Several Malayali women actors have become established stars in welcoming Tamil Nadu.

From Padmini to Nayanthara Malayali women actors whove ruled Kollywood
Flix Kollywood Monday, December 04, 2017 - 18:03

They came in search of greener pastures and stayed on to conquer the hearts and minds of cineastes in Kollywood, gaining a stranglehold on the industry in the process. Just as Tamil women actors ruled the roost in Bollywood right from the days of Vyjayantimala to Hema Malini and Sridevi, their counterparts from Mollywood shifted base to Kollywood and struck firm roots in Tamil cinema.

Among the earliest to touch base were the famous trio, referred to as the ‘Travancore Sisters’ Lalitha, Padmini and Ragini, all celebrated classical dancers. While Lalitha sparkled in a few films and passed away at 52, Ragini who died prematurely at 39 had a shorter stint in the world of cinema. But it was Padmini hailed as ‘Naatiya Peroli’ for her dancing prowess, who became a household name in Tamil cinema and was in great demand right through her long career.

The highlight of a film like Vanjikottai Valiban where Gemini Ganesan played the lead was a dance competition between Vyjayantimala and Padmini and both the dancers, unrivalled in their time, gave a superb performance.

Incidentally the lyric to which they danced ‘Kannum Kannum Kalanthu’ turned into a chart topper as well. Padmini, who acted with all the top heroes of her time, and also made it big in Bollywood, made a fine pair with Sivaji Ganesan and their films together like Thangapadumai, Thillana Mohanambal and Vietnam Veedu were all box-office hits. She was one of the few women actors of her time who could match thespian Sivaji Ganesan in the acting department.

In the twilight of her career, Padmini returned as a grandmother in the film Poove Poo Choodava, a remake of Fazil’s Malayalam hit Nokkathaatha Doorathu Kannum Nattu where she had essayed the same role. Padmini’s cousin Sukumari, no mean dancer herself, also worked in a number of Tamil films playing the quintessential mother. She also won a National Award for Best Supporting Actress for the offbeat film Namma Gramam directed by actor Mohan Sharma.

A petite star with a tip tilted nose, Sumithra also forayed into Tamil cinema with Avalum Pen Thaane produced by veteran woman actor Pandari Bai in which she played the challenging role of a young woman trafficked into sex work. In the wake of the success of the film, she landed a number of offers and was cast by veteran director Balachander in Nizhal Nijamakirathu. She donned the role of Sivaji Ganesan’s sister in the film Annan Oru Kovil. She also played Rajinkanth’s wife and Sivaji’s daughter-in-law in the film Justice Gopinath.

But the two sisters who held sway over Kollylwood in the eighties and early nineties were Ambika and Radha, both of whom became extremely popular, excelling in glamorous and emotional roles as well.

Ambika, who was introduced by director Bhagyaraj in Antha Ezhu Natkal rose to fame with the Kamal Haasan starrer Khaki Chattai and also worked with Rajini in hits like Padikaathavan and Maaveeran. She was also seen in Rajini’s Engeyo Ketta Kural where her sister Radha too had a parallel role.

Radha was a Bharathiraaja discovery in Alaigal Oyvathillai where she was paired with Karthik and the duo went on to work in several other films, too. A number of films with Kamal Haasan like Tik Tik Tik, Oru Kiadiyin Diary and Japanil Kalyanaraman followed. However, her finest performance came in Bharathiraaja’s Mudhal Mariyathai where she was a perfect foil for Sivaji Ganesan who played an elderly villager unable to fend off the affectionate advances made by a young woman.

Actors like the late Kalpana (Chinna Veedu, Sathi Leelavathi, Pammal K Sambandam) and her younger sister Urvashi (Mundanai Mudichu, Michael Madana Kama Rajan) too had their share of success in Kollywood though they mainly worked in Malayalam films.

Women actors from Kerala like KR Vijaya and Revathi too have been a force to reckon with in Tamil cinema. Vijaya, who was introduced by K S Gopalakrishnan in Karpagam, had a very long career in Kollywood and worked with all the top heroes of her time including MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, Gemin Ganesan, Murhuraman, Jaishankar, and so on. 

Revathi, spotted by star maker Bharathiraaja who cast her in Mann Vasanai performed with elan in films like Kamal’s Thevar Magan and Punnagai Mannan and also in tear jerkers like ‘Kizhakku Vasal’ with Karthik. Shobha, who started out as a child actor in Malayalam, flashed by like a meteor in Tamil with films like Azhiyatha Kolangal, Mullum Malarum, and Pasi for which she won a National Award. Unfortunately the promising actor allegedly committed suicide at a very early age, barely days after she received her National Award. 

The gifted dancer Shobana, niece of the Travancore Sisters, shone for a while in Tamil cinema with mercurial performances in films like Ithu Namma Aalu, Kamal Haasan’s Enakkul Oruvan and Mani Ratnam’s Thalapathy.

Another Malayali actor who made a name for herself in Kollywood was Asin Thottumkal, who debuted in the film M Kumaran – Son of Mahalakshmi with Jayam Ravi and also worked with top heroes like Kamal in Dasavataram and Suriya in Ghajini. Her roles in Vijay’s Pokkiri and Kavalan and Ajith Kumar’s Varalaru were no less memorable.

Meera Jasmine, too, was popular with films like Run scoring at the box office. She was also part of Mani Ratnam's Ayutha Ezhuthu, in which she once again acted with Madhavan.

Among the current crop Nitya Menen (OK Kanmani, Mersal), Lakshmi Menon (Pandiyanaadu, Kumki, Vedalam), Keerthy Suresh (Idhu Enna Mayam, Rajani Murugan, Remo, Bhairavaa) and Parvathi (Poo, Maryan) too have distinguished themselves, albeit briefly in Tamil cinema.

Of the lot, however, Keerthy Suresh is on a better wicket with films like ‘Mahanati’ (a biopic on the late actress Savithri), Thaana Serndha Kootam with Suriya and Saamy 2 with Vikram, directed by J Hari on the anvil.

But ruling the roost in Kollywood today is Nayantara, the highest paid woman actor in Tamil cinema and also the most sought after. Introduced to the silver screen in the film Manasinakkare by Sathyan Anthikaad with Jayaram playing the male lead, Nayan made the transition to Tamil cinema with Hari’s Ayya in 2005.

She consolidated her position with films like Chandramukhi with Rajinikanth and Ghajini, the Suriya starrer with AR Murugadoss wielding the megaphone. Non- descript films like Kalvanin Kathali and Vallavan threatened to wreck her career but she bounced back soon with hits like Billa, Yaaradi Nee Mohini, Boss Engira Bhaskaran and Naanum Rowdy Thaan. 

Of late she has been concentrating on heroine oriented subjects and films like Maya and her latest release Aramm where she has donned the role of a Collector have proved that she is capable of carrying a film on her shoulders.

Today, Nayan who has a huge fan following, is in a position to sort the chaff from the wheat and the films that she has lined up all feature her in powerful roles. She is also willing to experiment and take risks and is a sure bet to play a long innings in Tamil cinema. 

The exodus from Mollywood to Kollywood is not likely to end any time soon. Better remuneration and a greater reach are some of the factors that draw these actors to Kodambakkam. And nobody is complaining, least of all the audience who are only too willing to cheer for them all the way.

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