Thamizh Talkies: Shine on, you diamonds
With Ramya Krishnan and Revathy sparkling in Thaana Serndha Koottam and Gulebagavali, the writer wishes for more such roles for the best actresses of 80s Tamil cinema
The 80s brought into Tamil cinema some of the better actresses we have known, and some of them continued to rule the industry well into the 90s (Khushbu, for example). Post 2000 though, stellar roles for performers like Radhika, Revathy, Suhasini, Radha, Gautami, Ramya Krishnan, Bhanupriya, and Urvasi (just to name a few) haven’t really been forthcoming, with many of their roles not going beyond the sentimental mom, sister or wife of a senior actor/the hero playing his own father. This explains why one of my favorite heroines, Radhika, took to television, where she found superstardom and success.
In general, roles that take the story forward or make an impact were few and hence, to expect them to be better for actresses who are no longer leading ladies was unrealistic. I did see roles written for particular actresses, without regard to their age: First in a K Balachander film (Manorama in Unnal Mudiyum Thambi) and then, of course, in Visu’s Samsaaram Adhu Minnsaaram (the character written for Lakshmi). About a decade ago, Saranya Ponvannan made a mark as the realistic, funny, naive mother and continues to be the go-to mommy for roles that don’t just need her to bless her son with happy tears. The idea of an older actress shining in an author-backed role, where she can claim to have stood alongside the film’s hero or as the protagonist itself (like Sridevi in English Vinglish) has remained elusive to Tamil cinema. In this context, it was heartening to see two films released this Pongal break this rule.
Thaana Serndha Koottam is as much Ramya Krishnan’s film as much as it is Suriya’s. The other film, Gulebagavali, is as an out-and-out Revathy film where Prabhudeva willingly takes a backseat and lets her walk away with the low-angle high-speed slo-mo shots which are otherwise reserved only for the hero. While Magalir Mattum (both Kamal Haasan’s and Jyotika’s) do have the entire narrative hinge on the leading ladies, it’s more the exception than the norm. In general, very few directors and writers come up with stories where women irrespective of their age get to play integral roles. This is why I always look out for films from Maniratnam, Gautham Menon and Karthik Subburaj because heroines in their films are not mere glam dolls or props for the hero. I also keenly watch out for films from writer-director Kamal Haasan whose leading ladies and supporting roles for women are usually written and performed beautifully — from Rajaparvai’s Nancy, to Devar Magan’s Panjavarnam, to nuclear oncologist Nirupama in Vishwaroopam, or Srividya in a mass entertainer like Aboorva Sagodarargal. The women are as important and gritty as the men, sometimes even better.
A whiff of that importance was given to female characters in both TSK and Gulebagavali, with Ramya Krishnan (glowing in the post-Baahubali phase) and Revathy (who sparkled earlier in Dhanush’s directorial debut Pa Pandi), respectively, garner applause in scenes written just for them. Both of them play con artistes in the films and it was a breath of fresh air to see them sing, dance and do comedy as they take on roles which are unapologetic in their characterisation. Watch Revathy play her Maasha in Gulebagavali with aplomb (the character here harks back to her role in Arangentra Velai). Watch Ramya Krishnan handle the CBI interrogation scene in TSK where she explains why she uses the name Jhansi Rani as against her original Azhagumeena. You can’t take your eyes off their screen presence.
Who is an actress I wish to see shine on the big screen in a role written just for her? How about Radhika in the upcoming Dhruva Natchathiram?