Nayanthara, who is hailed as the Lady Superstar of Kollywood, is playing a Collector in her upcoming film Aramm - a powerful role that is seldom given to the heroine in a Tamil film. Although we have had films in which female characters hold positions of power, they tend to be in supporting roles rather than lead ones.
Most times, the heroine is there in the film only as the hero's love interest and has nothing much to do other than appear in a few song sequences. She's conveniently placed as a "college girl" or we simply don't know what she does for a living. The lack of definition in her characterisation is surprisingly accepted by the audience as well.
This is because the plot usually revolves around the male characters in the film - this is why we end up knowing more about the villain and his motives than the heroine whose face is likely to be splashed all over the film's promos.
However, there are some exceptions to the rule even in mainstream cinema. Here's a look at some professions in which heroines have been featured in contemporary Tamil cinema.
Manmadhan Ambu: Trisha plays the role of an actor who breaks it off with her jealous and possessive fiance (Madhavan). She makes it clear that she cannot give up her profession just because he has a problem with it.
Aayirathil Oruvan: Andrea plays Lavanya, an archaeologist who assists a team that's trying to find the remains of a lost Chola dynasty.
Nibunan: Sruthi Hariharan plays an artist married to a cop. Although she doesn't have much screen space, she's shown to be working on a painting.
Nanbenda: A sexist and cringe-worthy film, Nanbenda nevertheless gave its female lead a job. Nayanthara was an employed woman working at a bank in which the hero (Udayanidhi Stalin) applies for a loan.
Singam franchise: Anushka Shetty works for her father's company India Cycles and is shown to be conducting the affairs of the establishment.
36 Vayadhiniley: Jyothika goes from playing a bored government office employee to an entrepreneur who inspires other women to take up organic farming and sell their produce.
Kodi: Anupama Parameshwaran plays 'Mutta' Malathi, who has her own farm, and sells eggs. She also indulges in a fair amount of cheating, passing off Broiler chicken eggs as country ones.
Several films have had female leads in corporate jobs. These include the latest release Taramani (Andrea), Iraivi (Kamalini Mukherjee), Oru Naal Koothu (Nivetha Pethuraj), Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum (Madonna Sebastian), Engeyum Eppodhum (Ananya), Yaaradi Nee Mohini (Nayanthara), Raja Rani (Nayanthara), Maanagaram (Regina).
Yennai Arindhal: Trisha plays Hemanika, a dancer and single mother. She falls in love with a cop (Ajith) but dies tragically.
Endhiran: Aishwarya Rai plays a medical student who becomes a doctor. She's shown working at the hospital and enlists Chitti, the robot (Rajinikanth) to deliver a baby.
Kaatru Veliyidai: Aditi Rao Hydari plays Dr Leela Abraham who arrives in Kashmir for her first posting. Her first patient is VC (Karthi), the hero. Incidentally, the last scene in the film mirrors the one from Mani Ratnam's earlier film Alaipayuthey in which the heroine (Shalini), a doctor, is reunited with her boyfriend.
Dharmadurai: Tamannaah plays a doctor who is an abusive marriage. She files for divorce and is unapologetic about her choices.
Remo: Although highly misogynistic, the film had a female lead who had a defined profession. Keerthy Suresh plays a doctor who is so innocent she can't tell that the nurse (Sivakarthikeyan) has no training whatsoever.
Aayirathil Oruvan: Reema Sen plays Anitha, an Intelligence Officer heading the team that goes in search of the last Chola dynasty to crack a contemporary mystery.
Irumugan: Along with Nithya Menen, Nayanthara plays the role of a RAW agent who is tracking down a dangerous criminal named Love (Vikram).
Thoongavanam: Trisha plays an intelligence officer who is hunting down criminals involved in the narcotics business.
Aandavan Kattalai: Ritika Singh plays a spirited journalist, Karmegha Kuzhali. She expresses her views without holding back and gives it as good as she gets.
Kavan: Madonna Sebastian plays a journalist in a media company. Along with the hero, Vijay Sethupathi, she and others revive a dying TV channel to expose corruption in the media and society.
Ko: Karthika Nair plays a journalist who exposes a politician who indulges in child marriage.
Singam 3: Shruti Haasan plays a journalist working to expose Duraisingam (Suriya). She initially pretends to train to become a cop.
Vikram Vedha: Shradda Srinath plays a lawyer who is married to a cop (Madhavan). Although she does not have too much screen space, her character is essential to keep the plot moving. She represents her client Vedha (Vijay Sethupathi) whom her husband is trying to nail.
I: Amy Jackson plays a top notch model who captures the heart of a bodybuilder and small-time model (Vikram).
Engeyum Eppodhum: Very few Tamil films have shown the profession of nursing in a respectable manner. Most times, films tend to sexualize the profession in their portrayal. Consequently, very few have shown the heroine to be a nurse. In Engeyum Eppodhum, Anjali plays a forthright nurse who is also passionate about organ donation.
Nibunan: Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, one of the female leads in the film, plays a police officer. She belongs to a team that's hunting down a dangerous serial killer.
Yeidhavan: Satna Titus plays Janani, a policewoman who is investigating a murder and tries to assist her fiance (Kalaiarasan) who is targeted by some powerful people.
Kodi: Trisha was both the heroine and the villain in Dhanush's Kodi. Playing an ambitious politician who will stop at nothing to fulfill her dreams, Rudra (Trisha) goes on to murder her boyfriend (Kodi) to win an election.
7aam Arivu: Shruti Haasan plays a genetic researcher studying the lineage of Bodhidharma, a master of martial arts and medical remedies.
Kaashmora: Although a small role, Sri Divya plays a researcher studying godmen and charlatans.
Oru Naal Koothu: A wonderfully woman-centric film with progressive ideas about marriage, sex and sexuality, Riythvika plays an RJ who is desperate to find a groom.
Angaadi Theru: This searing film on the exploitation of lower level employees at big shops in T Nagar, Chennai, saw Anjali play the role of a salesgirl.
Vaanam: Anushka Shetty plays a sex worker in the film. She is looking to improve her prospects in the trade. She, however, decides to change her line of work towards the end.
Irudhi Suttru: Ritika Singh plays a young woman from the fishing community who becomes a boxer.
Khaaka Khaaka: Jyothika played a high school Maths teacher. We're even told that she passed out of IIT Madras!
Unorganised sector worker
Kaaka Muttai: Aishwarya Rajesh plays the role of a mother to two boys. She does a series of odd jobs to bring in money for the family.
Amma Kanakku: Amala Paul plays a domestic worker whose only ambition is to see that her daughter does not end up like her - she wants the latter to study well and become an IAS officer.