Nayanthara's words reveal the fact that it's still very difficult for a successful woman actor like her to get substantial roles.

In mainstream cinema women dont have much to do Lady superstar Nayanthara drops truth bombDigital Native
Flix Kollywood Tuesday, September 05, 2017 - 13:21

Tamil Nadu's sweetheart Nayanthara won the SIIMA Awards for Best Actress this year for her film Irumugan

A video of the actor's speech at the event is going viral. In the video, Nayanthara says, "This award is very special to me. Irumugan is a mainstream, proper proper commercial film. Usually, in a proper commercial film, with a big star like Vikram Sir, heroines won't have much work. They won't give them that much importance. But thank you, I really want to thank Anand Shankar, for believing in me and believing that a heroine can do so much more than just do the songs."

Nayanthara played an intelligence officer, Vikram's girlfriend and colleague in Irumugan. Although she has considerably less screen space than the hero, she was shown to not just have a career but also play a significant role in the progression of the plot.

The film was far from perfect, in terms of plot and narration, but it also had Nithya Menen playing a woman in a high profile career - quite rare for Tamil films.  The actor's short speech provides a glimpse of the male dominance in the film industry and how women's roles are constructed. 

Nayanthara made her debut in 2003 and has acted with many big stars including Rajinikanth. Despite being in the industry for over 14 years and commanding the highest salary among women actors, her speech shows that it's still very difficult to get substantial female roles in mainstream films.  Increasingly, the top male actors in Kollywood have stopped playing characters but rather play themselves in every film -- they are larger than life, make references to their previous films, and don't really attempt to turn into the person they're supposed to play on screen.

The character is subservient to the persona of the actor.  This isn't their fault alone, it's also producers and directors who want to cash in on their massive fanbase to make "mass" cinema. A fall-out of this is the reduction of the heroine's role to mere "arm candy" or as Nayanthara frames the job description, "just do the songs".

The male actors are present in almost every scene in their film and barely allow anyone else to share the screen on an equal footing.  Kangana Ranaut in a famous interview to Rajeev Masand had declared that she isn't interested in working with any of the Khans because the films are always about them and them alone.

“I have popularity. I have built a fan following of mine, where do I go from here. The only way I can last is by growth. That I will only get if I go a notch higher than my last film. In a film, there’s only one hero. There are exceptions of course. Let’s talk about a Khan film. Who is the hero in that film? When I have done and am working on films that give me the possibility of building a brand of my own individually, it will be very stupid of me to go and stand behind someone else and try and en-cash their popularity,” she'd said. 

Nayanthara, too, appears to be keenly aware of the restrictions that are in place while doing a big hero's film. It's no surprise then that she is increasingly looking to do smaller films without big heroes even as she maintains her hold over mainstream cinema. A strategy that successful female stars like Trisha and Anushka Shetty seem to be adopting as well.

Previously, Jyothika, who'd quit her career when she was at her peak to marry actor Suriya, spoke up about how women are portrayed on screen. The actor made a comeback recently and was speaking at the audio launch of her upcoming film Magalir Mattum, when she asked filmmakers to give women dignity in their films.  "Physically, I know you won't give them the clothes that women in your house would wear," she'd said, referring to how women are objectified in films. "But mentally, give them roles that portray them as people with brains."

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