From Nayanthara to Jyothika, Kollywood's leading ladies are turning into 'heroes'
She is one of the top south Indian actresses who has a tremendous fan following. When Nayanthara signed Maya, a horror film in which she is the protagonist, there were doubts about whether it would do well. Maya shattered that myth when it went on to become one of the biggest blockbusters of 2015.
The heroine turning protagonist or ‘hero’ in mainstream films is a trend that has re-emerged over the last few years in the south film industry.
In the late 1980s and early 90s, there were female-oriented scripts that struck gold at the box office. One of the actresses who made a mark in this genre is actress Vijayshanthi. Her tough lady, action-oriented act in Telugu films like Karthavayam made her into the highest paid actress in India at one point. These heroine-oriented films slowly faded away till recently as they have taken on a new avatar.
Producers are often not keen on investing their money in projects where the film has to be carried on an actress’ shoulders. With recouping investment as their primary target, they prefer to bet on actors with a market value and genres that are a guaranteed money-spinner. In recent times, new age producers are bucking this trend.
The horror genre saw a series of films that made the heroine the ‘leading man’ but so did some emotional dramas. Producer S R Prabhu has made Maya and now Aruvi, both female-oriented films. He explains, “When we cast Nayanthara for Maya, we knew the film would be commercially viable. As for Aruvi, it has been part of many film festivals and is all set to release soon. We are confident about the success of our female-oriented films. There are two main criteria to consider for any film - firstly, the script and secondly, the cost of production. And this matters irrespective of whether it’s a male or female in the lead.”
While these films may typically be smaller in budget as compared to films that star heroes, this trend has shown that actresses can carry a film on their shoulders as long as the genre and story are beautifully crafted.
“Any script that is well-written and has well-etched out characters will work with the audience. It’s important how the female lead character/s connects with the audience. Having a top heroine as the lead doesn’t necessarily work,” emphasises Prabhu.
Many female-oriented films seen in the south film industry recently bank heavily on emotion and human values. And this is what connects with the audience – both male and female. Malayalam cinema, for instance, is known for its strong emotional dramas. One female-oriented emotional drama that stuck gold at the box office is Manju Warrier’s How Old Are You. She essayed the role of a middle-aged woman and stole people’s hearts. In Tamil, it was actress Jyothika who reprised Manju Warrier’s role and 36 Vayadhinile (At the Age of 36) was a super-hit.
Director and writer Sharada Ramanthan believes that the re-emerging trend of female leads is a positive move for cinema.
She elaborates, “Female leads in cinema is great news and has evolved in three essential ways: one, they are marketable and hit-givers; two, they don't have to compete with macho men to be successful and three, they bring out shades of women through strong content, which cannot be brought out by those who play second fiddle to the heroes.”
Kannada cinema too is not far behind where this new trend of cinema is concerned.
Actress Shraddha Srinath played the lead role in U-Turn and now in Urvi. She says, “I remember when U-Turn was going to release people asked me who the hero of the film was. It sounded like the only thing that mattered was who the hero was and the heroine was just incidentally in the film. I was nearly in every scene in U-Turn and my days were packed when I was shooting for the film. Now, I have films where I just have a few scenes and I feel I have barely done any work.”
The desire to play the protagonist is growing stronger among actresses. Trisha has Mohini lined up while Jyothika has Magalir Mattum (Ladies Only). Sharada adds, “A strong female character in a film need not mean a weak man in the film! Good times for the female actor.”
Shraddha too echoes a similar sentiment saying, “Female-oriented films are a good start. If we as heroines build a brand value that makes people want to come watch us – regardless of whether there’s a hero or who the hero is – that’s ideal. Look at Vidya Balan, Kangana Ranaut or Deepika Padukone in Bollywood. People want to watch their films. We should all strive to attain that. We are still living in a world where people want hero-driven films but if that can’t change now then I don’t know when that will.”