The trailer for Nayanthara's Dora came out a few days ago. The film is the latest entry in the growing list of female-driven horror flicks that have become popular in the Southern industries.
While mainstream cinema is dominated by the male stars of the industry with very few films including a substantial role for the heroine, the horror genre is one which accommodates women in larger than life roles or at least ones where they have more to do other than look "glamorous".
Arguably, these parts are not always progressively written and neither do they present a female perspective (a Phobia comes once in a blue moon). But then, sadly, that's what puts them in the mainstream and not the niche "women-centric" films category.
Take a look at Rajinikanth's filmography. The only film in a long time, which has a title other than the name of his character or a reference to it, is Chandramukhi. Female villains are rare in Rajini films but though Ramya Krishnan made for a wonderful antagonist in Padayappa, the title of the film still belonged to the character played by the male star. It was only in a psychological horror flick that a female character was considered more important than the one played by Rajinikanth for the film to be named after her!
Horror flicks tend to fall back on stereotypical depictions more often than not. It's the female characters who open the Pandora's box of trouble by bringing home a cursed object or experimenting with something forbidden. They're also the ones who usually get "affected" by the paranormal - whether that's a Ganga from Manichitrathaazhu (or
As a rule, though the female character might play a big role in the film, it's a male character who finds a solution or puts an end to the menace. Kannada film U-Turn which had the spirited Shradda Srinath in the lead role was different in that sense, as it is her character who unravels the mystery.
Anushka Shetty became a superstar through Arundhati, a fantasy/horror Telugu flick which completely revolved around her dual roles. While the actor was mainly known for her "glamour" quotient before this, she became a talent to reckon with after Arundhati, proving that she could carry a film entirely on her own. The film had its share of graphic violence and was rather loud but like U-Turn, it was the female protagonist who finds a resolution to the crisis and emerges the victor.
We don't see female actors in dual roles too often, but considering possession is a running theme in many horror flicks, it's not a surprise that we see female actors getting to perform drastic personality shifts and having fun with quirky portrayals like male stars do in mainstream films. Tamannaah's Devi is one such example.
Not all of these films are successful. Trisha's Nayaki bombed at the box-office and so did Thiraiku Varadha Kadhai, which had Nadhiya in the lead besides boasting of an all-female cast. But given that many of these films are made on a comparatively low budget, it's a risk worth taking.
Bollywood's female superstar Anushka Sharma is playing a ghost in her next home production, Phillauri, and considering the increasing popularity of the horror genre in the South, many more heroines might take a leaf out of her book and experiment with the genre. Nayanthara is hailed as the Southern 'Lady Superstar' and has already experienced success in the horror league with Maya which came out in 2015. It remains to be seen where Dora will take her next.