loves but struggling to tolerate the monster in him, she fights within herself more against her husband. As someone tackling domestic violence, Aishwarya Lekshmi as Ammu brings out the inner conflict precisely with her expressions. Watch out for the scenes where she discusses this conflict with outsiders, one at the railway station and the other at her own house. The actress pulls off a mix of trembling fear, a love she wishes to cherish, and her newborn bravery to stand up for herself. Despite its flaws, Ammu manages to leave an impact because of such fine performances.
For an industry that writes teens as either chirpy, optimistic fools or ill-tempered, drug-shooting rebels, it is refreshing to see how ‘normal’ Kavya (Kaduskar) is. Playing a high-school lover of a much older man Ashok (Indraneil Sengupta), also her mentor, the film trusts her with enough maturity and agency to indicate she knows what she’s doing. Even when Uday picks her up from school, we don’t see her hyperventilating. The panic slowly creeps in when she realizes how Ashok is distancing himself from her. No tears are spent to make us feel for Kavya (we’ve come a long way from Kya Kehna!) or paint her as a bechari. She’s treated like every other character in the film. There’s an inspired portion in the second half – where Kavya’s “pregnancy” doesn’t become her entire personality, as we see her develop a tender bond with Uday. Maybe it helps that Kaduskar — an actor in her mid-20s — plays the part without any inflections. In the final 20 mins, Kaduskar’s performance soars when she’s left to die inside a seedy hospital. Kavya’s helpless cries remind us of something that the rest of the film has worked very hard to make us forget. That she’s just a girl coming of age.
From the stunning locations to the sub-plot that gives Gujju food a Nigella-Lawson-esque makeover, there’s a lot in The Last Film Show that looks too romanticized to be true. Bhavin Rabari is not one of them. Nine-year-old Rabari plays the irrepressible Samay, who is modeled on director Pan Nalin himself and required to pull off impossible feats of cuteness. Samay bunks school, steals film reels, delivers pithy one-liners and eventually even makes a projector out of scrap metal (with a little help from his friends). He is present in practically every scene of The Last Film Show and not once is there any hint of affectation or artifice in Rabari’s performance.
The effect of how an industry can limit the full potential of an actor is obvious while watching a movie like Mammotty’s Rorschach. Its ensemble cast was an experiment almost as wild as the film’s central plot with a legion of comedic actors finding a place, playing the darkest roles of their careers. The highlight among these inspired casting choices was that of Bindu Panicker who played a formidable villain who hides behind the facade of a heartbroken, exhausted mother. Her grey-ness, for the most part, is so effectively masked that Panicker gets some of the film’s best scenes. Even without a single moment of loudness, she creates deep mistrust with the gentlest of expressions, as her character pushes her family towards doom, fuelled by her unending greed.
Streaming Platform: SonyLIV
As the center of an intriguing character study of a delightfully immoral figure, Samridhi Dewan deftly navigates the pain, instability, tragedy, and humour of a woman who lies about having cancer. Even when the dark comedy narrative around her doesn’t quite come together, Dewan’s delicate performance ensures Maya Ahuja is forever fascinating as the unsettlingly unhinged figure desperately craving connection and acceptance.
Not for the first time this year, Sheeba Chaddha steals the show as a single parent who morphs into the moral core of a social dramedy. The sight of a “cool” and progressive Indian mother — with a penchant for Tinder, Instagram stories, her own Youtube channel — isn’t an unfamiliar one in modern Hindi cinema. But Chaddha, as she almost always does lately, transcends the tropey nature of her character and infuses her with an emotional intelligence that surfaces when we least expect it. Much like the ‘acceptance’ moment in Badhaai Do, she becomes the driving force of the film’s most disarming scene — where the woman is somehow both firm and tender in her response to her son’s accusations of holding him back in life.