Anushka in Bhaagamathie, Nayanthara in Viswasam: How South film actresses are redefining heroine's role

Sujatha Narayanan

Feb 11, 2018 16:08:17 IST

Anushka rules Telugu Cinema with her solo superhit Bhaagamathie, thus proving that her might at the box office as the feisty Devasena is not one swallow in a summer. Nayanthara announces her solo film in Tamil with a virtual newbie director Sarjun, whose themes hitherto for his shortfilms, be it Lakshmi or Maa, have been hard hitting and brave. And she’s not stopping with just that - Nayanthara also signs up to be the heroine for Ajith in the upcoming biggie Viswasam. Trisha possibly has the most number of films among them all this season, and the first of her films in Malayalam, Hey Jude — the breezy, feel good Shyamaprasad movie with Nivin Pauly — hit the marquee last week to an instant applause. Come, let’s talk about a heroine’s ‘shelf life’, NOW.

Poster for the movie Bhaagamathie starring Anushka/Image from YouTube.

Poster for the movie Bhaagamathie starring Anushka/Image from YouTube.

These three girls have been around for over a decade. These three girls have defied general rules of how long a woman can stay on top, how much they can earn, and how many films they can sign irrespective of their age or what choices they make in their personal lives. It’s time to inhale and exhale that sentence slowly. The misogynistic treatment meted out to heroines for years has been shattered to bits now, and Anushka, Nayanthara and Trisha’s careers are proof of this reality.

Hindi cinema had it all worked out light years ahead of the South. So no comparisons there. Here, a heroine’s time was seen as limited (what they famously called as shelf life, like heroines were mere products on display!) To be more specific, a heroine had to touch all of 29 years of age, and she would be relegated to play the role of the wife or lover who appears in the flashback. She would then have to move to guest appearances, and if she decided to ‘settle down’ in her personal life, it meant she can make a ‘comeback’ only as a sister or mother to the same hero whom she would’ve romanced just a few years ago.

Today, this is not the scenario and what a welcome change it is! Jyothika’s film 36vayathiniley was not a lame ‘comeback’ by any standards. She looked as sprightly as she did before her marriage and now endorses brands which needs her full girl-power to push the product across the counters. This weekend we will see Jyothika in her boldest, damndest best in director Bala’s Naachiyaar, which, as the title suggests, is led by her, and will get a solid opening as. The trailer shows Jyothika doing something she’s never done before — play a bad-ass cop mouthing expletives with panache.

A still from the trailer of Naachiyaar/Image from YouTube.

A still from the trailer of Naachiyaar/Image from YouTube.

Samantha also has done something no girl her age, or given her super-hit status in Telugu & Tamil cinema, would do. She married Naga Chaitanya while still on the right side of 30, and the Tamil dailies were too quick to write her career off with characteristic words like how she’s stopped signing films because she wasn’t ‘allowed’ to do so. Samantha proved them all wrong by signing more films, as a leading lady, doing very much the same things as she did before she got married. Her appeal or her star status is not impaled by her decision to marry. It makes this standard question to heroines “will you continue to act after you’re married?” so redundant.

Another term called ‘appeal’ for a heroine used to be discussed and debated earlier only in relation with their glam quotient. Now, thankfully heroines like Nayanthara and Anushka have changed that too. Their roles are not mere singing around trees or to provide romantic relief. The men who act with them in their solo lead films get to do all that and then some more. Till the 90's however, a heroine’s age or marital status would dictate what kind of roles they will get to play and once she has babies, it’s death knell for her career. Today if we have a Kareena Kapoor Khan rock the ramp looking like a million bucks post Taimur, Jyothika shines brighter after two kids, in her mid thirties. Personal discipline, sound career moves, sharp eye for good roles - if these traits defined the men in the business, the women today are not far behind and in the case of the heroines mentioned here, they are ahead in certain ways.

So welcome to this ‘new era’, ladies and gentlemen, where a heroine’s career is NOT defined by her age but by how well equipped she is for it; where her star status is NOT defined by her marital status but by how well she plays the game and remains shining bright enough to be a star.

Updated Date: Feb 11, 2018 16:08:17 IST