A look at performances from Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada cinema that left us impressed.

Collage of actors Anju Alva Naik, Suhas, Grace Antony, MS BhaskarAnju Alva Naik, Suhas, Grace Antony, MS Bhaskar
Flix Cinema Wednesday, December 23, 2020 - 13:11

2020 was a dismal year for film industries as theatres remained closed for months. Consequently, many films released directly on Over-the-Top platforms. Actors, directors and producers also capitalised on the audience opening up to the relatively new medium and made content exclusively for the OTT market.

Even though many of the big south Indian releases scheduled for this year were postponed, there were several notable films which were released. Perhaps these wouldn't have received the same attention if they'd gone to theatres first, considering the competition.

In all the films which came out this year — in theatres and OTT — several actors made their mark. Here's a look at such performances from Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada cinema that left us impressed, irrespective of whether the films worked overall or not. The list is in the order of the release. 

1. Nithya Menen in Psycho (Tamil): Mysskin's serial killer film, which released in theatres in January, is based on the Buddhist tale of Angulimala. Nithya played Kamala Das, a foul-mouthed cop in a wheelchair, who helps the blind hero track down the heroine who has been captured by the killer. Nithya is funny and unpredictable in this dark yet poetically made film.

2. Murali Sharma in Ala Vaikunthapuramuloo (Telugu): Although the star of this Telugu comedy was undoubtedly Allu Arjun, Murali Sharma, who played his father brought the house down. The film, directed by Trivikram, is about two babies who are exchanged at birth due to a scheming and greedy man, Valmiki. Murali's portrayal of the callous Valmiki was hilarious. The film released in January for Sankranti and became a huge hit.

3. Khushi Ravi in Dia (Kannada): KS Ashoka's love story is told through the eyes of the woman protagonist, Dia, played by Khushi Ravi. The introverted Dia is torn between two men and the circumstances that she finds herself in. Khushi's portrayal won her praise from the audience and critics alike. The film was released in February.

4. Biju Menon in Ayyappanum Koshiyum (Malayalam): The late Sachy's film pitted two heroes against each other in a massive battle of male egoes. Biju Menon played the police officer Ayyappan Nair, who takes on an entitled brat, Koshy (Prithviraj). Biju's performance as the underdog hero blew the minds of the audience. The film released in February in theatres and that was a good thing as this fight is best viewed on the big screen.

Watch: Trailer of Ayyappanum Koshiyum

5. Fahadh Faasil in Trance (Malayalam): Directed by Anwar Rasheed, the highly anticipated Trance released in February to mixed reviews. However, Fahadh's performance as a naive motivational speaker who goes on to become an all powerful fake miracle worker was unanimously appreciated. The film took on religion, comparing it with drugs and mental illness and also had a host of other talented actors in the cast, including Nazriya.

6. Shobana in Varane Avashyamund (Malayalam): For fans of Malayalam cinema, this production from Dulquer Salmaan, directed by Anoop Sathyan and released in February, was nothing short of a nostalgia trip. Shobana made a comeback, playing an older woman who falls in love with a prickly ex-army man (Suresh Gopi). The actor looked lovely and confident in the role, exuding a charm that is seldom reserved for women of that age on screen.

7. Urvashi in Varane Avashyamund and Putham Pudhu Kaalai (Malayalam and Tamil): While the Malayalam film released in February, the Tamil anthology film was made after the coronavirus lockdown restrictions eased. In the Malayalam film, Urvashi has a small but touching role as the mother of a young man who rejects a woman (Kalyani Priyadarshan) because her mother (Shobana) is getting married again. Urvashi's character, however, really likes the young woman and the bond between them is truly unique. In Putham Pudhu Kaalai, Urvashi plays an older woman who falls in love and ends up staying with her boyfriend during the lockdown. This segment was directed by Sudha Kongara and the film released on Amazon Prime Video in October.

8. Ritika Singh in Oh My Kadavule (Tamil): Directed by Ashwanth Marimuthu, Ritika played Anu, a young woman on the verge of divorce. She's caught in a marriage where her partner (Ashok Selvan) doesn't believe he loves her but when God intervenes, things change. Ritika's performance in this light-hearted romcom was the heart of the film which released, quite appropriately, for Valentine's Day.

9. Rakshith in Palasa 1978 (Telugu): Directed by Karuna Kumar, this period action film was hailed by many for exposing how a casteist society functions through the eyes of folk artistes. Rakshith played the lead role of Mohan Rao, a Dalit man who beheads a Dalit henchman of the dominant castes, at the beginning of the film. His powerful performance was appreciated by critics who welcomed the film for its nuanced and sensitive portrayal of caste violence. The film released in theatres in March.

10. Gautham Menon in Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithal (Tamil): Desingh Periyasamy's heist comedy had Dulquer Salmaan and Ritu Varma in the lead, but it was Gautham Menon in a small role who makes the biggest impact in the film, not in the least because of his willingness to laugh at himself. The director, who is known for his cop movies and the blockbuster romance film Vinnaithaandhi Varuvaya, proved to be a sport, allowing the dialogues to reference his films and not always in flattering light. The film released in theatres towards the end of February.

11. Anna Ben in Kappela (Malayalam): The thriller directed by Muhammad Musthafa was released in theatres in March, just before the lockdown was announced. However, the film later released on Netflix to great popularity. The story is about a young woman, Jessy, who has big dreams despite being something of a failure in life. She finds love unexpectedly but lands in a soup. Anna Ben played the small-town Jessy admirably well.

12. Roshan Mathew in Kappela (Malayalam): For Kappela to work, Roshan had to be absolutely believable in his role. The actor managed to pull off Vishnu's layered character, surprising viewers with his performance. He also did well in the OTT film C U Soon in which he plays a young man who is taken in by a woman he meets on Tinder.

13. Keerthy Suresh in Penguin (Tamil): Directed by Eashvar Karthic, Keerthy Suresh played a pregnant woman in search of her missing older son. Though the film was largely met with negative reviews, mostly due to the amateurish performance of the rest of the cast, Keerthy herself was impressive as Rhythm. The film released on Amazon Prime Video in June, making it among the first few major Tamil films to choose a direct OTT release.

14. Saloni Luthra in Bhanumathi Ramakrishna (Telugu): Directed by Srikanth Nagothi, this romcom is about love between two unlikely characters who are in their 30s. Saloni played the confident and ambitious Bhanumathi, who is unapologetic about her beliefs and lifestyle. The film was refreshing in its non-judgmental tone. It released on the OTT platform Aha in July.

15. Satyadev in Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya (Telugu): The remake of the Malayalam superhit Maheshinte Prathikaram was directed by Venkatesh Maha and had Satyadev playing the role that Fahadh did in the original. It's a tough act to follow and yet, Satyadev pulls it off, essaying the role of the small town photographer in his own style. His guileless charm won over the audience, even those who had seen the Malayalam original. The film released on Netflix in July.

16. Darshana Rajendran in C U Soon (Malayalam): Directed by Mahesh Narayan, this thriller is told entirely through screens and has Darshana playing a young woman who gets into a relationship with a man she meets on Tinder. However, there's more to her character, Anumol Sebastian, than what meets the eye. The film revolves around her story and Darshana manages to draw the viewers in and make them stay invested with her powerful performance. The film, made exclusively for OTT, released on Amazon Prime Video in September.

17. Grace Antony in Halal Love Story (Malayalam): Zakariya Mohammed's second directorial is about the cultural wing of a Muslim organisation deciding to make a 'halal' film. Grace played the role of Suhra, a woman married to a religious man who believes he's an outstanding husband. However, Suhra nurses grievances against her husband which come out in the open during a theatre workshop. Grace's portrayal won her all round praise in this film which was released on Amazon Prime Video in October.

18. Aishwarya Rajesh in Ka Pae Ranasingam (Tamil): Based on real life stories about people who have struggled to bring back the bodies of Indians who died abroad, this hard-hitting social drama was directed by P Virumandi and released as a pay-per-view film on Zee5. Aishwarya played Ariyanachi, a woman who loses her husband (Vijay Sethupati) in an accident in the Middle East, and has to wrangle with the bureaucracy to bring his body back. Aishwarya carried the long film (close to three hours) on her shoulders.

19. Suhas in Colour Photo (Telugu): Sandeep Raj's romance film is about Jayakrishna, a "below-average" hero, played by Suhas. His dark skin is mocked by others in the film and he himself suffers from an inferiority complex. While appearances have always defined the female lead, the male lead addressing such issues is unique. Suhas's performance as Jayakrishna was honest and natural, earning critical acclaim. The film released on Aha in October.

20. MS Bhaskar in Putham Pudhu Kaalai (Tamil): In this anthology film released on Amazon Prime Video in October, MS Bhaskar plays a grandfather who makes peace with his granddaughter during the lockdown. This segment titled Avarum Naanum-Avalum Naanum was directed by Gautham Menon and also has Ritu Varma in the lead. MS Bhaskar's portrayal of an eccentric yet lovable grandfather was hands down the best performance in the entire series. The film released on Amazon Prime Video in October.

Watch: Song from Putham Pudhu Kaalai

21. Aparna Balamurali in Soorarai Pottru (Tamil): The highly-anticipated film released finally on Amazon Prime Video in November, ahead of Deepavali. Aparna's spirited portrayal of Bommi, an entrepreneur and the wife of an ambitious man who wants to start India's first low-cost airline, was top notch. She also learnt the Madurai dialect for her role. The film was directed by Sudha Kongara.

22. Suriya in Soorarai Pottru (Tamil): Suriya played Maara, a character inspired by Captain Gopinath who founded Air Deccan. The actor's emotionally charged performance was praised by many who felt he'd finally got his mojo back. His chemistry with Aparna Balamurali was also lauded by fans and critics.

23. Varsha Bollamma in Middle Class Melodies (Telugu): Directed by Vinod Anantoju, this comedy revolves around Raghava's (Anand Deverakonda) ambitions to start a restaurant in Guntur. Varsha plays Sandhya, a young woman who's had a crush on him since their schooldays. Although the film is more about Raghava than her character, Varsha's expressive face and comic timing were a huge plus for the film. The film released on Amazon Prime Video in November.

Watch: Trailer of Middle Class Melodies

24. Goparaju Ramana in Middle Class Melodies (Telugu): As Kondalrao, Raghava's long-suffering father, Goparaju delivered a hilarious performance that closely matches the average Indian parent. His irritable face and disappointment with his son are very relatable and the supporting actor was one of the best aspects of this light-hearted film.

25. Vinoth Kishan in Andhaghaaram (Tamil): Directed by Vignarajan, this supernatural thriller does away with most cliches of the genre. Vinoth plays Selvam, an honest blind man, who is able to communicate with the dead. His natural performance helped make the premise of the film believable, building up the suspense in the screenplay. The film released on Netflix in November.

26. Arjun Das in Andhaghaaram (Tamil): In the same film, Arjun Das plays Vinod, a cricketer who is tormented by his past and is unable to figure out if his present troubles are caused due to hallucinations or if there is some truth to what he's witnessing. Arjun's brooding, angry performance proved to be the perfect foil for Vinoth's understated, quiet portrayal of Selvam.

27. Anju Alva Naik in Arishadvarga (Kannada): Directed by Arvind Kamath, this thriller offers multiple accounts of a crime, with Anju's character Kruthi Bhat at the centre of it. Anju plays an older woman who is trapped in an unhappy marriage and is assertive about her sexual desires. A difficult role to pull off, Anju's performance makes Arishadvarga a suspenseful watch. The film released in theatres towards the end of November.

Watch: Trailer of Arishadvarga

28. Nanda Gopal in Arishadvarga (Kannada): The crime in Arishadvarga is investigated by a dour-faced officer called Ashok Kalburgi. Nanda Gopal plays the role to perfection, making the surprises in the plot all the more believable.

29. Sai Pallavi in Paava Kadhaigal (Tamil): In this anthology film revolving around the misplaced and casteist notions about 'honour', Sai Pallavi plays a pregnant woman who returns to her estranged family's home for her baby shower at the behest of her father. Directed by Vetrimaaran, Sai Pallavi's searing performance is a stand-out in the film as she grapples with changed realities. The film released on Netflix in December.

30. Simran in Paava Kadhaigal (Tamil): Simran plays a conservative mother in this segment of the anthology film directed by Gautham Menon. Despite the problematic dialogues and gaze of the film, Simran's performance as a woman who grapples with the sexual assault of her minor daughter and her eventual turn-around from her conservative stance made for a compelling watch.

Also read: 'Paava Kadhaigal': How filmmakers depict violence matters

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.