Like all film industries across India, heroes do rule the box office but there have been actresses who have also achieved a status on par with heroes. If we had actresses like Savitri and Vijayshanti earlier who could bring in the crowds to theatres, the trend died down. But there is a slow change now again.
Nayanthara: Kollywood’s Lady Superstar
Top Kollywood actress Nayanthara emerged as the first lady superstar in the Tamil film industry in recent years who could carry a film on her shoulders successfully and strike gold at the box office. She may have made her acting debut 16 years ago but the stardom and fan base she has achieved till now is remarkable. Along with all her commercial successes with heroes like Rajinikanth, Chiranjeevi, Ajith and Vijay, Nayanthara has, to her credit, successes like Maya, Dora, Aramm and Kolamavu Kokila, where she essayed the main role. Nayan, as she is affectionately called, now calls the shots when it comes to the kind of films she wants to do and her salary as well.
Samantha rules Tollywood
Now, it looks like another actress has made it to the lady superstar list. Samantha Akkineni or Samantha, as she is widely known, rocked the box office with the film Oh! Baby earlier this year. A remake of the Korean film, Miss Granny, the movie made more than Rs 40 crore at the box office. Samantha started her career in 2010 in Tamil films and she continues to be work in Kollywood and Tollywood. But her popularity has increased exponentially with the Telugu cinema audience and her recent successes prove that.
Single or Taken? No one cares
The film industry has always been wary of betting actresses who are married but that seems to be going out the window. Nayanthara has been in a relationship with director Vignesh Shivam for several years now and Samantha got married to Tollywood star Naga Chaitanya two years ago. Both top actresses have proved that talent and popularity don’t diminish due to one’s relationship status and that they can be as successful – or more – no matter what goes on in their personal life. While the audience may enjoy the gossip about an actor’s personal lives, today they will rush to the theatre to watch a good film and even more so if it stars their favourite actress. The audience also seems to be appreciate it when actors don’t flaunt their relationships constantly in the media.
The Genre Matters
One of the secrets to the success of these lady superstars is the kind of subjects they choose to work on. While a hero can do a mass commercial masala action film, it has not always worked for a heroine. However, Tollywood’s Vijayshanti was an exception since she was known for her action films. With ever-changing audience tastes, the actresses too have to find subjects that will resonate with the moviegoer and at the same time, satisfy the actor’s creative urges. Nayanthara chose genres like horror, comedy and movies that were socially relevant while Samantha also seems to be following suit. And these films have clicked wonderfully at the box office.
With these two stars paving the way for other actresses, it looks like more women in cinema will be encouraged to forge their own career paths. However, this can happen only when actresses make it to the top starring in films with all the top heroes before they can branch out to do films where they play the main lead. But yes, they need to achieve enough popularity on their own – like Nayan and Sam – and get a market for themselves before a producer will readily bet on them. As for now, Samantha and Nayanthara are riding high as Lady Superstars in south cinema.
Latha Srinivasan is a senior journalist and film critic based out of Chennai. She has a passion for cinema, travel and dogs.