Best Performances Of September 2021, Film Companion
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This is a monthly series where we highlight standout performances from the film and streaming universe. Since Film Companion watches widely, we decided to curate this list, foregrounding exceptional work, even if they did not have the proverbial spotlight on them.

Mohit Raina, Mumbai Diaries 26/11

Streaming Platform: Amazon Prime Video

It’s not often Indian film actors play professionals from other specialist fields with any sense of authenticity. Apart from journalists, doctors make for the most awkward performances. While Mumbai Diaries somewhat fluffed its journalist part, Mohit Raina – as star surgeon Kaushik Oberoi – balances artistic awareness with the truth of the moment, displaying the kind of human urgency that has been missing from white-coat stereotypes over the years. He reframes the tortured-artist cliche within the crumbling walls of a hospital under siege, and in the process delivers on a role – both physically and psychologically – that could have gone frightfully wrong.

Jayasurya, Sunny

Streaming Platform: Amazon Prime Video

We just saw this actor play an alcoholic in Vellam, but there’s not a trace of its hangover when we meet him again as the similarly disturbed Sunny in the Ranjith Sankar film. Given that almost the entire film is just him, we feel no fatigue and no expression feels out of place as he gets locked inside a hotel room with nothing but his inner demons to keep him company. You feel Sunny’s breakdown in your gut and it’s to the actor’s credit that you feel something as abstract as clarity being achieved visually as a plot point.

Sai Pallavi, Love Story

Theatrical Release

In Love Story, the lovely Sai Pallavi isn’t just a star, she is treated like a superstar. In a Rajinikanth film, his past as a gangster would’ve been used along similar lines to make the audience go crazy. In Love Story, though, the same effect is recreated but it’s not Mouni’s (her character) street cred that gets a call back, but her killer dance moves. With her dancing, she is able to generate as much energy and excitement as a multi million-dollar action block in a Fast And Furious film, but it doesn’t end with that. She is just as effective in scenes without any dancing, like the one where she negotiates a higher salary or the way she makes you her ally with her broken ‘interview’ English and her ideas.

Suraj Venjaramoodu, Kaanekkaane

Streaming Platform: SonyLIV

Suraj hasn’t had an odd performance in years but he’s managed to top most of them with his role as Paul Mathai in the Manu Ashokan film. In the scene where Paul talks to his NRI daughter about taking care of his grandson if something were to happen to him, there’s no shouting, no tears or even a single heightened emotion. Yet you feel the weight of planets resting on his shoulders. It’s the first sign of a good man breaking bad, but you’re totally with him. He glides over ultra dark shades of grey with ease but when he’s given a second chance to become good again, we breathe a collective sigh of relief. And that’s only because we have come to love this man.

Konkona Sensharma, Mumbai Diaries 26/11

Streaming Platform: Amazon Prime Video

What is any acting list without a Konkona performance these days? But perhaps the enduring charm of this one is that she melts into the background of a setting that can’t afford to have any protagonists – especially based on reputations. She gamely plays one of the many conflicted faces in the hospital, with her own baggage and mental demons, almost like a spiritual extension of her character in Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare (imagine Dolly moving to Mumbai after getting out of her abusive marriage). As a Social Services director in the hospital caught at the right place at the wrong time, Konkona provides a new portrait of trauma, starring in her own film by refusing to take the lead.

Pushkaraj Chirputkar, Mumbai Diaries 26/11

Streaming Platform: Amazon Prime Video

As one of the most “filmy” characters in the series, Chirputkar adds extra layers to a performance that is both culturally blinded by grief and inspired by the humanity around him. The male nurse, Vasu, is a constant in the hospital, at odds with the young Muslim trainee who fails to revive his best friend. His taunting is reminiscent of Kay Kay Menon’s character from Mumbai Meri Jaan, another Islamophobic character who comes of age on the back of a different Mumbai terrorist attack. But one always senses Vasu’s bigotry is primal, triggered by pain and hurt, and that he has only adopted the right-wing image as a defense mechanism during an extraordinary night.

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