There is something about Diwali that brings with it a ray of hope for a new beginning. And a new beginning is what Indian cinema needs this year. After spending the better part of the year locked down, the industry is hoping for a turnaround.
And who better to champion such a revival than the brightest young acting and directorial talent. It is not every day that one gets filmmakers and actors making a significant mark with their very first film, and then go on to impress with subsequent work too. With theatres reopening again in the South, here’s a compilation of the best young talent set to take charge for the years to come. Or so, we hope.
Yash-starrer KGF impacted Kannada cinema like nothing else did in recent times. The film was also a rage across the country, with the sequel expected to make an even bigger splash. Although Srinidhi—who made her debut with the Prashanth Neel film—only appeared in a handful of the scenes, she is expected to play a more prominent role in the sequel. Despite her limited appearance in the first instalment, Srinidhi won scores of fans and a lot of love from the Kannada audience. This love resulted in her getting signed on for a Tamil film as well—Ajay Gnanamuthu’s action-thriller Cobra. With music by the maverick AR Rahman, she will be seen alongside Vikram. Two biggies lined up across two industries—Srinidhi’s career seems to be taking off big time.
This Telugu actor’s rise can be attributed to her reluctance to go by stereotypes. Not afraid to take the road less travelled, her biggest hit, Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, established Pooja as an actor of note. Sought after by the biggest names in the industry, her run looks set to continue, given that she is all geared up to star opposite Baahubali star Prabhas in his upcoming period drama, Radhe Shyam. She plays a music teacher based in Europe in the film. Like some of her peers down South, Pooja also took a tentative step into Bollywood with Housefull 4. Though the run-of-the-mill comedy is anything close to a big-budget entry into the Hindi film industry, the actor will be looking forward to cementing her arrival with Radhe Shyam, which is a pan-Indian multilingual film. She will also be playing a stand-up comic in Most Eligible Bachelor, co-starring the young heartthrob Akhil Akkineni. It’s this kind of a balancing act that has marked her rapid ascension.
He made his acting debut with the role of a rapist in the Mammootty-Nayanthara Malayalam film, Puthiya Niyamam. It was an unusual and risky move for a first-time actor. But it’s this quality that has got Roshan where he is now. An extremely selective actor, his nascent career has already seen him play roles many lead actors may not be comfortable with. Most recently, his performance as Ameer, the mute lover of Nivin Pauly’s character in Moothon, won accolades. The role was notable for how it wasn’t just another effeminate, gay man depicted in most Indian films. Anurag Kashyap, who wrote the Hindi lines in Moothon, was so bowled over by the performance that he cast Roshan in his own OTT film, Choked. Now, we hear that Roshan will star opposite Alia Bhatt and Vijay Varma in a Hindi production from the Red Chillies Entertainment stable. The actor has also completed another Malayalam film, Varthamanam, which has Parvathy Thiruvothu in the lead, and is working in veteran director Sibi Malayil’s Kothu with Asif Ali. Roshan comes from a strong theatre background, and when not doing films, is known to return to the medium. He recently directed a long-running play called A Very Normal Family, which featured several known faces from the Malayalam film industry. It’s clear already that we can expect big things from this man.
One of the brightest talents to come from the Kannada industry, Rashmika crossed shores to make a significant mark in the Telugu industry. Having made her debut with Rakshit Shetty’s Kirik Party, she went on to star opposite Vijay Deverakonda in Geetha Govindam, one of the recent successes in Telugu. Winning hearts, the actor followed it up with an author-backed role in Dear Comrade. As Lilly, Rashmika showcased her acting chops in quite a complex role. Meanwhile, she also starred in Devadas, a multi-starrer headlined by Nagarjuna and Nani. Dubbed by the Kannada media and audience as the ‘Karnataka Crush’, she returned to Kannada cinema with Darshan’s Yajamana and has Dhruva Sarja’s Pogaru in the pipeline. Rashmika continues to be on the path to cement her stardom in multiple industries. Right after starring opposite superstar Mahesh Babu in Sarileru Neekevvaru, she signed on to act in the Allu Arjun-starrer Pushpa. She is also set to make her much-awaited Tamil debut with Karthik’s Sultan. In all likelihood, 2021 will see Rashmika star in three big movies in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. If that isn’t a power-packed path to look out for, then we don’t know what is.
He was all set for a dream debut—the Tamil remake of Arjun Reddy, one of the most anticipated films of the times. Dhruv was to be launched by Bala, the director who gave his father the biggest break of his career. The hype was unreal. Here was the son of a star known for his hard work, acting, and of course, dogged determination. Everything seemed perfect. Too perfect, some would say. Just before the red carpet for the preview shows could be rolled out, things changed. A change of director, a new crew, and reshooting of an entire film from a new perspective followed. His debut film Adhithya Varmaa suddenly became the most talked-about for all the wrong reasons, even though his performance was widely appreciated. Though Dhruv’s career began with somewhat of a struggle, it’s the commanding screen presence he exhibited in his debut that makes him a talent to watch out for.
The daughter of Malayalam screenwriter Benny P Nayarambalam, Anna instantly grabbed the limelight with her appearance in Kumbalangi Nights. The character she played—Babymol—was a welcome change from the rustic characters Malayalam audiences have been generally used to. A strong woman with her own opinions, the character was aspirational whilst also being relatable. It’s this relatability more than anything else that makes her one of contemporary Malayalam cinema’s finest and most sought-after actors. Her second film, Helen—a survival drama—saw the actor shouldering a film all on her own. The film had terrific writing and a powerhouse performance from the young actor. Not done with showcasing her skills yet, in her third film, Kappela, the fashion design graduate played a rustic character—Jessi—a complete departure from characters like Babymol and Helen. The three films have combined to show that she is not a one-hit-wonder. With a line-up of promising projects—Aashiq Abu’s Naradan, an action-oriented role in director Ranjan Pramod’s film and a new Malayalam movie co-starring Madhubala—great days lie ahead.
Some people come blessed. A Malayalam debut opposite Dulquer Salmaan. A Hindi debut with a Majid Majidi film. Malavika’s Tamil film start too was as grand—playing Rajinikanth’s sister in Karthik Subbaraj’s Petta, which also featured Vijay Sethupathi, Trisha and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Her role, Poongkodi, gained a lot of fan-following and a strong social media presence. She was next signed on as the female lead in Vijay’s Master. The Lokesh Kanagaraj directorial venture again has an ensemble cast that includes Vijay Sethupathi, Andrea, Shanthnu Bhagyaraj, Arjun Das and Gouri Kishan. Although the release date of Master is unclear owing to the pandemic, the hype surrounding the film refuses to die down. Malavika has grown from strength to strength in the meantime. This has led her to being signed on to star opposite Dhanush in Karthick Naren’s upcoming film. With films opposite the movers and shakers of Tamil cinema, and with an impressive social media presence, Malavika, who is just starting out in Tamil cinema, is making all the right noises.
As much as he has done with his directorial work, Pa Ranjith’s turn as a producer too has changed the landscape of Tamil cinema. His first venture under the Neelam Productions banner introduced Mari Selvaraj, who made the sublime Pariyerum Perumal. A telling commentary on casteism and patriarchy, the film served as a stark reminder of how the country treats its minorities and oppressed classes. Mari’s progressive thoughts shone bright through this film that preferred laying bare the problems rather than doling out solutions. With his debut winning awards and accolades all over, there are great expectations surrounding his next, Karnan, starring Dhanush in the lead. His third film is expected to be once again with Pa Ranjith. With two such follow-ups in the offing, Mari’s unique voice is sure to be heard loud and clear.
He made a splash with his directorial debut Pataas and continued his successful stint with crowd-pleasing hits such as Supreme, Raja the Great and F2. He is that rare director to not have a single failure to his name. After delivering a festive hit with Sarileru Neekevvaru, which marked a new commercial phase in his career, Anil is now busy working on his much-awaited, F3. With his compelling mix of witty dialogues, adept storytelling and understanding of mainstream cinema, he is already a star among his contemporaries.
With his debut film Maanagaram starring upcoming actors Sri and Sundeep Kishan, Lokesh made the Tamil audience sit up and take notice. He immediately followed it up with the super stylish action-thriller Kaithi. Starring Karthi in the lead role, Kaithi was not only a step-up for Lokesh in terms of the principal cast, but it also catapulted him into the big league. He next roped in Vijay for the much-awaited Master, which also stars an ensemble cast of Vijay Sethupathi, Andrea, Arjun Das, Malavika Mohanan and Shanthnu Bhagyaraj. Not one to waste any time in basking in these heights of success, Lokesh is all set to take it a couple of notches higher as he gears up to direct Kamal Haasan in Vikram. A self-proclaimed fan of the actor, this is a rise that many don’t even dream of. If Master hits the screens next year, and Vikram follows suit, then there is very little doubt as to who the year 2021 belongs to.
Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval
Anyone who has seen this filmmaker’s Android Kunjappan might find it hard to believe that it was the work of a first-time director. Such was the sophistication in the filmmaking that it announced the arrival of a director with a remarkable gift for dark humour and an ability to get his actors to perform to their best. Before making his directorial debut with the Kerala State Award-winning film, Ratheesh worked as a production designer on films such as Kammattipadam, Badhaai Ho, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota and most recently, Lootcase. He has just commenced the filming of his second film, Kanakam Kamini Kalaham, another satire that stars and is produced by Nivin Pauly.
A director and documentary filmmaker who works in Kannada cinema, Kiranraj’s upcoming directorial debut 777 Charlie features Rakshit Shetty in the lead. It also stars Sangeetha Sringeri, Raj B Shetty, Bobby Simha and Danish Sait in pivotal roles. He made a splash with one of the seven short films in the critically-acclaimed anthology, Katha Sangama. He is known for being an important writer (credited as ‘Seven Odds’) of the cult Kannada movie, Kirik Party, that won appreciation across the country. It’s rare for a director who hasn’t yet made his debut yet to radiate such optimism, but that’s what you get with Kiranraj, given his experiences with award-winning telefilms, documentaries, and short films. With Charlie 777 being planned as a pan-Indian release, all eyes are trained on him to see if he can rise to the expectations.