Watching the first day first show of a movie in a quintessentially Tamil theatre is an experience in itself. If you are watching a superstarâ€™s film that is. From Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan to Vijay and Ajith, Tamil heroes have typically enjoyed an opening, bordering on delirium from their fans.
From pouring litres of milk on the larger-than-life cutouts of their heroes to bursting crackers and making noise, fans leave no stone unturned to demonstrate their love and loyalty at each new release of their heroes.
This kind of love and loyalty that has always been reserved for heroes, and indisputably so. Until Nayanthara happened to Tamil cinema.
I watched the first day first show of Nayantharaâ€™s Dora at Udhayam theatre in Chennai and it was a revelation in more ways than one.
The film is eminently forgettable with its sloppy handling of sensitive issues like organ donation and child sexual abuse. But what lingers on in my memory two full weeks after watching the movie is the kind of reception that Nayanthara had enjoyed in the theatre.
There were larger than life cut-outs, there were celebrations, and there were all the cacophonous cheers when Nayanthara made her first appearance or uttered a particularly appealing dialogue. What is more intriguing is that Nayanthara doesnâ€™t make the grand introduction that many heroes do. She is neither uttering flashy punch dialogues nor seen taking on a gang of rowdies.
Sporting thick-rimmed glasses and riding an old model TVS 50, a not so made up yet gorgeous looking Nayanthara is, in fact, being taunted by a couple of girls in the introductory scene. But that doesnâ€™t stop her fans from screaming and hailing her as the lady superstar.
In a particular scene when her father (played by Thambi Ramaiah) tells her she is one of a kind in all of South India, the crowds erupt in joy again. In another where she does a (Chiyaan Vikramâ€™s) Anniyan-like act â€“ claiming innocence to one police officer and threatening another with more murders in the city â€“ she again sends the crowds into frenzy. And this keeps happening throughout.
Nayanthara solely carries the film on her shoulders and perhaps the film would have been received better if she had been more careful about choosing the script.
Fresh from the success of Maya â€“ a thriller where she plays a single mother â€“ Nayanthara perhaps thought Dora would work too. But for someone who has been carefully picking and choosing her roles since her return from a self-imposed hiatus in 2013, Dora is a huge let-down.
Nayanthara made her comeback with Raja Rani in 2013, where she effortlessly outshone hero Arya in her performance as a woman caught in loveless marriage. In Naanum Rowdy Thaan (2015), she endearingly plays a deaf woman struggling to hide her disability. Her performances stood out in such films even among the slew of regular films she had continued to do. But then they were not new.
From Sridevi to Jyothika, women actors had experimented with their roles after achieving a certain degree of success while continuing to do the â€˜typical heroineâ€™ role opposite superstars. Some like Ramya Krishnan had to play roles with shades of grey to be accepted as an actor of substance. And some like Bhanumathi had to be talented in more ways than one to be noticed.
But unlike others, Nayanthara is making a habit out of it.
Her first movie oriented around the woman protagonist was Nee Engey En anbe â€“ a remake of the Hindi hit Kahaani. But the film didnâ€™t do well at the box office. Nayanthara would not be deterred though.
Between playing the love interest of various heroes in several films, Nayanthara acted in Maya â€“ making an emphatic comeback as a bankable heroine. When she was starring with others too, Nayanthara made sure her character was well-etched like the role of the ravishing princess Ratna Mahadevi in Karthiâ€™s Kashmora.
Nayantharaâ€™s growing on-screen image as a strong woman protagonist gained an off-screen fillip when she became the first woman actor to raise her voice against director Suraaj for his disparaging remarks on heroines. When Nayanthara was joined by others including Tamannah, the woman lead in Suraajâ€™s Kaththi Sandai, the director was forced to apologise and withdraw his remarks.
The trailer of Nayantharaâ€™s next film Aramm went online recently, and garnered over one million views in two days. Set in the backdrop of a drought-hit village, Aramm is another film oriented around a woman protagonist, with Nayanthara playing a District Collector. Even in the trailer, she appears tough, uttering a dialogue on what has always been turf reserved for the men in Tamil cinema â€“ valour and struggle.
In another upcoming movie, Kolaiyuthir Kaalam, she again plays the protagonist. And in continuously doing so, Nayanthara is treading into spaces that have largely remained the fiefdom of male stars.
From a glam-queen doing skin shows to a deglamourised actor delivering tough performances, Nayantharaâ€™s journey could have been too tough to be real. But superstars are neither born nor made in a day.