Ramya Krishnan's choice of roles defies every stereotype in the book.

All hail Ramya Krishnan Neelambari and goddess rolled into oneFacebook/ Ramya Krishnan
Features Cinema Thursday, November 10, 2016 - 11:03

Ramya Krishnan is in a league of her own. The actor who made her debut at the age of 13, is still going strong with releases lined up in all four South Indian languages. At the age of 46, when most of her female contemporaries have either hung up their boots, or have been pushed into doing the stereotypical ‘amma’ character, Ramya Krishnan is still doing roles that defy industry's norms. 

Heroines are usually careful about the roles they pick. You can either be the virtuous Madonna or the vamp - so goes conventional wisdom. Ramya Krishnan, it appears, doesn't give a fig about this line of thinking. The actor's choice of roles has oscillated like a pendulum, and she's none the worse for it. From playing the all-knowing goddess in mythological films like "Rajakali Amman" to doing steamy item numbers, Ramya Krishnan has done it all. 

She's also one of the few women actors who've been effective in villainous roles. Playing a negative character is something even established heroes hesitate to do. While she hasn't allowed herself to be typecast as the "villi", she has also savoured doing these roles. 

Take Neelambari from "Padayappa", for example. The film is undoubtedly one of her most memorable ones. Ramya's character was written to fail - she was, after all, pitted against Rajinikanth. In a Superstar movie, everything is about him. Yet, Neelambari became such a sensation that Ramya Krishnan essayed the role once again in a cameo appearance in "Baba" -another Rajinikanth film. 

The Neelambari role has every misogynistic idea written into it: women who wear "modern" clothes are arrogant and characterless, women who are open about their sexuality aren't women at all, women who have a temper will never succeed and many more. Yet, the way Ramya played it, meeting Rajinikanth’s every step in style, and displaying a wide range of emotions from unabashed lust to rage, betrayal and finally, a bittersweet victory as she kills herself, won over the audience. She even won the Filmfare Award for Best Actress (Tamil) for the role.

She played a glamorous sex worker in Kamal Haasan's "Panchatantiram", pulling wool over the eyes of five men, and trying to make a quick buck. Maggie was classy, witty, and sexy, all at once. Her dance "contest" with Simran, who plays Kamal's wife in the film, is a riot. Once again, Maggie was villainous, but Ramya charmed the audience with her interpretation of it.

A trained dancer, Ramya is equally comfortable doing a classical number like "Minsaara Kanna" or a club song like "Thoodhu varuma" with all the pelvic thrusts. Whether she's playing a practical, sensible woman like Bela in Shyamprasad's critically acclaimed film "Ore Kadal", or pulsating under a waterfall with Mahesh Babu in "Naani", her screen presence is undeniable. 

Perhaps that's why she was chosen to play Sivagami, the charismatic and intrepid queen in "Baahubali" who holds a newborn aloft even as she drowns - an iconic visual from the film. The scene when she plunges a sword into someone and proceeds to calmly breastfeed a baby, her eyes changing from rage to contentment in the flash of a second, proves her mettle as an actor.

Ramya Krishnan has also had a successful run on the small screen, starring in TV soaps while continuing to appear in films. There are very few women actors who have managed to survive this long in the sexist and ageist film industry, flouting all rules. 

In "Padayappa", there's a scene when Neelambari tells Padayappa, "Do you know why everyone likes you? However old you may be, your beauty and style have not left you."  Those lines are just as true for Ramya Krishnan, as they are for Rajinikanth. 


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