In a new series, FC Critics Survey, every few weeks we ask a handful of film critics one question. This week we ask – what's the best performance by a child actor in a film?
Some of the names that come to mind instantly are Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, and Jonathan Lipnicki in Jerry Maguire.
But I want to pick two incredible performances closer home. The first is Kunal Khemmu in Zakhm. The depth of his acting at that age was truly staggering. He plays a young boy who resents the fact that his mother has this unconditional love for a (married) man who can't offer her the same. Just watch him in that song Galli mein aaj chand nikla to see how maturely and beautifully he conveys the complexity of a kid who hates the man responsible for giving him the tag of an illegitimate child, but so full of love for his mother who wants nothing more than to spend a few minutes every once in a while from that man. It was such a deep, emotionally honest performance for that age.
The other is Archit Deodhar in the excellent Marathi film Killa. He plays an 11-year-old named Chinmay who is adjusting to life after his father's recent death, and to the move from Pune to a small coastal town in the Konkan region where his mother has been transferred in her government job. It's what you describe as a pitch perfect performance – how he conveys that feeling of being an 'outsider' in a new school, acting out in angry outbursts at his mother's cooking, lashing out at the neighbors. It's one of the most moving performances by a child actor anywhere. I remember this performance and this film staying with me for days after I'd watched this film.
Before she became one of our most exciting filmmakers Geethu Mohandas carried an entire film on her shoulders, and she wasn't even old enough to go to school. In director Raghunath Paleri's Onnu Muthal Poojyam Vare, she plays a four-year-old who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a man over the phone. What sets this role apart is how she's never asked to be cute. She's given more complex tasks instead having to balance the loneliness of a bored single child with the excitement of having found a father figure herself. The scene where a scared Geethu runs to hide under the piano, having dialled a wrong number, is impossible to forget. Almost as much as the film's heartbreaking ending.