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.
Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) is the chief antagonist, though that is not the treatment she is given. Vengeful in a slithering, slight way, she uses her unparalleled beauty to twist the men around her into submission. It isn’t overt. She isn’t seducing the men. They are seduced by merely being in her presence. Bachchan’s performance, then, is in the nudge she gives, for that seduction to become submission. The way her eyebrows twitch, the way she looks Vandiyathevan (Karthi) up and down. To weaponize beauty is one thing. And to do so without seeing herself as a villain, is quite another thing.
Hrithik Roshan and his beard dominate every scene he appears in with his sheer physicality. As the slightly-unhinged Vedha, Roshan’s solo scenes crackle with charm and the actor can make everything, even being beaten up, look elegant. He’s also someone who, by the power of slow-mo, can make you wish you were the one he’s bludgeoning with a hammer.
Vandiyathevan of Ponniyin Selvan is the charming Vana prince who does not have a kingdom but has plenty of love to offer. He rides his horse from one place to another, getting into adventures and skirmishes, but never taking a slight to heart. Is he that wise or that shameless? Whichever it is, Karthi does an admirable job playing the impish Vandiyathevan in Mani Ratnam's adaptation of the Kalki novel. Be it bantering with the Vaishnavite spy Azhwarkadiyan (Jayaram) or looking equally floored by every beautiful woman he meets, Karthi effortlessly transforms into the jolly prince. He’s especially wonderful in the scene with Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) where she tempts him to betray his friend in return for his lost kingdom. You can see the thought crossing his mind before he resolutely dismisses it — still polite, still in awe of Nandini's beauty.
Streaming Platform: Netflix
This season is an update to the dry first season of Jamtara, with Monika Panwar’s character Gudiya running for election to defeat the politician who physically assaulted her. Power is a form of revenge. Panwars’s deadpan — not passive — intensity is exciting to watch, because this isn’t the “woman empowerment” story we are hoping for. Her revenge isn’t virtuous, for she is using the money she earns from scams to pay off voters. Neither is she powerful, often put in situations where she ends up looking weak, lost, unsure of how to get what she wants. And yet, despite this, you always feel she is in control, and that eventually she will snake through and win. To be powerful without seeming powerful is a rare showcase in cinema and streaming that is obsessed with moments of cathartic bravado, and Panwar’s really brings this dichotomy to the surface with an unsteady grace we aren’t used to seeing.
Silambarasan may have made his comeback as a star with last year’s Maanaadu, but it was this film with Gautham Menon that sealed his return as a solid actor, too. Even with the film’s limited timeline that spans a few months (not including the epilogue), we see every bit of Muthu transforming from a powerless nobody into a machine who does not want the powers he’s been given. STR gets us to feel the body-ache Muthu feels when we see him limping as he walks around. He also gets us to feel the difference his character goes through just by the way he walks. With an author-backed role about a man who gets constantly haunted by the gun he chose to pick up, Muthu is easily among the most fascinating characters of this year. And who better to play it than a back-in-form ‘Atman’.
In one of the most inspired casting decisions of recent times, Deol is refreshingly restrained in R.Balki's Chup, playing the reserved cop-figure Arvind Mathur with an uncharacteristic calm amidst the horrific events that have everyone around him rattled and shaken. And yet, a few self-referential moments remind us why nobody else could have pulled this off, like the sight of an exasperated Arvind during a brawl that suddenly unfolds between filmmakers and critics — you can almost sense the fatigue of an old film-star trying to make sense of the contemporary scene — or when Deol randomly breaks into a nearly self-parodying rant about the importance of foolish idealism in order to join the army or police.
But above all, it took an angry Deol roaring “Bastard!” for us to realize that the brawny action hero has been away from the screen for far too long, and needs more of these roles playing to his strengths.