She started her career in 2011 but was noticed pan-India only in 2015 when she played the role of a mother to two young boys in the 2015 National Award-winning film Kaaka Muttai. Actor Aishwarya Rajesh is clearly talented but it’s in 2017 that she has been able to snag a role in a movie with an A-lister. Today, she has been signed on as one of the leading ladies in Vikram-Gautham Menon’s Dhruva Natchathiram.
While the south Indian film industry is teeming with talented and pretty actors, not all of them make it into A-list heroes’ films. Kajal Aggarwal, Shruti Haasan, Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Trisha, Hansika and Tamannaah, have been the go-to heroines for big hero projects over the last few years.
Though actors like Aishwarya Rajesh, Regina Cassandra, Priya Anand, Vedhika and Remya Nambeesan are all doing well for themselves, snagging the big projects has not been easy. So why is it difficult for them to break into Kollywood’s ‘top heroines’ slot?
An A-list hero’s film is driven solely by the hero and the leading lady typically just has a few songs and some scenes. But for a female actor to be termed ‘successful’, she has to be seen in big projects.
A well-known producer in the Tamil film industry says, off the record, “It is the director and hero who decide the leading lady/ladies of the film. When an actress has worked in small films with small heroes, then bigger heroes don’t want to work with them. They would like to work with actresses who have a large fanbase and who are popular.”
Another factor that is looked at is whether the female actor has had a blockbuster. Thus, the ‘luck factor’ as they call in the film industry is deemed important, however unfair and illogical it sounds. Shruti Haasan and Samantha were considered unlucky till they broke that jinx. And once they did, there was no looking back.
Another Tamil film producer reveals that age of the female actors also makes a difference. “If the actress doesn’t make it into the top heroine slot by 25-26, then it’s tough. An actress may be talented but if she has been around for a while, then she will lose out to younger actresses or more established ones,” he says.
Kollywood’s top male actors are mostly above 40 years of age but as with film industries across the country, they continue to be paired with women who are at least a decade younger than them.
Regina Cassandra, who is part of the recent superhit small Tamil-Telugu film Maanagaram / Nagaram, has worked with some big actors in Tollywood. But Kollywood filmmakers have not seen her in the same light. Ask her about this and Regina candidly admits that she hasn’t given much thought as to why she wasn’t signed on for big hero projects in Tamil.
Several top female actors admit (off the record) that it’s important to be seen in ‘big films’ though they don’t have much to do in terms of performance. Some of them say that they are unwilling to be aggressive and do the things necessary to bag such projects. Others like Regina believe that their measure of success is how well a film does and the film in its entirety rather than who the hero is.
But producer and founder of BOFTA Film Institute in Chennai G Dhananjayan feels that it takes just one film to can make a difference to their career. “All these actresses need is one big breakthrough film – if you look at it, it was Gautham Menon’s Vinnaithandi Varuvaya for Trisha and Ye Maaye Chesave for Samantha which catapulted them into the big league. It is the question of who will offer them that breakthrough film,” he emphasises.
Ultimately, it looks like it’s the combination of luck, age and a blockbuster – along with talent and looks – that determines whether a female actor makes it into the top slot.
So while many Tamil filmmakers look at these aspects to sign on a leading lady, those who haven’t made it into the top slot - despite their talent – are slowly venturing out into other film industries to make their mark. Meanwhile, Tamil filmmakers continue to sign on fresh talent from North India. Given the abundance of talent present here, it’s perhaps time for Kollywood to give these female actors the big break they clearly deserve.