A great year with exceptional films and some substantial performances. When Comparing every passing year, India cinema is showing a down sloping trend in hyper melodrama and preachiness associated with performances. This was a year that completely underlined this very fact. These are restrained and nuanced performances which have less cinematic exaggerations, heavenly organic to say the least. And, it’s really nice to see one of the India’s finest for the last 30 years still grabbing eyeballs with his finesse skills and topping the list.
Few notable mentions:
Bhagavathi Perumal: Super Deluxe
Sanjana Dipu: Moothon
Sidharth Chathurvedhi: Gully Boy
Fahad Fazil: Kumbalangi Nights
Asif Ali: Uyare
Ranveer Singh: Gully Boy
Manoj Parva: Article 15
8. Dhanush: Asuran
Vetrimaaran might be the director who has extracted the most from Dhanush – The Actor, but unlike the previous collaborations that had his natural best, Asuran is different, Sivasamy is a role that is too heavy weighted for a spectator to buy from the Actor. But Dhanush instead, In addition with delivering a fitting external restraint in coping up with the age factor, also introspects through the internal amperes of the character. Because, i haven’t seen his eyes becoming so expressive hitherto, to be specific, in the final court scene and a brilliantly directed stretch where Chidambaram is hacked and assaulted. Dhanush is phenomenal as Sivasamy. The only exception would probably be the climax action which went tone-deaf.
7. Nimisha Sajayan: Chola
The most complex character from this whole list is played by Nimisha Sajayan – one of the finest female actors in the country at present, in Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s reiteration of Ramayana, Chola. Nimisha plays Janaki, who’s called by his boyfriend as Jaanu. Chola tackles Janaki’s one-day-out with her scrawny boyfriend backed by his boss to the city. The incidents happens to turn horrifying when they rearrange and decide to stay in a motel for the night. Nimisha is clearly the oppressed representative under patriarchy. She is voiceless over Aashan’s patriarchal power play. She becomes a shadow of Aashan, a mere shadow as what Chola’s tagline suggests. Janaki could have been easily gone wrong with any other actor, but Nimisha’s act is meticulous. She brings in the naivety of a school girl. Most of her screen time requires verbal effort to scream and weep. Nimisha makes sure she doesn’t go overboard with it and also resonates extreme distress. Her silent gazes accucess the audience.
6. Soubin Shahir: Kumbalangi Nights
Most of the movies that deals with the jobless youth good-for-nothing ultimately culminates in an exaggerated pursuit of romance, where the leading man is also Romanticized as relatable. But Kumbalangi Nights (unlike any of em) too romanticizes the same guy in an extremely delicate and sensible manner. This is why Saji remains as the most relatable and most beautiful protagonist of recent times. How often have you seen men in cinema crying? Well, in a context like this, there would be none. Saji gives one groundbreaking and heartwarming mental health episode. He asks his younger brother to take him to a psychiatrist. Redemption of protagonists (as well) are very manipulative in our films. But Saji gets a well written–well enacted redemption arc.
Soubin plays a matriarchal person, a complete contrast to the films Villain (Played by Fahad Fazil). He is of the opinion that it’s men who actually needs Lady Bird (bicycle). He is sensitive and fragile, also has suicidal tendencies. Syam Pushkaran’s writing is so intricate that makes every detail counts. Soubin ices the cake and breaks many stereotypes. My favourite scene is him smiling with lucid tears after getting slapped from the Police inspector played by Dileesh Pothen, who says ‘don’t repeat this!’
6. Joju George: Chola
In Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s chilling reiteration of The Ramayana, Joju George plays the Raavanan, only baptized as Aashan. With his beefed up body and sinister body language Joju lives through the role which looks tailor made to him. Most of his shots are silhouettes. His T-Shirt is printed with Eat, Eat, Eat. There is some monstrosity and wicked unpredictability Joju brings in, when he checks in to the forest we don’t know what he’s into next. And when you guess, it easily goes wrong next second.
In the climax Joju takes the Chill of his to a whole together ferociously chilling level. He resonates a sinister unpredictability of aura around him. Out of the scenes in the dark, Joju’s dialogue delivery too manages to lighten up the creepiness associated with this character, he’s so calibrated in that. Joju possesses great enigma, even though his character is not layered as much as Nimisha’s is. This is probably the most ruthless and brutal portrayal of a villain character in Malayalam Cinema recently, only next to Mammootty’s Murikkum Kunnath Ahamad Haji in Palerimanikyam of 2009.
5. Suraj Venjaramoodu: Vikrithi
Suraj Venjaramoodu plays a mute character in Vikrithi, a film that is inspired by a real-life story associated with cyberbullying. If you are conversant to deaf and dumb people (as i personally does because my Father is a deaf person), there is a certain kind of mannerism associated with them in general. I’m sure that Suraj has did this role with as much homework of scrutiny regarding this. He brilliantly manifests through these physical nuances. Suraj is deeply moving and emotionally affecting in an otherwise clumsy narrative with the kind of poignant resonance that i have got hooked from countless Mammootty performances.
Eldho is introduced in the opening shot which is a bus journey where the fellow passenger asks him a course of way to Lourds Hospital, he tries to communicate in sign language but eventually fails, then makes an effort to take his notepad and writes it down to him. There is an essence of humanity and a keen sense of sadness beautifully rooted with the physiognomy of the character. It’s not the run-of-the-mill writing, but the beauty Suraj Venjaramoodu infiltrates with his Acting. He underplays in the oddest of circumstances like the scene where his daughters offers him a handful of rice, and overwhelms in the most theatrical scenes, say, the climax. In a nutshell, this is the quintessential actor-elevates-writing. Suraj also owns a terrific performance in Android Kunjappan 5.25 this year.
4. Raasukutti: Super Deluxe
Raasukutti played by Master Ashwin in the delicious world of Super Deluxe owns most of its beautiful scenes. He does the role with so much gratuitous charm and naturality. Rasukutties Father is returning back to home after ages. So he’s excited. The segment opens with Raasukutty opening the door when the bell rings, he wants to give a surprise to his Father. But it is the milkman instead. Raasukutty is disappointed, we too feel disappointed for Raasukutty. For his awesome delivery of expressions *even* in close ups. His Father is back finally. But! He is a changed man to a trans woman; Shilpa. Everybody in the family are disappointed, they rants about the faith of this Mother & Child. But Raasukutty doesn’t care about his gender, he just wants his Father back, that’s all what he needs, he wants to take him to School and prove to his classmates who makes fun of him by calling Test Tube baby.
The most touching scene from the film is it’s climax, when Raasukutty says ‘Nee Aambala aayirunthalum sari Penbala aayirunthalum sari, en koode irunth tholaye!’. In a world still carrying out gender discrimination and preying minorities, we need children like Raasukutty to spread Love. Unconditional Love. Also, pulling of such a natural performance in a film that has too many quirky things happening at the same time is laudable.
3. Saniya Malhotra: Photograph
The extremely gracious Saniya Malhotra as Miloni is soaked in melancholy, written like a poem. She is a CA Foundation topper now preparing for CA Inter, says her Father. After this scene only we get to see Miloni: who is in a textile shop middled between a Mother and Sister selecting her dress – overriding and excluding her interests. They selects pink over yellow. She doesn’t have a voice. We get a holded mirror shot of Miloni looking into the mirror with the Yellow Salwar after the fuss is over. It’s her real self that is reflected. Saniya’s nuanced acting has a lyrical envity surrounding, which strips slowly when Rafi comes to her Life. He writes to his grandmother, ‘Her eyes are full of questions but also full of answers, her smile takes away all the troubles, And her laugh, remember the first rains in our farm? Her name is beautiful too, Noorin! Miloni wants to be this Noorin of Rafi. She don’t want to be or isn’t, the lady in the Hoardings of Anmol Sir’s coaching institute.
2. Nivin Pauly: Moothon
Nivin Pauly, the actor who’s largely classified with the tag ‘safe zone’ does every effing thing that you’ll never ever anticipate from him. Nivin is Akbar, a character who has an enigmatic two-phased timeline. In Bombay he is Bhai, a gangster smug who smokes dope all the time and forwards a child trafficking business. He is outright vigious. Bhai blabbers a story about a man who came to Mumbai a long time ago, who survived the gullies by doing miscellaneous jobs and from getting hit by cops. He says he killed him. Probably Akbar is referring to himself. The backstory he has buried deep inside. We get cut to this backstory after an important revelation at the interval block, Nivin Pauly returns to his forte. But even here, pauly seems to be out of his zone. He is an adept at Kuthu Ratheeb. His sexuality is beautifully decorated. A mirror scene where he relives a beautiful moment with a feminine glance is the best Nivin has ever done in his whole career so far. The kind of psychological transition that Akbar goes through when Mulla’s track is lost and a forthcoming breakdown with Shashank is exquisitely inhibited and exhibited by Pauly. Undoubtedly a career redefining performance.
1. Mammootty: Peranbu
Easily the best performance of the year. Amudhavan is a testament to the legend’s acting chops. Peranbu is a journey through the lives of a NRI Father who permanently returns to India for taking care of his daughter. Mammootty, with his impeccable voice modulations narrates 14 different chapters of Nature, episodes of Amudhavan’s life after returning from Dubai. You won’t find a more earnest-to-goodness character this year. Amudhavan doesn’t blame his wife for eloping, he also understands the state of trouble of the girl who cheated him is in. A scene in which he asks the employee of an NGO a male prostitute for his daughter and getting slap, no other superstar will agree to act in one such scene other than Mammootty. Also, the scene following that where he tears up, no one can replace the Actor too. This is why he is par excellence. Ram’s writing always has an irreverence and ignorance to the social strata.
In one of the most devastating scenes in Peranbu, Amudhvan decides to suicide with her daughter. Before we get to know this revelation, Mammootty terrifically glares into the sea. He elevates Ram’s writing in addition with giving a chilling effect. The role was rejected for National Awards last year (As the film was censored in 2018) by the regional panel, what more saddening was seeing the one who end up grabbing that award instead. Worst Jury politics ever.