Beauty pageants have always been the ‘Gaumatha’ Bollywood has milked for easy access to the bold and the beautiful, many of whom have gone on to establish themselves as actors of substance.
Be it the evergreen yesteryear actor Zeenat Aman or the present breed of Priyanka Chopra, Lara Dutta and Aishwarya Rai, Bollywood owes much to Miss India.
In Kerala, it used to be the Kerala School Kalolsavam that has often been tapped to zero in on future actors who dream of making it big in the Southern film industry.
With the 57th State School Art Festival currently in progress in Kannur, The News Minute takes a look at actors who first showcased their talents at the famed cultural fest, before making it big in the industry.
The state school youth festival has served as the launching pad for many artists including Kerala’s very own superstar Manju Warrier, and other popular actors like Navya Nair, Vineeth, Kavya Madhavan, Ambili Devi, Vinduja Menon and Vineeth Kumar.
Manju Warrier won the 'Kalathilakam' title in 1992 and 1995, thereby paving the way for her 1995 debut Sakshyam. Speaking to a television channel a few years ago, Manju had reminisced about her school days that brought her many laurels:
'I have very beautiful memories from those times and it all comes back to me when I watch the festival on TV every year.”
People still remember how Navya Nair cried her heart out on television in 2001 for losing the Kalathilakam crown to serial actor Ambili Devi, who -Navya alleged- won only because she was an actor.
While Navya entered the Malayalam film industry through the 2002 blockbuster Ishtam, Ambili Devi went on to do several television serials, with occasional appearances in a few movies.
It was in 1986 that Vineeth, then a teenager, won the ‘Kalaprathibha’ title in Thrissur. Though he had made guest appearances in a couple of movies the previous year, the 1986 hit Nakhakshathangal was his big break in Mollywood. He has acted in more than 40 films and counting, while actively pursuing his passion for the classical dance.
Kavya Madhavan who was ‘Kalathilakam’ at the sub-district level many times, bagged the female lead in the 1999 hit Chandranudikkunna Dikkil, while she was still in class 9.
Danseuse Neena Prasad -a participant in the 1985 Kalolsavam- opines that school festival venues were then the only place for film-makers to find new talent and fresh faces.
A media darling in itself, the festival ensures that the winners garner more than enough share of the limelight. But the industry that once thrived on such talents seems to have now found other places to tap.
While Navya agrees, she feels that the actual number of Kalathikams or Kalaprathibhas who went on to become established actors are not many:
"Not everyone who became Kalathilakams chose acting as a career. Earlier, it so happened that people who were associated with the arts became actors, that's how the youth festival venue came in to the picture. But with the increasing popularity of television reality shows, this has changed.”
Sharada Thampi -renowned dancer and director of the Kalaangan Dance School- opines that changes in the grading system at the festival have much to do with the shift:
"Earlier there were Kalathilakam and Kalaprathibha titles which focused on individual talent. They were the ones who got noticed, along with the first second and third prize winners. Nowadays, the participants are rated with grades and none seem to get individual attention. Also, restrictions on the number of events that a student can take part in too have not helped matters.”
Navya however feels optimistic about more actors being ‘discovered’ from youth festival venues: "With continuous news coverage, we may have yet another new face....you never know.”