"As female leads in the south industry, we are automatically expected to become dumber.” That’s what Samantha said during the U Turn press meet and it’s probably the truest statement given by a southern actor in recent times.
For the longest time, we have been writing off Tamil and Telugu mass entertainers as a one ‘man’ show. We have walked out of theatres, tired of watching the male leads fighting goons, while our female leads, otherwise addressed as ‘glam dolls’, are placed in these films just for the sake of foreign locale songs and romance. Except for the times when there is an Anushka Arundhati style release and more recently, a ‘Nayanthara’ film.
Samantha Akkineni belongs to the generation of heroines who mostly add no weightage to the actual story of the film. Samantha’s 2010 debut in Telugu Ye Maya Chesave gave her a better lineage than a masala entertainer. She was the central point of this love story and had better scope for perfomance than Naga Chaitanya, but that’s about it. What followed was a slew of movies where she played second fiddle to male leads. Her Tamil debut Baana Kaathadi that came out in the same year was an ‘Atharva and Prasanna’ film.
And now, after appearing in nearly 40 films in Telugu and Tamil put together, Samantha has played the lead in U Turn.
In U Turn, starring herself, Adi Pinisetty and Rahul Ravindran, Samantha engages audiences across two languages. This is a smart film which isn’t riddled with cliches and she isn’t a damsel in distress whom the hero rescues or sidelines. She is the reason the story begins and finds its end. What a pleasant experience! We have women walking out of the screens, saying “U Turn is all about Samantha’s screen presence”.
The 'glam doll'
While Gautham Menon gave us the Telugu version of Jessie and our dear Nithya from Neethane En Ponvasantham, love stories that we would talk about eight years later, it wasn’t quite the same in the many films that Samantha acted alongside the big stars. Before she took over big budget films from 2013, we would recollect how in 2012, Rajamouli to an extent, managed to give Samantha screen space as Bindu in Eega. She played the role of a young woman who loses the love of her life and is now finding solace in a fly. But the National Award winning film had Sudeep steal the show as the frustrated antagonist. While Samantha was good, the role wasn’t a game changer.
In Anjaan, Brindavanam, Kaththi, Attarintiki Daredi and many more films of this genre, the first thing that would probably come to our mind is Samantha grooving to ‘Ninnu Chodagane’, ‘Ek Do Teen’ and other hit tracks from the jukebox. Because, there was no scope to do more when a Pawan Kalyan, Surya and others are present.
For a second, in last year’s Mersal, when Samantha delivers the “Dai thambi, unnaku rose milk vangitharen!” lines, we sat up and expected the lady to take over, that too in an out and out Vijay show. But sorry, before you know it, she’s gone. There is no rose milk or any more potential for a performance here.
Right from the trailers of these films, we know how the heroines would appear when the man is in the mood to fall in love, and disappear when he is busy getting praises as the common man’s favourite, fulfilling family duties and tracking the villain in monotonous ways.
Samantha’s Dookudu, S/O Sathyamurthy, Brahmotsavam, Theri and many more are perfect examples of these. Incidentally, many of her commercial films are the ones that got her Filmfare Best Actress nominations, but it is films like A aa, Eega and Neethane En Ponvasantham, the ones worth mentioning before this year’s choices, for which she bagged the award.
2018 - Samantha's year
2018 seems to be the year that Samantha leaves behind all of those entertainers and slow love stories to take over well-written roles.
We must say it began with this year’s blockbusters - Rangasthalam and Mahanati/ Nadigayar Thilagam. As Rama Lakshmi, Samantha is fiesty and manages to hold our attention as the charming small town woman, who has her heart in the right place. It surely was a Ram Charan and Adi Pinisetty tale but Rama Lakshmi with ‘Rangamma Mangamma’ manages to stick in our minds when we think back about this movie.
Slowly, the charm extended to Mahanati. As a stammering journalist, many had said her role was unnecessary in a film about Savitri and yes, Keerthy Suresh walked away with all the accolades. However, Madhuravani, for many women from the audience was refreshing. We felt her narration was important and we would rather choose Samantha in such roles than the 20 odd films where she’s been called to shake a leg and crack a joke or two.
And finally, the actor gave us U Turn. She reportedly approached Pawan Kumar right after the Kannada U Turn trailer release. This is a film where she shines as much as the curiosity generating script. Like many supernatural thrillers, U Turn has its flaws but it is nevertheless an important film in contemporary cinema.
The last half of 2017 and the first half of 18 have given us Aramm, Kolamaavu Kokila, Mahanati and many more films centered around women characters than previous years put together, and U Turn joins this list.
The actor has dubbed for herself in both Telugu and Tamil for U Turn, making her dialogue delivery more natural. She entirely carries this thriller on her shoulder. The movie doesn’t break into even one song and dance, and the chemistry between Rahul Ravindran and Samantha in is in perfect dosage. The one track released as the film’s anthem - The Karma Theme – has Samantha presenting a unique dance number, which is quite new for the south Indian cinema goer.
We leave the theatres without having witnessed glorified toxic masculinity and ridiculous scenes that make zero sense and irk the feminist in you. The film stands as an example of a remake done well and what can happen if only directors gave our leading women actors a chance to actually perform.
At its heart, U Turn is a simple film, told in a straightforward way, without any frills. Pawan Kumar could have gone overboard with the supernatural angle and Samantha could have put out more than required as she herself mentioned in many press meets that she felt the pressure of carrying an entire film on her shoulders. But one can confidently say that she has pulled it off with elan.
The success of Samantha’s U Turn shows that the audience is keen to watch quality films rather than zero content with punch dialogues. At 33, Samantha has finally got the screen space that she deserves, and joins Nayanthara and Anushka Shetty in the growing league of women actors who can play solo leads.