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.
There are two Thiruchitrambalams in Mithran Jawahar's latest film. Dhanush's hero is named after his grandfather of the same name, played by Bharathiraja. While Dhanush might be the film's hero, Bharathiraja is a bona fide hero in the eyes of the impressive romcom's admirers. The charming 80-year-old is not just Dhanush's grandfather, but also his confidant, who gives him love advice over rounds of beer and Ilaiyaraaja tunes. The veteran filmmaker evokes laughter and raw emotion in equal measure, especially when he is forced to play umpire when tumultuous arguments unfold in the house. Watch out for the scene on the terrace, where the actor reasons with Dhanush's anger, even as he holds back his tears. Or the scene where he expresses the comforts of turning old, with a mix of vulnerability and delight. Thiruchitrambalam is the movie that it is because of seasoned performances such as his.
Streaming Platform: SonyLIV
The hallmark of a great performance is recognizing that even as it is imperfect, you cannot take your eyes off the screen. With thick kohl under her eyes, a blood-red bindi and a slathering of kumkum on the middle parting in her hair, Huma Qureshi inhabits Rani Bharti, loosely based on Rabri Devi, with a dynamism that cannot be learned. Watch her hands — the way it is limp and mobile when explaining, or taut on the hips when intimidating. This is a blazing, confident performance, with the kind of charisma that forgives linguistic inconsistencies and allows narrative leaps of logic.
It might have something to do with Aamir Khan's ultra-pronounced mannerisms, but never has Kareena Kapoor Khan looked more assured as an actor than in Laal Singh Chaddha. After playing the manic pixie dream-girl for a large part of her career, Kapoor as Rupa D'Souza seems fearless about diving into her character's contradictions and essaying her whims unapologetically. We've seen Kapoor spend more than two decades alternating between playing glamour queens like Poo in K3G, and decidedly 'de-glam' parts in Chameli or Omkara. As Rupa D'Souza, who is a perfect concoction of Kapoor's many choices over the years, Kapoor proves her mettle as an actor. The film might wither away from public memory in a few years, but history will remember Laal Singh Chaddha as when Kareena Kapoor Khan — the movie star — came of age.
Nithya Menen is the heart and soul of Mithran Jawahar's Thiruchitrambalam, the latest romance drama from Tamil cinema that has become a blockbuster. As Shobana, Thiru's (Dhanush) childhood friend and neighbor, Nithya brings an unmissable warmth to the screen. She's not just Thiru's buddy, she's also friends with his father (Prakash Raj) and grandfather (Bharathiraja). Waltzing in and out of the house, she's sometimes offering relationship advice to Thiru, chilling with a face pack with his grandfather or giving a dressing down to his father. Shobana is that no-nonsense bestie who will stand by you no matter what — and that includes doing a bhangra with you in the colony cultural program. It's Nithya's ability to register the smallest and subtlest of expressions that makes Shobana so real and endearing.
Streaming Platform: Netflix
As DCP Vartika Chaturvedi, Shefali Shah builds on a golden year and a career-defining turn. She lends Vartika a performative streak — as someone who's so conditioned to "playing" the role of authority in a male-dominated field that she probably exhales the second she enters a restroom or private space. She uses English as the vocabulary of aggression and Hindi as the language of calculation. In her hands, even Vartika's inherent privilege becomes a weapon. She is aware that if she weren't in the police force, she would have been precisely the sort of South Delhi liberal who criticizes the police for being government stooges. The way Shah uses her eyes and face, again, is a narrative of its own — and her vulnerability, her struggle to bridge the moral void between human and hero – defines the second season of a show that's smarter than it appears.
Streaming Platform: Netflix
She doesn't appear till more than halfway through this season, but when she does, Tillotama Shome's performance as the antagonist allows the series to straddle the line between tragic reality and potent fiction. As a woman named Karishma, Shome conveys a backstory and character arc without saying much; she plays a sociopath who's both vulnerable and scary at once, not overdoing the madness while being driven by sadness. The show's decision to "invest" in the villain visually, unlike in the first season, pays off largely due to how the actress gets the narrative smokescreen of a screenplay that uses one kind of cultural prejudice to reveal another kind of social discrimination.
Streaming Platform: Netflix
To get an idea of just how skillful Vijay Varma is as Hamza Sheikh in Darlings, think about how abusive and alcoholic men have been usually portrayed in Hindi cinema. Most of them are outright monsters who flaunt their fists and bottles. But Varma's Hamza is something far more sinister — he's a self-aware monster who probably watches movies to learn what not to do. He knows how to gaslight and charm; deception is his default state. He drinks on the sly but never slurs or screams. He physically assaults his wife but then winces at his actions as if she's to blame for his "implosions". His power over his wife is the only language of love he knows. It's a top-class performance in a movie that isn't about the man, because he poisons the moments he isn't even part of.