REPLUG: Nayanthara, the diva who made cash-cows out of women-centric films
As Nayanthara marries long-time beau Vignesh Shivan, we republish a May 2021 article that looks at how the 'lady superstar' shattered the Kollywood glass ceiling
Tamil superstar Nayanthara, who has been paired with most of the leading actors in the south industry, has now declared that she will henceforth act primarily in woman-centric films.
The Tamil daily, Daily Thanthi has reported on May 18, 2021, that the actress, who commands a massive fan following almost akin to male superstars, has said that she will not pair up with big heroes anymore and take up roles after careful consideration preferring to do films which give prominence to a woman’s role.
Nayanthara is currently working in Rajnikanth’s Annaatthe, where she seems to be appearing in an older version of herself, and in Vijay Sethupathi Kathuvakkula Rendu Kadhal. After these films, the heroine has made the decision to listen to storylines with care and act only in women-oriented cinema.
The pretty actress has already shown her mettle in movies where women feature as the central characters. For example, she has played the role of IPS officer Anjali Vikramadithyan in psychological thriller Immaikka Nodigal (2018). Her challenging cop role alongside Rudra played by Bollywood director, Anurag Kashyap became the talk of the town. She has played a single mother in horror movie Maya (2015), a district collector taking on political leaders in Aramm (2017), and a drug smuggler in Kolamavu Kokila (2018).
According to Gopi Nair, her Aramm director, Nayanthara has already acted in many women-centric films and it is not surprising that she is making this move. Speaking to The Federal, Nair said, “Nayanthara has the opportunity or is in a position to call the shots now. She has worked hard and has carved a special place for herself in the male-dominated film industry. I think it is a good move, though, after Aramm, she has already done many films, which were woman-centric.” He added that it is not enough for an actress to dance around the hero and romance him.
“They show no individuality, real-life women are not like that. Unfortunately, south cinema is a very male setup,” Nair admitted.
However, of late, there are small but brave attempts to reduce the misogyny that is rampant in the south film industry like the Women in Cinema Collective in Kerala, who are fighting to build a better workplace for women employed in south cinema. It is helmed by actors like Parvathy Thiruvoth, Revathy and Rima Kallingal, singer Sayanora but this is the first time a mainstream actress is staking out on her own in the male-dominated industry.
Nayanthara, born Diana Mariam Kurian, made her acting debut in the 2003 Malayalam film Manassinakkare. Director Sathyan Anthikkad saw her picture in a magazine and was impressed by her grace. Playing the role of a bubbly, cheerful Gauri, her hero in the movie was Jayaram, and the film went on to become a blockbuster. There was no looking back for Nayanthara ever since then.
She was just 19 when she signed the movie. Her next film was with veteran filmmaker Fazil, a psychological thriller, where she was cast opposite none other than superstar Mohanlal. After the success of the film, Nayanthara was noticed by the Tamil film industry, and after her first Tamil film, Ayya in 2005, she was cast in Chandramukhi and AR Murugadoss’ Ghajini.
Nayanthara shot up to the top slot. For a while, her personal life got a lot of attention, including her failed romance with director Prabhudeva. Nayanthara made a stunning comeback with the Atlee-directed film Raja Rani in 2013. As a woman in an arranged marriage who eventually falls in love with her husband, her performance reflected a new maturity and depth. The film was a huge hit garnering approximately 3.20 crore on the first day.
In addition to these box office smashes, she pulled off the role of a haunted journalist in the horror film Airaa (2019) and a vengeful hearing-impaired girl in Naanum Rowdy Dhaan (2015). Her performances in Simha, Boss Engira Bhaskaran and Super eventually fetched her nominations for the Filmfare Best Actress Award in the respective languages.
Many film critics have said that Nayanthara is not particularly a “versatile” performer but owes her success to “the big movies that got her noticed”. However, the actress wanted to be in mainstream films where the gender of the lead protagonist did not matter. It did not have to be necessarily women-centric films, she had said in interviews before.
In 2016, Nayanthara broke the Tamil film industry’s strong code of silence when director Suraj said, among other offensive things, that he was not a big fan of women wearing a sari, if we are paying good money, we expect actresses to wear skimpy clothes and look glamourous.
Demanding an apology for “all women in the industry”, Nayanthara has said “audiences who look up to film stars are far more mature and respect women more than Suraj does”.
In 2019, actor and politician Radha Ravi, known for his sexist comments, suggested that Nayanthara was not a suitable choice for the role of Sita, she issued a hard hitting statement calling him a misogynist and asked the South Indian Artistes’ Association to conduct an “internal inquiry”. Nayanthara was supported by #MeToo frontrunners such as Chinmayi Sripaada, as well as other actors and directors.