Ms. Representation: A niche of her own
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema, and this week it is about Ramya Krishanan's signficance in the Indian film industry
In an industry that has a handful of male ‘stars’ dominating it over decades, and where ‘heroines’ keep coming and then falling off the radar as opportunities stop going their way, Ramya Krishnan has carved a niche all for herself over the last decade or so. It would be instructive to see her rise as one that has happened against all odds. Her comeback as the phenomenal Nelaambari in Padayappa and the journey afterwards I’d say is akin to the one Amitabh Bachchan has got going for him in Bollywood. Both of them have come back with a bang, ‘reinvented’ themselves into a niche slot with a lot of room for variety, and then soon enough roles were being written for them.
From Maragadhavalli alias Maggi in Panchatantiram to Sivagami Devi in Baahubali and now as Azhagu Meena alias Jhansi Rani in Thaana Serndha Koottam (TSK), she has excelled in roles that are meatier than the ones, ironically, handed to heroines, decades younger than the heroes they are cast opposite. In TSK, which is a remake of Special 26, a role played by Anupam Kher was rewritten and Ramya Krishnan played that role. How often and to how many actresses does that happen in this country?
Ramya Krishnan’s career graph is what an actor’s revenge on a culture that does not have room for having good stuff written for its leading ladies would look like. She has gobbled up and excelled in roles that send reviewers into reveries even in films where other female roles are problematic. And this must not have come easy. Indeed look at her filmography and you know it mustn’t have. The only constant through the years is that she kept on showing up to work. Perhaps some people do not have the luxury of ‘breaks’, perhaps some people don’t like the idea of breaks from work even as the nature of work being offered to them changes… Whatever be the reason, Ramya Krishnan seems to have weakened the system that sought to weaken her and has now tamed it. Most wonderfully. (Can you hear me rub my hands in glee as I type this?) And what a pleasure it is to watch her on screen. Because of her interesting body of work, there’s a kind of chemistry she’s got going with the audience. Be it her cameo in Baba as Neelambari or the subversion of her ‘stiff upper lip’, ‘means business’ kind of woman in TSK where she delights with her range. She is tough while playing Jhansi Rani, reminds you of Sivagami Devi and all the ‘bold’ roles she’s done in the past, but leaves enough cues in the scenes for you to wonder, ‘Is this for real?’ She is tough, but you sense a vulnerability, somewhere a tinge of humour too. Now that’s a whole range of emotions!
Though this isn’t a contest, and let’s face it Ramya Krishnan is in fact younger than many male stars playing lead roles, but given the kind of roles being written for women across age groups, and for heroines in particular, the score card reads like this, Ramya Krishnan – 1, others – 0.