You've LOLed at Sivan sir in Premam. His implosions as a broken man tore you apart in Kumbalangi Nights and he became an endearing family man with Sudani From Nigeria. But he's got a lot more to offer if you're new to his work. Before the release of his film Irul, co-starring Fahadh Faasil, here's a quick recco list to the sidekick who quickly became a superhero.
Crispin in Maheshinte Pradhikaaram (2016)
By this point in his career, he had already become our favourite 'side character'. If he got noticed in Annayum Rasoolum, his role in Chandrettan Evideya next to Dileep cemented his place as the comic catalyst at a time when actors like Harisree Ashokan, Suraj Venjaramoodu and Salim Kumar had started causing a fatigue among viewers. Of course, he killed it as PE teacher Shivan sir and also as the loveable 'Kallan' Suni in Charlie, but it's Crispin in Maheshinte Pradhikaaram that gave us a glimpse of what he could really do. His 'Kummatinga' song and the reason he cites for his Mohanlal admiration quickly became pop culture hall of famers.
He gave us several moments to laugh at but the scene he shocked us with is when Baby confronts Crispin for spending time with his daughter Sonia. In first viewing, you feel this is another build-up for comedy with Crispin either apologising profusely or him running away in embarrassment. But he stands his ground when he's called an ungrateful dog. Every dialogue from then on switches between dark and funny to give us a tense scene that goes by several notches in drama. It's just over a minute long and with it, Crispin became more than the comic sidekick stereotype with feelings, pain and a mind of his own.
Sameera's Ikka in Mayaanadhi (2017)
He kept getting comic roles where he became a mainstay in big films by this point. Some had nothing new to offer him, like his roles in CIA, Solo, Happy Wedding and Anuraga Karikin Vellam. They felt like clones of each other and it often felt like a step down for the actor who could do more.
Unlike other comic actors, at such an explosive phase in their careers, Soubin somehow managed to pick these along with roles that went against his comedy image in the industry. Some of them worked and some didn't. So when he played 'Karate' Biju in Kammattipadam, the first reaction among audiences was to laugh thinking he's there just for comedy. He was extremely irritating (by design) in Kali and his role as a drug abuser didn't really register in his own directorial Parava.
But he was shockingly scary as Sameera's Ikka in Mayaanadhi. As the highly orthodox Muslim older brother he decides what his actress sister can or cannot do. His entire sub-plot could have become a joke if not for his intensity (the navel is what's causing the confusion). His rage was restrained and we saw another side to him in this. He still hasn't got a cult villain role (his role in Trance was another miss) yet, but this is surely a foundation for that.
Ambili in Ambili (2019)
After the success of Sudani From Nigeria he became an actor who deserved movies of his own. His role as the the lovable Ambili came at this cusp when films were starting to be designed around him. One may have issues with the film but Soubin's character became the highlight that held the uneven film together. His performance as the intellectually disabled Ambili didn't feel like an imitation, nor was it played loudly for comedy. In his infinite ability to love and keep loving, we found genuine moments that outlived the film. And also, he gave us this amazing song that's become a Mallu wedding fixture:
Unnikrishnan in Virus (2019) and Sameer in Vikruthi (2019)
These two hits are not really his films alone, but he did get his share of amazing moments. As Unnikrishnan in Virus, he cast a pall of gloom over the entire movie (and all his previous roles). He was the dying man and by this point he had become a much-loved actor to us all.
Through this extremely physical performance, we could see the pain the virus was causing. In other sub-plots in the film, the suffering felt distant because they relied on our imagining the situation. But with Unnikrishnan, the cards were on the table for us to see and feel. He heightened the intensity of the film several notches and his performance ensured this was done with minimal scenes and maximum impact.
Suraj Venjaramoodu may have walked away with the great scenes in Vikruthi but that doesn't mean Soubin Shahir's Sameer was any lesser. He's not a terrible person nor is he an idiot but his 'harmless' mischief does create a lot of mess. It's important to humanise Sameer because he's a reflection on all of us who're quick to use the faults of a stranger (or their suffering) for our social media image. The climax scene between him, his mother and Suraj's character holds up great even today and it gave us a great combination of two compelling actors breaking out of the same mould they were cast in.
Chuppan in Android Kunjappan Version 5.25 (2019)
As Chuppan, he played a son that became relatable to many of us from our generation. As an Indian living abroad, he probably has to deal with the killing guilt of leaving one's parent alone back at home, and he feels a robot can be some sort of a relief. When he brings Kunjappan to his father the first time, the scene is almost a stand-in for the way we might have introduced our folks to a smartphone, a tablet or a laptop. We feel technology is enough to solve this guilt issue but we know that it isn't enough.
Soubin's in a very internalised performance here and he rarely relies on his regular repertoire to get us there. Ranging between a son accepting his father's old age and the jealousy of an older brother, this character has range and a buttload of conflicts. Just like Suraj's character as the father, Soubin's role too needs more love and appreciation.