It's been 10 years since Gautham Vasudev Menon's Ye Maaya Chesave, starring Samantha and Naga Chaitanya released. That also means it's been 10 years since Samantha made her debut in the film industry.
A decade is a long time for a woman actor to have survived in the heroine role. But Samantha has gone beyond just survival; the actor is at the peak of her career, and in a position to do films as the solo lead. She's also increasingly become conscious about the platform that stardom offers, speaking her mind on social media quite often.
After her dreamy debut in Ye Maaya...where she stole hearts as Jessie, Samantha did a number of films in Tamil and Telugu. However, despite her glamorous roles and regular appearances in star vehicles, Samantha has steadily attempted to make a space for herself by seeking out meaningful roles. She's endeared herself to the audience, whether she's casually offering the hero a rosemilk or carrying the entire film on her shoulders.
Here's a list of films where the actor stood out with her performance.
Eega (2012): SS Rajamouli's fantasy film saw the actor playing Bindu, a woman who romances a fly (Nani)! It's an absurd premise but the film was hugely entertaining. As Bindu, Samantha was able to bring gravitas to her role, as she helps her boyfriend-turned-fly seek revenge on the man responsible for his plight.
Neethane En Ponvasantham (2012): Like Ye Maaya...this film explored the complicated relationship between a couple, Varun (Jiiva) and Nithya (Samantha). It followed the trajectory of their attraction for each other, from their schooldays to adulthood. Directed by Gautham Menon, the story showed the two at various stages in their lives, and Samantha was able to hold her own in a film that gave as much importance to her character as it did to the hero's.
Manam (2014): The big fat Akkineni film was Nageswara Rao's last appearance on screen, and featured three generations of the family. Samantha, who wasn't married to Naga Chaitanya in real life as yet, was cast opposite him. She played the dual roles of Krishna Veni and Priya. This film, like Eega, had a wacky premise - it was all about rebirths and reunions, and had plenty of references to earlier films in which the Akkinenis had acted. Samantha fit right into this Vikram Kumar directorial, and to this date, Manam has a special place in the hearts of Telugu audiences.
Rangasthalam (2018): A lot was riding on this film which was Samantha's first release after her wedding with Naga Chaitanya. Ideally, a woman actor's personal life shouldn't matter to the audience, but for long, producers and directors have assumed that the audience will not accept a married woman actor playing glamorous roles and romancing other men. In Rangasthalam, Samantha broke these norms with her character Ramalakshmi. The rural drama directed by Sukumar had Samantha turning in a spunky performance opposite Ram Charan. She made it clear once and for all that she was here to stay and wasn't going to restrict herself from playing any kind of role just because of her marital status.
Mahanati (2018): The Nag Ashwin biopic on actor Savithri belonged to Keerthy Suresh, who played the lead. However, it was Samantha's role as journalist Madhuravani which linked the past and the present. She played the insecure Madhuravani who has a stutter and falls in love with her photographer colleague Vijay (Vijay Deverakonda). Samantha proved her mettle as an actor in the scene where she speaks about what Savithri's story meant to her on the latter's deathbed.
U Turn (2018): The remake of a Kannada horror film by the same title, the Pawan Kumar directorial was Samantha's first as the solo lead in Telugu cinema. She once again played a journalist in the film. Rachana investigates a series of accidents and arrives at a strange truth that she decides to pursue. The film received critical acclaim and Samantha's performance too was appreciated.
Super Deluxe (2019): Thiagarajan Kumararaja's dark comedy saw Samantha playing Vaembu, a woman who cheats on her husband with an ex-boyfriend. She's then stuck in a terrible predicament as the boyfriend passes away when the two have sex. With her choice of role, Samantha once again broke the rules for what was considered acceptable for heroines to do on screen. She isn't apologetic about her actions and neither is she punished for being "unchaste" as is convention in Tamil cinema. Acting opposite Fahadh Faasil, Samantha managed to work up humour and tension in the scenes.
Oh! Baby (2019): Nandini Reddy's remake of a Korean film saw Samantha playing the role of an elderly woman who gets back the body of her 24-year-old self. The actor was absolutely hilarious as Baby, talking about gastric trouble and back pain like an elderly woman would. But not only comedy, the actor also moved the audience to tears in the dramatic scenes where she talks about her life as a young widow and later decides to sacrifice her dreams for the sake of her son.
Majili and Jaanu too gave Samantha an equal role to that of the male lead. The actor has a signed a new film with Vignesh Shivn, also starring Nayanthara and Vijay Sethupathi. She's also said yes to Game Over director Ashwin Saravanan's next. A-list women actors today are moving away from what's called 'women-centric' cinema that focuses exclusively on women's issues, and are looking to do films which will have a wider appeal. This appears to be Samantha's game plan too. With the kind of openings she's able to command with her star value, it'll be interesting to see where Samantha goes in the next decade.