Has the pandemic changed our viewing habits? Irreversibly? The answer is blowing in our subscription charges. There is an accompanying question too. Has it also changed our perception of actors and acting, along with viewing choices? Well, yes and no. Because even while we get addicted to time-draining series – and there are too many clamouring for attention as even more recommendations pour in from friends - a film remains a film, a lifelong habit difficult to shed. Easier to fit into a day too.
Film has the advantage of conveying the essence of a story and a person within 90 to 120 minutes. It is more concentrated. A film can be sublime, make you swoon with pleasure like a designer perfume. A finely brewed distillation to inhale, savour, and let the warmth of remembrance spread through your emotional receptacles. A transparently honest and calibrated performance in a film sinks into memory, like rain soaking thirsty soil. Agreed, such performances are rare, but they still surprise you.
The best performances in films this year, from the limited number I saw, the first two choices are automatic. By a strange coincidence, both roles are of marginalised people - a tribal woman and a Dalit man. This fact is a tragic comment on their plight in our uncaring society. They may be from different strata and the tone of the films poles apart, but they both suffer at the hands of a system caught in the iron grip of caste, privilege, and a hierarchic structure indifferent to suffering, when it is not unleashing deliberate cruelty.
Lijomol Jose in Jai Bhim
(Amazon Prime Video)
It is a role that pierces your conscience with a searing, gut-wrenching performance as Senggeni, the pregnant wife of Rajkannu, who is taken by the police for a theft he has not committed. If you are from the Irula tribe who are practically bonded labour in rural Tamil Nadu (without an Aadhar or voting card), they are the first to be clapped in jail, often resulting in hidden custodial death that is passed off as prison escape. In a film that graphically shows police brutality unleashed on Irula men, you feel the pain through Senggeni when she sees her husband so brutally battered that he can't swallow the mouthful of rice she feeds him. Jose's entire body is an instrument vibrating to many levels of pain, endurance, and uncompromising dignity. Jose convinces you that it is an Irula woman playing herself, reliving her tormented life. Lijomol Jose deserves every award going for the truth of her performance.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Serious Men
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