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.
Ajitesh Gupta — Ghar Waapsi
Streaming Platform: Disney+ Hotstar
In the span of a month Ajitesh Gupta shape shifted between his charming qawwal performance in Jo Dooba So Paar as Ameer Khusrau (among other parts) at Prithvi Theater, as the married man who prematurely ejaculates in the sheets and is a stern police officer on the streets in Dr. Arora, and finally, as the best friend who is always forgotten and left behind in the sweet, immersive world of Ghar Waapsi. In the last performance, he brought out the physicality of an Indori man who loves with a force that can never be returned. There is a desperation in his love that calls for pity. But also a sweetness, a kindness in his demeanour that makes you feel terrible for feeling that pity in the first place. While initially his character is played for laughs, he is given an arc, of insisting on friendship and love being returned, and in one of the standout moments in a show frothing with standout moments, he finally articulates the disparity of love and that despite this imbalance he will love anyway, for that is who he is. He weeps. We weep.
Fahadh Faasil — Malayankunju
When one talks of Fahadh Faasil’s performances, there are usually paeans to his expressions and physicality. Yet in the restrictive space of Malayankunju, it is his voice modulation that had to stand in to convey most of what his character is going through. In fact, in the second half, he gets just one name ‘Ponni’ as dialogue. The rest is just him muddying through a landslide, struggling against nature — both his and the Earth’s. That one name and the yearning in his voice all he needs to convincingly portray the transformation of a bigot into a humanist.
Kaali Venkat — Gargi
Kaali Venkat has appeared in several small supporting roles in Tamil films previously, but never has the actor been given an opportunity to prove himself as substantially as in Gargi. He plays Indrans Kaliyaperumal, the lawyer with an occasional stutter, who takes up the case for the accused. Gargi is convinced of her father’s innocence and Indrans does his best to find holes in the prosecution’s case. Venkat is perfectly cast as an ally who has his own battles to fight. When he joins forces with Gargi, we get snippets of a rare camaraderie and moments of laughter even when we’re dealing with such a serious subject.
Rajat Kapoor — RK/RKay
Rajat Kapoor’s double role, as a hassled indie director named RK and his period protagonist, Mahboob, who ‘escapes’ his film, is delightfully meta without succumbing to a dark, existential slant. Kapoor plays puppeteer and puppet in a way that undercuts their outward contrasts with an inward resemblance. The tension between the two men is a consequence of the unlikely chemistry between them — RK is almost surprised to see that Mahboob is inherently an honest person yearning to transcend a dishonest film. Watching Mahboob, then, is like watching his own vanity grow a conscience. It’s a loaded double role in that sense, but Kapoor never loses sight of the fact that duality is the afterlife of porous individualism.
In Gautham Ramachandran’s Gargi, Sai Pallavi plays a young woman whose father is accused of sexually assaulting a minor. A courtroom drama that effectively uses stock characters of the genre only to subvert it and make a compelling statement about sexual violence, Gargi is among the best films to come out this year. Sai Pallavi’s is also a very clever performance. When she has a breakdown earlier on, it hits us hard and registers as a big emotional moment. But much later when we’re expecting her to react similarly, she holds back and the moment then multiplies so much in terms of both impact and meaning.
Sanjay Dutt — Shamshera
Sanjay Dutt as Daroga Shuddh Singh was the highlight of Shamshera. His whip-wielding, ponytail-twirling menace is surpassed only by his open glee for violence. Despite Shamshera’s disappointing run in theatres, Dutt’s performance remains memorable, perhaps aided by the way the actor has been crafting larger-than-life, villain personas in films like Agneepath (2012) and K.G.F: Chapter 2 (2022). In an industry that tends to trap ageing heroes in secondary roles and predictable clichés, Dutt has found a way to stay in the limelight by being the opposite of a hero.